Our Journey With Minimalism (Resources, Tips + the Reality of It All)

Minimalism has become a buzzword of sorts, so I hesitate to even write about this. But alas, it is something Brandon and I have been extra focused on as of late.

I posted this to Instagram at the beginning of the year, and it still rings true.

After that public pledge to realign my goals and focus on minimalism, and as a result, the pursuit of things more meaningful, I can now happily report that we have been pretty successful in this department.

It wasn’t until we saw Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things that this concept truly began to take root for us. This eye-opening film was created by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, who you might call pioneers of this movement — or at least the most outspoken ones. Since watching the documentary on Netflix, Brandon and I have listened to countless hours of The Minimalists podcast, which has steadily ingrained the concept even further into our way of life.

Joshua and Ryan live what some might consider extreme lives, surrounding themselves with only the necessities and getting rid of any excess or clutter. But they would phrase it a different way, saying it’s not about saying “no” to things or living a desolate life of depravity. They explain it this way: “Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less; rather, we focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.”

What a liberating way to live, if you ask me.

I also got inspired by Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” several years ago, which I happened to read right before a big move.

The book outlines every step of the KonMari Method, which is somewhat of a ruthless approach to decluttering that requires you to only keep the items that “bring you joy.” Rather than going room-by-room or little-by-little, the method involves decluttering category-by-category in one big sweep to experience the most overwhelming (and lasting) results.

While I appreciate this method and overall way of thinking, this can be a little counter-productive for a minimalist who says everything should go but the absolute essentials. For a minimalist, there simply isn’t room for the items that give you the warm fuzzies. However, the underlying principle of hanging onto the truly valuable things is prevalent in both camps.

During our summer spent traveling the country, Brandon and I listened to hours of podcasts and audiobooks, one of which was “The More of Less” by Joshua Becker. Becker’s way of thinking is nearly identical to the ideas presented by The Minimalists, but it was refreshing to hear it from another perspective. Each of these teachers has personal stories and ever-evolving worldviews about minimalism, which makes the overwhelming task of minimizing that much more relatable and attainable. It’s a process that can never be fully perfected by any.

Growing up, I always held onto mementos, souvenirs, and trivial pieces of garbage, really — from soccer camp trophies to travel brochures, and every crumpled receipt in between. This ultra-low-key hoarding problem became apparent when I filled a large portion of the garage in my college-town home with miscellaneous boxes of college memories. When I had to move across the country to Denver, I decided everything had to go because 1) I didn’t want to bring it all with me, and 2) what in the world was even in there?! I ended up getting rid of mostly everything, including all furniture, and fitting everything I owned into my car, and moved to Denver without a care (or a chair) in the world.

There’s something so freeing about the moment when you decide that your memories (and especially your current sense of well-being) are not tied to the physical items from a particular moment. My semester spent overseas is an excellent example of this; keeping a tiny statue of a knight from Prague does not bring back the sights, smells, and overall feeling of this lively Medieval city. You could even argue that photographs don’t do that either, but they sure help in refreshing your memory. Instead, we should focus on living out an experience to the fullest rather than attempting to capture it with a souvenir or a photograph. I am very guilty of the latter, as I become obsessed with photographing a moment rather than simply living through it (but isn’t everyone in this day and age? #BrunchGoals).

As Brandon and I have educated ourselves about minimalism over the past couple of years, here are some of the practices we at least try to adhere to. We are by no means seasoned professionals, nor do we have a perfect track record on the matter. But maybe this can help guide you in your own journey to living a meaningful life with less.

 

1. Purchase consumable items.

Oftentimes, if we are tempted to come away from a place with a memento of sorts, we opt for consumable goods, such as a candle or bouquet of flowers from a farmers’ market, or better yet — an Americano or donut from a coffee shop. The beauty of a consumable good is that it eventually disappears, either immediately or shortly afterwards.

2. Scan important documents.

Paperwork is one of the easiest things to accumulate over time. We try to keep that to a minimum by scanning important documents and staying on top of the mail pile by recycling or shredding what is not needed. We like to scan and save the important paperwork on our phones using the Dropbox app.

 

3. When in doubt, throw it out.

If you have to question it, there’s a good chance that you don’t need it! This has become one of the most helpful reminders as we’re decluttering, moving, or just living life. And when I say “throw it out,” I also mean “donate it” — because that has helped us part with things much easier. It is helpful to know someone else may get use out of something that you’re not using anymore.

 

4. Keep transportation as simple as possible.

Since May 2017, Brandon and I have shared one car. This has been a fascinating (and surprisingly easy) experiment in minimalism. Now, of course, multiple cars may be necessary for different life stages and circumstances — such as a family with kids, two commuters, etc. But for our lifestyle at the moment, which involves me working from home and zero kids, it has worked just fine. We have saved hundreds of dollars on gas money, insurance, maintenance, apartment parking garage fees, and the actual cost of buying a second car.

 

5. Dramatically limit your wardrobe to the basics.

This is a tough one. The fast fashion industry and all those fashion bloggers we follow might make us believe we need the latest and greatest — no matter the cost. Instead, focus on creating an intentional wardrobe with basics that you absolutely love and want to wear every day. We all have that dress we want to love, but never looks quite right. Confession: this one is definitely in process for me! I’ll probably write a blog post on this subject in detail some day.

6. Don’t buy books.

We own zero books. Think about it — when is the last time you reread a book that you own? If you’re my dad, you probably actually have reread the same book, and there are some who completely treasure their book collections. And that is fine! The Minimalists have spoken on this very subject, and their response to avid book collectors is that if that brings value to your life, then by all means, carry on. We still read books, but typically in audiobook or eBook format. We also just got library cards, and plan to make use of that free resource. I know this is a controversial subject for those who like to feel the physical pages of a book, so I’m moving right along…

 

7. Seek high-quality items.

This one is tough for me as well, as I am easily blindsided and swayed by a good deal. I will often choose an attractive price tag over a long-lasting, high-quality product. Therefore, inexpensive manufacturers can easily steer me off track. Instead, we should be investing in timeless products made with high-quality materials that are made to last. In the long run, we won’t have to replace these items due to minor wear and tear, or ever-changing styles and trends.

 

8. Have only the furniture you need.

This has been easy for us, since I am an avid bargain hunter. It’s simple — the less furniture you buy, the less money you spend. Plus, you don’t have a random chair no one sits in blocking half of your living room. It’s a win-win. In fact, Brandon and I don’t even have a bed frame, mostly because we were sleeping on the mattress when we moved into our apartment and then realized if we don’t buy a bed, we don’t have to disassemble and transport it the next time we move. Laziness for the win?

9. Give yourself grace.

We have failed at minimalist attempts time and time again, and I have the wasted money, energy and space to prove it. But it’s not about perfection, as that is clearly impossible with anything we do. Instead, strive towards the goals you’ve established, reset your mindset when you’ve “messed up,” and continue to live out your desired lifestyle regardless.

 

10. Focus on experiences.

This summer, Brandon and I lived out a colorful array of experiences — from the warm Gulf Shores in Alabama to the chilly Oregon Coast, and everything in between (including a 10-day camping road trip spanning over 3,500 miles). This would not have been possible, financially, if we had focused our resources towards consumption. Making memories, living in community with others, and saying “yes” to opportunities is far more valuable than any shirt, pillow or fancy watch.

 

11. BONUS: Have a dog who chews on stuff.

Our dog has destroyed an array of “valuables” — including Brandon’s Ray Bans, a handful of computer mouses (mice?), my Fitbit, an art print, a whole book collection, and more. While the immediate reaction is frustration and disbelief, she has taught us a valuable (yet sometimes unwelcomed) lesson about materialism — that our stuff is just that: stuff.