Another question about simplifying
October 12, 2017 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I am inspired by minimalist philosophy and paring down to essentials in life. I have seen other asks and wanted to get the Hive Mind to weigh in on more.

What are your favorite ways to do more with less, have less, be less, and generally create a simple life? Products, services, and general hacks all welcome. Tagging as health related because I seek the increased wellbeing from living a simple life.
posted by crunchy potato to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I have been fighting clutter my entire life. Just too much stuff. I think the biggest thing, when it comes to clutter anyway, is to make sure to have a path for things to flow *out* of your life at least as fast as things flow in.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:21 AM on October 12 [9 favorites]

Cancel all catalogs or advertising emails. Avoid watching ads. Stay out of stores without a list of specific items you intend to buy.

The vast majority of people are not impervious to advertising, marketing and merchandising. It's amazing how well stores do at creating a false sense of need. It takes effort to resist all those messages, so just reduce your exposure.
posted by mcduff at 11:29 AM on October 12 [4 favorites]

I find that in general, simplifying and paring down all starts in your head, when you decide that you need only specific items and want to focus on certain objectives, and when you then create rules and routines that will help you achieve that ideal state, tweaking the rules and routines as necessary along the way.

The paradox of rules and routines and limits is that they sound repressive but are actually freeing, because they help us reduce all the noise and clutter and get down to the business of doing what we most want to do and enjoying the things we love.

So, if you want to simplify your life, start with one area, such as your kitchen or your closet, and think about what your ideal kitchen or closet would look like, making a list of the things you need and testing the list by coming up with every possible scenario. Do research to explore your options and to look for specific hacks. You'll also need to come up with some ground rules to help you maintain the minimalist idea once you get there. The, once you're sure your list is both as well-edited as possible and as comprehensive as necessary, start working towards paring down to those specific items.
posted by orange swan at 11:30 AM on October 12 [7 favorites]

I'm currently working on downsizing. My current strategy is to set a certain amount of things to get rid of in x period of time. So right now, I'm finding five books a week to get rid of and one small box of general stuff per month (since Easter Seals picks up once a month).

You will probably get a lot of answers swearing by the Kondo method (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up). I found the book inspiring, but it's just too overwhelming for me to do so much at once. But it definitely works for some people.

I think the important thing is to figure out what works for you.
posted by FencingGal at 11:30 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Don't shop when you are bored, depressed or hungry, don't worry about your looks too much, and move to a small, easy to clean apartment or a tiny, easy to repair house. You won't collect much if there's nowhere to put it.
posted by serena15221 at 11:33 AM on October 12 [4 favorites]

One of my first favorites on this site is this comment.

I've found that paring down the stuff and clutter in your life will leave the same old you with less stuff. This may not get you what you want. I think it would help immensely if you could tell us specifically what you hope to achieve though minimalism other than increased wellbeing, which is an imprecise term that we all define differently.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:38 AM on October 12 [14 favorites]

It might be counterintuitive, but it's helped me to understand and accept that almost all stuff is good and useful and fun, and that if you get rid of (or forgo) stuff, there will be times you will regret it. But if you keep everything that you use or enjoy on occasion, you're never going to simplify, and there are also significant costs to having them: space and attention.

So the questions to ask when you are deciding whether to purchase or pass along are not, "Will I use this? Will I enjoy this? Is this adding beauty to my house?" Rather, "Will I use this frequently? Will I love this? Is the additional beauty worth the additional
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:40 AM on October 12 [9 favorites]

Concrete things I did/do, in addition to the ideas mentioned above:

-a hard "one in, one out" rule. If I buy a new pair of jeans, guess what, one old pair of jeans is getting given to goodwill.

-commit to buying the One Perfect Item, even if it's expensive, and be done with it. Example: continuously buying cheap drugstore lipstick in pursuit of a perfect red, leading to wasted money and lots of lipsticks I don't use cluttering up my makeup bag. Better to go to Sephora and buy ONE that you LOVE. (YMMV, I realize you're not all lipstick-addicted like me, but you get the idea).

-stop buying magazines. This is related to catalogs and ads but magazines are like visual comfort food to me; inexpensive, easy to consume, makes you feel better while you're reading them. When I stopped buying impulse magazines on the checkout line while I was buying 30 lipsticks I didn't need, my urge to purchase decreased by a lot.

-cancel cable OR upgrade to TiVo so you can fast forward ads. We'll be watching football and watch endless commercials for pizza--half hour later it's like, why do we want pizza?! It's like that with everything--even if you don't want the specific thing that's being marketed to you, you're still being exposed to the central tenet of advertising which is, "you're not good/happy enough as you are, but if you BUY you will be good/happy enough". That's pervasive and the more you can limit your exposure the better.

-set up hard savings goals. I got a raise and was horrified by how fast I was spending money. Now I know that I need to have XXX amount put into a savings account (direct deposited and hidden on my bank's homepage, btw) every pay period. Having less spending money makes it easier to prioritize 'fun' purchases which is where a lot of my clutter comes from (see above, magazines, lipsticks, etc.)

-downsize your living situation. We moved from a 3 bedroom house to a 700 sq. foot apartment because I couldn't stand the amount of stuff we were accumulating. Having literal walls beyond which your stuff can't extend is really helpful in reducing clutter.
posted by stellaluna at 11:48 AM on October 12 [5 favorites]

You will probably get a lot of answers swearing by the Kondo method (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up). I found the book inspiring, but it's just too overwhelming for me to do so much at once.

There's a manga version! It is slightly less overwhelming and offers the promise that at the end of improving your life, there will be pie. Now that's motivation.
posted by asperity at 11:49 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

A few hacks that have helped me:
- The in/out inventory rule: If I buy a new thing, I have to get rid of (donate/recycle/toss) a thing that is already in my house. This assumes you already have enough books, shirts, pens, etc.
- Designate a space for a particular type of item, like sweaters. When the storage space is full, you cannot acquire any more sweaters. (Works for items you normally have multiples of, like books, socks, candles, etc.)
- Keep a list of "wants" in a notebook or other place that you have handy. Like if you want a new phone, a pair of red ballet flats, a new toaster, etc. just list them all. Write the date that you added the item to the list. Then wait for a designated length of time before you are allowed to purchase the item. (Minimum 30 days!) I find I can often cross things off the list because I don't really want them anymore. And if I do get something from the list, I know that I really wanted it.
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:08 PM on October 12 [4 favorites]

I shop mostly online. One thing that has helped me a lot is to have an easy and streamlined method for returns. I only buy from vendors with a quick, print-shipping-label-at-home, free-shipping-back policy for anything I buy. That means Amazon (has to be specifically labeled "free returns") and Macy' for children's stuff, I think. Maybe for underwear. (The once or twice I've deviated from this has NOT been worth it and has sent me scurrying back to my regular sources.) I even bought a package of plastic shipping envelopes so I never lack for a container, and I make sure I have plenty of clear packing tape for taping labels. I never accidentally keep something because I didn't have the supplies to return it.

When I do need to buy clothes, which isn't often, the question I ask is "do I love it? Will I be excited to wear it tomorrow, just as it is?" and if the answer is anything other than YES! Then I return it. This means I buy very few clothes these days, but almost never make a mistake. It's far preferable to how I used to accumulate a bunch of crap that was kinda "almost" and I never felt like I had anything to wear.

I also do regular closet audits since my size fluctuates. I don't throw things away usually, since the size tends to come back into rotation, but I put them away and only have stuff that fits in the closet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:12 PM on October 12 [6 favorites]

This recent article on DesignSponge gives a slightly more balanced view than its "10 tips" title would suggest - you might find it interesting, or not: 10 Tips For Living Minimally Longterm
posted by wavelette at 12:14 PM on October 12 [5 favorites]

I like the one-year rule (or two-year, whatever): if you haven't used a thing in the past year, get rid of it. ISTR that in a previous discussion about this on AskMe, someone added to this that they gave themselves the permission to re-buy the thing on Amazon Prime if they got rid of a thing and needed it after all.

We don't apply the one-year rule to everything at my home, but it is a guideline we use when asking "why do we have this?"

This is not really a minimalism tip per se, but I think it fits with what you've got in mind: organize your stuff so that it's out of the way but easy to find. We've got a lot of stuff stored in plastic bins, and we've gradually standardized on two bin sizes. Stored on a good shelving system.
posted by adamrice at 12:35 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Also, don't be afraid to celebrate Discardia.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:40 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Weeks when I cook one or two large dishes on Sunday afternoon and have them in the fridge for dinner and packed lunches are much more relaxed and less likely to end up buying food out. I'm working on a habit of planning our schedule for the week on Saturday and choosing recipes, then grocery shopping and cooking on Sunday. With a slow cooker, it might only mean an hour of shopping and prep at the start of the day and then a half hour packaging it up and cleaning in the evening, which can generally be combined with dinner cleanup, then we are set for the week.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:45 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Use the library.

As someone who is a bit of a rigid minimalist about clothing, kitchen items, etc. who was also prone to finding herself walking into interesting bookstores to "browse" and walking out in a daze $50 (or more) lighter, resolving to get all* books from the library before I allow myself to purchase them has probably been the most significant change I've made along these lines in the last few years. I acknowledge that I am lucky to live in an area with an excellent library system, but even if you don't, forcing yourself to get even certain kinds of things from the library first may still help.** (I totally understand that the prospect of hauling things to and from the library, and loan periods that seem too short, might make this impractical for other people. In my case, I've actually found the short loan periods to be a help, since if I haven't so much as touched that book that I just HAD TO HAVE in three weeks, it really helps put my desire to buy it in perspective. And, I can always request it again. My library is also big on e-mail reminders about due dates.)

> Keep a list of "wants" in a notebook or other place that you have handy. Like if you want a new phone, a pair of red ballet flats, a new toaster, etc. just list them all. Write the date that you added the item to the list. Then wait for a designated length of time before you are allowed to purchase the item. (Minimum 30 days!) I find I can often cross things off the list because I don't really want them anymore. And if I do get something from the list, I know that I really wanted it.

I do a version of this, too! I don't use a time limit, but I have a running list of books and one for household things/clothing in Google Drive that help to focus my browsing when I'm running errands or I end up in an interesting bookstore (or at the library). It's been eye-opening to see how many things I end up crossing off the list after some time, anyway, and if I am feeling acquisitive it's nice to channel that toward a specific thing that I had already been thinking about for a while.

*I will still buy a new book by a favorite author when it's released, but that happens much less frequently, so I can also make a point of doing it at an independent bookstore. If I do end up wanting to own something I've borrowed from the library, I usually try to find a version of it that I like on AbeBooks or I put it on my book "shopping list" for later.

**Cookbooks alone were a big one for me. If I find a book really useful, I can (and often do) end up buying it anyway, but it's a good way to screen for the ones that actually work with my current lifestyle rather than the one that I wish I had.

posted by Anita Bath at 12:48 PM on October 12 [7 favorites]

I’m wired differently than many book hoarders. I agree with Tyler Cowen’s theory of giving away a book after reading. If I loved it, others should read it. If I didn’t, why should I keep it around? If I haven’t read it after a year, maybe I don’t really want to read it. I blame the mindset to summer camp. Having to ruthlessly curate a library to be shipped for 8 weeks when I was a voracious reader.

Walking into a bookstore, I’m delighted at the possibility of all the books I could read. But when I had shelves on shelves of books in my apartment, it loses that magic. They’re an obligation. To read again. To lend to someone who appreciates it. To constantly fight with cats over appropriate scratching surfaces. (One of my cats likes to try and hide behind them, which just results in all the books on the floor)

Marie Kondo is great for reminding you you don’t have to keep things that no longer appeal to you. But that helps me remember that loving something does not have to be about keeping it. It’s instinctual for books, but I’m going back to that feeling for other things that don’t fit in my life.
posted by politikitty at 12:50 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Related to the library comment above - this Chrome extension will automatically show you if the book you are looking at on Amazon is available at your local library.
posted by COD at 12:53 PM on October 12 [12 favorites]

Also related to the library comment: there are ways to get ebooks from your library, so they are free! I'm trying hard to stop buying ebooks unless I consciously want to own a copy because I know the writer. Recommending the book to the library so they buy it means the writer gets a sale and lots more people than me might read the book.
posted by suelac at 1:25 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

My tip, after spending a fair amount of time in a hardcore Facebook minimalism group, is "don't go overboard." There is a point of diminishing returns where getting rid of more stuff does not create a significantly greater degree of happiness.

You can have peace of mind with stuff on your walls and a box of family heirlooms in the attic.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:46 PM on October 12 [5 favorites]

Downsize the things that store the other things.

Big bookshelf full of books? You are replacing that with a small bookshelf that will only fit what it fits. Apply this principle across all the things.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:25 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Instead of asking yourself what to eliminate, flip it around. Empty a space and then ask what you want to keep. Make sure absolutely everything you keep has a "home" (which is its place to live).

Set limits on how much space a category of things can have. Condense your storage options (dump the plastic bins and dressers and multiple bookcases). Maybe you will have one drawer for all kitchen utensils and one shelf for all pots and pans. Before you buy anything, think about where it will live--do you have space for it, or will something need to be removed to make room?
posted by Dogged Persistence at 11:31 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

I think it would help immensely if you could tell us specifically what you hope to achieve though minimalism other than increased wellbeing, which is an imprecise term that we all define differently.

I'm not really sure. Less mental clutter. Less decisional fatigue. More free time. Less stress. Some people thrive on complexity and sink their teeth into it but aside from the complexity of individuals seeking my support, I find complexity exhausting. If my life is pared down to essentials there's less for me to get anxious about I guess.

I am marking a few best answers but please feel free to share more now that I have offered my belated clarification.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:58 AM on October 13

Moving helps! Uprooting, re-arranging.

Take a setting in your home. put everything in A BOX. Put that box in the basement or in a closet. Take anything you need out of the box any time you want.

After a long time, there will be things in that box that you never needed! you never got it out!

throw the box away.
posted by rebent at 7:56 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]

I am not a hardcore minimalist but I am a strong believer in "everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler." So here are some things I do:
- before bringing something into my home I really think about whether I want to spend the rest of its life dealing with it - cleaning it and maintaining it.
- along those lines, I no longer allow plastic into my home with very few exceptions. This helps cut down on decision fatigue while shopping, because my options are drastically slashed and usually quality items remain.
- before tossing an item in purchasing a new one, I try to repair what I already have. For example, I have an old swiffer wet jet and was annoyed with the nonrefillable cartridges. I found a tutorial online where you can soak the cap in boiling water, remove it, and cut off the prongs. Voila, a refillable cartridge.
- an easy room to cut down on stuff is in the kitchen. Go through your drawers and keep only what you absolutely need. Donate the rest. I got rid of so many shitty duplicates and one-use gadgets that I hardly ever use.
- I don't buy cleaning supplies anymore. Everything gets cleaned with either vinegar and water, or Castile soap and water. I loooooove to clean and found myself stockpiling doodads from target like pledge wipes and Windex wipes. I do still purchase bulk dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent.
- don't gaze into the abyss. I was always for want when I purused curated sites on the daily, like Lonny or apartment therapy or Swiss miss. Don't let those consumption-driven, affiliate link sites steal your soul .
posted by pintapicasso at 9:30 AM on October 13 [2 favorites]

A thing a lot of people miss about the Kondo / KonMari method is that you focus on what you want your life to be like, and then on what items you want to keep. There's actually a decent amount of discussion in the first book about why you might want to tidy and how it can change other parts of your life (some of which get pretty woo, some of which I found useful). I found clearing out physical stuff by thinking about what I like led to thinking more broadly about what kind of activities and relationships I wanted in my life.

It really worked for me. I didn't have that much stuff before, but I was surprised how much of it I actually disliked or didn't care about. I'm also more intentional about buying new things now.
posted by momus_window at 3:18 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Whenever you think you need a new something, ask yourself if you don’t already own another thing that could be repurposed or modified to do the job. For example, I am now carrying my lipstick etc around in a ziplock freezer bag, rather than buying a spiffy makeup bag. (As a bonus, I even get to see what’s in there!)
posted by rpfields at 1:46 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]

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