Minimalist living is known as a clean, no-nonsense lifestyle free of clutter and excess. However, a true minimalist knows that minimalist life is more than that. Minimalism provides a wide variety of lifestyle benefits to those who are willing to put in the work, but it is not without effort. It takes a lot of work to keep your life and home clutter-free and simple, but for many, this work pays off.
A low-stress, minimalist lifestyle is easier to achieve when you turn the required steps into daily habits. This way, they become something you do routinely every day instead of feeling like a chore. In this guide, we’ll go over some of the best habits for minimalists to build to ensure a simple and low-maintenance lifestyle.
Evaluate Your Spaces
If you’ve been living minimally for a while, you can skip this step. But, if you’re transitioning to living minimally, take the time to evaluate each space in your home. If you’re looking to reduce clutter, consider all the items you absolutely need in a room and purge the rest. Doing this will make it much easier to identify the things you need versus the things you don’t.
Consider your bathroom, for example. Thinks you need to have in a bathroom include:
- Toilet paper
- Cleaning supplies
However, you don’t need things like the following:
- Wall hangings
Evaluating and regarding each room in your house is a constant tug-of-war between “I need this” and “I want this.” If you need it, either the item stays, or you replace it with a more functional version of itself. If you want it, you must decide whether it has a place in your minimalist lifestyle or not.
Priorities are an enormous part of cultivating and maintaining a minimalist home, and this is where the want vs. need battle truly comes into play. According to the minimalist view, extra things in your life only increase stress, waste time, and cause problems down the road. As such, there is a constant fight for balance between what must stay and what you want to keep.
The best minimalists are driven only by the priority of minimalism; they purge all that which doesn’t bring them enough happiness to outweigh its presence in their lives. This doesn’t mean you need to stick to this rule exclusively, but it does make things much more manageable. It’s best to decide just what your priority is and if it aligns with minimalism before you attempt such a journey.
Clutter is the enemy of minimalism. We don’t just mean visual clutter, either; decluttering refers to removing anything that doesn’t serve a useful purpose from your life. If you have a dress that you wore years ago, that is special to you, but you’re never going to wear it again, it is merely taking up space. In the name of decluttering, it should be removed from your life, or at least stored somewhere out of the way.
Of course, clear visual clutter should be dealt with, too, and all the more so because visible clutter in our lives can be a common source of stress. However, minimalism isn’t meant to stop once you’ve cleaned the pile of mail off of your kitchen table. Minimalism is intended to go through every room of your home to declutter and de-stress.
When you can’t bear to give something away or otherwise remove it from your life, storage comes into play. While storing something doesn’t technically declutter your life any more than it was before, it does create the impression of it, which can be helpful for your mental and emotional well-being.
While getting rid of all things that we don’t need is the end goal of minimalism, we as human beings tend to get attached to sentimental objects, and this is okay. While you can’t store every sentimental item you’re purging; it’s fine to keep the most important ones in storage.
However, when you’re thinking of storing something sentimental to you, take a second to think about a few things:
- Could this item benefit someone else instead of being tucked away?
- Can I live without this item in my life?
- Does this item have any monetary value that I could gain by selling it?
- Will putting this item in storage truly make me feel better than giving it away would?
- Will I ever use this item again in any useful capacity?
Think Before You Buy
Keeping your home minimal is no easy task, especially when you’re an avid shopper! If you’re a fan of picking up new décor or clothing while you’re out, transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle will be particularly challenging for you, but it is possible. An excellent strategy for you, if you have trouble with buying things, is to ask yourself if you genuinely need them before you buy.
We must buy new things on occasion, especially if we’ve purged an old or decrepit version of something in the name of buying a new one. A pair of threadbare jeans, for example, could be donated to those in need in exchange for buying a new pair. However, a new pair of jeans shouldn’t be bought unless you specifically need them. (i.e., by making room in your closet for a new pair).
Purging goes hand-in-hand with the above step, but purging doesn’t always need to be accompanied by buying new things. In fact, to maintain a minimalist lifestyle, purging should happen regularly – think once per month or once every other week, at least on a large scale.
Small-scale purging should be incorporated into your daily life as much as possible. After all, removing the excess from your life is what minimalism is all about. When you sit down at your desk for the day, for example, purge all unnecessary items from its surface. When you get out of the car, purge any trash or things that shouldn’t be there. Do this as often as you can for any room or surface in your home, and you will see a significant improvement over a short time.
Quality over Quantity
With minimalist living, quality over quantity is a philosophy that should apply to all of your possessions, but especially new ones. When you’re buying something new to add to your home, it should be well-made and built to last. Not only is buying many inferior products a waste of money, but they won’t hold up in the long run, either; you’ll end up needing to purchase more.
Shopping for quality is undeniably an expensive way to live, especially in terms of upfront cost. However, buying a quality item that is not likely to break can sometimes save you money in the long run, too, and it almost always saves time and effort. Just as having a few close friends instead of many acquaintances can enrich your life, having only a few meaningful possessions instead of many meaningless ones can have the same effect.
Break Your Attachments
Breaking your attachments to particular items is part of purging, storing, and refreshing your household overall. Storage is always an option for the things you’re most attached to, but you should always try to break your attachments with items that you don’t have a use for.
The point of decluttering and living a minimalist lifestyle is to shift towards finding joy in others and experiences. In contrast, most of us habitually try to find joy in things, and while this is not wrong, per se, it can cause us pain and stress. Even if there are things we love and can’t give up, we need to realize that these things are temporary. They have no hold over our true happiness – that’s ours to decide.
While breaking our attachments to worldly things is a valuable habit to make, it’s just as important to feel gratitude for those same things. Minimalism is built around realizing the beauty in our material things, feeling gratitude for them, and then letting them go. Part of being grateful for the things we have is giving them away so that we can open our homes to new ones that make us happy.
All too often, we get caught up in the habit of feeling ugly emotions about our possessions and things, like:
Keeping an “attitude of gratitude,” on the other hand, helps us keep these negative emotions out. Furthermore, when we make gratitude a priority, we appreciate the things in our life more, especially those that we must give up to make room for more happiness.
Processes and Routines
If you’re looking to incorporate these minimalist habits into your life, you should incorporate them into routines and procedures that you do every day. A system for purging a little clutter every day or a habit of cleaning things as they get dirty makes a massive difference in keeping your homestead clean!
Think about all the little things you do at home in a day. You get the mail, cook a few meals, clean the dishes, walk the dogs, vacuum the floors, and more. Right now, you probably only do these things as they need to be done. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, a proactive, habitual approach is much better for keeping stress down and cleanliness up.
What’s more, having routines and processes in your daily life creates efficiency. This is especially true if you partly depend on others to help keep your home clean, such as with children, roommates, or partners. If you and the other residents of your house both follow a routine, things will remain cleaner, and there will be no more fighting over who does what.
Mindfulness is something that can benefit almost any area of our lives, and predictably, it can help us minimize, too. Mindfulness for minimization can be put to use just about anywhere, and of course, it’s always a good idea to be mindful about what you’re doing, whether that’s chores, shopping, purging, or otherwise.
One excellent place to be mindful is at the grocery store. Instead of walking up and down aisles and pulling whatever catches your eye, make a good list of what you need before going to the store. Challenge yourself by making this list before you go and only buying what’s on the list. This exercise provides you with many benefits, the best of which include:
- Saving you money
- Preventing excess food spoilage
- Saving on pantry and fridge space
- Helping in keeping a healthy diet
While the occasional impulse food purchase isn’t wrong, it’s good to get into the habit of sticking to a detailed list to keep it to a minimum.
One of the most iconic symbols of minimalism is the reveal of a clean surface from beneath a pile of papers or junk. However, minimalism isn’t satisfied with just exposing your surfaces from beneath all of your waste; minimalism seeks to remove all the trash, showing off the beauty and simplicity of those surfaces themselves.
A clean surface, like a counter, table, or floor, is a symbol of a well-maintained, stress-free house. Not only does keeping surfaces fresh help reduce your stress, but it also reveals the inner beauty of your home. This is even truer with a home that’s been freshly renovated or purchased. When you’re living in a beautiful new home, seeing its surfaces marred by clutter or dirt can inspire feelings of guilt and sadness.
Clean, Clean, Clean
Cleaning whenever you get a chance to do so plays a significant role in the minimalist lifestyle. While keeping a minimalist home clean might initially seem like a lot of work, those who practice minimalism know this is not the case. Minimalism is all about working cleaning into your daily routine instead of making it a chore. Instead of only cleaning a surface when it gets dirty, minimalists tidy something whenever they walk by.
Cleaning all the time, a little bit at a time is the secret to living minimally. If you can, get rid of the offending items to make your life simpler. Any mail that you don’t need or aren’t going to use should go in the trash instead of getting left on the counter. A coffee cup or soda bottle should go in the dumpster or recycling as soon as it’s used up instead of spending an afternoon sitting out. Hundreds of little things like this add up to one clean, minimal lifestyle.
Systems and Structure
Having well-accepted and understood policies in place for keeping your house clean is extremely important in family settings, but it can benefit you, too. For the average household, the following structures and things like them can be very useful in helping to maintain cleanliness around the house:
- Having separate recycling bins handy for cardboard, cans, glass, and plastic
- Having a place for every item to go when it’s done being used
- Closet organizers for keeping clothes, shoes, and accessories in their proper homes
- Following a rule of, “If we’re not going to use it, we don’t need it.”
There are limitless possibilities for the structures and systems you can use at home to keep things tidy and clean. Working regular purging into your schedule to keep clutter low is an excellent idea, too.
If you’re not a person who is a fan of openness, emptiness, and sparseness, minimalism will be tough for you. Learning to appreciate the cleanliness of a space and expecting it to be kept tidy is part of making minimalism a habit. However, the idea that minimalism is all emptiness and boredom is a misconception! Tasteful home décor is very compatible with minimalism as long as it follows specific rules.
While minimalism is often associated with, breezy, airy, clean spaces without much in the way of complicated décor, it doesn’t have to look this way. The design trend above is very hip right now, of course, but minimalism is compatible with many others, too.
The key is to keep your style from being weighed down by too many extra things. It’s up to you to decide how much is too much, what enhances your space instead of weighing it down, and which items bring you joy instead of stress. Minimalism is “less is more,” but the actual boundaries of this rule are yours to interpret.
Saying no to people and things is one of the hardest things we need to do to keep our homes and lives minimized, but once you get the hang of it, it tends to take care of itself. How many times has a friend gifted you with something that you didn’t need, but you took it anyway because you appreciated the gesture? Not only does this clutter your home, but it opens the opportunity for others to give you their cast-offs, too!
Your home is not a donation facility, and if possible, it’s best to let people know this right away. While it may be harder to say no to some friends than others, the reality here is that it’s necessary. If you have someone in your life who you can’t bear to say no to, then at least regift or give away the cluttersome items before they make their way into your house.
Once your friends and family know you’re not a fan of clutter or novelty gifts, their gift-giving will change to reflect that choice. While saying those first few no’s will be tough, it will pay for itself over time.
When we think of decluttering our lives, many of us don’t even think about digital clutter and the effect it can have on our happiness. However, being loaded up with digital clutter can cause us just as much stress as physical clutter, especially when it’s brought to our attention. Think of the last time you tried to take a picture, but your phone storage was full, for example.
Pictures are a prime example of things that should be purged or stored regularly, but there are many others, too, such as:
- Social media posts
- Files and papers (or turning physical documents into digital files for easier storage)
- Text conversations
- Social media friends
- Email subscriptions (and emails in general)
- Online accounts
Digital clutter is the silent killer of minimalism because we often forget it’s there unless it’s directly brought to our attention. As a result, setting a few hours aside each month to clear out extra digital clutter is a great way to keep it under control.
Deal with It Now
Whenever you bring something new into your home that could lead to clutter and stress, the best thing to do with it is to deal with it now. Think about our examples in the “Clean, Clean, Clean” section. When you bring the mail in on a given day, instead of setting it down to deal with later, sort through it immediately.
Throw away or recycle the junk mail that does not serve some purpose for you, and either deal with the critical mail immediately or sort it for a more appropriate time. While dealing with something immediately is always better, we know that things like bills and notices cannot always be taken care of right away.
The same thing goes for anything else going in (or out!) of your home. If you recently purged your closet and have many clothes to donate or dispose of, do so right away. If you can’t, at least put them in your car immediately and get them out of the house. That way, the next time you’re out and close to a donation facility, you can take care of them.
Experiences vs. Things
We’ve already talked about how to treat others giving you gifts, but how should you treat giving others (and yourself) gifts when you’re looking to live minimally? The answer is that you should try to provide unique, experienced-based gifts instead of material things. Not only do experiences leave a more lasting, memorable impression, but they tend to be more personal than a physical gift, too.
If you don’t quite understand what giving experiences instead of things means, read over these examples:
- Instead of giving someone a novelty item, send them on a trip to see how the item is made
- Instead of a gift that will only take up space, give them something functional or something they need
- Instead of something that you’re not sure they’ll enjoy, give a gift card or money to ensure that it’ll go towards something they like
It’s true that giving gift cards and cash has fallen out of style a bit, but we’re big proponents of the idea! It’s about time that they come back into style because giving people gifts that they enjoy never gets old. What’s more, if you give someone a gift card or even just some cash, you don’t have to take the chance of duplicating someone else’s gifts, either.
In and Out
An excellent habit to build for keeping your home clutter-free is the in-and-out rule. With this, you must always make sure that whenever you bring something new into your home, something else of approximately equal size or value should go out to make room for it. This is a rule that works wonders in family environments, too.
For example, consider a child who wants to buy a new videogame. Before purchasing the game, he or she must decide on one game to sell or donate. This makes the child think more about whether they want to bring the new game into their home in exchange for one of their old ones.
The in-and-out rule has the dual benefit of both making you think carefully about your purchases and keeping your home tidy and clutter-free. When you must give something valuable away with each new purchase, it keeps your stored belongings low, too. Buying a new couch to replace an old one, for example, is very easy, but purchasing something brand-new that you’re not replacing requires some careful thought.
Minimalism is a lifestyle choice that is designed to make your life simpler and less stressful. Minimalism also helps us realize what truly matters to us in our lives. When we have a firm grasp on what we can bear to let go of and what must remain in our lives, we’re much more discerning about what we allow to clutter our lives in the first place.
True happiness seldom comes from an abundance of material things. While society raises us to think that material things enrich our lives and make us happy, in truth, our happiness comes much more readily from people and experiences.
For many of us, it’s not easy to turn our way of life on its head and live minimally after doing the opposite for many years. However, with the right time, effort, understanding, and helpful habits, minimalist living can quickly become a boon to both you and your home.