Minimalism is becoming mainstream. For some it’s a necessity, for instance when moving to live in a smaller place. For some others it’s a mindful decision, to declutter years of accumulating stuff they barely use to gain some sense of freedom: “Own your stuff; don’t let it own you”. And for some others yet, it is the realization that consumerism is not the answer to happiness, and also plays a big role in natural resource depletion. You can read more about that in our Sustainability section.
Yet it’s not always easy to make the step. Because we went there, we here offer you a guide on down-sizing and transition to minimalism.
Introduction: Our story
Before we dive into the process steps, here is about our down-sizing context.
For Tobi and I, it happened when we decided to leave our jobs and home to embrace a nomadic lifestyle. We were each renting our own room in a house-share when we met, and so we never owned much; and that helps. The challenge for the most part was that we were moving into a 4WD, a Toyota Landcruiser 80 series to be precise. We also don’t have family in Australia; and our local friends didn’t have much space to keep a lot for us. So we had to down-size enough that, apart from a few exceptions, everything we decided to keep had to fit in our car. And that includes bedding.
1. Layout your “stuff”
We thought we didn’t have much. But when we put it all together, well… it was more than we hoped it would be. And that didn’t even include our bathroom stuff, kitchenware or food pantry. You can already have a clue it would hardly fit in a car.
You don’t have to do it all in One Go and can proceed step-by-step over several “cleaning sessions”:
- Homewares / furniture / home décor (e.g. candles, craft items, jewellery, paintings…)
- Garage, laundry and/or storage room if you have one
For each cleaning session, layout the stuff in the middle of a room (or wherever you have enough space to see clear). And go through each item, asking yourself whether you’re going to need it in the next year.
2. Select what to keep, give / sell / swap, store or discard
There will be things that you don’t necessarily need to live, but that you are emotionally attached to.
In my case, it is that black horse calligraphy that you can see on the wall in the photo above. For Tobi, it’s his custom-made mountain bike. We probably all have that one thing (or maybe two) that we are going to keep, and our decision is simply non-negotiable.
For these items, find a place to store them where you know they’re going to be safe and you’re going to be able to have them back and use them again.
With that in mind, try to make 4 piles:
- #1: The things you want to keep AND are definitely going to use in your next place
- #2: Those you are happy to sell, or swap, or give-away to family, friends or charity
- #3: The things you’re emotionally attached to and will have to store away for a while
- #4: And those that are just good for trash.
3. Start again
The first round, you’ll likely still end-up with way too much in your pile #1. That’s ok, it’s a process.
Go stage-by-stage: Start with the “easy” stuff; then when you’re done, start again with the “half-convinced” stuff; then move to the “hard to let go” stuff; and finally, the “no way” stuff.
Here are a few tips that helped us in our thought-process.
They key criterion to know it’s worth keeping something is functionality. This means that generally, I can be confident that I can let go of an item if:
• I haven’t used it in the last 12 months (which means it’s not even seasonal)
• It’s already half-damaged or half-worn-out (if you’re going to keep only 3 pants and 3 tops, better keep the ones that will last you a few more years)
• I have 2, 3 or more versions of the same stuff (running shoes anyone?)
• It’s plain too big to fit in our car (or van, bicycle, backpack, motorhome, horse cart…)(e.g. Tobi’s bike)
• It’s too heavy proportionally to its size or functionality (e.g. massive blanket; you can find a better-suited one)
• You never were really into it but your family or friend offered it to you so you feel guilty. Well, don’t. You kept and honoured it for as long as practicable and you can still feel grateful for being loved. Letting go of a gift doesn’t mean you have to let go of the love, friendship or quality of the relationship. Your closed ones either don’t have to know, or will understand your situation. And minimalism or not, anyone who ever makes a gift runs the risk of choosing the wrong one. That doesn’t cancel-out the intention and beauty of the gesture. You can also ask them to keep your item for you until you find a new place to settle.
I digitalised all my papers and kept the paper version of the important ones that I might need anytime with me (mostly French and Australian passports as well as recent tax papers and health checks).
I sent the other important ones that I probably won’t need before a long time, if ever, to my mum in France (former job payslips, academic papers, etc.); and I discarded the rest. This took a while, probably a couple of days in all, but it was very much necessary. Now I’m travelling around with one folder.
Coming from this →
→ To this
Ok, I’m getting somewhere.
Although even after a couple of rounds, I still kept stuff that I eventually let go of a couple of months later. When you become minimalist, you learn overtime to detach yourself from material goods. But the biggest motivation is that you yearn for more space in your new home if it’s still over-packed. Anyhow, you’ll get there.
4. Enjoy the feeling and take a break
So don’t worry and enjoy your first success for now. If by the time you finished that first room or category, you got rid of about 1/3 or more of what you had in the beginning, you’re on the right track.
Take a break for a moment: how do you feel: satisfied, proud, lighter, freer? Good, you deserve it.
There was the result of our bedroom, closet and bathroom down-sizing.
The printer and TV would obviously go and the furniture would stay for the next tenant to use.
5. Move to the next room and repeat !
After a couple of days or whenever you’re ready, repeat the process with the next room or category.
It can be a painful process, but I guarantee you’ll feel so much better when you’re done. It then quickly becomes a lifestyle. You’re simply not drawn to new things as much, you naturally replace or buy only what you need… in short, you’re free from the consumerist cycle and you save time and money as a consequence, which you can invest in experiences instead.
Here are a few links if you wish to explore more about down-sizing and minimalism:
- The website of the 2 people who started in 2009 and largely contributed to make this movement mainstream: https://www.theminimalists.com/
- The website of Tobi’s sister and brother-in-law, with lots of practical tips on minimalism: https://minimalistjourneys.com/category/life-journeys/discover-minimalism/
- If you’re also interested in veganism and the combination of both lifestyles: https://theminimalistvegan.com/
If you’ve become a minimalist and also have strong environmental ethics, it can be hard to find products that fit your values. We’ve experienced this ourselves and as a result, have opened an eco-store for digital eco-nomads, backpackers, permaculture enthusiasts, gardeners and just about everyone. Visit our shop, browse our values and discover our eco-living and eco-gardening range.