How to adopt minimalism into your life

Last Updated: Friday 14 July 2023
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In another article, I used Paul and my journey to minimalism as an example of why adopting minimalism could change your life. It’s a continuing process. But thanks to minimalism, we now live our lives with more awareness and intent and are true to our values. We believe that everyone can benefit from applying minimalist concepts in their lives. The beauty of it is that we can all adopt minimalism differently, in whichever way works best for us.

So how can you adopt minimalism into your life?

Minimalism is not dogmatic, and as such, there is no ONE way to go about it.

For some people, minimalism starts and ends with decluttering their homes. They want to live in a healthier, less stressful home environment, spend less time cleaning it and more time with their kids or ageing parents. And that’s absolutely fine.

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Declutter your physical environment

If this is where you would like to start, here are three approaches to how you can go about reducing your STUFF:

I don’t want to add to the seemingly endless list of tips and tricks on how to declutter your home (or workplace). I’m sure you will find a way that suits you. What I will say though is that the concept of a capsule wardrobe, applied in Project 333 for example, is something I personally apply.

Clothes on rack

You will never experience 'I have nothing to wear' with a capsule wardrobe

Decluttering your physical environment – though at times painful and slow – is a very rewarding exercise. Your home (or workplace) though is only one of several aspects in your life that can contribute to (or distract from) your overall well-being. And it may not be the one causing you the most pain.

So, don’t jump blindly (and more or less enthusiastically) on the challenge of decluttering your home (or workplace). Let’s have a look at what other aspects of your life are worth giving some thought to.

Check in with yourself… holistically

I like the concept of the wheel of life (you can tell I used to be a consultant – I love working with frameworks). Ever since I learned about it in a resiliency course for women in 2008, I’ve used it to check in with myself and create greater awareness of the areas in my life that may need attention. It helps me to take a holistic and therefore more balanced approach to my personal well-being.

Are decluttering and minimalism the same thing? Do you have to restrict your possessions to call yourself a minimalist? Here are some answers.

wheel of life

Image courtesy of The Start of Happiness

The wheel of life is really easy to apply: On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being least and 10 being most satisfied), where are you when it comes to the various facets of your life? And where do you want to be?

You can see that your physical environment is only one of many aspects of your life. Other elements important for your overall well-being are your business/career, your finances, your health, your relationships (with family and friends, and your romantic relationship/s), personal growth as well as fun and recreation. As you shade in where you are at and draw a line where you want to be, you may find other areas that need attention.

For those areas crying out for help, write down why you are dissatisfied. For example:

  • Family and friends: Do you feel your relationships with loved ones suffer because you don’t get to see them as often as you’d like? What keeps you away from them?
  • Finances: Does opening your credit card statement make you feel anxious because you are not in control of your finances? Why are you not in control, and what would it take to get it back?

If the reasons for your dissatisfaction are related to the finite resources we have as human beings – time and money – chances are that you can benefit from applying minimalist concepts in your life to achieve greater satisfaction, beyond the direct impact that decluttering your physical environment will have.

Time is precious by Harry Sandhu

Time is precious | Photo by Harry Sandhu

Before I talk about the benefits of adopting minimalism beyond decluttering your home (or workplace), let’s take a step back and remind ourselves what minimalism is about.

There are many definitions but that of Joshua and Ryan (aka The Minimalists) best reflects our own view:

Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfilment and freedom. – The Minimalists

Whether you rid yourself of the excess in your physical environment or in other aspects of your life, what is important to us and how we perceive happiness, fulfilment and freedom are different for every one of us.

Know what’s (truly) important to you

Whether you look back at many years of life experience or you have just turned 18, most of us want our lives to matter. We want our lives to have a purpose.

Some people know from a very early age why they exist. They are drawn in a certain direction, and they know they want to dedicate their lives to pursuing that direction. Think of Mother Teresa.

For many others (including me) it’s not that straightforward, and our why (or how it manifests itself) may also change as we get older.

You may be very clear about your why. That’s awesome. Document it… and live your life with your why in mind.

If you are like me (I have a rough idea of what I want to be remembered for) articulate what you can. It’s a start.

Uncover your why

Ways to uncover your why are manifold. I like (and have used) the following questions to gain a better understanding of my WHY:

  • Which experiences (good and bad) have shaped your life?
  • What similarities can you recognize in your most notable achievements?
  • What (problems in the world) are you most passionate about (solving)?
  • If money was not an issue, what line of work would you be most drawn to?
  • Which dreams in your life do you feel the most regret for not pursuing harder?
  • What is the lasting legacy you want to leave?
  • Whom do you most admire? What characteristics of these people would you like to emulate?
David Bowie by David Preston

What do you want your life to be remembered for? | Photo by David Preston

Are you looking for real people’s journeys to and with minimalism? On our website, we share the stories of our readers (and our own):

While my why is still a work in progress, I have a clearer understanding of my personal or core values. I find it easier to articulate them. Paul and I also documented our common core values as part of our commitment statement to each other before we got married.

Values are principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgement of what is important in life. – The Oxford Dictionary

Define your personal values

Applying the above definition, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which words or phrases describe the behaviours and attitudes I want to encourage in my life?
  • What is most important in my life?
  • What would I not compromise on, or if I did I would feel extremely uncomfortable?

If you now look back at your thoughts on why you exist and what you want your life to be remembered for, you will notice that your why and your values are linked. You can’t truly live your why without living (in alignment with) your values.

Ultimately, we use our values as guidelines when it comes to making decisions. And when we adopt minimalism into our lives, no matter what approach we take, knowing what is (truly) important to us, is essential in deciding what is excess and what isn’t.

Bridal Falls Climber by Greg Rakozy_Landscape

Adopting minimalism is like climbing an ice fall... It's hard work but your perseverance will reward you | Photo by Greg Rakozy

Apply your values

As mentioned earlier, while a great start, often it’s not (just) a cluttered home that distracts from living our values. Using the wheel of life, work your way through each of the aspects of your life you are unsatisfied with – step by step – and think about the following:

  • What values are you compromising and why?
  • What distracts you from living your values?
  • Can you remove these distractors?

Just to give you two examples:

  • Family and friends: Does spending time with certain people in your life energize or drain you? Do they distract you from people or activities that are far more important to you? As cold as it may seem, you may want to cut ties with people who just drain you (or at least reduce the time and space they occupy in your life).
  • Finances: Do you spend your money on what is truly important to you? You may want to ask yourself before you buy something new, whether it gives you value. If you’re not sure, you may want to sleep over it, park it for a few days and/or discuss it with a close friend (especially if it’s something that may impact your life for years to come).

It’s astonishing how advertising and societal norms push us to buy or do stuff we don’t actually need or want. By asking yourself whether something moves you closer or further away from what’s truly important to you, you can break that cycle

A few final words of wisdom

Checking in holistically across all aspects of your life, uncovering your why, articulating your values and applying your values (especially to those areas that cause you the most dissatisfaction) is not a quick exercise. It takes time…

Also, the above is just one approach… If you go about it differently, and it works for you, that’s what matters.

If you have adopted minimalism into your life what have been your experiences? It would be awesome to hear your story. Leave us a comment below or send us an email.


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