10 Steps How to Live a Minimal Life

How to empower your ability to feel free

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There may come a point in your life when you feel the things you’ve accumulated over time start to weigh you down, your material footprint feels very bulky, or stuff simply makes you feel ‘bloaty’. You want to feel free, think less about the unessential, and downsize your things to what truly matters. In the beginning, it may seem daunting and choices feel hard at first, but over my years of going through this minimal cycle, decisions become easier. Life, travel, and work feel lighter and I never looked back to what I discarded. If you’re on that journey, here are my 10 steps to help you declutter and live a more minimal life.

Backstory

I was faced with that dilemma as I found myself moving quite often, from place to place, the years of childhood boxed up in my parent’s garage and the multiple trips I’d need to take if I decided to move to another city. That translated to overpacking in my early days of traveling, feeling the brunt of the weight as I carried my luggage up the steep steps of Hong Kong island, nursing my luggage with a broken wheel on the roads of Aomori in Japan, and having to carry two check-in luggage after several years of living in Korea. Coming back to the UK, I cleared maybe 85% of my stuff back home, and it feels liberating to know I’m agile, footloose, and lighter than ever before. It’s honestly insane when you realise how much stuff you have and don’t need anymore.

As I travelled and maybe picked up things along the way, I always had to go through a process of trying to fit everything inside my luggage and make decisions on what I needed more over another. That probably isn’t too hard if you’re simply travelling as you can carry less and discover thoughtful versatile garments and footwear that make you lean to travel all season long. But if you’re a creator, that’s not always possible and hence a minimal life means something else.

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What does it mean to be minimal?

Many people think being minimal means cutting out plenty of what we enjoy, love to have, everything needs to fit inside a backpack, and virtually have a very simple, bare means way of life. But to me, that’s simply not true or sustainable for many people. It’s certainly a very lean minimal way of life but it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Different lifestyles, priorities, interests, tastes, level of lifestyle, families, kids, etc. What minimalism or a minimal life does mean is reducing the excess belongings (and mental focus but I’ll save that for another time), and being more considered in the stuff we have to fulfill our way of life.

In short, cutting out the stuff we don’t need down to the few we do need to enrich our way of living. The fact is, minimalism can be relative and is a process of reducing our footprint in comparison to how we lived before, rather than an absolute idealism of what we can or cannot have. With that, minimalism becomes more accessible, flexible, fluid, and inclusive as a concept, or way of life. Now, starts the fun part: the steps to help you live a more minimal way. I’ll be breaking this down into a series to talk specifically on how to be minimal in other aspects of living such as travel, work, mindset, and more. For now, these will focus on the workings of minimal living.

How aggressive do you want to be

Decide to what extent you want to become minimal – how aggressive do you want to purge your material footprint? Do you want to boil it down to the bare essentials or do you want to leave some room for the nice to have pleasures in life?

You can decide how ruthless or forgiving you want to be as the process of leading a more minimal lifestyle does not have to be quick, fast, and painful. If you find it hard to part ways, do it over time and see how it works for you. But before you even start, set in your mind how far you’re willing to go. It could be one box worth, a section of storage you want empty, or a couple more bags. The choice is yours.

Need, Want, Don’t Need

Three containers help to get you started by identifying: what you need, what you want, and what you don’t need. What you need are your most essential and core needs to your every day that you cannot do without. Think of these as the things you love the most and cannot function without for your lifestyle: whether that’s your laptop, camera, footwear, sports equipment, and most used clothing.

What you want is nice to have but not essential to your most important needs. They give you more choices in your wardrobe, more options in your backpacks and shoes, extra nice to haves but stuff you can forego if you chose to. The final container is what you don’t need… there’s no real explanation needed for this. It’s the perfect time to go through everything you’ve accumulated and get rid of heavily worn times, or stuff you’ve had for years stowed away without use.

Get rid of what you don’t need

A process of elimination, the three containers you’ve categorized you can simply get rid of the items in the ‘don’t need’ pile. Recycle, donate, sell, give away what you can before deciding to put them in the waste, so they can be reused by others who need it, give you some kickback if they’re still of value, and help reduce the overall waste from the process.

Put emotions on hold

Besides your memories and treasured items, for the most part, you’ll want to separate your sentiment and emotions from the material things you have and look at them more objectively. Check the condition, wear and tear, how long you’ve roughly had them for and how frequently you use the item.

When we look through untouched boxes in the attic and garage, it’s easy to rekindle our attachment for things we’ve put out of sight, out of mind quickly. While there may be stuff you think you can reuse, which you can put aside – for now – remember it is a clearing exercise, and these were left away from your reach for a reason because you didn’t need it. It’s easier to be ruthless which stuff is left in storage for a long time.

Quality vs Better Quality

Quality vs quality is a great way to slowly make those harder decisions when you’ve stripped away the easier things to strip away from your material footprint. For stuff like socks, cables, clothes, shoes and less consumables, it becomes a decision of quality vs quality, deciding one over the other that is made of high quality, durability, and function. I tend to have plenty of cables but from those, I’ve accumulated it’s been easier to spot which ones I’d rather keep to still meet my needs.

When it comes to bags, it’s thinking about the few which offer the most coverage in your use: one for every day, the other for more adventurous, and another for long trips. You can maybe choose from a size perspective: one small, one medium, one large.

Specialist vs Muti-functional

Downsizing some items can be harder because they can have specialist purposes that do one thing really well compared to alternatives that are maybe a little more multi-use. After stripping away the excess in let’s say, for example, shoes and trainers. It’s still good to keep the specialist footwear for activities such as football, sports, running, etc, but then try and make this as lean as possible. You don’t need multiple pairs of running shoes, just keep it down to two or one and replace it on a one-in-one-out basis. As much as possible, high-quality multi-functional shoes are worth the investment which can handle many conditions.

Features such as waterproof, durable materials, traction, and grip. If you don’t have versatile shoes, this is a great time to look at footwear and choices on the market that enables you to downsize and declutter.

Scrutinise what you really need

It’s safe to say your ‘what you need’ pile may look slighter larger than the other containers above or more forgiving than it needs to be. That’s why we have a part 2 and that’s scrutinising what you chose at the beginning to really see what you need. This helps when you’re continually downsizing and start questioning with more toughness.

Set an item policy

This can not only help break habits if you shop quite freely, but also manage your reduction process. When it comes to categories like clothes, shoes, underwear, etc, this can work very well. You may set a three shoe policy and only allow yourself three pairs of shoes at any one time. For underwear, it may be a week’s worth and for clothes, it may be a total piece limit or per garment type policy if they’re really your thing. That could be two pairs of jeans, two shirts, one jumper, one coat limit. However you’d like to set it, it should be less than what you already have now… and not a limit that gives you extra room to make some purchases. Remember, we’re trying to downsize your inventory, not increase!

Guilty pleasures

I wasn’t initially thinking about food management but since they can fall into the guilty pleasures, let’s include them too! If you’re in the process to get in shape or live more healthily, extending a limit policy can help keep those guilty pleasures in check. Now I’m not saying outright – we have the choice to enjoy what we work hard for. That could be food, sweets but also entertainment like games, collectibles, drinks. But if this is an area where you’ve amassed a lot of things. Unless they’re valuable collectibles, you can make a conscious decision to keep it going and protect your guilty pleasure space – or purge it all, that’s your call – but limit your future indulges to a few thereafter. Again, the policy, limit, or approach is up to you, just bear in mind we’re trying to find fulfillment while downsizing.

Repeat the Process

You’ve taken great strides to be more minimal from when you started.. so congratulations on taking those first few steps. I hope you feel a little lighter, more agile, easier to roam around and less baggage weighing you down. Remember, minimalism is a lifestyle and an approach to life, and like with everything requires consistency or frequency to make it stick. There are always things we pick up along the way so I recommend coming back to this on a monthly basis and assessing the situation again, repeating the process or steps above so you can maintain, maybe even make further progress and reap the benefits of what it feels to live a more minimal life from your previous life!

Check out my other minimal hack guides to make further progress in other aspects of living as part of the minimalism series.

Please consider supporting my work by contributing any amount as low as $1. This helps to maintain my website costs, development, creation efforts and putting food on the table. Your support is very much appreciated. Keep being awesome! Donate to support my platforms