Why starting small can make a minimalist lifestyle more successful

How I eased myself into a minimalist lifestyle

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A quick introduction

Simplifying your life and adopting a minimalist lifestyle can introduce numerous lifestyle and health benefits. It can help to reduce our cognitive clutter and help increase our focus. Having less items around us can also lead to reduced levels of stress and anxiety.

Minimalism is not just a current trend popularised by the likes of The Minimalists, Matt D’Avella, Joshua Becker (all of whom I truly admire) and others, it’s a philosophy that has existed for decades. It reaches many different mediums including design, architecture, culture, art, software, lifestyle and diet. Nonetheless, for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on lifestyle— particularly possessions and how best to start your journey based on my own experience.

I am someone who, a little over a year ago, was certainly not a minimalist. I enjoyed buying clothes and a lot of them. I enjoyed upgrading my car and my technology as soon as a new model was available, and I enjoyed a fast-paced lifestyle. Having discovered minimalism through my wife and witnessing first-hand the benefits she experienced, I decided to give minimalism a try.

So I began to simplify.

Minimalism starts with the practise of letting go. It involves recognising possessions that either serve a purpose or make you feel good and parting with those that don’t. It’s a life of intentionality.

However, it’s extremely overwhelming to be faced with the task of simplifying your items. It’s easy to think you can simply grab a bin liner and jump straight into your bedroom wardrobe or your storage cabinet (which is filled with endless CD’s and DVD’s) and start throwing things away. Though you soon discover that this is not as simple as you’d have hoped.

At the start of a decluttering process you often experience two emotions. First, you realise that the pile in front of you is far bigger than you initially thought and second, you begin to feel emotion and attachment to the things you forgot you even owned. These emotions stopped me in my tracks. What I thought would be an exercise lasting no more than 1–2 hours, actually turned out to be 4–5 hours spent revisiting old photos, videos and only discarding a couple of old clothes.

Introducing KonMarie and my first declutter exercise

Although this approach has been successful for thousands of people, I personally found this task to be a little discouraging. It does work for categories containing fewer number of items, for instance I defined stationary as a category which I decluttered within an hour, however, for larger categories such as clothing, the approach was not a success. And here’s why.

I started with the category ‘clothing’. I was eager to start with a category that felt easy and one in which I thought I would see the most gains.

Collecting all my clothing from various locations within our home and placing them in a central pile was quite emphatic. I was unaware of the volume of my possessions as they had resided in various locations around my home. My first emotion was one of shock. Shock that I vastly underestimated the quantity of my clothing and shock at the variety. I thought I knew my “style” yet clearly I did not. I was also saddened. Saddened by the waste and saddened that the joy I expected to experience from wearing these items did not materialise. The other emotion which I experienced once again was overwhelm. “Where do I start with this mountain of clothing”? Nevertheless, I powered through, though the post declutter emotions I expected to feel — relief, satisfaction and a sense of lightness, did not arrive.

Prior to gathering my items, I was motivated, after gathering them I was void of motivation. The negative emotions I experienced post-task outweighed my positive pre-task motivation. I therefore did not want to carry on this process for another category.

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I owned too many clothes and this doesn’t include coats, jackets, underwear and footwear.

My second declutter attempt

The room was not our master bedroom, kitchen or living room, it was a much smaller room; the space under our stairs. While standing in front of this space, I realised that my first emotion was not a sense of overwhelm or sadness. I was not deterred or discouraged by the volume of contents this time around. This was mainly due to my full awareness of its content which, compared to my clothing, was on a much smaller scale.

This was due to a couple of reasons. First, the space is small and so it naturally has a maximum contents capacity. Second, I access the space daily so I subconsciously note the items within it. Third, there are no hiding spaces. Everything within the space is visible and accessible, therefore, unlike my first decluttering exercise, there were no surprises this time round. I did not have to visit other areas of my home in order to add to the pile that lay before me.

During the declutter, I did adopt some KonMari methods. I grouped similar items together whilst also separating those that were functional from those that sparked joy. With this space being primarily utilitarian I found that most items were in fact items for function. This was another advantage over the KonMari method. As this space was a utilitarian space, no sentimental items were present meaning my focus was rarely distracted with emotion. There were a few clothing items, such as trainers, that I felt sadness towards. These purchases were made for the person I wanted to be and not the person I am. Once I made this case rationale and removed the attached emotion, they were easier to discard.

I removed 60% of items from within this space. Many items were either “just in case” items, things I may need if the time comes when in fact the need to use them had never arrived. Other items were duplicates, for instance, two pairs of winter gloves (one of which I have since donated), two pairs of running shoes (one of which I discarded) and so on. Other items were simply redundant. Old dusters, old vacuum cleaner parts or anything that was easier and more convenient to keep in this space rather than making the effort to throw them away the first time around.

What I learned

Motivation — the most important and significant. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle is not something which is achieved in one day. Simply decluttering your items and minimising possessions is not minimalism. The journey requires effort and time. Personally, I discovered that motivation is key to this journey and I needed motivation to embark on each decluttering exercise.

After my first attempt left me feeling deflated and de-motivated, I lacked all drive to attempt to declutter another space. For the subsequent two weeks, I did not invest any more time wanting to live a minimal lifestyle. However, once I did re-visit decluttering, my second attempt (starting with a much smaller space) left me with feelings of achievement and motivation. I wanted to maintain those emotions and put them toward decluttering a larger space.

Encouraged maintenance. Prior to decluttering the space was not particularly one I was fond of or one that I had any attachment toward. It was a space in our house to store and accumulate. It became slightly dirty and we didn’t particularly mind (I promise we’re clean people with standards). Now that it’s a clean, organised and fresh-looking space — one which offers accessibility to its contents, it encourages me to keep it that way. It hasn’t made me more attached to the space in the same way as our living room or kitchen, however, it has ensured a level of care and respect is present.

Greater sense of achievement. As mentioned above, this was a space I afforded little care. Once the decluttering and tidy was complete, I felt a big sense of achievement. As a result, I’m confident that I will experience a greater sense of achievement for those rooms I generally do care for. This motivates me to conduct the same process for bigger rooms such as our living room, kitchen and master bedroom, and even larger categories such as clothing.

KonMari can still be applied. Starting with a smaller room as opposed to a single category does not mean the KonMari method has to be ignored. Contents within the room can still be grouped into categories, however the groups will only be a subset of the total number within your home (if they do also exist elsewhere). For me, this was not a downside to this approach as grouping the items together provided a sense of structure to the task and the overall sense of achievement from completing the declutter drove me to continue the process on a slightly larger room.

Summary

Starting with a smaller space reduced the sense of initial overwhelm and following the declutter exercise, I felt a greater sense of achievement which motivated me to continue. I found a small room containing fewer items made the declutter less daunting, easier and quicker. Don’t be afraid to start with a single room, especially if the space is relatively small and it’s a room you afford little affection toward.

My biggest learning was that the art of simplifying and decluttering is not about the process, it’s about the outcome. How you get there is personal and individual. I found that I had to marry my own approach alongside a widely successful model (KondoMari) whereas other’s may find a different approach altogether provides greater success. Whichever process works for you, I wish you good luck on your journey.

UI & UX Designer. Passionate about design, health & fitness and wellbeing.

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