It’s easy to understand why it can be really difficult for people just starting on the minimalist path. There is, and will always be, a new iPhone release. We’re faced with flashy, stimulating advertisements every single day. Sales prompt you to buy things you wouldn’t even otherwise think to buy. Tactics to convince you to spend money are unavoidable and get more sophisticated by the day. Besides, when you spend money, others earn money (a lot of it).
To be a minimalist in a capitalistic society no doubt requires discipline, at least at first. It’s really helpful to have a set of rules to help you keep your head on straight. By sticking to these minimalist guidelines, you’ll be able to embrace a smoother and richer minimalist experience!
Minimalist Guidelines: The Ultimate List of Minimalism Rules
Ideally you’ll want to make these rules some of your “non-negotiables”—that’s a fancy way of saying not to bend on them, no matter what! For beginners this can be a lot to take on all at once. You’re not expected to; this is your own unique journey. Trying to tackle this all at once can lead to feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, that’s not what we want. Ease them into your life, one by one, at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
Don’t be discouraged if you slip every now and then. Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to open your life up to infinite possibilities and give yourself room to experience the world in a fuller, more intimate way. By abiding by these rules as closely as you can, you’ll find fulfillment and value outside of the “more” that’s constantly being presented to you.
Having a clear set of guidelines also eliminates the choice factor when you’re tempted by things. These guidelines are not only designed to help you save money and time, but also a lot of decision fatigue. We spend every day making choices. The less decisions you have to make, the more space there is in your mind for more important things.
#1: Limit your possessions
This is the most obvious minimalist principle: the core of minimalism, if you will. Ultimately, your home should be occupied only by items that promote your health and productivity. Of course, what each person considers a necessity will be different. What’s important is that each of your possessions performs a function that is vital to your wellness or the pursuit of your goals.
If you like to put a number on things, the widest-used standard of minimalism is to own less than 100 items. Minimalist apartments and homes tend to exude “simple and clean”. A small cabinet set, topped with a plain vase holding a single flower.
Living like a minimalist doesn’t call for your average decluttering session. It requires getting rid of things you’d never considered living without. A lot of things we think are necessities are really just conveniences. Say, for instance, a fryer. You could all the same fry something in a large pot of vegetable oil. But how much do fried foods contribute to a healthy and productive life? Another example is a toaster—you can toast things in the oven (by setting your oven to broil and placing your food on the top rack on a baking sheet or oven-safe dish; you’re welcome!).
It’s most efficient to clearly define each appliance’s purpose and use that as the basis for your decision, rather than your personal history with it. What do I use this for? Does this serve a unique purpose? Do I own something that can do what this does? How often do I use it?
#2: Don’t double-purchase!
If you already have one, don’t buy another one. To elaborate: refrain from purchasing anything you already have unless it’s broken or needs to be replaced. There’s a good chance that when you buy something, especially electronics, that the newer, flashier version is coming not too far behind. Essentially though, it’s the same thing you already have. If you’re chasing after the “newest” you’ll always be running. Detach from that cycle of obtaining the latest thing. Also keep in mind when something does need to be replaced, you don’t necessarily have to replace it with the lastest (and most expensive) thing.
This applies just as much to clothes. There will always be a more supportive running shoe, more breathable leggings, and a “knittier” sweater than the knitted sweater you already own. Fashion is fluid and will shift and sway forever. Trying to keep up with every single trend will not only keep your wallet thin, but your closet cluttered. Instead of investing in the newest one, invest in the more durable one. Going with higher quality ensures that it won’t soon need to be replaced. One sweater is totally fine—its purpose is to keep you warm.
Think about an item in terms of its function. Every item you own should perform a function that contributes to your physical/mental wellness and productivity. As long as the item performs its function, there’s no need to replace it. Do you need two pairs of sunglasses?
#3. Cut your calendar
The time you commit everyday to the act of just being is a crucial moment that is so beneficial but so overlooked. This can be especially challenging to accomplish when you have children or a highly demanding job. The feelings of overwhelm created by having a jam-packed planner are real. They take a major toll on your mental health which can lead to stress-related physical health complications down the road. If you find yourself running back and forth everyday, constantly on your feet, feeling you never have a moment to yourself, then you could use a good calendar rearrangement.
Recurring obligations such as extracurricular classes or organization meet-ups are worth a special reevaluation. Regularly scheduled activities such as these have a way of melding seamlessly into our calendars without a second thought from us as to why they’re there after a while. Contemplate your regular commitments and activities. Is it making you happy? Is it getting you further to your goals? Does it reflect where you want to be in life?
Just because it’s not for you right now doesn’t mean it’ll never be—it just means it’s not for you right now. Give yourself a choice in where you put your time. And if it’s really for you, you’ll come back to it at the right time—when you have the time and resources to thrive.
In the course of minimizing your planner, you might disappoint some people. You’re going to turn down invitations, skip some events, and switch some things around. But this isn’t about some people, it’s about you. You know more than anyone what and where needs your time. Learning to say “no” is a vital step in becoming the boss of managing your time.
Here’s a tip: Take a look at what you have planned for the rest of this week. Assign a maximum of three priorities to each day. These are things that are of immediate concern and need to get done to get you further to your goals. This could generally be income-producing or health-based activities. (This doesn’t include daily requirements like picking your children up from school.) Then tackle those three things by order of importance.
Don’t allow yourself to get distracted or tend to anything else that is not immediately necessary. Don’t accept any offers or commitments that might interfere with your priorities. Once those things are complete, take at least 30 minutes to be by yourself and celebrate the fact that you’re here and you’re doing a great job. No matter who said “what” or who didn’t say “this” to you today, you’re an absolute gem and you’re trying your best!
#4: Set some goals
There’s a reason you chose to take the road less traveled. Reflect on what brings you here and what, if anything, you hope to gain from this experience. Then set smaller, manageable goals that get you ever-closer the results you want.
A lot of people take up minimalism for financial reasons. Maybe you want to learn how to manage your money better, need to save for a new car, or just need to make life more affordable. Your list of goals could include making a grocery list before every shopping trip or not spending more than $20 a day for a week straight. Or set a simple savings goal, complete with a small treat for yourself when each subgoal is met.
Another popular reason to transition to a minimalist lifestyle is its positive impact on the environment. Humans produce a lot of waste (a lot of waste). Eventually all that waste goes back to the environment: dumped in landfills, or into our forests and oceans. The less you own, the less you use; the less you use, the less waste gets thrown back into the environment. Your list of goals might include swapping out disposable kitchen and hygiene products for reusable ones; making your products stretch so you don’t have to restock as often; and buying one at a time (one bottle of mouthwash, one loaf of bread, etc.). When you have more, you unconsciously use more.
Others are downsizing their homes, or moving to a new apartment. Moves are great opportunities to start anew and start living minimally. The moving process requires you to go through all your things. Comb through them more carefully than you normally would and make thoughtful decisions about what to bring based on the item’s function and contribution to your health, creativity and productivity. Here’s a couple goals you can put on your checklist: sell or donate large pieces of furniture; shave your closet down to 15-20 items of clothing (or less!); and discard all appliances that you don’t use at least once a week.
#5: Purchase with a purpose
It happens every time. We get to the store with a particular purpose in mind. Upon entering, we’re spontaneously greeted by a sales display filled with goodies, designed to convince us to buy things we weren’t planning to buy. And we do.
The temptation to take a bargain is difficult to resist. In our minds, we interpret a sale as something that works in our favor. In reality, it does the opposite. If it’s not on your list of items you initially came in for then you don’t need it right this moment. This is a quick way to reaccumulate useless items back into your home.
Are you the brainiac that likes to buy things months in advance because it’s cheaper? Faux Xmas trees are cheaper in the beginning of the year than they are around holiday time. Winter coats are often on sale in the summer.
However, whatever you “pre-purchase” is going to end up sitting around your house until the time it’s meant to be used, then again after it’s used—which is essentially clutter. Refrain from pre-purchasing.
This goes back to only acquiring something when you need it. Remember – minimalism is the opposite of consumerism,
#6. Don’t stop decluttering
Cleaning is about keeping your space sanitary and free of trash. On the flip side, decluttering is about keeping your space free of things that you don’t need and aren’t using. Note that this is a process. You don’t have to toss everything on the first go. As time goes along, continue to get rid of things you realize you’re not using or don’t need on a regular basis. Set goals for yourself. Make a pledge to get rid of one item every week or five items every month.
This process has the added benefit of making you keenly aware of all that you have in your home. Being familiar with your possessions creates an intimacy that is inherent in being aware of its function in your life. This intimacy breeds appreciation—a gratefulness that spreads to all aspects of your life.
#7: Give life outside your possessions some attention
Social media has dulled the allure of face-to-face human interaction for over a decade now. You see the jokes and memes everywhere concerning millennials’ absurd fear of calling the doctor’s office to make an appointment (i.e. the level of anxiety they experience at the thought of having a “real life” conversation with somebody they don’t know). However, that anxiety is real and has been at the helm of the spike in social anxiety and body image disorders in recent years.
By living in your possessions, you’re always comparing yourself to someone else—whether consciously or subconsciously. Only to be satisfied when you’re being admired or when you feel you’ve outdone someone else. It’s an endless cycle. Coming from behind your material things and engaging with the world opens up so many avenues for joy and satisfaction to enter your life. The grand majority of your possessions won’t be with you forever—put value in creating lifelong memories, cultivating meaningful and healthy relationships, expanding your mind, and making awesome moments.
#8: Focus on YOU
This isn’t just a process for reevaluating your stuff. It’s about reevaluating how you’ve lived your life so far. Your relationships, your finances, your passions, your commitments. What else could be minimized so that you can prioritize you?
If you’re having trouble prioritizing yourself (a common issue, especially among people with dependents) then a very impactful first step is to just carve some time for yourself every single day—without feeling guilty about it. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. That 15 minutes spent alone, without noise or disturbance, somewhere that makes you feel comfortable and safe, is an important opportunity to spiritually recenter, mentally reorganize, and physically relax.
Reflect on everything you’re doing right and calm any fears. Or just quiet your mind and lose your thoughts amidst daydreams. The more and longer you practice this, the more apparent its value will become to you and the more you’ll come to prioritize this time: the time you have with your amazing, capable self!
Practice the ultimate act of valuing yourself: putting yourself first. That aforementioned 15 minutes of “me time” is a helpful tool in getting to know yourself. Some things are for you—who you are right now—and some things are not. Some of your passions last a lifetime, while others only for a season; what once attracted you no longer does and you grow out of people; and your wants and needs are eternally fluid. If you’re going to accept an offer/invitation or do a favor for someone it should be done out of joy and genuine care. Don’t act out of fear, pity, or guilt. If you feel inconvenienced, annoyed, or just don’t have the time for what’s being asked of you, decline.
Declining doesn’t make you selfish or rude. What saying “no” means is that you’re aware that there are only 24 hours in a day and you’re worth committing as many of those hours as possible to your own aspirations, health, and self-care. On the other hand, accepting despite your opposing feelings implies otherwise.
This is a big transition from the materialistic lifestyle we’ve come to know as “normal”. Here’s a few pointers to make the shift smoother.
Use a treat system! What better to keep morale high than by rewarding yourself on this thought-provoking metamorphosis you’re experiencing. Keep in mind, though, that rewarding yourself with objects is counterproductive. Instead, reward yourself with a decadent addition to your lunchbox, by allowing yourself a pass on an obligation or chore, or even with a mind-numbing massage after scaling an especially difficult mountain.
The thought of diving head-first into this lifestyle can be honestly unnerving. For those experiencing a particularly acute bout of overwhelm at the thought of parting with your things but still want to give minimalism a test-drive, there’s a way! Rent a compartment at a storage facility (preferably, one that is distant from your home and not easily accessible to you) to store your things instead of getting rid of them for good. Explore how it feels to live without them in your home. If you find yourself getting along well then make steps to permanently rid yourself of these things.
Another useful tip is to purchase multipurpose objects/appliances. One item that serves three different functions saves you money, maintenance and space on at least two appliances. Vacuum-steamers, 3-in-1 breakfast stations, and humidifier-lamps are a few great ideas.
By minimizing, we’re weeding out what seems important and replacing it with what’s actually important. We’re all guilty of accumulating junk in our lives. Yet we’re blind to how we do it, when we do it, and just how often we do it. Use these minimalist principles help you establish home life, manage time, care for yourself, and (most importantly) navigate stores like a minimalist!
Keep in mind that these are only principles to help guide your journey, not dictate it. Remember that your needs might be different from others, and there’s no clad iron rules that you have to follow to be a minimalist. Trust yourself, set your goals, and minimize your distractions and lifestyle in a way that begets feelings of fulfillment and appreciation. And don’t forget to appreciate yourself for doing it!