Minimalism Guide: How to be a minimalist
Do things seem a bit more complicated than they should be? Have you been seeking ways to make life easier? Well, you may not know it but small changes can yield significant results: you can completely change your life by adopting just a few good habits. In this minimalist guide we will teach you how to live like a minimalist, allowing you to enjoy a simpler life.
We’ll also provide you with a variety of ideas to help you build better habits, focus on what matters most and simplify your life as a result.
Whether you are advanced or new to minimalism, these minimalist tips for beginners or experts can help you get back to the basics.
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What is a minimalist lifestyle?
The definition of a minimalist lifestyle is removing the unnecessary things in life to focus on the essential. Minimalism is the practice of living with the things that you need and nothing more. This can apply to your home, work, relationships, wardrobe, finances, possessions, or simply your mindset.
Let’s start by addressing a common misconception: minimalism is not asceticism. Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by extreme self-denial or abstinence from worldly pleasures.
It is important not to confuse that with minimalism. There’s a difference between self-denial and self-control. Ascetics give up sensual pleasure and material goods due to the belief that an austere lifestyle is more expedient in the attainment of their religious, spiritual or philosophical goals. Examples of this include:
Followers of the Ancient Greek philosophy who reasoned people can be happier by aligning themselves more closely with nature and rejecting all mainstream desires (fame, wealth, power, sex, etc.).
A community of monks and nuns in India who completely detach from social and secular activities (e.g. no contact with family, no use of electricity, etc.) to purify and discipline themselves and gain self-realization.
Though it has evolved in modern times, early believers in this mystical Islamic ideal only wore a rough wool robe (as the name implies) and intensified their devotion through a strict life of modesty and selflessness.
Sometimes there is worldly motivation for asceticism, such as the so-called “starving artist” who severely simplifies life in order to spend all of their energy and resources on their craft.
Regardless, in the cases above and those similar, there is a much higher purpose that the practitioner seeks. Minimalism, however, needs to be distinguished from its very distant half-cousin.
They are distinct ideals, but sometimes when discussing simple living people inadvertently make confusing suggestions that equate this concept to that of altruistic abstinence or selfless sacrifice.
Minimalism doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in the things that you enjoy. It doesn’t mean that you need to be frugal or that you must always make major tradeoffs.
You don’t need to embark on a massive campaign to completely renounce modern day living.
How to Become Minimalist
Here are a few ways of practicing minimalism that provide a more realistic — and attainable — perspective for the individual seeking to become a minimalist.
Prioritize the Essentials
The essentials are the people, activities, and things in life that you care the most about.
When you live a minimalist lifestyle you learn how to prioritize and focus your energy and resources on these things over others that you don’t deem as important.
Having awareness, clarity, and focus helps you uncover what’s most important to you and, subsequently, simplify decision-making in most areas of life.
A great place to start when adopting a minimalist lifestyle is decluttering. This can include your belongings, activities, relationships and your digital life.
Eliminate the Complexities
Every once in a while life gets difficult and you may find there are barriers that prevent you from being happy. Sometimes you can’t avoid the cause of these difficulties, but often times there are changes you can make to simplify and enjoy life once again.
Often a person’s schedule is a major source of stress and strain in our life. However, there are ways you can build a daily routine and become more intentional when determining what you want to get out of each day, and more thoughtful in planning it. Consider a planner to help you get there.
Manage your Expectations
Everyone wants a lot out of life. Humans have a myriad of desires and put themselves under a lot of pressure to pursue these desires. When what you want or who you want to be is not in line with your current reality, it’s easy to become distressed.
Adopting a minimalist perspective helps us cut down on the number of wants and desires and appreciate what you already have. That said, sometimes you have a lot of desires because you don’t have a life strategy and you sort of haphazardly spend your days following whim after whim.
Figuring out who you are (or want to be) and what you want to stand for will lead to more clarity and, ultimately, more happiness.
Stay in Balance
Contrary to popular belief, becoming minimalist is about finding balance in your life not adhering to someone’s else’s set standard of how many items you should own or how you should organize and design your environment.
It’s a mindset that should allow you to pursue pleasure in life — within reason. Being modest and mindful about the limits of your desires does not mean eliminating them altogether nor conforming to another person’s rules.
If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to pursuing pleasure in moderation, keep reading as we offer a whole host of ideas on how to stay in balance.
Beginner ideas for simplifying your life
With the fundamentals of minimalist living outlined, you are probably ready for even more practical tips and ideas. As mentioned, small changes can have a big impact – so we’ve compiled a set of tips to help you simplify your life right now and start living like a minimalist.
These tips were created with beginners in mind but are relevant to anyone no matter where you are in your simplicity journey. You may have tried all types of tactics in the past to establish a routine, be more productive, and streamline different areas of your life.
Perhaps you’ve kept it up for a few days before losing steam and returning back to your default way of doing things.
However there is hope. The key is to look for little ways to shift your habits and make big changes in your life as a result.
There are some things you can do that take a minimal amount of effort but bring about powerful results. Here are six ideas to start with.
Plan out your day
How you start your day is indicative of how the rest of the day will go. If you are feeling frazzled before even getting dressed then it may be a long and arduous 24 hours if you don’t course-correct.
One of the best ways to start the day and feel a sense of control over how it flows is to spend a few minutes the evening before putting a game plan in place and then reviewing that plan throughout the day to stay on track.
This “game plan” is just a short list of must-do tasks and activities that you can quickly compile using the Eisenhower principle. This principle gives you a framework for how to easily prioritize your list:
- Important and Urgent — do first
- Important but Not Urgent — do later
- Not Important but Urgent — delegate
- Not Important and Not Urgent — eliminate
Bucket 1 items should be given a designated time to address the next day. Bucket 2 items are to be scheduled some time later in the week. Bucket 3 items are for outsourcing or automating if you see a repetitive pattern. Finally, bucket 4 items are to be eliminated (our favorite part of the exercise).
Carve out a few minutes before bed this evening to organize tomorrow with this method. You’ll be surprised at how much time you typically spend on things that don’t matter — and relieved to find a guilt-free system that gets them off your list.
Organize your Essentials
Have you ever randomly observed people in public places trying to pay for things? You may notice that some folks hold up lines by fumbling around in their bag looking for their wallet and then sifting through their wallet trying to find the right card.
It’s amusing that something so important and essential to their day-to-day could be so disorganized — so much so that it actually causes frustration (to them and others) when in use.
Your essentials are things you heavily rely on during the day. It can be an item like your bag or wallet, a space like your home office, or even the app you use to take notes.
But if that thing, whatever it is, is so overrun with junk that it fails at its duty then it’s time to put it back in order. Your simple task is to take a few minutes to identify an essential that needs to be organized such as your wallet, desk drawer, or digital file storage.
The simple act of clearing, cleaning, and properly arranging has strong psychological effects. If you struggle with this exercise it may be worth deeper introspection and a more concerted effort to maintain order in your life and space.
Say “no” when you must
Easier said than done? No! Easy to say and carry through and we’ll explain exactly how. Do you often get yourself in trouble by gut-reacting with a resounding yes to commitments you haven’t properly assessed?
There’s a time and place for spontaneity, but in many cases you need to think before you speak or act, and there are two ways to do this.
First, avoid confirming spontaneous requests (or making in-the-moment decisions) until you’ve had a moment to evaluate their importance. Clear context puts you in a better position to make sound decisions.
Second, you may do this when you feel obligated to please or appease the requester, but try not to say maybe when you really mean no.
The issue here is that the request will linger in the back of your mind, you’ll likely delay making a decision, and then you will either begrudgingly go through with it or eventually tell the person no (causing them disappointment because you didn’t manage their expectations well).
Saying no or I don’t know (instead of an automatic yes or half-hearted maybe) gives you the space to think. Then you can quickly use the Eisenhower principle mentioned above, or whatever other tactic you prefer, to thoroughly evaluate the request.
Fix the Nagging Issues
Do you have a habit of ignoring little irksome things? Do you tell yourself that this or that issue is too small to matter, or convince yourself that you are being petty by focusing on “little things” instead of other more pressing matters?
If there are little things that are constantly nagging you that take less than a few minutes to address — then why don’t you just do it? The issue could be that perfectionism is causing procrastination. You may secretly fear not being able to do the task thoroughly or perfectly.
Or you may have high standards and subconsciously believe that you don’t have the time, money, energy, or other resource to meet the demands you’ve imposed on yourself.
Something as simple as replacing subpar appliances in your house, making a customer service phone call, or running a quick errand could be triggering undue feelings of inadequacy.
You may come up with some excuse to delay the task when you’re really trying to avoid the imminent failure you’ve conjured in your minds. However, ignoring these little inconveniences won’t make them go away.
In fact, many little tasks and issues can accumulate into one big problem and the only way to avoid that happening is to get them done. So choose a little thing to fix right now. Don’t assume you will be unsuccessful and don’t get hung up on having to have an absolutely perfect outcome.
In these times where indecision and inaction is looming, it is important to write down what you need to do. It can help you get your thoughts out of your head and will make it much easier to make decisions and take steps to successful completion.
Don’t let personal preferences and ideals become overbearing internal dogmas.
Curb your expectations because in the case of little things it’s better to accept a good enough solution then let it linger forever while you wait around for the best solution.
Automate Repetitive Tasks
Repetitive tasks are things that you must do on a recurring basis that tend to have a fairly fixed schedule and method for completing, such as:
- paying the bills
- shopping for groceries
- cleaning your house
Though these types of tasks typically don’t require too much mental processing, they often consume a lot of time.
Automating or allocating them allows you to partially or completely remove them from your to-do list, instantly increasing your productivity by allowing you to focus on more pressing matters.
Depending on the task, the setup or implementation only takes a few minutes. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Autopay your bills
- Hire a housekeeper
- Use a personal assistant
- Have your groceries delivered
- Auto track and book flights
- Get a laundry or dry-cleaning subscription
- Use a social media scheduler
Avoid Useless Conflict
There is a powerful lesson that many successful people credit as being a major contributor to the success they’ve achieved in life:
Who or what you spend your time on will directly determine what you will become.
Useless conflict is:
- continuing an argument that’s going absolutely no where
- wasting productive hours participating in office gossip
- getting yourself involved in another person’s drama
- allowing negative self-talk to permeate your thoughts
There are many more examples of useless conflict but at the core of them all is giving energy to contentious and negative people, situations, or other things that don’t really matter.
Not only does useless conflict add zero value to you because it doesn’t help you progress or achieve your goals, but it also has an unexpected adverse effect.
All that complaining and criticizing stirs up toxic emotions that lead to unnecessary stress, and too much stress damages your body and mind.
A simple little trick that allows you to block negative people and situations: go away or go silent. Avoid useless conflict if you can but if you can’t then refuse to participate.
This is not a matter of running away or hiding from all difficult situations. There will always be adverse circumstances that you need to face head on.
However, if you find yourself getting distracted or being hindered by senseless and futile thoughts, conversations, or situations, then you are not only complicating your life but potentially harming your physical and mental health.
So the next time you find yourself getting caught up in negative talk or thinking use the go away or go silent method. With enough practice it’ll become an effortless reaction to pointless pessimism.
How to practice minimalism on a daily basis
In summary, some advocates of the simple life tend to blur the line between minimalism and asceticism.
Asceticism is an honorable undertaking for certain purposes, but it is likely a practice that is too intense for an individual merely looking to free themselves from the frustrations of being out of balance in life.
It can feel overwhelming to adopt a minimalist lifestyle if you believe it constantly requires you to adopt extreme measures in order to maintain it (though we offer advanced tips later in this guide if that is appealing to you).
Particularly for a beginner or aspiring minimalist, always equating minimalism with sparseness, frugality, and other restricting terms could be discouraging.
In fact, we prefer not to introduce scarcity thinking into the equation at all because it isn’t aligned with human nature. Instead of resisting nature why not work with it?
Humans inherently desire increase: to grow, evolve, and thrive. Minimalism is a tool you can use to eliminate inconsequential things in order to maximize what matters most.
It’s not the wanting more but the objects of desire and the means by which you try to attain them that need refinement. You don’t have to choose between a minimalist lifestyle or a lavish lifestyle. By simply defining what is important to you, you can start to eliminate the unnecessary aspects of your life and live more simply.
So be careful to distinguish minimalist living from it’s more extreme counterparts — but also recognize that what matters most is how you choose to define it, as we explain next.
A quick search on “minimalism” in Reddit will land you into some pretty heated forums where the root of the debate is nothing more than semantic misunderstanding. So how do you navigate all the external noise, tension, and hype around this word to establish a perspective that’s true to you?
Forget the Rules
It’s easy to pitch minimalism as a one-size-fits-all philosophy but it’s not, so don’t be so quick to adopt the rules you’ve picked up from here or there (including here!).
First understand that your less vs. more equilibrium can only be found with a personal assessment of what makes you happy.
One way to do this is to go through a happiness exercise. In the absence of having a purpose for life it’s easy to get distracted and run after a bunch of stuff that you think will make you happy, only to be disappointed when it doesn’t.
However, happiness starts with a clear vision for life and the alignment of your actions against that vision.
Write your Own Definition of Living Like a Minimalist
It could be that the reason it’s so easy to apply other people’s rules to your life is because you’re seeking a shortcut, instead of putting effort into thinking about who you are and defining the life you want to live.
Ultimately those shortcuts will lead to more clutter and confusion because you are conforming instead of creating a life you truly desire. Once you can articulate what makes you happy, you can write your own set of rules to better align your life with those things.
Later in this article we outline a set of guidelines that may help you avoid common ways in which things, people, or activities can threaten happiness. But don’t just blindly follow our guidelines — use them as inspiration to write your own.
Don’t Rebuke Others
Once you do establish a clear definition for yourself don’t berate other people for having a different perspective. It is an utter waste of your own time and it probably won’t change their mind.
When you troll the internet leaving negative comments on other people’s thought pieces because they differ from your own you are expending energy on behavior that’s likely to have zero impact on their way of thinking.
If you try and discredit someone else’s ideas because it contradicts your own, at most you’ll harm your own reputation while instilling curiosity in the very person you are hating on.
Healthy debate is great but don’t demean the spirit of the minimalism philosophy with futile criticism and pessimism.
There are so many different schools of thought that claim minimalism as their mission that it can be mind boggling to keep track of them all. Ultimately, you should be realistic and empathetic to your own unique set of needs and desires.
Write your own definition of minimalist living and remember it is only a tool (not a doctrine) that can help guide your lifestyle choices.
Advanced ideas for simplifying your life (extreme minimalism)
Minimalist living is an incredible philosophy to incorporate into your life but at times the available body of knowledge may seem quite basic for those who’ve been practicing simple living for some time.
So what can you do to go beyond the basics? Well, first a recap. Minimalist living directly tackles one of the major drivers of modern-day suffering: unmet desires.
In “The Problem of Desire,” Psychology Today states:
Desire is intimately connected to pleasure and pain. Human beings feel pleasure at the things that, in the course of their evolution, have tended to promote their survival and reproduction; they feel pain at the things that have tended to compromise their genes.
Moreover, as soon as a desire is fulfilled, people stop taking pleasure in its fulfillment and instead formulate new desires, because, in the course of evolution, contentedness and complacency did not tend to promote survival and reproduction.
The problem is just that: our desires evolved ‘merely’ to promote our survival and reproduction. They did not evolve to make us happy or satisfied, to ennoble us, or to give our life any meaning beyond them. Neither are they adapted to modern circumstances.
Humans have an innate desire to survive and thrive, but living in a capitalist society that values growth above all else leads to a perpetual state of wanting that often does more harm than good.
When desire leads to dissatisfaction you experience more pain than pleasure. That’s because it’s an intense emotion that indicates an inability to be at ease with your current lot in life. This constant yearning puts you in an agitated state which can potentially lead to conditions like depression.
As discussed above, there are easy ways to adopt principles of minimalism to help manage excessive want and downgrade your lifestyle so you can find contentment. However, if you‘re a seasoned minimalist and are seeking ways to go beyond the basics, here are some tips for doing so.
Establish your Non-Negotiables
The rule-of-thumb “everything in moderation, including moderation,” typically attributed to Oscar Wilde, is a reminder to avoid extremes (even in your attempt to avoid extremes).
However, there is an exception to this rule: treat your values as doctrine and be unwavering in upholding them.
If you constantly revisit and reconsider everything you believe in then it will be impossible to stand for anything.
It’s okay to be curious, open-minded, and receptive to feedback from others. But sometimes you just have to put your foot down, declare your views, and don’t budge.
Your values are a set of principles that support your overall purpose in life. Relentlessly pursue them on a daily basis and consult them before every major life decision.
It’ll be much easier to make choices when you only have to determine whether the options are in line with your values or not.
The human brain likes consistency. It also doesn’t have the capacity to constantly make choices and decisions without taking a break.
When you establish your values as non-negotiable you‘re able to fall back on a decision that has already been made and avoid going through an exhausting back-and-forth debating it.
This relieves stress and takes the burden off of your mental processing allowing you to free up that capacity for making progress on other areas in life.
Switch on your Tunnel Vision
Depending on the context, tunnel vision is a phrase that’s often regarded negatively. That’s because when you tunnel you have a narrow perspective. You are fully focused on one thing at the complete neglect of everything else. But being in this state of mind is not always bad. There are times when you should purposely tunnel.
It doesn’t matter if there’s a particular idea that you want to foster or work that you really need to focus on at the expense of something else, tunneling can come in handy when considering alternatives makes you inefficient and ineffective.
Taken within a more positive context, it’s really just about prioritizing what’s important and disregarding what’s not. It’s about giving your undivided attention to something that can’t be nurtured or developed half-heartedly.
If you want to take minimalism to the next level then, at times, you have to ruthlessly cut out things that don’t matter — either in a particular moment or in life more generally.
Leverage Mental Models
Mental models are strategies for making decisions and solving problems. Consider them to be ways of thinking, practical pieces of advice, or simple frameworks for navigating tricky situations in life.
The great thing about having a repository of mental models that you can rely on is that when you’re faced with tough choices or complex issues, you can resolve them more easily.
To make traction on a particular problem you only need to sort through your toolkit for an appropriate item and apply it. As an example, when it comes to managing negative feelings perhaps you can rely on Stoicism.
These principles act as mental models that you can use to help ease back into a more logical way of thinking when your emotions are out of control.
One way that you can go about building your repository of mental models is by assessing all of the different themes in your life and reflecting on some of the common challenges that tend to come up in each area. Then, actively seek ideas or tactics that you believe could be applied to these situations.
Rely on your Intuition
Humans have a conscious and unconscious mind. Your conscious mind is the thinking you’re aware that you’re doing, and is more rational and calculating. It also takes up quite a bit of your mental capacity when you’re working, making decisions, and actively solving problems, for example.
The unconscious mind is a bit of an enigma and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it works. What is known is that it chugs along in the background, processing and logging all of your life experiences then retrieving them when they can be useful in the present moment. It typically exerts control via your emotions.
Both the conscious and unconscious mind have their pros and cons, and both can lead to positive and negative decisions. But both are necessary for your ability to survive and thrive. If you find that you overly rely on calculating thought, you may want to consider trusting your intuition more.
When you trust your intuition, you relieve your conscious mind of the overwhelming burden of decision-making.
This allows you to make decisions quicker and with a stronger sense of conviction.
Experiment with Asceticism
As discussed in the beginning of this guide, asceticism and minimalism are on the opposite spectrum of simple living and these words should not be used interchangeably.
However, if you are looking for ways to practice more extreme forms of self-denial then you can selectively borrow from ascetic practices and see how it works for you.
This experimental phase doesn’t mean you suddenly need to become a monk, but it may mean you try out a seven day silent retreat.
It also doesn’t mean that you need to give away all of your clothes, but it may mean that you choose not to shop for three months.
If you desire to test the bounds of your willpower or are curious about the benefits of extreme minimalism, there are a range of activities you can engage in over the short-term to get a sense of this lifestyle, such as:
- Fasting — going without food
- Abstinence — going without intimacy
- Sobriety — going without alcohol
- Altruism — giving up significant resources (time, money) for others
- Sustainability — drastically reducing your environmental footprint
- Pilgrimage — going on a spiritual (or moral) expedition
Take the 7-Day Minimalism Challenge
Simple living is a form of personal growth which is an ongoing journey of opening yourself up to new ways of thriving. That said, with all the challenges and changes you experience in life, the last thing you want to do is complicate the personal growth process.
The best way to stunt growth is to lose motivation because you’re trying to commit to a complex regimen. That’s why, despite there being many ways to improve, we subscribe to a minimalist approach.
Our Simplify Your Life Course includes presents you with a step-by-step process to apply minimalist living principles to your life.