There are few things in life as daunting as becoming a minimalist. In a society that values shiny new objects, full schedules, and productivity above all else, it’s hard to go against the grain. But we all have to start somewhere, and this primer on minimalism for beginners will give you the tools you need to succeed.
Despite the rise of books, blogs, and shows about living a simple life, there’s no secret formula or set of rules to minimalist living.
Terms like “extreme minimalism” and “one bag living” may have scared you into thinking that you won’t find true happiness until you can fit all your worldly belongings into a few boxes.
Thankfully, that’s simply not true. With a few simple strategies, you can start reaping the benefits of a life with less stuff and more meaning.
This guide to minimalism for beginners will kickstart your journey.
Why embrace a minimalist lifestyle?
At its core, minimalism is about reclaiming your life.
Ridding yourself of things that don’t add value–whether they’re unloved knick-knacks or unfulfilling commitments–is a long process. But the end result is a life centered on what you truly care about.
In a practical sense, the biggest benefits of simplifying your life through minimalism are saving time and money.
The act of living with less means less maintenance, fewer expenses, and easier choices. And each of these savings empower you to do more of what you love, whether that be traveling or reading or spending time with your family.
When my husband and I implemented the minimalist living tips below, we saw our bank accounts grow and our stress levels drop.
We traded a 2,000 square foot house in Texas for a 700 square foot apartment in London. Our weekends are actually fun instead of filled with chores. And despite our higher cost of living and reduced income, we’re traveling more than ever.
10 Essential Tips for Minimalism Beginners
#1. Figure out your why
If you read my post on zero waste living, you’ll know that my foolproof strategy for making lifestyle changes is to tie them to core values. Forming new habits and routines is far easier when they’re connected to something we care deeply about.
In other words: lasting change cannot happen without a connection to your values.
Think about it–when was the last time you permanently altered your life simply because someone else told you to?
By connecting your new minimalist habits to a core part of who you are, you’ll have the motivation and strength to overcome the difficulties. These values could be anything–the desire to spend more time with your children, the security that comes from being debt-free…
If you’re having trouble finding your why, try reflecting on some simple life quotes or reading a couple books on simple living. They’ll give you an idea of what you can achieve with minimalism, as well as a frame of reference for the rest of your journey.
#2. Practice mindfulness before spending
How long do you wait before making a purchase? 30 seconds? Maybe half an hour if it’s a major expense? And how many times have you bought something, only to realize later that you didn’t really need it?
I used to be this way, especially with books and clothes. I’d go to the store for a new pair of jeans and come home with an extra sweater and a swimsuit. Or I’d see a few interesting Kindle books on sale, use the dangerously easy One Click purchase, and let them go unread for months on end.
There are so many psychological reasons why we buy stuff, from the desire to “fix” something in our lives (hello, exercise ball I used twice!) to the thrill that retail therapy offers. We tend to amass things without understanding our true motivations behind our purchases.
To break this habit, we need to practice mindful spending. And it’s quite simple to do!
Here are three questions to ask yourself before making a purchase:
- What exactly will I do with this?
- How long will this item last?
- Do I already own something else that serves this item’s purpose?
I use this minimalist lifestyle tip for virtually everything I buy, whether I’m ordering food delivery or buying a video game. It doesn’t even require a lengthy amount of reflection time.
Instead, it’s about slowing down and actively considering if your purchase is necessary and useful.
Ultimately, practicing mindfulness before spending helps you get maximum enjoyment from what you have before buying something new. And that means less stuff in your life and more money in your pocket.
#3. Learn your triggers–and don’t give into them
Pinterest boards, Instagram Stories, those magazines at the checkout line… We’re surrounded by things that can trigger us to act impulsively.
Maybe a friend’s vacation photos compelled you to book a lavish vacation, or a fitness vlogger subtly urged you to buy new workout clothes and equipment. Whatever the case may be, it’s critical to figure out the things in your life that mess with your decision-making ability.
You’ve probably noticed a trend emerging: when it comes to living minimally, mindfulness is key.
By recognizing your emotional triggers, you take their power away. And that means you can keep making rational decisions based on your true values rather than what will make you feel good in the moment.
However, sometimes your triggers will be internal instead of external.
For example, I love novelty. The thrill of opening a fresh journal or starting a new video game is wonderfully enjoyable. Once I figured that out about myself, I started fulfilling that need for novelty in other ways that fit my minimalist lifestyle, like cooking new foods for dinner or walking different routes with my dog.
Does this mean you have to avoid your triggers 100% of the time? Of course not. Just be mindful of them and how they’re affecting your behavior so that you remain in control.
#4. Embrace the power of “no”
When was the last time you turned down an invitation to go out? Or a “small favor” that wound up taking most of your day?
It’s natural to feel anxiety over missing out, or nervous about offending someone. But if you stretch yourself (and your bank account) too thin, will you truly be happier?
Instead of overloading yourself with obligations, learn to embrace the power of “no”. It may be difficult at first, but the freedom you’ll gain in the process will make it easier. After all, self-care is a critical part of maintaining a minimalist lifestyle.
Save me for later!
#5. Use a checklist for decluttering (and take your time)
When it comes to minimalism for beginners, most people laser focus on one thing: decluttering.
And that makes sense, because it’s the easiest way to see you’ve made progress in your new lifestyle. But for many people, getting rid of stuff is incredibly overwhelming, both emotionally and physically.
Being the task-oriented person I am, I created a detailed minimalist decluttering checklist to make the process easier.
It covers everything from the rooms of your home to the digital clutter on your phone. And it comes with a handy method for deciding what to keep and what to let go.
Regardless of whether or not you use my checklist, I urge you to take things slowly. Trying to declutter your entire home in a weekend is a recipe for disaster. Allow yourself the time to process what you’re decluttering and why, and you’ll have a much better time keeping future clutter at bay.
#6. Give everything a home
Decluttering is a losing battle if you only care about minimizing your stuff. To keep clutter from resurfacing, you need to give everything a home.
There’s a reason Marie Kondo gifts her clients with bins and baskets. They aren’t just for keeping stuff out of sight–they also serve as the place where your things will “live”.
That’s not to say all of your belongings need to be tucked away (unless you’re going for that bare minimalist aesthetic). It simply means returning things to where they belong when you’ve finished using them.
In the same vein, you should also give a home to the things you decide not to keep. For the sake of the environment and low impact living, you should sell off, rehome, or donate your decluttered items. Only broken things should end up in the trash.
#7. Invest in durable, multi-use items
I realize that buying things seems counterintuitive to minimalism. However, when those things are versatile, long-lasting, and serve an important function, they are valuable beyond measure.
For example, think about how many pieces of outerwear you own. Do you have a rain jacket, spring jacket, dressy jacket, and a winter coat? I certainly did before I began living a minimalist lifestyle. In fact, I think I had two winter coats…
Today, I have two pieces of outwear: a black, weatherproof three-in-one coat, and a lightweight waterproof jacket that folds into a tiny ball. The coat gets me through every season and type of weather, while the jacket is perfect for warm days.
While I had to spend time and money finding the right items, I won’t need to think about buying outwear again for a very long time. When your main concern is function and utility, it’s easy to own less and save more.
And nowhere is this more true than the kitchen. Cooking is by far my favorite chore, but I’m amazed by the number of people who can’t close their cabinets because they’re bursting with rarely-used gadgets and cookware.
If you only use your double-boiler at Christmas, it doesn’t deserve to take up space in your home. Improvise with a glass bowl and a pot, and you’ll be just fine.
Instead of loading up on speciality items, invest in versatile pieces that will stand the test of time.
#8. Pare down your subscription services
Like many modern Americans, we decided to “cut the cord” and get rid of our big-name cable package. We switched to a cable streaming service, which was a huge savings.
Fast forward a few months, and we were paying for Sling TV, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. And we weren’t even taking advantage of Amazon Prime’s streaming service that we technically paid for with our membership!
Had we not taken a serious look at our recurring bills, we would have gone on for months, maybe years, spending money on services we hardly used.
If you’re paying for subscription services, whether they be for music, the gym, or physical items, think of the value you’re getting for your money.
Are you making full use of Spotify premium, or do you only put it on in the shower? Do you pay for a premium gym membership only to spend 30 minutes on the treadmill twice a week?
Although the streaming smorgasbord cost us hundreds of dollars, it did teach us a valuable lesson: recurring expenses should be evaluated a few times a year. If you’re not getting a good return on your investment, make a change.
#9. Pick a “right size” living space
Of all the minimalist tips for beginners I’ve shared, this one has the most money saving potential. Imagine how much bigger your savings account would be if you rented a smaller apartment, or moved into a house without the basement and extra bedroom to store all your junk?
Back when I lived in the US, I was addicted to watching House Hunters on HGTV. The number of people who had “large foyer” or “spare bedroom” on their must-have lists was astounding.
It’s one thing if you frequently have overnight guests, or host massive parties where the Von Trapp children entertain people by the front door. But most of the time, this desire for extra space is “just in case” it’s needed, or worse, to impress family and friends.
If you’re choosing your living space based on other people, you’re making a mistake.
Your home should be the right size for you and your family. Don’t let the annual overnight guest or family heirloom dining table for 10 dictate the square footage of your living space.
Plus, a smaller home not only saves you money, but also time. It’s amazing how quickly I can clean my London apartment vs. my two-story house! And the smaller yard means less time mowing and more time exploring Europe.
#10. Take advantage of what’s around you
They say you don’t know what you had until it’s gone. And we learned that lesson the hard way when relocating overseas.
After leaving Austin, we lamented all of the things we didn’t do, all of the barbeque we didn’t taste. Now that we’re in London on time-limited visas, we are determined to have no regrets.
Like making the most of your current possessions, exploring your own city (and country) is part of valuing what’s right in front of you. And it makes you even more grateful for what you do have.
You don’t need to live in a vibrant capital to enjoy the things your area has to offer. Something as simple as trying a new restaurant or taking a walk through the park can bring a lot of joy. While I do love international travel, there’s something special about making memories and new discoveries near home.
More Minimalist Living Tips for Beginners
Here are a few more minimalist lifestyle tips and guides to help you downsize, declutter, and appreciate what you already have: