5 Easy Steps to Minimize the Stuff & Simplify Your Life

Liz Merritt
October 31, 2017

I am at the point in my life where stuff simply doesn’t matter as much. I’m so over trying to impress with the things I’ve collected along the way and have rejoiced lately in donating and selling stuff that brings no happiness to my life.

I’m not a hard-core minimalist by any stretch, but I certainly am appreciating the way liberation from physical stuff correlates directly to freedom from emotional baggage that has cluttered my life for years. There’s symbolism in simply clearing the path to what we really want from life. When we do this, our stress levels begin to dissipate as well.

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If you haven’t read the book Minimalism – Live a Meaningful Life by Josh Millburn and Ryan Nicodemis, do it. They are the ministers of minimalism who began the revolution with little fanfare and an underground following back in 2011 with their blogsite. Their personal stories are fascinating, and if you want it all in a quick, minimalist-style bite, catch the documentary on NetFlix.

Getting Started

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The first step to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.

The Minimalists say the first step to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it. Brilliant.

But first we have to wrap our heads around not being defined by our stuff. Are you at a junction in life where collecting stuff makes you feel like a relic yourself?

Here’s a personal example. I had been saving my children’s artwork from kindergarten and grade school for years. Imagine boxes filled with necklaces made from spray-painted pasta and scribbly drawings. I asked them if they wanted the stuff. Um, no Mom. That’s your stuff.

So I edited out only the pieces that truly made me happy – the “big smile” stuff – and tossed the rest. That was hard. But I certainly don’t want them having to go through the stuff from their own childhoods after I’m long gone. So out it went. Now I have a memento box for all that stuff that stows neatly in a garage cupboard.

That got me started. Then I donated bags and boxes of clothes and household stuff and sold nearly all of my bikes and gear had collected over 10 years of bike racing. It wasn’t long before my tiny house and garage took on a new, clean, fresh look and feel.

Say Goodbye to the Stuff You Don’t Use

Next step is to go slow and be thoughtful. Harboring stuff for a long time and then feeling like you’re under the gun to get rid of it can invite stress. And that’s just the opposite of what we want to accomplish in an evolution to minimalism. The Minimalists started by addressing “anchors” in their lives. And some of those were doozies – like relationships and houses.

The concept of anchors carries over, however to our physical stuff. We feel tied down in so many ways by it, that the anchor analogy makes total sense. So the next step is to inventory the stuff you haven’t used in over a year. Write down everything you can think of.

Those pants you haven’t worn in 10 years? Donate. What about the fondue pot that’s been sitting in the garage gathering dust? Donate or sell. Those magazines that you read months ago? Recycle them. Ten bins filled with holiday decorations? How about paring back on the trimmings at a garage sale and donating the money to your church? See? It’s not all that hard.

Go for Quality Over Quantity

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Err on the side of quality over quantity to minimize the accumulation of useless stuff.

If you truly are dedicated to becoming more minimalist and less maximalist, I encourage you to shop less. Resist the urge to splurge by thinking long and hard about every purchase and how it will declutter your space. Sleep on it for a week and, only then, ask yourself if the object is a “want” or a “need” item for your new lifestyle.

When you do decide to pull the trigger on a purchase, go for only higher quality items. Look at purchases as investments. The items will last longer because they are better made, and will reduce your need to accumulate new stuff in the long-term. This goes for all items, from kitchen appliances to tools and clothing to furniture.

Skip the Knickknacks 

A die-hard minimalist owns very few knickknacks because these items have no useful purpose. Instead they may have a small collection of mementos or treasures tucked away neatly in a beautiful box or an album. If it doesn’t fit into one or the other, out it goes.

This may be one of the most difficult steps of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. Getting rid of stuff that you’ve been collecting for probably half your life (or more) or have inherited. Quite possibly, these items have a sentimental hold on you.

And as Boomers, it’s quite likely we have inherited grandma’s antique tea service or other family heirlooms. And while we don’t use them, we know the rest of the family would gasp in horror if we even thought of getting ride of them. So rather than give family relics the heave-ho right away, pack up the knickknacks in a few boxes and store them in the garage.

You’ll get the immediate satisfaction of clearing your living space, not to mention the fact that dusting the house will become a heck of a lot easier.

Simplify Life

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Focus on the stuff that truly makes you happy and simplify the rest.

As Millburn and Nicodemus write in their bestseller, “Minimalism is a tool to eliminate life’s excess and focus on the essentials.” Interestingly, very little of the information between the front and back cover is about clearing the proverbial clutter.

It’s more about focusing on what’s most important to us. It starts with clearing away the stuff so you have the head space to think about bigger things in life. They call out five fundamental values that drive our lives: health, relationships, passions, growth and contributions.

When we set our sights on these areas first and focus on what really makes us happy, it’s not all the stuff. Here’s my take on a well-known saying. No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time buying and accumulating stuff instead of making meaningful experiences.’

The line from the Minimalism documentary that put all of this into perspective for me was this: “Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.” To that I say, amen, and let the purging begin.

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