Minimalism is a beautiful lifestyle change to make to improve your health, happiness, and stress in the home. However, there are a few rules you must follow and procedures you must put in place. In this article, we’ll go over some of the positive effects that a life of minimalism can have for you. Things you must do to be successful, and the best strategies for how to be a minimalist.
What Is Minimalism?
In popular culture, minimalism is a lifestyle choice that involves living without excess. How much extra should be removed varies from person to person, however, so there’s no hard-and-fast “rule” to what counts as minimalism and what does not.
The theory behind popular minimalism is that, when you have fewer possessions to worry about, you save on time, energy, and stress. Think about it: just like fewer rooms in a home means less time spent cleaning, if you have fewer possessions, you need to use less time cleaning and maintaining those, too.
Minimalism didn’t start as a lifestyle movement. The term “minimalism” was popularized by an art-style movement around the time of World War II. However, the name has come to mean living a more straightforward, less-fettered lifestyle, in addition to describing a particular home design philosophy that echoes this lifestyle choice.
Effects of Minimalism
Minimalism provides a bevy of beneficial effects on your health and well-being in addition to your household. Even besides the apparent benefits of needing to clean less and buy less, minimalism has exciting implications for your mental state, family life, and many other unexpected things. Some of these unexpected improvements include:
- A sense of purpose
- Better relationships with others
- Mental clarity and acuity
- Less stress
- Better health
The shortlist above is far from exhaustive. Over time, as we get used to a fast-paced life focused on making, spending, and saving money, we forget about how much we need to focus on ourselves, what we need, and what we want.
The goal of minimalism isn’t to force us to change the course of our lives drastically, but to allow us the freedom to do so if we so choose. Improving ourselves, our mental state, and our emotional stability in the process is not an intended benefit, but it is a beneficial side effect! It just speaks for the power of minimalism and bringing our focus back to ourselves that minimalism has such a profound impact on so many different areas of our lives.
When we own many things, we become attached to those things. Unfortunately, our society teaches us that having more items makes us happier. While material possessions can make us more comfortable in many ways, more doesn’t always translate to happiness; on the contrary, having too much can often lead to stress, attachment, and other problems.
Think about how you feel after clearing and organizing your closet. Don’t you feel light, airy, and accomplished? The same feeling comes about from living a minimalist lifestyle. We experience a clarity of mind that’s hard to achieve in any other way than freeing ourselves from something.
Believe it or not, this feeling of accomplishment is actually backed by science. When our homes are messy, we’re measurably more stressed, but when we clean up that mess, the relief and accomplishment we feel offsets that stress. As such, it follows that keeping a clean, clutter-free living area helps to minimize stress and keep your mind clear.
Minimalism isn’t just about clearing the junk out of our homes, although that is an essential first step. A true minimalist applies this philosophy of de-cluttering to all aspects of their life, including the mental, physical, and emotional ones. A healthy, happy minimalist makes room only for the essential things in their schedule, keeping all of the unnecessary, stressful situations out.
This is true emotionally, too. An emotional minimalist lives in the moment, feeling only what they need to handle, and lets the rest of life’s worries pass them by. While living this way might seem downright wrong to many of us, since we’re internally wired to want to keep from disappointing others, prioritizing your own mental and emotional health as a minimalist does has impressive effects on your health.
Some of the beneficial health effects of minimalism include:
- Smaller, healthier diets
- More self-care
- Time for exercise
- More free time
- Less stress
- Reprieve from mental illness
Think about how often you do things to please others in a day. While doing things to please others isn’t wrong, especially if it makes you happy, taking it to the point of wearing yourself out or causing yourself extra stress is both counterproductive and counterintuitive. A minimalist knows this, and they use the spare time in their schedules to bond with their family, treat themselves, and focus on their health.
You might be surprised by how much just an extra few minutes spent with yourself each day (or even each week) can improve your health and mental state. Self-care is supremely important, and part of being a practical minimalist is knowing how much and what kind of self-care you need to be a healthy, happy individual.
The world we live in today is rife with opportunity and growth potential. While it is excellent for our personal health and improvement to accept these opportunities and use them to grow, we as humans tend to be bad at knowing where to draw the line. If we pursue too many of these opportunities and advance too quickly, we can swiftly burn ourselves out along the way.
Fortunately, one of the benefits of minimalism is to give ourselves more free time. Minimalism helps us learn how to say “no” when an opportunity begins to overwhelm us. While we may feel like it’s imperative to pursue every available opportunity at the time it appears, we must take a step back. Another opportunity will always be around the corner, so if you step back from this one, all is not lost.
Some of us find the idea of free time (and freedom in general) to be a bit scary. When we have free time for ourselves, we feel a bit unstable and dangerous. We could do anything with our free time if we wanted. It’s a powerful feeling and one that scares many people more than they’d like to admit.
Some people fear freedom and free time because they believe it’s too much for them. If given free time, how will they return to work when their free time is over? Will they be able to transition back to doing tedious, unpleasant work after having a taste of freedom?
Other people fear that they will have nothing to do in their free time. In our society, we’re bred and raised to learn, grow competence, and eventually join the workforce as a working individual. Our lives revolve around working, getting paid, and purchasing the things we want and need. Some people fear being left to their own devices when that lifetime of work is taken away.
Science tells us that self-care is a vital part of a healthy mind and body, and to conduct proper self-care, we need free time – specifically, time to ourselves. If nothing else, take some time off work and away from others to make sure your body and mind are functional and healthy.
Like we talked about above, stress is directly connected to the things around us. Minimalism specifically addresses the clutter in our homes, but people, emotions, and expectations can clutter our lives, too. When we’re attached to too many things and people, we need to keep them clean, taken care of, and up-to-date. While friendships with others are essential and some material possessions are necessary, cutting what you can live without out of your life proportionally reduces that stress.
Think about all the things that stress you out daily. The average adult’s list of stressors looks something like this:
- Functions or get-togethers that I don’t want to go to
- Maintaining the house
- Paying the bills
- Making good impressions on friends and coworkers
- Taking care of friends and family
Now, think about if you could eliminate most or all of these stressors from your average week. Imagine not having to spend an afternoon cleaning the house, being able to sleep in instead of going to work, or ducking out of a function with zero consequences. Does that not sound heavenly? As human beings, we inherently desire time spent on our own, even if we stop recognizing this desire over time.
In actuality, it’s rarely, if ever, possible to eliminate every single source of stress from our lives. However, a practicing minimalist can take great strides towards eliminating most of it.
In many social circles out in the world, our worth is determined or influenced by what we have. Unexpectedly, a fringe benefit of learning to live with less is taking pride in having less. When we buy less and own less, we use less, too, and this is beneficial for ourselves and the environment.
When we’ve been raised to feel like our worth is determined by what we have, it can feel jarring or uncomfortable to get rid of it or give it away. However, when we do this, we start to see our sense of inner worth shine through. After all, even if some circles think our value is defined by what we have, they are wrong! Our value is determined by what we do and what we believe, not what we possess.
For some people, giving up extra possessions and learning to live with less becomes something of a cleansing experience. Because we are forced to examine our inner selves without the shield of excess belongings, our self-worth gets redefined.
The end goal of minimalism as a lifestyle is to increase your freedom. By maintaining only your most comfortable minimum level of possessions, acquaintances, and social responsibilities, you end up with much more time to yourself. This manifests in the form of free time, but it manifests as general freedom, too.
When we own less and keep fewer, better friends, we feel less tied down Minimalists have the freedom to be able to pack up and relocate at a moment’s notice if they want to. While not everyone will want to do this, the important thing is the ability to do so if we so desire. If you need some ideas to tempt you past the fear and into this free lifestyle, consider these suggestions:
- Taking a surprise vacation abroad
- Moving to the city you’ve always wanted to live in
- Pursuing your dream job instead of tolerating the one you hate
- Seeing the world at your own pace
- Devoting your time to people that matter, such as family
Becoming a minimalist means following certain sets of rules, regulations, and procedures. You will define many of these rules for yourself, but it stands that you must follow them all in some capacity. Minimalism is a lifestyle that requires change, after all. It cannot be accomplished by throwing half-hearted attempts at the final result.
However, while the process of becoming minimalist is rather structured, it is not particularly difficult. Once you understand what you need to do to start minimizing your life, the process is relatively straightforward. In the sections below, we will teach you precisely what you must do to make minimalism a part of your life.
Understanding Your Needs
Before you take even a single step into the world of minimalism, you need to realize that your needs will be much, much different than those of your neighbor. There are many right ways to become a minimalist, and as long as you’re devoted to the end result, there is no wrong way to do it, either. As such, if you move forward with the idea that someone else’s solution will work for you, you’ll most likely end up with a rude awakening and little, if any, success.
Think about your best friend’s house. Is their home as dirty as yours? As cluttered? As clean? Even without adding minimalism to your life, your ways of doing things will be drastically different than your neighbor’s. Why, then, would we expect your minimization to be the same?
As such, understanding what you need is the first step towards enacting your minimalist lifestyle. Self-reflection is an excellent way to get started, but the most reliable method is just trial and error. There’s no magical test or quiz you can take that will tell you what level of minimization will be correct for you, but your inner self will know when it comes.
The next step on your journey of minimalism, once you have started to get an idea of what works best for you, is to lay some ground rules. Minimization is all about upkeep and dedication. If you can’t follow the rules you put down for yourself, minimization won’t work well for you.
Think about how much work it is to keep your home clean as it is now. Keeping your home in a minimalist state requires the same amount of work (or less), but on a very different schedule. While a traditional homeowner will clean things as they become dirty, a minimalist takes precautions to prevent something from ever becoming that way in the first place.
Think about a light, airy house that has already been decorated to minimalist standards, for example. If you are to keep that place in prime condition, you will need to tidy it often, in addition to taking great care with what items you bring into the house. Too many excess possessions can quickly break the minimalism of a space.
Your rules should relate to what you need from minimalism, of course. If you need emotional minimalism the most, you should set ground rules based on that, such as:
- Take time to meditate for one hour every day
- Put my emotional well-being first (within reason)
- Cut distressing emotions like stress, sadness, and anger from my life as much as possible
- Find and maintain supportive friends who help me stay in a positive emotional state
- Practice self-care for my emotions
Your ground rules for keeping your house clean will look a bit different, of course, as will those for mental health. While the above format is an excellent place to start, remember that minimalism is very dependent on the individual’s interpretation. You should create a list of rules in a way that works best for you.
Mind, Body, and Spirit
While we traditionally think about the home when we think about minimizing, your residence is just one aspect of your life that can benefit. Your mind and your spirit, as well, can grow from the effects of minimization. While your home is the easiest thing to tackle, the reward you gain when you master minimization of the mind, body, and home is one-hundred-fold of what you would receive from minimizing your dwelling alone.
A mental minimalist is, in effect, an observer. By purging stress, anger, sadness, and other unhealthy emotions, an experienced minimalist fundamentally changes how their mind processes information. Some examples of how include:
- A minimalist lives in the moment rather than worrying about tomorrow or yesterday
- A minimalist considers their health and happiness before embarking on an adventure or accepting an opportunity
- Instead of wondering what they can do in the future, a minimalist wonders, “What can I do today? What can I do right now?”
- A minimalist pursues what makes them happy instead of being held down by what society expects of them
Purging plays an enormous role in the act of minimization regardless of whether it’s done from a physical, mental, or emotional standpoint. The effects of minimalism are gained mostly through purging, after all. There is no way to create a minimalist lifestyle if you’re unwilling to get rid of things, so keep this in mind on your journey. If you can’t purge and de-clutter, your journey will be rather short!
Purging will not be an easy thing to do at first. There will be many things that you will find yourself sentimentally attached to, and giving these things up will be tough. For your most valuable possessions, keeping them close to you or safely tucked away in storage is okay, but not ideal.
Purging isn’t a one-time event, either. Just as your email inboxes fill every day, your mind, your body, and your home will collect excess junk, too. There will always be things that you can’t resist purchasing or gifts from others that you can’t refuse, and this is okay! The secret, however, is in the damage control you do afterward.
By keeping up a regular schedule of purging, we can mitigate our human urge to collect things and turn it into a way to de-stress and keep our homes (and ourselves) in prime condition.
Once you have purged all that you can from your mind, your spirit, and your residence, the next step is to organize what remains. No matter what we do, we will always have some number of belongings that we must keep, and while the size of that number varies widely, carefully organizing what you hold onto plays a role in keeping stress down, keeping things tidy, and promoting more minimization in the future.
While some of us are naturally good at finding creative organizational solutions for things, there are already hundreds of solutions available out there for your use and convenience. Closet organizers, for example, are an advantageous and exceedingly popular way to organize everything that goes in the closet.
A closet organizer is a rather apt symbol for how a minimalist’s life should work, too. When an organizer is made for a closet, it is customized to fit the size and space of the room, just as a minimalist’s rules should be customized. The organizer can have many different compartments, drawers, and hangers for different things, just like a minimalist must figure out their unique solutions for problems.
A closet organizer is meant to create a place for each belonging to reside in and go back to after each use. By always having a place where things go, a good minimalist can guarantee those old belongings will not become clutter, and new belongings will always have a place.
Restriction is the brother to purging but done from the opposite angle. If you can get the hang of restriction, you will have much less purging to do down the road, for example. In our case, restriction refers to being very selective about what you allow to enter your home, your mind, and your body.
A simple example of this is diet restriction. When a person is on a restricted diet, they are not allowed to eat certain things, or they’re expected only to eat specific things. Restriction for the sake of minimalism is the same way! A minimalist must be very careful about what they purchase or otherwise receive, as each new addition will add more clutter.
An excellent way to apply this principle is to use the in-and-out rule. With this rule, for every item that enters your household (barring some consumable items like groceries), another, older thing must go out the door. For example, if you’re looking to buy new drapes for your windows, the old curtains should come down first.
While this example seems rather self-explanatory, it can become complicated when we choose things that we don’t already possess, like a new appliance or piece of technology. Consider a smartwatch, for example, to someone who doesn’t already own a smartwatch. They could give away a regular watch of theirs to make room for the smartwatch if they desired, or they could get rid of their alarm clock, whose functionality the smartwatch replaces.
Restriction does not just apply to purchases around the home, though. Minimalists should be careful about restricting things like friends, too. While it is excellent to have a small number of close friends that you can depend on, which each friend that enters your life, the emotional return you must make increases. At some point, the investment outweighs the rewards you receive, and your emotions will pay the price.
While it is easy to define minimalism on paper with a few key buzzwords, it can be challenging to explain in practice due to its very personal nature. As such, you should take any advice you read or hear with a grain of salt. If you find something out there that works for you and helps you in your quest towards minimalism, then you should pursue it.
Just as every human looks different, every human feels and acts different, too. As such, there is no blanket strategy for becoming a minimalist, but if you use the tips in this guide as a starting point, you will inevitably be able to find your way to where you want to be.