Tips for Minimalist Living [Updated]

This post was originally published in January 2015. I’m reposting it today because…well, I need the reminder…and maybe some of you do too. As I look around our apartment, I see more stuff than we had 3 1/2 years ago but even so, I’m hard-pressed to find things that aren’t used regularly or don’t somehow “spark joy”. Yet, there are days when I feel overwhelmed…by stuff, by obligations, by the thoughts in my head about what my life should look like at 45 years old (my version vs. other people’s expectations). It is in those times that I have to remind myself that the journey to a more minimalist lifestyle is just that…a journey…and each of our paths is different. There is no right way or wrong way to improve yourself.

Since we made the commitment to minimalist living in 2012, we’ve definitely had our ups and downs. We’ve given boxes and bags of stuff to Goodwill only to see new stuff come in to replace it. We’ve sworn never to waste time only to get to the end of a day, a week, or a month and realize that we’ve given our most valuable asset to things we care nothing about. We’ve promised not to accumulate debt (and thankfully we haven’t) but boy have there been temptations along the way! In short, the journey toward a minimalist lifestyle is a very human one.

Through these trials (and errors) I’ve found a good many things that really work in simplifying and bettering life.

1) Define minimalism for yourself. 

I recently read a blog about the definition of minimalism. The author was angry. He felt that minimalism was about living in a small space with very few possessions and attacked anyone who wasn’t taking this approach. I’ve said many times, minimalism is not just about your possessions (or lack thereof). It’s bigger than that. To be a true minimalist you must embrace a definition that works within your own life plan.

2) Decluttering is VIP.

You can’t have true freedom if you’re constantly encumbered by useless things – whether those things are possessions, people, or responsibilities. Getting rid of unworn clothing, unread books, unused exercise equipment, and excess furniture will make your home easier to manage and it really is cathartic to purge your closets. Getting rid of relationships that cause you unwanted stress and responsibilities that bring you no benefit is even more cathartic.

3) Buy less. Waste less.

I was raised in a Southern family where big meals were and still are the norm. So for me, learning to plan meals was hard. Learning to buy only what we would actually eat was even harder – especially when the grocery store is full of new and tempting goodies. Keeping a stock list of our most frequently used grocery items and shopping only from that list really helps. From a few basic ingredients we are able to make all of our favorite meals and have almost zero food waste. The same concept can be applied to other purchases too. Buying fewer clothes forces you to wear what you have and choose only things that you love.

4) Cut costs by prioritizing your wants and needs.

For a long time we had cable because everyone had cable. It was how you watched TV. I had a car because everyone had a car. It’s how you got around. We had a cell phone contract because that’s how you got the newest gadgets for free. When I discovered minimalism, I began to reassess my priorities. I sold my car, cut the cable cord, and switched to a prepaid cell service. I did these things not just to save money but to reallocate that money (and the time spent pursuing it) to things that actually bring me happiness – like travel and family time.

5) Keep it simple every day and in every way.

As human beings it is in our very nature to over-think and over-complicate our lives. We worry. We obsess. We plan. We do so much on a daily basis to ensure that our future is bright that we forget about our present. I’m just as guilty as the next person of doing this. In fact, I spend way too much of my time thinking about the weekend or the week ahead. If I were to pick one thing to work more diligently on in my life, this is probably it. Cherish every moment by making it the only moment that matters.

If We Can Can, You Can Too

My maternal grandparents lived on a farm in North Carolina. Growing up, my grandmother would haul 5-gallon buckets of fresh produce from the garden to the house in a little red wagon, scattering chickens in her wake. It seems idyllic now but back then, it was just another day in the life. With 7 children and 41 grandchildren, everything that my grandmother did was on a large scale. For breakfast, she made grits in a stock pot and cooked 2 dozen eggs at a time. It’s no wonder then that watching her can tomatoes and green beans as a child left me with the impression that it was an all-day job that involved an assembly line of aunts and cousins, a giant pressure cooker, and more jars than I had ever seen, even at Walmart.

Fast forward 35 years…

With our tiny garden and our CSA baskets winding down, Angie and I started thinking about how we might continue to enjoy the fresh tastes of summer all year long. Last year we froze so much squash and zucchini that I swore we were never going to freeze anything else for as long as we lived. And the tomatoes! We boiled, cooked, and froze gallons upon gallons of cherry tomatoes that we gleaned from our neighbor’s neglected garden. I never wanted to see another tomato either. But, as usually happens with things like this, we changed our minds – but not before we sold one of our freezers. So…to shake things up a bit, we decided we would give water bath canning a go this year.

Unlike the canning process I witnessed as a young girl, water bath canning is pretty simple. No explosive [pressure cooker] experience or assembly line of relatives required. You can use any deep pot for water bath canning. We used our stock pot. We already had a collection of jars from our regular salsa purchases at the Farmer’s Market and rings/lids from Angie’s mom, so all we had to purchase was our ingredients and a jar grabber. (One attempt to pull hot jars out of scalding water with a pair of tongs was enough to render buying this $3 gadget a no-brainer.)

Last summer, we experimented with pickling jalapenos. This year, we branched out. Along with pickled jalapenos, so far, we have canned 3 jars of Bread ‘n Butter Pickles (or as Angie told her mom by mistake, Sweet ‘n Bread Pickles) and 10 jars of salsa. All the ingredients came from our garden or the Farmer’s Market.

I used a few online resources to get started, including:

Water Bath Canning for High Acid Foods

Canning Homemade Salsa

Million Dollar Pickles

Quick Pickled Jalapenos*

*This recipe doesn’t have canning directions, so I just used the times listed below.

Our experience/experiment left us with a few nuggets of wisdom for future use as well:

  1. Water bath canning only works with high acid foods and jams or jellies. If you’re pickling anything in vinegar, you can use a water bath canner.
  2. Tomatoes are an exception. You can water bath can them if you use lemon juice in the recipe.
  3. A butter knife works perfectly for freeing air bubbles from your jars.
  4. Water bath canning is a relatively quick process. 15 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts.
  5. If your seal doesn’t “pop”, refrigerate and eat that jar first. (So far, all our seals have popped).

We had a lot of fun trying our hand at making some of the things we buy frequently at the Farmer’s Market, and by my calculations, we saved a lot of money too. On average, a jar of salsa costs $5 and a jar of pickles $4.50 at the market. To buy what we made would have cost us $68 at the market. To make it, cost $23, which includes the cost of the jar grabber.

Now, where’s that easy button??