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.

We’re Not Broke, We’re Minimalists

We’re broke, didn’t you know?

Believe me, it came as a complete surprise to us as well. All these many months of budgeting and saving and investing and paying off student loans and buying a car with only 2 payments, and here we sit today, flat broke. The way I hear it, we can’t even afford to buy a box of Kleenex. You’re shocked, I know. You thought we had more sense than that. And you’re probably wondering what happened. Where would a couple of minimalists spend their life savings and how would we suddenly go from financially flexible to strapped for cash.

Here’s a clue. We didn’t.

As much as I love toying with the idea of living a moneyless life, being broke is not on my list of things to do in 2018. The assumption that we’re living paycheck to paycheck came from someone who is living the “American Dream” (in other words, she is broke herself) and it caught me so off guard that since hearing it, I’ve turned it into a joke.

“No, love, we can’t get those day-old croissants. We’re broke, remember?”

“Mom, do you have a quarter? I need to get some Ramen for dinner.”

There are people all around us who are living in poverty. There are hardworking men and women who can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try. There are students saddled with so much educational debt that they have no choice but to live with mom and dad until they are 30. There’s nothing funny about that, and I firmly believe that it’s going to take the voices and efforts of all of us to make any changes there. But when someone mistakes minimalism for financial insecurity, now that’s something to chuckle about.

Let’s talk about how we got here…

We’re broke because we eat out of the dumpster. 38 million tons of good food goes to waste every year in America and the grocery store next door does a fine job of contributing to this terrible statistic. Knowing this, we feel a responsibility to at least rescue what we can. Besides, when you can find foods like this for free, why would you pay for them?

We’re broke because we shop at the thrift store. The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothing per year. Most of which ends up in a landfill somewhere. The average minimalist wears 30 pounds of clothing per year (yes, I weighed our wardrobe). Angie and I both could dress quite nicely on the discards of just one person so yes, we shop at thrift stores. Not only is thrifting better for the environment but it’s quite fun. Who doesn’t enjoy finding a pair of $80 ExOfficio travel pants for just $2.99?

Monkeying around at Rainforest Zoo on a Groupon.

We’re broke because we use coupons and discounts. I’m sorry but paying full price for something is not an indicator of wealth (like so many folks here in the South think). Every dollar saved is well…a dollar saved. And with those saved dollars, we can do other, more important things like travel.

We’re broke because we don’t have luxuries like cable and the latest iPhone. Don’t even get me started on how backwards we are because of this! Yes, our $50 Boost Mobile phones do have a tendency to attach random sentences to text messages but what’s life without a little novelty? And on the subject of cable, we broke up nearly 5 years ago and we haven’t missed it yet. We have; however, had quite a lot of fun on the $79 per month we used to spend for the pleasure of clicking through channels to find there was never anything on.

Playing cornhole at the park.

We’re broke because our idea of fun is a day at the park. Not the theme park. The regular park. The one with the grass and trees.

But mostly we’re broke because we “failed” at Christmas this past year. While this person went overboard, buying everything that everyone in her family even thought about wanting, we made our gifts and stuck to our guns about not supporting rampant consumerism. And we have yet to live this down.

Minimalism is a hard concept for some people to understand. It’s different, I know. Maybe even revolutionary in some respects. It’s definitely counter-intuitive to the way we (Americans) have been raised, where “stuff” and “debt” are such a part of normal culture that we often fail to realize a different path exists. Minimalism asks folks to take stock of what’s important to them and usually, because of it, they eschew the traditional path of excess and responsibility and do something far more fascinating/important/worthy with their lives. When this happens, those around them react and more often than not, the reaction is a negative one. I’m sure there’s a better psychological reason behind this but my take on it is that people often feel threatened by things they don’t understand, or think are beyond their own reach.

The thing is, minimalism is not beyond reach. Anyone can choose to live a life of less. You don’t have to live in a tiny house or wear the same clothes all week long. You don’t have to get rid of everything you own or stop shopping altogether. You just have to decide what’s most important to you and reduce or eliminate anything that doesn’t support that choice. For us, the most important thing is spending time with each other and our family (and travel, of course!). Having cable or an expensive phone doesn’t support that. Neither does buying new clothes or handing out expensive holiday gifts to show “how much we love someone”.

We can’t change how other people see the world if they choose to keep their eyes closed. We just have to accept that for every one person who supports our choices in life, there are likely to be ten more who don’t. If being environmentally aware, if being thoughtful and considerate of others, if making more conscious decisions about what we do with our money and more importantly, our time, makes us “broke” then I suppose we’ll just have to accept that too.

Now does anyone have a dollar I can borrow? I really need that croissant.