Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” - E.F. Schumacher
It has now been a year since I made my first tentative steps towards minimalism. A year ago I was a hoarder and compulsive shopper, living in a constant state of chaotic clutter. Now I live a nomadic lifestyle, traveling and carrying my possessions with me. The contrast could not be more pronounced. Through minimalism, I have found more freedom and contentment than I ever knew to be possible. On this site, I have shared my journey, writing essays on the many facets of minimalism and simple living.
A common query I receive is this: how exactly does one get started with minimalism? It can seem overwhelming to look at a home full of clutter and try to ascertain where to begin. For those who are older than me and have families, the change can be complex.
However, there is no need to hire a professional declutterer, buy a stack of books on the topic or get stressed out. It is possible to get started with minimalism today, using my personal method. It can be done in a single day, or you can take as long as required.
Here's the exact technique I used to get started and declutter 90% of my possessions.
1. If possible, get out of your home, or at the very least away from your bedroom (usually the most cluttered area.)
2. On a piece of paper, write down the categories which your possessions fall into. For most people, these might include clothing & accessories, media, kitchenware, technology, furniture, cosmetics & toiletries, misc. You will no doubt have other ones related to your job, hobbies, family etc. If you own a lot of items within a certain category, you might need subcategories (for example, if you have a large media collection then split it into books, music, films and so on.)
3. Under each category, make a list of all the items you know you want to keep. These will be the things you use a lot or treasure. Think of what you would unpack first if you were moving, what you would rescue if your home were on fire, what you take with you on travels. Imagine a typical day and all the items you use throughout it.
4. Avoid actually rifling through your possessions. If something truly matters, it will come to mind with ease. Doing this will no doubt take some time and it might be best to make the list in a few sessions. Don't worry if it seems too long or too short.
5. Now it's time to start getting rid of stuff. Seperate out everything you have listed, working through one category at a time. I did one per day. Everything which was not on the list can be split into piles: throw, sell, donate, give away and decide later. This can be an emotional process, so take it as slow as necessary. Try to stick to your original list as much as possible, but don't treat it as gospel. If you forgot to list something essential, there is no need to discard it. Just avoid the trap of ending up decluttering nothing. Depending on how much stuff you own to begin with, it might be a good idea to get someone to help you. A few trips to the dump and thrift store will probably be required. Make the process fun and lighthearted; you are starting a simpler life, not depriving yourself. It is likely that the items you did not list add nothing to your life. Most will be mere clutter which you will not miss.
5. By the end of this process, you will be left with just the essential. It might take a few more rounds over time until you feel satisfied.
Don't let this be yet another article that you read, think yeah, that's a good idea, then forget about.
It's easy to get sucked into reading about minimalism without ever taking the action. The value of this technique is that it can be begun anywhere, anytime. All you need to get started is paper, a pen, and an open mind.