You’ve probably seen pictures online of people living in tiny houses or others traveling the world with only one backpack and a dream. There are lots of extreme examples of the minimalist lifestyle, but they can sometimes seem out of reach for the average person.
That’s why I’m so excited to share this information with you on living a minimalist lifestyle. This is an area of my own life where I definitely have room to grow. I want to release anything that no longer serves my highest good so that I can create space for new, more positive energy and growth. That’s the power of the minimalist lifestyle.
Let’s check out seven ways that we can ease into taking these positive steps.
1. Define It
Let’s start with a very simple first step: defining minimalism. The Minimalists website states that minimalism is, “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom.” The folks over at Becoming Minimalist say that minimalism is, “not external, but internal.” Amie Burnell at The Odyssey sees it as “canceling out the negative things in your life.”
One of the most popular proponents of minimalism is Marie Kondo, author of the huge bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If an item doesn’t bring you joy, she argues, say goodbye. Her work is so popular that people are now using her name as a verb (e.g. I’m totally going to Kondo my closet this weekend.).
In short, there are a lot of definitions of the minimalist lifestyle. To me, minimalism is about internal and external priorities. Do I want to invest my time, energy, and space in this person, place, or thing? If not, then it’s time to let it go. Get started by taking some time to define what minimalism means to you.
2. Choose a Starting Point
Happiness and productivity expert Gretchen Rubin argues that “outer order leads to inner calm.” She believes that in order to do your best internal work, you should first clean up your surroundings. Perhaps you will benefit from this outside-in approach.
For me, this is critical. While I’m happy to hop onto my yoga mat or meditation cushion while the house is a disaster, I find that applying discipline by cleaning up first helps me to feel more centered during my practice.
Perhaps you are the opposite, though. Maybe you need to get centered internally before you can create order in your outside world. Like any other philosophy, minimalism is not one-size-fits-all and will be applied in different ways by different people. Try experimenting with both outside-in and inside-out approaches and see what works best for you.
3. Touch It Once
Junk mail, bills, brochures, and an important note from your child’s school—after scanning through them all, you set them on the kitchen counter, too tired to deal with any of them. Throughout the week, you continue to create a mail pile that looks completely overwhelming by the weekend.
The touch-it-once rule states that we should only touch paperwork one time because if not, it will take up twice as much of our time. In today’s world, we can apply this same rule to emails or texts.
For example, let’s say you just got an email from your boss asking if you can substitute a yoga class next week. You read it over but you don’t want to take the time to respond. A day later, you have to read it over again to remind yourself of what she wanted. You just invested twice as much time and energy into the request than necessary.
Try “touching” snail mail, documents, emails, and texts only one time. That doesn’t mean that you have to respond immediately to every text and email you receive (if we did, I think that’s all we would do!). Rather, set aside time each day for each so that you can mindfully and efficiently respond.
4. Practice Karma Yoga
Karma yoga is the yoga of service and work. Let’s say you’ve decided it’s time to clean out your closet, but you’re having a hard time letting go of some items. Find a local shelter or Salvation Army where you can donate your clothing. Think about the people who will benefit from your donation.
Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and imagine how this item that you feel unsure about will bring a huge smile to someone else’s face. By focusing on how the items that you release can serve others, you can gain motivation to live a more minimalist lifestyle.
5. Last Season Rule
If cleaning out your apartment or house is part of your minimalist plan, you might start by asking yourself when the last time was that you used the item. When going through my closet, I often hear myself saying, “But I might want to wear you again sometime…” to a shirt that I haven’t worn in three years. A good rule of thumb is to ask if you wore that item the previous season. If not, release.
You can apply a similar strategy to other categories of items. For example, take a look at your cups and dishes. Have you used the item in the past six months? If not, there’s someone out there who can make good use of it.
6. Get Social
Like anything else in life, there’s safety in numbers. Try enlisting a group of friends or neighbors to have a yard sale. Post pictures of your minimalist choices online to connect with others who are pursuing the minimalist life.
If you live with a roommate or partner, spend some time talking about what kind of space you’d like to create and how you can support each other in releasing attachments to material goods. Get social and seek support.
7. Notice How You Feel
Swami Kripalu once said, “The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.” As you move toward releasing people, places, feelings, shoes, and/or yoga mats that no longer serve you, notice how it feels to let go. Honor your feelings of resistance, should you experience any.
Most importantly, pay close attention to your internal feelings of lightness and weight. Many people will notice that minimalism feels lighter and leads to feelings of freedom. Whatever comes, just notice.
What are some steps you’ve taken to live a more minimalist lifestyle? Has minimalism brought you greater freedom?