Three Strategies for Easing Into Minimalism

Minimalism is a growing trend; we with too much are starting to recognize that and try to figure ways to pare down, ways to minimize not only the number of possessions we have, but, more importantly, the mental energy it takes to keep track of them all. There are an ever-increasing number of blogs devoted to this philosophy; this is the best primer I’ve found.

This post is not about “why,” it’s about how. If you feel burdened by the sheer amount of stuff you have–no matter what kind of stuff it is–that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to chuck it all. However, recognizing the burden is the first step. The next step is figuring out how to prioritize minimizing your possessions (minimalism is also about a lot of things besides possessions, but I’m trying to stay focused here).

Personally, I am more of a natural hoarder than a minimalist. That said, I started making a conscious effort to “downsize” about two years ago, and I’m getting better and better at it. Here are some strategies for making that conversion:

1. Find your why

I know I said this post was about “how,” but sometimes those two are inextricably liked. You may feel a sort of claustrophobia but hardly understand it. Try to figure out where that’s coming from.

For me, the things that force decisions bother me the most. I don’t mind having “extra” artwork; I actually like really “cluttered” visual displays, sometimes. My bed at home often has as many as seven or eight blankets on it (I get really really cold, okay?) and that doesn’t bother me. If all you see in my room is my bookcase, there’s no way you’d assume I appreciate minimalism.

Having seven or eight types of shampoo–even if there’s just a spoonful of each–really does get to me, though. It means that when I go to use shampoo, I have to decide between too many options. Same goes for clothes, shoes, etc.

The reason I started getting into minimalism, though, was because of traveling. I found it really embarrassing and annoying to carry a lot of stuff places, and I usually found that I didn’t actually need or even end up using most of what I brought. In 2011, when I went on a two-week trip to Ireland with my parents, I packed for the entire vacation, including a three-day horse trek and two days in London, in a small duffel bag and a medium size purse. This included an old helmet, which I left at the stable at the end of the trek (it was still in OK shape, and this gave me extra space for souvenirs).

I wore mostly black, rotated layers, and aired out clothing at night. Even still, I came home with one or two perfectly clean articles of clothing, and I hadn’t done any laundry on the trip–I definitely could have packed lighter. If your trip is really going to consist of one drive or flight, one hotel, etc., then heavier luggage might not be an issue–and spending less time thinking about how to get outfits to coordinate (or whatever) might be more “minimal.” For me, I seem to end up walking or even running for miles, often carrying my luggage, wherever I go, so light is definitely a priority.

2. You can climb the mountain slowly

It’s easy to get carried away by minimalism blogs and want to get rid of all your stuff, RIGHT NOW. I mean, that’s how I always feel when I read these things. But the reality of many lifestyles is that this doesn’t make sense. I don’t like owning a bunch of dresses, because I rarely wear them. However, when I’m asked to perform in front of a specific audience, it’s really nice (and kind of comforting) to have options to choose from.

My life right now is very unstable. I have a job that lasts through July, and while I have a few plans brewing, I have no solid knowledge about where I’m going to be in August or after. There is a big difference between “barn clothes” and “presentation clothes.” Although I’ve seriously reduced my closet in the past few years, I’m still leaving my options open.

Likewise, I haven’t gotten rid of my ice skates even though I haven’t been skating in a couple years. They were an investment when I bought them, they still fit well, and the few times I have gotten the chance to skate since I stopped doing it regularly, I really appreciated having my own boots (they tend to fit better, and the blades are sharper than rental skates’). Someday I may be living so far from any ice that I decide it’s not worth keeping them around, but for now they have a home in my parents’ house (yeah, I kept them, but I wasn’t bringing them with me to France!).

As you go about your “minimalist journey” (and wince whenever you hear that phrase), give yourself permission to do it gradually, or at whatever pace seems right for you. The whole point is being thoughtful, so don’t feel guilty about putting thought not only into the decision, but also to the practice.

3. Practice reversible minimalism

Finally, one of the biggest obstacles to minimalism is the “what if.” I touched on this above–if you don’t know what’s coming up next in your life (and there is some degree of uncertainty for all of us), you may find yourself thinking “what if I do take up tap dancing again?” (You laugh, but this sort of thing is most of what’s behind my shoe problem!) 

Before I left for France, I spent a really ludicrous amount of time getting rid of stuff (even still, I have too much waiting for me). This was time-consuming for me because I don’t like the thought of getting rid of something only to want to buy the same (or similar) thing in the near future, and because I was trying to find “good homes” for a lot of my stuff (and pick up a little cash from some of it).

If the thought of permanently getting rid of possessions makes you leery (or teary), consider a trial separation first. When I’m thinking about giving clothes away, I’ll usually put them in a bag in another room and see what happens. If I find myself thinking, “you know what, I really could use that zebra-print sweatshirt,” then I can go grab it out of the bag, no harm done. If it’s been a few months (or a year, for seasonal clothes), I can probably be fairly certain I won’t actually miss the piece very much.

Another way to try this is to pretend you have to live out of a suitcase — you can get the suitcase(s) out if you want — and see what makes the cut. Before I left for France, I thought it was really hard to get down to 2 suitcases of clothes (one large, one carry-on) to take with me for a year abroad. Now that I’m here, I’ve realized three things:

1) I could have left as much as 50% of my day-to-day clothing at home

2) I should have brought my super duper heavy wool coat (thanks in advance to my mom for shipping it over here!)

3) Out of all my “possessions,” I really only miss my cat

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missing this one! (Photo thanks to Martin Reisinger)

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