I Want To Become a Minimalist, But I Could Never Give Up My…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live a minimalist lifestyle? It’s a movement I’ve been an admirer of for some time, but unwilling to put into practice in my own life until now.

Recently, I began watching a new survival show on Discovery Channel called “Dual Survival.” One of the featured survivalists, Cody Lundin, is also a minimalist, and goes about surviving extreme situations barefoot, and without other forms of survival gear.

My feet are too tender to go around barefoot, so I think I’ll keep my shoes for now. However, I do admire this guy, and others like him. They may have adopted minimalism for environmental reasons, economic reasons, or maybe some combination. Either way, their level of commitment reminds me just how addicted to stuff I still am, and has inspired me to rethink that addiction.

“But I Could Never Give Up My…”

How did you finish that sentence above? Daily cup of Starbucks? CD collection? Season football tickets? All of us probably have one thing we aren’t willing to give up. And maybe that’s the first thing that should go.

On the other hand, life is to be enjoyed. I’m reminded of words of wisdom from my grandfather who often reminded me to, “Stop and smell the roses. Life is to be enjoyed.” Well, there are plenty of “roses” available to smell that don’t cost much, so I am trying to adopt his philosophy with a frugal approach.

How Many Things Do You Own? How Many of Those Things Own You?

As I’ve tried to learn more about the minimalist approach, I’ve discovered a number of new blogs on minimalism. I’ll be sharing a few of my favorites in upcoming editions of the weekly roundup.

Several of the authors behind these blogs have advocated taking an inventory of just how much stuff you own. And they mean that quite literally. If you have 20 DVDs, 30 CDs, an Xbox with 5 games, a house, a car, a bicycle, 10 pairs of shoes, and a 5-piece art collection, you have 74 things. At least I think that’s the idea.

Not sure how far to break down the count – do I count the dishwasher and refrigerator inside my house? Do I count the things inside my refrigerator and the dishes currently in the dishwasher? Probably. You get the idea.

The point is, even if we don’t think we own a lot of stuff, we do. And how many of those things are things we continue to accumulate without receiving much value from them after the initial shine wears off?

I am not much of a collector, and I have few hobbies, so I naturally don’t collect a lot of things. But I haven’t always been that way, and my inventory of stuff is still representative of former life as a spendthrift.

Letting Go of Stuff is Hard

Over the next few weeks, as the weather beings to cool, I plan to begin making a weekly effort to get rid of some number of “things.” My plan is a sort of incremental minimalism in steps. Maybe I’ll get rid of 10 things a week, or completely empty one desk drawer, or garage shelf.

One week I’ll pull ten shirts I no longer wear and donate them to a shelter. Next week I’ll round up 10 games (video games, old board games, etc) I no longer play and drop them off at the children’s hospital. The next week maybe I’ll contribute to a neighbor’s yard sale by adding 10 DVDs to their collection for sale.

I’m still not settled on what is a reasonable number to get rid of each week, or if I’ll even track it by week or specific number. But I am convinced this is something I want to do. Having too much stuff is costly. It costs money to store it. It takes too much time to find the few things that are really important. And of course if you have really expensive things, you might even have to pay to insure it, or operate it, or clean it, or whatever. That’s the point where things begin to own you, and I want to begin moving away from that point.

Traveling Light

Oddly enough, some people are comforted being surrounded by stuff. I am the complete opposite. For me, stuff is a distraction. There is a certain freedom that comes with owning less stuff. You feel less pinned down. You have less payments. You have more options. You more fully appreciate the few things you do have, and find yourself wanting less.

Over the next several weeks I’ll periodically update you on the things I’ve given away – maybe even share pictures of my collections on our Facebook page. I hope it will inspire a few of you to look around and free yourself of an addiction to things.

Look around the room you are in right now. Could you find 10 things to get rid of and barely even miss them? I see at least 10 in my already frugal home office (OK, I cheated a bit because my office doubles as our closet – and there are plenty of things to get rid of in here!). Off to grab a box and get on with round one.


  1. A decent thack for slimming down your wardrobe is to hang all your clothes up backwards then when you use an item, hang it back the right way. After 3,6,9 or 12 months review all the clothes that are still hanging up backwards and get rid of them.

    Easy as delicious cherry pie.

    • That’s a great idea. I’m going to share with my kids in an effort to get them to do the same. Between us, we should be able to come up with a fairly sizable “donate” pile.

  2. I don’t see myself as ever becoming a real minimalist, and I don’t think I really even want to be. However, I have come a long way in terms of buying less stuff – I try to think long and hard before bringing new things into our home, especially if I’m trading precious dollars for those things.

  3. Over the past year I have been reducing the amount of stuff I have. Compared to some family & friends, did not have that much before. Can’t say the I miss any of the stuff that has been gotten rid of.

    Like you, I find life more relaxing without it.

    Don’t know that I will ever be a true minimalist, but don’t ever want to have the stuff own me.

  4. I’m not sure how much of a minimalist I’ll become, but I’m tired of managing all my stuff. Last week I decided to get rid of at least one thing daily, and must say it’s feeling good. Even if I never make it down to owning just 100 things as some mimimalists advocate, I’ll certainly be a lot less burdened by the end of a year.
    Good luck with coming up with a plan and sticking with it. I think encouragement by others will help us accomplish our goals. I’m not telling my husband or friends what I’m doing. I’m just quietly doing it. I’ll get my encouragement from you and my online friends.

  5. The last two months we have cleaned out a lot of “stuff” I thought we needed in our basement.Then I went through several cupboards and a closet. My aim is to get rid of all things that are cluttering up my closets, cupboards and storage spaces, that are not needed. I am doing this for us but also for my kids, so they won’t have a hard time cleaning out our house when we die. The show “Hoarders” has inspired me!!

  6. I dig it, and I’m with you. This is also something I’ve been meaning to do for some time now, just haven’t gotten around to it yet. The toughest part for me will be getting my wife on board – It’ll happen, but will take a little time and effort.

  7. Oh no, not you too!
    I am sorry, but it seems like a lot of personal finance blogs are touting the minimalist lifestyle these days. I am just not interested, and it is not what I go to personal finance blogs for. Although I guess I can minimalize in my own way, by skipping reading posts whenever this subject is brought up.

    • Fair enough…I promise not to cover it too often, but leading a lifestyle of less stuff does have positive benefits related to personal finance.

    • While I’m moving stuff out of my home, I’m able to sell some of it. That deals directly with my finances. Those snowflakes add up and God willing, I will be totally debt free by the end of November.

  8. This post is just the inspiration I needed to start getting rid of things. I look forward to reading more about how it works for you!

    Thanks so much!!

  9. I’m still a far cry from a minimalist, though my wife and I are trying to rid ourselves of a lot of extraneous stuff, including things and obligations. A guiding principle I come back to from time to time is a quote from William Morris, the father of the Arts and Crafts movement in which began England in the 1860’s

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

    • I adopted this principle about two years ago and never looked back. I only keep it if I LOVE it. Minus a couple tupperware type containers.
      I have not been able to completely streamline with this approach with having a baby and two cats in a one bedroom apartment.
      I also want my useful things to BE beautiful. If I wouldn’t want it out on open shelving, why have it at all?

      • For that quote alone I want to keep our beautiful curvy vintage sofa, 1930’s cobalt blue bowls, and all my music. Clutter should go, and I’m working on that, but certain things give pleasure in the using and the looking.

        • @ Olivia, to me, this is absolutely about keeping the things you love! Having less stuff gives you more space to display and enjoy those things…

  10. I truly admire minimalism as it flies in the face of my pack rat nature. I spent a good portion of the early summer systematically cleaning out closets and drawers. I sold or donated at least thirty garbage bags and boxes full of unused items. I promised myself that I would make an effort to keep an uncluttered house by practicing a one-in one-out rule. So far, it’s been working well.

  11. I’ve been working toward removing excess belongings for a long time, but I doubt I’ll ever be a true minimalist. Still, hearing about others’ working toward minimalism can be inspiring.

    In recent weeks I’ve cleaned out my closet, dresser, linen closet, bathroom closet & drawers, removing unused items. For clothes, the 80/20 rule definitely applies. Except for dress clothes that are used only occasionally, I’m trying to pare down to the things I truly like to wear.

    I’m moving on to the kitchen, and then the living area, so we’ll see what I find to dump. I’m keeping a running list of what I toss, as suggested in the book “Throw Out Fifty Things”. I’m at 42 now and hoping to get to 100. (Note: multiples of the same item count as 1 thing.)

    In general I’m trying to reach a state of quality items vs quantity. I look forward to hearing about what you’re removing from your life – maybe I’ll be inspired! You should definitely keep a list…

  12. I think there is a different between wanting a lot of options and being a minimalist. For example, how many different kind of bowls does one really need?

  13. We collect board games and Magic: The Gathering cards, so we won’t ever be minimalists, but we do regularly get rid of stuff we no longer use and clean out our closet once every year or two. I do like a clean closet. 🙂

  14. My list could go on and on! I couldn’t give up my sodas :- I’ve tried several times to lead a more minimalist lifestyle, but sometimes it feels great to splurge! It’s definitely an art but I think with some trial and error, I can finally work towards that goal

  15. Dual 24″ monitors. I blog so effectively on these things:) I’ve got over 15 firefox tabs, and 5 programs open right now:)

    On thing I DID give up, Soda and chips at lunch. From now on, it’s just a sub and a glass of water:)

  16. A few years back, I read a book called “Repacking Your Bags.” At one point, the author tells the story of being on safari with a few friends and their native guide.

    At night, they would unpack all the stuff they took with them each day. (The guide carried nothing but a stick.)

    One night, as the guide is looking at all they have laid out around them, he asks, politely, the equivalent of “Does all this make you happy?” (in his language obviously). He just didn’t get the need for all the stuff.

    I remember reading that and going: A HA!

    And that’s what I ask myself: About stuff, about projects, about relationships, etc. Does all this make me happy?

    If your stuff (no matter how little or much) works for you and you don’t feel like too much of your life is spent maintaining it, enjoy. And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty

    “Minimalism” (and it’s relative) has its place although for many people, who have limited resources, minimalism is a way of life (and not a pleasant one) and an option.

    Most of us live life somewhere between hoarding and stripped-bare rooms, with all sorts of stuff. Most of us are forced to de-clutter because most of us live in small and limited space. At a certain point, you simply have to de-clutter. (Or move. But that’s not an option most people opt for.)

    What I won’t give up? My library of books!

    • WOW, I love that question! “Does all this make me happy?” Really something to think about… anything that doesn’t make you happy or serve a real purpose should definitely go.

  17. “Look around the room you are in right now. Could you find 10 things to get rid of and barely even miss them?”

    Definitely. Sarah has a very good point. If what you have makes you happy and is not a burden to take care of/store, then enjoy it. If not, then it’s time to clean out.

    I feel the need to start decluttering now, looking around our family room. We have much less than some friends & family, but more than I want or need. Thanks for planting that seed in my brain!

  18. I too am fascinated by the minimalist lifestyles I have been reading about. Did some purging a year ago, moving from 4200 square ft. space to 1600 square ft. Sometimes we still feel we have too much stuff and are too cluttered. I look forward to reading about your progress toward minimalism especially with kids around.

  19. Great topic! For over a year now I have been on a decluttering mission. Does that tell you how much “stuff” we have? More still needs to go. I have tried to adhere to the one thing a day rule. Sometimes if I am gone or busy with other projects then I will have to do the make-up amount the next day or two. It has helped me stay on track.

    One thing I noticed was how much money has been wasted on “stuff” that didn’t need to be. Never again!

  20. It’s the maintenance on your stuff the really gets you. Everything you own cost a certain amount of time and money; to heat, cool, clean, organize or just push out of the way. Make craigslist you friend. People come take your junk away and give you cash! I even leave some small stuff out on the front porch and leave an envelope for the $10 bucks I’m asking.

  21. I felt like I was seeing my own thoughts staring up at me from the screen reading this post. I keep a very (maybe too) detailed inventory that gets updated every year. Every January I am faced by a reminder that I have so much stuff! I hate knowing how much stuff I have; but I am attached to much of it. Doing regular purges throughout the year is a really good way to find the forgotten things that are no longer needed or just things that no longer belong in my space. I look at it as setting something free in the world to find someone who actually needs/wants it.

  22. I’m moving nearer and nearer to a minimalist lifestyle; I see most items in my home as clutter – the more I think about it the more I see this as a reaction to years of over spending and credit card debt – I want to come full circle.

  23. Minimalist? Not going that direction. De clutter- definitely.
    I may be moving to a small studio for a year. What will I take? Two rugs from Asia, seven paintings, three suits, four blouses, seven underclothing, computer and small desk with chair, a place setting for four, butcher block kitchen table, a queen bed and the sheets, a shower curtain, hammer, nails and a Shark:>) That is it. Yes, it all fits in my car. None of it will be missed out of our retirement house…. what does that tell you? awwww- it will be wonderful to be free of stuff!

  24. I am not interested in minimalism but there is a lot of room for improvement from my husband’s pack rat ways. Currently we have a dresser, 2 tvs, and an old fridge that need to go, not to mention boxes and boxes of who knows what. But since none of these things are mine there is little I can do. I occasionally fantasize about having my own tiny condo with no extra stuff in it… but since I can’t even keep my office clean and organized, it’s going to remain a fantasy.

    • I have yet to find an answer to this “spousal problem” despite much searching (web, soul, and otherwise). My wife and I are a bit joined at the hip, so other than e.g. our clothes, most stuff is not “mine” or “hers” but rather it’s “ours.” That means I can’t get rid of anything without her approval – which she rarely gives. Furthermore, with the recent birth of our first child, there has been a surge in the incoming stuff without an accompanying outflow. Maybe I should just give up and move to a larger home with an attached garage. At least there would be room to move around in our home, for a while.

  25. I am seriously into decluttering (and begging DH to do the same – he’s the real packrat and it’s hard for him to let go of “stuff”), because I don’t want to have to own, lug, and/or dust a million little thingydoos, but going without in order to be minimalist? Not so much. I’ve often given silent thanks for being born in this era rather than back in the pioneer days (for example), having to wear long dresses in the heat of summer, no a/c, no indoor plumbing or electricity, no thank you! I happily use my dishwasher, washer/dryer, refrigerator/freezer and air conditioner. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to conserve, keep the thermostat up in summer and down in winter, air dry instead of machine dry, etc., but do without completely? Nah. I’m seriously too spoiled by all that’s available.

    • To me, being minimalist (and I’m a long way from this!) doesn’t mean doing without things you want, need or use. It means clearing out things that don’t enhance your life – so you can enjoy the things that do!

  26. I have an interesting exercise in deciding how important something is to you… if you had to pack up your vehicle and leave everything else behind, what would you take?

    We’ve had to do this twice – evacuating for Hurricanes Katrina & Gustav. The 1st time we were in a panic and packed & loaded up in a frenzy. For Gustav we were better prepared & had taken time to think what we really wanted to pack. Anything that could be replaced by insurance money was left behind – TV’s & furniture are not critical. We took pictures of everything with a digital camera to have records for insurance, just in case.

    The important things were the irreplaceable ones… kids & pets, photos & yearbooks, personal & financial records, certain sentimental items. Then necessities – clothing, animal supplies. For us, computers & business records (since we run 2 businesses from our home).

    The evacuations also provided motivation to organize important records & files so they can be easily reached & packed in an emergency. All my important records are now stored together in a waterproof/fireproof box.

    Just something to think about when you’re looking at what you own… It certainly changed the way I see things!

  27. I’m a pack rat by nature, so it’s definitely a struggle not to buy up things because they’re cheap and not to hold on to too many things because they might eventually get used.

    But when we moved 1,500 miles last year, I found out how cathartic it can be to jettison most of what you own. My husband loves video games, but we trade in any that aren’t getting much replay. That helps keep clutter down. In the end, though, I fear we’ll always be something of pack rats, fighting back the clutter with a machete in one hand and a Goodwill box in the other.

  28. Is it minimalist or realest? I was pondering your post and then went to visit my mother in law. She is in a very nice nursing home. It hit me all you end up with is a bed, recliner, Bathroom and closet! What more do you need?

    I realize this is extreme thinking, but this summer my wife fell and we had to move the laundry room upstairs. We emptied out the entire basement of “stuff” that we just had to have! I could not believe what we had accumulated!

    We also had to condense our 6 suites of office space to 5. We are now saving around $5000 per year because she can’t walk to far. If I had known this I might have “tripped ” her earlier! Just kidding!

    My Grand father always said “The more you own, the more it owns you”.

  29. I could easily get rid of 1/2 our stuff. After my kid, I hated all my clothes, it took me 5 minutes to choose 1/2 of my clothes to donate. (shoes and coats were a bit tougher)

    Last year after my baby turned 1, I went on a craig’s list rampage and spent several months selling stuff, having a tag sale, putting books on amazon. I really didn’t think I’d make that much money as most of the things were cheap, but I made over $2000. It does add up.

    A year later, I feel like I could do it all over again. We still have way to many books. Too many toys, clothes and tools we don’t use anymore now that our house is fixed up.

    We have 4 people living in 1700 sq feet, so decluttering has to happen on a regular basis. We really don’t need more space. We just need to purge periodically as the kids outgrow things.

  30. Recently we moved from a 2000 SF home to a 300 SF studio. I feels so great to get rid of sfuff. My next goal is to empty the storage unit and save the $100/month.

  31. We recently purged the kids’ closets. I don’t know how, but each one of our kids (we have 3) had more clothes than I have ever had in my life!! Each of their closets was a nightmare! So I told each of them to pick 10 (just 10) outfits to keep, and we were giving the rest away. To encourage them to “play along,” I did offer to buy each one who got their stash down to 10 outfits, 2 new outfits – you know how girls love new clothes! So now they each have 12 outfits – and that’s plenty!

    Last Christmas we did something new. We took a look at all their crap (they hate it when I call their stuff “crap!”) and encouraged them to think of a little girl their age who has nothing and whose family will not be able to give her a christmas present. We then asked them if they could gather up a very nice present from their own things to give to that little girl for Christmas – something they thought that little girl would enjoy immensely. My 10 yr old gave away ALL of her polly pocket collection – WIN! We will definitely be doing this again this year 🙂

    • lol, I gave up my Blackberry for that same phone! I eventually want a newer Blackberry just as a toy. I really see no reason other than that, just because this phone is saving me and my husband so much more.

  32. I, too, am impressed by those who successfully actualize a minimalist lifestyle. I am very good at getting rid of useless crap, but I cannot seem to let go of a)tools and b)supplies. I’m an artist, so when someone offers me, say, a giant bag of yarn from their collection that they are downsizing, I cannot refuse. I’m also poor (see: artist), so all these free supplies are really a boon most of the time. Unfortunately, I have to store them until I have a use for them. My work room is very organized, but there’s a lot of stuff in there!

    • Coming from a family of artists, I can really relate. This past year I organized supplies in matching freecycled boxes and stacked them in the sunroom, discarding the “junk”. Bags of fabric were freecycled out, as well as extra school and office supplies. If I don’t get to a particular project within a year or so it may be time to reevaluate whether I really want to do it, and discard accordingly. (Picassiette, quilt from men’s ties.)

      What prompted the purge? Many years of good intentions, and recollections of clearing out my folk’s yard after my dad, a sculptor, passed. Literally tons of stuff needed to be hauled. (Logs, stones, and metal.) Sure former students and colleagues got first dibs, but when the salvage/trash removal guys came they charged by weight. One guy with a station wagon lugged in all that.

      • @Olivia, one of my prime motivations for purging & decluttering is my mother’s house! She broke a hip & now lives with my brother. The house has been unoccupied for 16 months, but we can’t sell it because it’s full of stuff that she won’t let us get rid of. It’s turned into a very expensive storage unit – approximately $3500/year for insurance, not including utilities.

        She has taken most things that she needs & uses to my brother’s, but there’s not room for everything she wants to keep. We’re trying to get things sorted, purged & packed to move things she insists on keeping to a storage unit so we can sell the house. But Mom is weak & in poor health & can’t be there much – and she won’t let us do it without her because we might discard her treasures… It’s really quite sad.

        I don’t want to go grow older with all this to deal with in my own life – or with the friction it causes in the family. I don’t want to leave my stuff to my kids to deal with, unless its something I know they want!

        Every time we have a session at my mom’s house, my sister & I go home & start tossing things! I’m going to keep going until I only see things I truly want in my life!

        • Ah I can relate. I think storage would be cheaper than the house, though it would be a hassle to box and move everything. We came to something similar with my mom (when she moved into assisted living) and decided to bring her a box to look through each visit. She just stashed them. “I’ll do it later…” Then when she moved into a nursing home she had to downsize even more. Somehow she’s collecting stuff again (Bingo prizes?). Ah well…..

      • Fortunately, I am very well organized. I have one of those ikea cube systems with media boxes, so everything is *already* organized and in boxes. If I kick the bucket, my family won’t have to pack up anything! This comes from being a military brat and generally a rolling stone. I found that if I designed my house around boxes and crates it made moving really really easy. I’ve kind of gotten away from that since I had kids, but my own stuff is still mostly modular.

  33. Boy my heart goes out to you Diane. My mom and dad are quite elderly and have so much “stuff” it is crazy. She refuses to eliminate anything, including clothes she hasn’t been able to fit into for the past 10 years. When I have asked her if she has anything she would like me to take to a donation spot along with my stuff she says “no.” She claims she likes to look at it and when they die we can call 1-800-gotjunk. I don’t want to leave my children in that same spot.

    • Thanks! I know I’m not the only one dealing with this, I’m certain there are many of us… If we could afford to just keep the house it would be the easier way to go, and just dump it all when she’s gone. But unfortunately, she really needs the money to be more comfortable, and none of us is in a position to help as much as she needs financially. It weighs on her mind and she’s miserable, knowing she should deal with this, but not wanting to or being able to. Really heartbreaking.

      All I can say is that I’ve learned from her mistakes. I am NOT my stuff. Stuff is there for my use, convenience & pleasure. If it’s not serving one of those purposes it really needs to go. So I’m working on it.

      If your parents are safe and financially secure to stay in the house until they die, I guess that’s the best plan. Just let them be happy and toss it all when the time comes. I wish you luck in dealing with them. I’m sure this will also motivate you to control your own possessions, as it has motivated me.

      This is something everyone should really think about…Its difficult to downsize as you age if you can’t let go of old, unused stuff. I want my later years to be peaceful and enjoyable, not filled with anxiety over stuff I can’t manage, clean or deal with!

  34. Dual survivor is strangely addicting… but I too have sensitive feet. 😉

    My wife and I took a strong turn towards minimalism over the past 4 years though we never really set out to do so. Part of the reason was getting out of debt, and the other part was selling our house.

    We sold just about everything we could to get extra money to put toward debt, and then it just became so nice to have less stuff and more space that we kept paring down. Then when we were selling our house, we wanted to empty as much as possible to increase the perceived size of the house. That was just another motivator to pare down even further.

    The lasting effect is that we are FAR less materialistic than we were.

  35. I have been busy lately (and sick) so I had forgotten the mission I started a few weeks ago. I am trying to downsize everything I haven’t used in the past 6 months and anything I don’t love.Thanks for the post, I will definitely start again today. I am hoping to get everything down to the size of a one bedroom apartment, but probably just wishful thinking right now.

    Things I don’t want to live without: my bicycle, computer, and bed (way too comfortable) 🙂

  36. I have starting selling so many of my things on ebay. Also I have just donated a lot of things to goodwill. After moving to a hurricane town (a military move) I had to think about what the important things in life were and I realized how much of this stuff was in storage or I didn’t use. I am now excited to take it one more step and get rid of more things and become more minimalist.