How do I become more of a minimalist?
September 3, 2014 7:52 PM   Subscribe

After years of maximalism, I want to become more of a minimalist (not extreme living-in-the-woods-money-free, but significantly more minimal than I am now) in the areas of financial spending and personal possessions. I want to declutter my home, pay off my debts as quickly as possible, fatten my savings and be happy living a life with less. What are the best books or blogs on this topic? What are your personal strategies or tips? How do I do this without going crazy?
posted by nightrecordings to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 140 users marked this as a favorite
Mr. Money Mustache
posted by gueneverey at 8:13 PM on September 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

I really enjoy Get Rich Slowly. Lots of real-life advice on living with a little less (and saving more money).

Personally, my money philosophy is to A) use cash as often as possible. and B) to put off shopping trips as much as I can. This forces me to live with what I've got - whether it's food in the pantry or that extra pair of pants that I don't really need.

Other blogs: Non-Consumer Advocate. She's a bit extreme, but still gives some good tips overall. And also Frugal Girl. She's a bit more life-style oriented, but is very down-to-earth and easy to read. And Unclutterer is another that might be helpful. There are a variety of authors on Unclutterer and the Get Rich Slowly blog, so look for those whose posts you like best.
posted by hydra77 at 8:13 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Discardia, written by mefite metagrrrl.
posted by kathryn at 8:14 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:15 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Miss Minimalist and Becoming Minimalist were two blogs that I used to read a lot.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 8:18 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Flylady will be like 50% of your responses here for decluttering. The best rule she has is to throw away 27 items a day where like a pen cap counts. You just go through your stuff and fill up a bag with 27 items to get out of your house. After a couple of weeks, you start having to make real choices and going minimal.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:21 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

This might be a little more scholarly than what you are looking for, but a book on material culture might help. I know it really helped me after I took a class about it. Our relationships with stuff often revolve around an acquisition --> consumption --> disposition cycle and knowing why you want/need stuff can help stuff from coming back into your house once letting things go :-) I know there are very accessible intro books on the subject, but I can't seem to find them on Amazon...just books like my textbook. Good luck!
posted by Calzephyr at 8:43 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well for a start there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind for whom minimalism is a joy of FREE FROM ALL THE STUFF and those for whom reduction is likely to cause pain and anxiety. If you are the later, it's best to acknowledge that so you can set reasonable goals. And you know, if you're trying to figure out how to be happy without all the stuff, it helps to look at each bit of it and decide if it genuinely makes you happy. Like literally: "Does this item make me happy and contribute to my overall quality of life?"

Because, you know, for like 70% of your shit the answer is probably no.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

What are your personal strategies or tips?

My life and lifestyle have required me to become an involuntary minimalist, and currently it requires fitting all possessions in two suitcases. While this may or may not be practical for you, one way to start is to reorganize space. Focus on one small area per day/block of time. As you take everything out and put things back in, ask yourself "what is the purpose of X?" "Can I live without X?" "Is there anything else that can suffice to serve the purpose of X?", and the ultimate, "Do I need this or is this a want?"

You could reorganize the same space more than once over a period of time, and then take things out gradually instead of getting super-excited the first time round. This will give you time to evaluate whether you are getting rid of the right things or also the things you'd rather not part with.

How do I do this without going crazy?

Don't do it all overnight.

This response might sound simplistic but its a simple answer to a simple question. Its more about living what you believe in and incorporate those values in your daily lifestyle than any how-to article or blog.

Finally, all minimalists worth their salt also think about the environment they are dumping things into. So, reduce, reuse and recycle! Canada is exceptionally good at recycling and there are many websites with much information there if you can't find them elsewhere.
posted by xm at 8:51 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The book that had the biggest influence on me was Enough by John Naish. It did a great job at making me reflect on how absurd it was to continually buy things and want more things, and how weird it was to go shopping as a leisure activity.

In terms of minimalism, I find that shifting my focus onto activities and experiences rather than things is helpful both for spending and possessions. This is not necessarily cheaper, but if I take up a new activity it means I focus on gaining skills and enjoying the process rather than buying things to make it possible to do the activity. For example, I cycle and I ride with a couple of cycling clubs. I probably have the cheapest bike by far in any of the clubs and I might upgrade some day, but I am focusing on enjoying the process and will only spend on the bike when that is necessary for me to continue enjoying the process.

I also consciously enjoy living in an uncluttered house so I am very reluctant to bring new things in. Sometimes this means I can't have all the things that I would enjoy, but that's OK unless they would substantially add to my life.
posted by kadia_a at 10:11 PM on September 3, 2014

This is kind of tangentially related, but when I was tasked with helping to clean out my (packrat) father's home (also the place where my packrat mom and packrat me grew up), I found it useful to go through the things with an eye toward "Well, I like this thing well enough, but I know person xyz would really love it."

That way, the minimizing is also an opportunity for gift giving.

Admittedly this doesn't work for all things, but who among us doesn't know a frenzied new parent who would appreciate a few new movies to help them relax, or a collector of antiques who would appreciate that old vase/lamp/collection of stamps.
posted by softlord at 10:27 PM on September 3, 2014

Here's one tip: take photos. I had to get rid of 90% of what my family owned to prepare for a move to Europe many years ago. Taking pictures of things makes it easier for me, at least, to let go of things. That was the pre-cell phone era; it's much easier to do it now. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:32 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pretend you're moving across the country, taking only what will fit in a 1997 Honda Civic sedan.

Sell, give away, or donate what you can - this can be kind of fun.
Discard what you can't - don't fret about being wasteful.

Get rid of the perpetually unread books. Rip or digitize your music collection and get rid of the discs (or at the very least, trash the cases and store the discs in a folio).

If it's dusty or you have more than one (camera, phone, computer, stereo, etc) - get rid of it.
posted by unmake at 11:02 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Your Money or Your Life. The investment advice towards the end of the book should probably be taken with a grain of salt, since the book was published in 2008. But it offers a very useful perspective on work, money and material possessions.
posted by wavelette at 12:07 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would recommend Brooks Palmer's Clutter Busting. He explains the emotional causes and effects of clutter in a way that I found convincing.

He is quite hardcore - according to him 75% of our possessions are typically clutter. But I also found the book uplifting in its message that we already possess the natural ability to discriminate what we really need from what we don't.
posted by liebchen at 12:08 AM on September 4, 2014

You might like Sustainably Creative. It's primary focus is... Well, sustaining creativity but there's also a lot of gentle discussion about sustainable living generally... Income streams, slowing down, etc. he also does a "ten things declutter" segment once a week or so and there's a members forum dedicated to the declutter.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:47 AM on September 4, 2014

Remember, you can get most of these books upthread at the library!

I'm very good at keeping stuff moving out of our living space, and the key for me is to GIVE IT AWAY. Everyone I know who thinks they can declutter and end up with some money always has a problem actually posting on Craigs List/having a garage sale/taking to the consignment shop. So the stuff sits and sits and sits and is joined by more stuff. And except for rare cases, my friends end up feeling sort of shitty because when they do sell something they thought (or were hoping) they'd get more.

Give it all to the Salvation Army. Put everything they wouldn't want in the recycling. Or the garbage. You will feel so good and so light and -- judging from my many many years of experience -- you will never regret anything you've given away.
posted by kestralwing at 2:54 AM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah... Rowdy Kittens. There's a blog, a book, and some e-courses. They downsized and moved to a self built tiny house, paid off a bunch of debt, and are (mostly?) financial independent.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:56 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the mnmlist blog.

And this Mark Pilgrim blog post, from before he removed his entire internet presence.
posted by curious_yellow at 2:59 AM on September 4, 2014

Moving to a foreign country helped me with this. I put most of what I owned into storage for three years, and when I returned I realized just how little I needed in that time without it. The Minimalists started the same way — the founder basically boxed up everything he owned and vowed to live without it for 30 days. At the end of those 30 days he gave what he didn't use away.
posted by Brittanie at 5:07 AM on September 4, 2014

Pretend you're dead.

Everything you own has to be gotten rid of.

Who gets what? What will happen to the rest? What's actually worth keeping, worth willing to someone who will actually want it? How much of the rest will just end up in the dump or in a yard sale because no one in the world wants it? How much of it is just embarrassing crap that you don't know why you have?

Now get rid of it, minus what you need day to day. Keep the home (for now) and keep basic stuff you need each day like work clothes, towels, and soap. Everything else is negotiable. Start giving away the stuff you would have willed anyway. Start throwing away or selling the stuff that would have ended up in the dump or a yard sale anyway. No record collection. No stacks of books. No heaps of old photographs. Pass it all on now, while you're alive.

When you get it down to a single room's worth of daily worthless essentials (not your treasures, because you have already given all your treasures away to people you love), sell the house (if you have a house) and move into one room. A cabin or a studio apartment or an attic somewhere. Make it a place from which you can bike or take public transport to work. Dump the car if there was a car.

Now you are a super-efficient living machine: you have the same income but you have a tiny uncluttered home that costs very little to maintain (maybe paid off completely from the house money), little or no commute costs, and a simple life.
posted by pracowity at 5:49 AM on September 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

I really enjoyed Your Money or Your Life.

This book changed my life, and I think many of the bloggers who write about this stuff. So glad I found it when I did, and that I found it when I was young and especially before I bought a house. It's a classic and I am sure your local library will have a copy.

There are many, many resources on the fatten your savings bit and the advice is the same in most of them - emergency fund, limit your debt, pay yourself first, low MERs, couch potato portfolios, if you're in Canada TFSA versus RRSP, aggressively cut expenses on things you don't care about, research big investments and purchases, etc. (Metafilter's own) JD Roth's Get Rich Slowly book/old blog posts are great and I bet the online course he has out is good.

Spending and using less is good but don't dismiss or overlook the increase-income part of the equation.

I would suggest focusing on one or two blogs if you go that route. I went through a brief phase of being subscribed to a bunch of frugality and minimalism and personal finance blogs and yes I didn't accumulate stuff and I optimized my finances; but in hindsight reading all those blogs didn't really add much to my life once I'd figured out the basics and I wasted a ton of time on reading repetitive info and comments threads that ranged from circlejerky to judgemental. Action over motivation!
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:18 AM on September 4, 2014

A few very simple practices that might help you on your way:

* Keep one shelf, one drawer, maybe even one whole closet completely empty. I try to do this in every room (and if possible in every piece of storage furniture) in my home, although right now I'm not quite where I'd like to be for various reasons.
* Get rid of 27 things. Just go around the house with a box and put 27 things either in the box (to give away) or in the trash. (This is a FlyLady tip.) Repeat frequently.
* Pay yourself first. Pay your bills and make deposits to your savings account(s) the day you get your paycheck, so that you never have the money available to spend on new STUFF.
posted by mskyle at 6:24 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a bit of a contrary opinion to many on this topic, but I think it may help.

I think there is clear distinction between a "minimalist style space" (lots of clean space, well organized, no piles of stuff, often seen in very expensive homes with lots of hidden storage space) and a "minimalist lifestyle".

I think that a lot of blogs and such relating to becoming more minimalist is a lot of interior design work that is impossible in many housing scenarios, unless you end up with only one outfit and a mattress on the floor.

I think that what most minimalists really want is a feeling of content. A mantra of contentment. You want to be able to say: "I am content with my life. I am content with my entertainment. I am content with my food. I am content with my budget. I am content with my relationships. I am content with my car."

You will not find contentment pouring over minimalist blogs, books, or pictures. You may find contentment through yoga or meditation.

I would only seek to reduce waste/collections of things/budgetary spending if those issues are a source of discontent. I wouldn't change them because it is the "minimalist thing to do."

Good luck :)
posted by bbqturtle at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2014 [24 favorites]

I love Miss Minimalist's The Joy of Less. Into Mind is a great minimalist fashion blog if you care about that.

I think the concept of knowing what is "enough" for you is key and can be applied to all sorts of things - activities, for instance.

I've been trying to do the same thing as you and I think reducing all the stuff in my life has helped me out a lot mentally, though I still have a long way to go.

Also try searching for "simple living" and "voluntary simplicity" as it's true a lot of the stuff about minimalism on the internet is about minimalist design which has fuck all to do with a minimalist lifestyle, really.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2014

Pick one thing in your home each day and get rid of it, until you're down to something you're comfortable with. If you want to buy something new, get rid of two things that day.

Shirts, old pairs of socks, the extra stirring spoon in the kitchen, books you'll never read again; this takes years, but it took you years to put it together, so there's that.

The one thing that makes this easier is online storage for books, movies, and music. Instead of buying physical media, buy it online, if you're going to buy it at all.
posted by talldean at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2014

mskyle, I love the the 27 things exercise! I do that one from time to time. It sounds so dumb until you do it. Great for procrastinators or people who don't know where to start. Walk around and find any 27 things to get rid of - an old winter coat or a crumpled receipt on your dresser, they each count as one thing. You get your 27 things and you've completed the task. Yay, you! Unless you decide to go around again for another 27.....
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:43 PM on September 5, 2014

A good first step is ripping all your CDs to flac and then getting rid of them.

Depending on how many CDs you've got, and where you keep them, it's possible that you're going to notice a great big empty space on a shelf or whatever, and it looks ridiculous. The next row is DVDs/Blu Ray discs. These can be ripped too, and you can get rid of them next.

Chances are you're now going to have a couple of empty shelves. Get rid of those.

You're now in purge mode, and it is a compulsion. Next thing you do, is start going through your books. Be honest with yourself: are you ever going to read this, or did you genuinely enjoy it when you read it last, and are you ever going to read it again? Nine times out of ten the answer is going to be "no", so get rid of them.

For those remaining one in ten, is there any real value in keeping the physical book, or can you get an epub (or similar) of it and put it on your ebook (or the like)? I think you could probably get rid of another 50-80% of your physical books that way. A good idea is to give yourself an upper limit: 100 books, or two bookshelf rows, or whatever.

Next up is your clothes. When was the last time you wore that? You can't remember, can you? And if you're too fat for something in there, why are you keeping it? Sure, you can lose weight, but wouldn't you prefer to buy yourself a nice new pair of pants or shirt or dress, rather than just going through the effort to lose a bunch of weight to fit back into the same old shit you used to fit into? Get rid of anything you haven't worn for a year.

Next is the kitchen. Remember, you're in purge mode now, and it is a frantic mindset where you are probably going to want to chuck anything that isn't nailed down. Embrace it. You don't need half that shit in your kitchen.

Linen cupboard is next. Then every single drawer and shelf and box and trunk and crate. You can set up piles: DONATE, CHUCK, MAYBE (anything that is "definite" you just keep where it was). Review the MAYBE pile (put it in a box, whatever) in say six months - if you haven't taken anything from it, chances are you don't need it and never will.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:02 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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