I have been working on minimizing since the summer of 2018. My entire life is far from curated but I have definitely made it easier on myself. I went from hating the small, dorm-style room I lived in to writing three books in that cramped space thanks to minimalism.
While those two things sound unrelated, I can tell you I would not have one without the other. Minimalism wasn’t easy to get into but I can tell you that I would not have changed my life so drastically if I hadn’t started the process.
Here are five tips to get you started, because starting is the hardest part.
1. Figure out your values
When you look around at your physical stuff, it’s easy to convince yourself you need all of it or that everything ‘sparks joy’. That’s why the first step of minimalism shouldn’t be getting rid of things.
The first step is figuring out your values. You need to know your ‘why’.
Why do you want to minimize? What are you trying to accomplish?
When I started, I focused in on five values. I’ll defer to the experts on this (The Minimalists) if you aren’t sure what your values are. Basically, I figured out what sort of life I wanted to live, what I wanted to prioritize, and realized that the physical clutter was getting in my way.
With a clear picture of my values moving forward, I knew there was a purpose behind getting rid of (nearly) 75% of my things.
2. Start small and easy
I looked around at my already cramped space and felt completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start or what to even do once I decided whether an item would stay or go.
The best way to start is to start small. I started with the things around my desk. I had school papers piling up, miscellaneous notebooks, textbooks, clothes, and more (I know, I was somewhat of a hoarder).
I had never even used that desk as a desk!
I knew that space would be the easiest to work with so I sat down with a trash bag and started scrapping things. Whatever was a no-brainer, I tossed without second-guessing.
Then, I used that momentum.
I went from easy things to a few ‘hesitation’ items. Things such as gifts from other people, cards from friends, and notebooks that were full of school notes on subjects I no longer studied (for some reason I still had high school papers and history notes with me???). I have no idea why I kept them but I used the momentum to just relentlessly trash it all.
3. Make it into a game
Once again, The Minimalists introduced me to the 30-day minimalism game. On day 1 of the month, you get rid of one thing. On day 2, two things… so on.
Holy crap I had a blast doing that. After getting rid of so much stuff already, this one really challenged me once I got to the higher day counts. By the time I was getting rid of 20+ things a day, I was actually struggling to find that many things.
But the game of it, and my intensely competitive nature, kept me focused and I made it to day 30 and won.
When I looked around at all my space, I realized that I didn’t even remember what I got rid of. I didn’t miss any of it.
Fun fact: I actually took pictures of everything I got rid of and put it in Google Drive. One month after donating it all, I went back through the photos and couldn’t even remember half the things I got rid of! And not once did I need those things, even two years later.
4. Focus on elimination, not reorganization
Especially around my desk, I wanted to just reorganize it and make it look neat. That caused the problem of still having the things that would just get messy a week later.
As hard as it was, I focused first on getting rid of all the junk before I worried about where the remaining things would go.
Instead of trying to organize all my notebooks, I got rid of everything I didn’t need and then focused on putting them where they would best be used. Instead of trying to fold all of my clothes and find space for them, I tossed ruthlessly and then realized I didn’t even need my dresser anymore.
Reorganization is just moving your clutter into piles and giving the illusion of neat and tidy.
5. Practice patience
I woke up on day two after getting rid of about 25% of my things and thought my life was going to be different.
Sure, I felt lighter and I felt accomplished, but I still had so much work to do. Instead of getting discouraged, I used that momentum to get rid of more things and make more changes in my life.
I focused on my values and picked out five activities that I could do each week to bring me closer. As I got better at it, I started doing more things. Eventually, I realized I had completely turned my life around… and other people noticed as well.
To help the process, I used my new adventure as a chance to start writing. I documented the process and soon found that I was learning so much more along the way. It eventually led to me discovering what came next — writing novels!
That didn’t happen for a few months and honestly I think that was fast (I had different life circumstances that allowed me to make drastic changes in shorter amounts of time). Patience really paid off in this situation.
Bonus: It’s an ongoing process
It’s foolish to think that you only have to minimize once and you’re set for life. Minimalism is an ongoing process.
You have to understand that every time you bring something in to your space, you’re adding ‘clutter’ whether you think it’s junk or not.
Minimalism is a continuous and intentional practice that you have to stay on top of.
I’ve done several bouts of ‘purging’ throughout these two years, especially around times where I’ve moved. I’ve also gone through different stages of needs (I didn’t need a couch or a desk at my old room (the desk was built in) but in a larger townhouse, those things bring tremendous value to my living space).
Minimalism is wonderful because it’s flexible. It’s not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle but rather one that you mend and mold into your style. Once you get into the practice, it does get easier to manage your clutter.
I’ve used minimalism to fuel my values and passions which has led me to publish three books and four short stories. You can get my next novel, If Found, Do Not Return, available now. Stay updated on novels and writing life with my newsletter.