Tessa Schlesinger is an ardent minimalist, convinced it is the only way to combat climate change in a world gone mad with consumerism.
Why Minimalism Sets You Free!
I have a friend who entertains once a year—on her birthday—and the rest of the year, she eats out, travels to far away places, and works frantically at her job to pay for her lifestyle. She has a McMansion (in the right area) with a kitchen that has everything, including enough cutlery, crockery, and pots and pans to prepare a meal for a hundred people. Hardly a minimalist lifestyle. Recently she started rethinking that as a result of a health scare. She is now focused on becoming a minimalist. It's not an unusual occurrence. Many people who opt for living with fewer possessions take this route.
The Benefits of Minimalism
There are several benefits to living a minimalist life style:
- Fewer items to maintain and less space to clean and, therefore, more free time.
- Smaller requirement for space, so less rent or smaller mortgage.
- Fewer and less expensive bills to pay therefore no need to earn as much.
- More money left over to spend on experiencing life, e.g. travel, go to events, eat out, or retire early.
- Less stress because there are fewer demands on your time as a result of the above points.
- Ease of movement. Once you own very little, it's extremely easy to relocate and go on vacation.
Finding out What's Important in Your Life
Before the big sell off (which frees up some cash), it's important to know what is meaningful in your life, i.e. what you want to keep, what you don't, what you would like to do with your free time, and where you want to live.
The important questions to answer:
- Do I want a less stressful life?
- How important are possessions to me?
- Is status important to me?
- If I had more free time, would I be bored?
- Do I want to work less?
- Am I willing to compromise in some areas?
It's important to be honest. For instance, if status is important, then living in a more expensive area might not work well with a downsized lifestyle. And if you enjoy owning the best of everything or you're a collector, it's probably incompatible with some of the choices you would need to make.
Steps to a Minimalist Life
If you've decided to become a minimalist, it's a process, and it doesn't happen instantly. Sometimes it takes months and other times it takes years. It depends where you start from.
1. Sort Through Unused Possessions
We all have clothing, kitchen items, old electronics, books we no longer read, inherited items from parents or grandparents that we keep because we are sentimentally attached but wouldn't have otherwise, etc.
There are several reasons we keep things, even when we have not used them for years. The first is that we have this evolutionary streak as well as parental conditioning that we may need it sometime in the future. A second reason is that items may have sentimental values. A third reason may be that the items belonged to parents or grandparents (or some other relatives), and we feel a measure of guilt in getting rid of it.
To counter the first reason, it is good to understand that we live in an age of plenty. If we have a hundred items that we don't use, while it's perfectly true that one item would have some use five years down the road, it's highly unlikely that we will have a use for all these items. So we're wasting a lot of space in keeping them. As for the odd item that we might need five years down the road, we could either purchase it then or hire it at the time we need it. There are many sites on the web now where one can hire something for a limited period of time at a small fee.
We also all attach to some items as they remind us of someone. Sometimes, we have many things from a particular person. The way around this is to keep one thing (something small) where doesn't require much storage. Another way is to incorporate it into one's every day usage. On the other hand, if one has photos that go back thirty years, converting them to a digital format and storing them online or on a flash drive or CD takes up less space. Photographs degrade over a period of time anyway. Lastly, there are those items we inherited from family which take up space in our garage or home. Coming to terms that there are times that we need to let things go, and that parents, if they were alive, might have sold the items, given them to someone else, etc. It's unlikely that they would want us to hold on to them without using them, and they would probably understand that there's a time when something needs to find a new home. It's all a process, and this first step is one of the most difficult. It can take a few days, a few months, or a few years, depending on time available and the emotional attachment to the items.
2. Choose a Small House
3. Sell or Give It Away
Once we have come to terms with what needs to go, it's time to sell up and/or gift to others. This is the more technical aspect. The way it works is to first offer sentimental items to family and friends, second to put remaining items on sale, and whatever remains is donated to charity. The money can be used for anything you desire. If you have debt to pay off, this is a good use of it.
4. Sort Through What's Left
When the home has been emptied of items which haven't been used for a long time, it's time to look at other possessions. The remaining possessions have more to do with the lifestyle. Some people have a mass of ornaments, others have two or three wardrobes of clothing, and still others have a room full of electronic equipment. Still others have a big car, a small car, a motorcycle, a boat, and a caravan.
The quickest way to work through this (this period genuinely ranges from a few months to a few years) is to write down which items are essential to your survival, which items you like and would hate to be without, and which items you like but won't particularly mourn if you don't have them.
Using much the same system as above, start selling, gifting, or donating the items that you won't mourn the loss of.
At this point, your home should be much emptier, and you might like to think of a smaller home.
Building a New Minimalist Life
So now all that remains are those items which are necessary and those which are enjoyed—which you really, really don't want to be without. :)
Here's what remains to be done:
- Look at big ticket items and sell those items which a) are duplicates; b) aren't used frequently; c) upkeep is intense. Sell.
- Begin to look at each item that you retain and see how many uses each has. For instance, if you have both a grill and a toaster, then the grill can be used as a toaster, so you don't really need the toaster. You might also have a large iron, but you don't have much ironing. So invest in a small travel iron which is small, light, and easy to store in a small place. If you have half a dozen pairs of jeans and only wear jeans on the weekend, how about dumping half of them? On the other hand, if you have a formal wardrobe for work and a casual one for home, see how many of your clothing will work both ways, and, over a period of time, only purchase clothing that works in more than one way.
- When purchasing new items, ask yourself how big it is, how much space it will need, how much energy is needed for its upkeep, if you can carry it, and focus on small, highly functional, and beautiful. Well, you don't have to focus on beautiful. I just believe that having beautiful things adds to the quality of life. :)
- If you decide to sell your home, depending on your particular lifestyle, there are websites which cater to minimalism. Read through them and decide what works for you.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2014 Tessa Schlesinger
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on January 11, 2018:
The greatest freedom I ever had was when I found myself alone in the world with 2 suitcases. Things mean very little to me. Life is about experiences and if you carry too big a load with you will find it hard to do anything. I am definitely a minimalist.
Stella Kaye from UK on November 23, 2017:
Great advice. I still have two grown up sons living at home but they're currently looking for their own place. I'm going to downsize once they've left and reduce the expenditure and upkeep needed on a big house.
Tessa Schlesinger (author) on July 15, 2015:
cynetbrown. That is absolutely wonderful! Do you have any photos?
Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on July 15, 2015:
I have recently downsized my life into a small travel trailer. I love the fact that everything is paid for and that the next time that I decide to move, I can take my home with me!
Julie K Henderson on April 20, 2015:
I agree completely. I cannot imagine owning too much.
Tessa Schlesinger (author) on April 20, 2015:
Thank you, Julie. I am very much a minimalist, and I believe it to be a far happier choice than to accumulate - which is the direct opposite! :)
Julie K Henderson on April 19, 2015:
This is an informative, engaging article. I tend to be a minimalist, and I think you have offered great advice for anyone seeking a change in lifestyle. Voted up.