I talk a lot about how “living with less” has changed my life but I don’t often share all the details, so here is my full minimalism before and after story for you.
This was fun to write because it’s always nice to reflect and see how far you’ve come, don’t you think?
Life never turns out quite the way you expect it to and that definitely holds true for me. After all, when I started down this path nearly a decade ago, I had no idea what I was in for.
Of course, I had a few expectations—a gorgeous but functional capsule wardrobe, an uncluttered, easy to clean home, and a much healthier bank balance—but looking back now I realise I didn’t understand the fundamental ways a minimalist lifestyle would change me.
It goes far beyond my closet, my home and my finances … my career, my family and perhaps most importantly, even my beliefs have changed too.
Here are all the details of my life, before and after minimalism.
My Home Before Minimalism
“Clutter is no more than postponed decisions.” – Barbara Hemphill
In the years before minimalism, I lived in a reasonably sized two-bedroom townhome. I don’t know exactly how big it was; probably small by American standards but it was definitely more space than I needed.
I should have been very comfortable there … but I wasn’t.
Instead, my home was overflowing with clutter and it was a constant source of anxiety. I struggled to shut my closet door, I had to shuffle papers and who-knows-what every time I sat down for a meal, and I was constantly tripping over things.
(Probably shoes—after all, I had more than a hundred pairs!)
I felt overwhelmed and at the time, I thought it was because my house was such a mess. I was always cleaning yet somehow, the job was never done. There was just too much to keep up with.
It wasn’t fun but I can see now that it was only the tip of the iceberg. Constant cleaning was a pain but the real cause of my never-ending stress and anxiety was the clutter in my mind.
You see, the real problem with too much stuff isn’t with your physical possessions; instead, it’s the decisions they represent.
On any given day, I’d come home after a long day at work and this is what I’d hear:
- Unworn cocktail dresses calling out from my closet: “Why don’t you wear me anymore?”
- A rarely used sewing machine, hidden in the corner: “When are you going to finish that dress you started making last year?”
- Dusty books on shelves, wondering out loud: “Is she ever going to read us again?”
It was a constant hum in the back of my mind and I was never at ease in my home. (At least, not without using TV or social media to escape from the world.) My stuff was asking tough questions and I didn’t have the answers.
I didn’t know who I was or what I believed in, and I wasn’t ready to do the work. Instead, it was easier to keep my stuff hidden under the bed or in the back of my closet.
Out of sight, out of mind—right?
Unfortunately not. I learned the hard way that the things you own either contribute to or take from your life. There is no middle ground and my possessions were slowly robbing me of peace of mind.
My Home After Minimalism
It took me a few years but by 2013, I had significantly downsized my home.
I was living in a 140 square foot studio apartment and those “last few boxes” were finally gone. Everything I owned fit easily into the back of my tiny Toyota hatchback.
I felt clutter-free at last—and even though I’ve since grown my family and upsized to a two-bedroom apartment—that same “clutter-free” feeling has stayed with me over the years.
This is what “after” minimalism looks and feels like:
Tidying is mostly stress-free … a toddler does make things more challenging … but I still go to bed most nights feeling happy about the state of my home.
Even if I let things slide for a few days, it’s not a problem. I know that I can get caught up in a few hours and I never have that feeling of complete overwhelm that used to be all too familiar.
But that’s not all that’s changed. The biggest difference is how I feel when I walk in the front door.
Before minimalism, I felt suffocated. My home felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders … but everything is different now.
Instead of feeling like a burden or a source of stress, my home is now a blissful retreat that actively supports me and gives me exactly what I need. It’s somewhere I can go to relax and recharge and I feel rejuvenated instead of drained.
This shift was unexpected because honestly, before minimalism I didn’t even know it was possible. But now, I can’t imagine living any other way.
DO YOU WANT TO CLEAR THE CLUTTER FROM YOUR HOME?
If you need some help clearing the clutter from your home, then I invite you to download your copy of Mindful Decluttering, my free decluttering guide and workbook.
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My Life Before Minimalism
“Live less out of habit and more out of intent.” – Unknown
Next, let’s move beyond the “home” and talk about my life before minimalism—and in order to do that, I need to talk about intentional living.
If you’re not familiar with the term, intentional living means living on purpose. It’s knowing WHY you’re doing things and being happy with the answers (or if not, feeling empowered to change).
It’s a simple concept but one that I completely overlooked before minimalism.
I used to make major decisions about my life—everything from my relationships to my career and my finances—without ever questioning the motivation for my decisions.
Instead, I was content to live on auto-pilot, letting the momentum of life carry me along. More often than not, I made choices simply because it’s “what everyone else was doing” and I just assumed that my life should follow the status quo.
- I bought a house that I didn’t really want because it seemed like the right thing to do.
- I stayed in jobs that made me miserable because—again—it seemed like the right thing to do.
- I even stayed in a marriage that I knew wasn’t right for me because … well, you get the picture.
I repeated this process of passively making decisions over and over again, and perhaps unsurprisingly—I wasn’t very happy with my choices. I felt stuck and trapped in my life.
My Life After Minimalism
So now, let’s return to my life after minimalism and invite you to consider this…
When you declutter your home, you make a lot of decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. You might struggle at first but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Whether you realise it or not, you get better at asking important questions.
For example, let’s imagine that you own five pairs of jeans but you only want to keep one pair. You’d probably start by thinking about what you need from your jeans by asking questions, such as:
- What’s more important—style or comfort?
- Which pair do I feel the best wearing?
- What style best suits my lifestyle?
Next, you’d probably reflect on your answers and make an intentional decision about which pair to keep. It makes sense, right?
If you’re decluttering your entire home, then you’re going to repeat this process over and over and over again … And before you know it, your brain will start to think differently about decision-making.
At least, this is what happened in my life.
It started in my home—I spent a lot of time questioning the value of my stuff—but then it spread to everything else.
My time, my relationships, my money, everything.
MY CAREER BEFORE + AFTER MINIMALISM
Let’s look at an example of this mindset shift in action: my career.
You can read the full story of how minimalism has influenced my career but here’s a quick summary:
- Before minimalism, I spent a lot of time feeling stuck in jobs I hated.
- My finances were out of control; I was in debt and living paycheque to paycheque.
- When I discovered minimalism, I downsized my home and car, stopped mindless shopping, and reduced my cost of living by more than 50%.
- I became debt-free, saved a nest egg, and for the first time had breathing space to start thinking about my career choices.
- Intentional living inspired me to get back to basics and to question what a career really meant to me.
- I realised that professional “success” (in the traditional sense) didn’t matter to me and I had only been chasing it because I thought I was supposed to.
- I gave myself permission to step back and do what felt right for me, even if it meant challenging the status quo.
- I quit my secure, full-time job and started doing casual, short-term assignments instead. This flexibility allowed me to travel around the world and to start this blog.
- Blogging led to various opportunities and now my blog is my only source of income.
Admittedly, it took years for all these changes to occur (it definitely wasn’t an overnight change) but I’m 100% sure that if it wasn’t for minimalism, I’d still be stuck at step one: trapped in a job I hate.
More Minimalism Before And Afters
If you want to know more about my life before and after minimalism, check out:
- How Minimalism Saves Money and Improved My Financial Life
- Behind the Scenes: A Minimalist Wardrobe Tour (Video) – Sadly, I don’t have any “before” closet photos but I can tell you that I used to use an entire spare bedroom as a closet!
- Doing Less + A Lesson in Self-Worth, Confidence + Minimalism, The Long Road to Self Acceptance – These posts explore how minimalism has helped me change deeply held beliefs about myself.
My Hopes + Dreams
Finally, I couldn’t hit publish without addressing the most important thing minimalism has changed in my life: my hopes and dreams.
Growing up, I was always a daydreamer. I’m very fortunate that I was raised in a family that taught me to believe anything is possible and this relentless optimism served me well throughout my life.
It carried me through difficult times (like the passing of my younger brother) and inspired me to go on an amazing adventure (like moving overseas alone at age 22).
But somewhere along the way, as my life became busy and cluttered, I started to lose my ability to dream. Thoughts of exploring and learning new things were too often crushed by the weight of my responsibilities.
- Maybe I could move to Thailand! … but what would I do with all my stuff?
- Maybe I could study to be a yoga teacher! … but how I could study AND afford my mortgage?
- Maybe I could start my own business! … but where would I find the energy when my life’s already so busy?
So little by little, I stopped dreaming. I told myself to grow up and slowly began to accept that life wasn’t always going to be a great adventure.
There is where I was when minimalism found me: a little hopeless and very stuck. I was living on autopilot and just going through the motions of life. Without my dreams to inspire me, I felt suffocated and trapped.
But then slowly, as I decluttered my life, my old self reappeared!
Looking back, I know I’m not exaggerating when I say that minimalism gave me my life back. I’m not that far from 40 now but honestly, I feel as hopeful and optimistic about my future as I did in my early twenties.
I don’t have everything figured out—not by a long shot—but after minimalism, I know in my heart that I’m finally living true to myself. It genuinely feels like anything is possible.
Resources for Minimalist Living
If you enjoyed this post, then here are some resources to help you get started with minimalist living:
- How to Be a Minimalist: 5 Things Not to Do + What to Do Instead
- 10 Simple Decluttering Tips For When You Feel Stuck
- 20 Minimalism Do’s and Dont’s
- Practical Minimalism for Busy People
- 3 Real Life Minimalist Stories That Will Inspire You
Has minimalism changed your life? What does your before and after story look like? Let us know in the comments!