The Life Cycle of a Minimalist

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Lori Lippincott of Loving Simple Living.

“If you are facing in the right direction, all you need to do is keep on walking.”

While I may still be relatively new to minimalism, I find great value sharing with others the process that has brought me here step-by-step.

Sometimes, it is hard to imagine the process that goes behind the scenes in the life of a minimalist. But from my conversations, I have found most seem to follow the same general path, thought-process, and even struggles throughout their journey. You may be further along than me, you may be struggling through the first steps, or you may have stumbled upon this site and are being introduced to minimalism for the first time. But no matter where you currently place yourself on the journey, considering the life cycle of a minimalist will surely bring encouragement to you.

The Life Cycle of a Minimalist:

  1. Stress, Overwhelmed, Searching – Everyone reaches the point where they are open to change differently. It might be a money crunch, or a time crunch. It might be a searching for purpose. It might be wanting more energy for a relationship that is valuable to you. Somewhere, something blows a little steam switch in your brain and you decide (intentionally or not) that maybe the way you are doing things isn’t working as well as you thought.
  2. Awareness – You see or hear of someone who is living a minimalist lifestyle. Sure you know you don’t need things to be happy, but the idea of intentionally living with much less never really entered your mind. It’s not rocket science, but for some reason, you never really considered it an option before. Initially it may seem crazy, but as the idea sits for a while it seems less and less crazy, just different.
  3. Curiosity – As the idea sits in your head you look for other information. You may look online for blogs, read books, or talk to friends. You start to play out the idea in your head when you look at your house imagining what it might look like if you made the change.
  4. Action – Your imagination sticks its toe in the water of reality. You tackle the first project. It may be as simple as cleaning out a closet, the family junk drawer, or a spare room. For me it was cleaning off a bookshelf. I was amazed to discover I could easily get rid of 80% of its contents.
  5. Excitement – After the first project, a new sense of excitement emerges. Closets start getting emptied, floors get covered in piles, the basement looks like a tornado hit, and the car won’t fit in the garage. You develop the distinct goal to live a more simple, minimalist lifestyle and it is exciting as you begin.
  6. Setback – You hit a setback. It might be work gets busy and you have less time in the evening to declutter, you might hit a family emergency, someone might question why you are doing what you are doing (because sadly, that is one of our biggest fears in life). Or maybe you get rid of something you end up needing and have to go buy again making you question your own sanity.
  7. Exhaustion – Stepping over piles and having the house torn apart gets old. Spending all the time sorting has tired you out. Finding people to buy or places to donate has become frustrating. The process seems never ending and it feels like the house is just as full as it was when you started. Your excitement is waning and your energy is on its last leg.
  8. Strength – Finally some big piles get moved out. Maybe a garage sale or your 10th trip to the Goodwill drop-off finally let you see the light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in years you realize that you actually know what is in your house (all the closets, garage, and more) and what is still there is what you have specifically chosen to keep. Finally it feels like you are over the hump and excited about the real progress you have made.
  9. Incorrect Finish line – You get to the end. You have gone through everything in your house and got rid of lots. Maybe 30%, 50%, 80% of your material belongings? The place looks different. It looks and feels so good. You pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
  10. More decluttering – Over the next few months, while walking around your house and cleaning, you find more and more items you are willing to remove. Maybe you were afraid to get rid of it during the first big sorting, but now you don’t know why you kept it. You end up with more and more sale and donation piles growing around your house again.
  11. Holidays or stuff purchasing slips – Your home begins to collect more material things through holidays, gifts, or your old purchasing habit that sometimes sneaks around the corner and catches you off-guard.
  12. More decluttering – Dealing with #11 and still living #10.
  13. More decluttering – Realizing #10 is still going on a year down the road… and #11 really never ends fully.
  14. Understanding that right sizing your life is not a destination but a journey. Whether you keep cutting back or life changes require you to gain more material possessions, you stick to intentionally owning only what you need and truly want. You have learned how to make possessions a servant instead of a master and have exercised your control over it. You have reached the other side, but the other side is much more personal mastery than you originally thought. It isn’t so much about a specific number of things you own, but a healthy understanding of the proper place of material things in your life. You are free to tackle growth in other areas of your life… always striving to grow and becoming a better version of yourself.
Photo Credit: Bryon Lippincott 


Lorilee Lippincott writes at Loving Simple Living where she encourages others to live a more simplified life. Her book, 3-2-1 Stop Running. Start Living is currently available for $9.97. Or you may enjoy following her at Twitter.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Step 4, action, is so right! There is one clearing that dominoes the rest of the process. And the entire time you are slimming down you are thinking of the end, the day you consider yourself living a minimalist lifestyle. And then it is 2 years later and you realize you will never be finished, controlling your possessions rather than them controlling you is now your way of life. I really enjoyed reading this ‘life cycle’. You don’t realize you have gone through all of these until you read them!

  2. says

    This fascinating and helpful information. As a “born” minimalist, I was always perplexed at the “converted” minimalist movement. I just never got it because minimalism is so natural/easy for me. Being able to see how it affects others who choose to become minimalists is a helpful insight. Thank you for this.

    • JBC says

      I am also a “born minimalist”, whose mother and grandmother are hoarders. Since early childhood I have always adored clean, open spaces, paring down my animal posters and dolls, rearranging the beds and table, donating books at 8 years old even though they were books i would read often. It was hard having a mother who would flat out refuse to let me get rid of things or would find a box my dad was donating just to fish stuff out of it. So now even as I am naturally minimal, like others I have been unconsciously indoctrinated and am in the reprogramming phase. I guess I can see both sides.

      • Amy says

        It seems like minimalism clicks really well for a lot of people whose family members were hoarders. My mom definitely is and I won’t lie, I love feeling in control of my living space now that I’m out on my own. I do the minimalist thing, and I don’t have to worry about being quizzed for throwing away/donating something. I can walk through my apartment without bumping into stuff, and I can retrieve things from shelves without having to dig through huge stacks of junk. As a high anxiety individual having grown up with a hoarder, minimalism lets me breathe and focus on something other than how f-ing infuriating it is to constantly step around, rearrange, clean, dig through, and lose things…

        • Ilona says

          this is so true! feels like you are talking about me!

          interesting point, minimalists that came from hoarder families. my mom is not an extreme hoarder, more a pretty bad case of pack-rat, she can give stuff away, just not enough… and gets new stuff. anyway, enough to make me live in a house were i had to clean out the kitchen every few years because you would open something and random stuff would fall on your head… and the attick’s end could only be reached by throwing yourself over stuff… overfull bathroom cabinets… at one point i collected 90 (!!!!) plastic boxes, a desperate attempt of her to contain the clutter, but it clutters everything up even more… she is still trying to understand my point about the boxes and got mad when i got rid of them… like usually when i help her organize…

          anyway… living on my own was great! i still had quite some stuff, but it was organized. then i got married, with an adhd messy (adorable) guy… after spending every year weeks of the year again and again organizing tons of our shit, i read about minimalism and just got rid of 75% of the shit, LIBERATING. i now swear by minimalism. my husband has his one little assigned junk corner but is glad i help him to live in an organized house. i love my mom but visiting her (and staying over) still makes me anxious at times, clutter stresses me out so much i cant function…

          if i lived on my own, i would probably be living even more minimalist.

  3. says

    This is fabulous. I am at the very beginning, so to know that there will be setbacks along the way is good. I am impatient and want it all to be done RIGHT NOW. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

  4. Bonnie says

    Our culture teaches us to want more and have more, and then value ourselves by that. It is good to see that many are overcoming that as the diminishing returns of such a philosophy are more apparent

  5. says

    I agree with this lifecycle. I’m in one of phases here.

    Now I’m in a phase where I realized that this is a journey and that I’m starting to live life more. I’m reaping the benefits of the extra-time I have with all the decluttering I’ve done.

  6. says

    This resonates so strongly! And the term cycle is perfect because it really is endless. Sure there are the monumental first steps and the big, uphill battle of those first months, but the accumulation of stuff is constant, particularly when you have kids and/or generous family and friends.

    In the end, it’s really a shift in mindset, isn’t it? And a life-long commitment to living with only those things that are useful and meaningful. Whatever shape that takes.

  7. says

    Perfect timing! Due to new carpet in most of the house I had momentum, but now it’s time to get rid of the stuff not allowed back in. It’s good to know that it’s a continuing cycle.
    Thanks! *:)

  8. says

    I’m a mix of steps 3-4-5. Good to know what I have ahead of me! This is a terrific reminder that Minimalism is a lifestyle, a philosophy, a daily collection of choices… not just a one-time done-deal. Thank you for this important lesson! :)

    Andi-Roo /// @theworld4realz

  9. says

    YES, YES,YES! I am currently in the set back mode as we are moving this week, but previous to that I made it to 9 and 9 again..LOL! We have done exactly as you wrote. We get rid of enough and feel comfortable, then we find more and our family is starting to see that we have to get rid of a little more every few months. It is a fantastic feeling!

  10. Brigitte says

    My story or “life-cycle” is quite different. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder 1 year ago and have probably suffered from the illness since I was a child. I discovered that during a manic episode shopping can become an addiction. I experienced this in a severe degree about 6 months prior to being diagnosed. I became obsessive about finding the best bargain for what would normally be a very expensive or collectable item. Goodwill and E-bay were taking up every waking moment. Then suddenly purging and organizing took over. I sometimes cringe over what was donated, literally 20 to 25 full garbage bags. That’s when I started searching on the internet for other “crazy” people like me! I was shocked to fined there were rational people who actually chose to live this way. Once I started reading blog after blog on Minimalism, I started to realize the belongings that had survived the purging were no longer as important to me. Now as I slowly reduce what is left, (many sentimental items and collections that I’d saved for 40 years or more), I feel like a weight has been lifted and I can finally move on and live life in the present not the past. 49 years is a long time to live that way. I sometimes regret all the years that were lost holding on to things in fear of losing the memories of my childhood and of my mother who passed away way to young. Things that were too precious to be discarded, were lovingly wrapped and stored in boxes rarely seeing the light of day.
    Belongings I did keep are now out where I can enjoy them. My Husband, children and grandchild are finally getting the attention they deserve. I can’t express how grateful I am that they never gave up on me I believe Minimalism has saved my life.

  11. says

    Lovely, lovely post! It’s funny, I actually went 1-4-2-3 and am now trying to balance 5 with my original intention of 4. As I was starting a new site to chronicle some conscious changes I wanted to make in my life, my husband suggested casually one night that we each get rid of a thing a day for the next year. We’re now about two and a half weeks in and I’m itching to let go of most of what I own. I recently wrote about trying to balance the urge to just purge everything now with the intention to consciously develop a habit of paying attention to my physical environment (I know there are other dimensions but gotta start somewhere!) and mindfully allowing only those things I deem necessary to stay. I can totally see myself going through the rest of the stages you’ve listed here — nice to know what’s probably coming :-)

  12. Sarah says

    Oh #11. I have actually told my friends and family about MY family’s minimalistic culture all during the 3-year process of getting to #14. Those who love and KNOW us have been tactfully and lovingly told not to ‘gift’ us with anything unless it is a perishable item (like Christmas cookies or garden seeds) or it is intended to replace something we already have (like a skillet or jacket). Some of my family are still trying to figure out what ‘perishable’ means, but many others gladly accommodate our request. It seems to take a burden off of them to know they can NOT include us on THEIR shopping list and they are doing us a favor. Isn’t that a blessing in itself?

  13. says

    This is such a great way to see this journey borken down – it is certainly not straightforward! I think I am currently somewhere between 5 and 7, if that’s possible! I often feel excited at the possibility of having less stuff, it’s such a good feeling! But then I do get a little overwhelmed and exhausted when I think about all the work I still have to do… I have done some decluttering by getting rid of about half my books (I’m a book nut so that’s a big deal!) as well as some clothes. I still have a lot to do and the thought of it is a bit scary. I’m sort of waiting until we move house next (will be in the next year or so) and I think I’ll do it all then. Unless that’s just procrastination, of course…

  14. Kara says

    Absolutely! I reached the last one about three months ago. We moved And purchased our first home. I had already spent a year clearing our belonging to fit our rental. I spent the first three mo ths after we moved making weekly trips to the goodwill with full car loads. It takes a few weeks for me to gather enough to donate to the women’s shelter or elsewhere, but I realized after a year and a half that it is a journey. There will alway be a pile of items that need given away in the garage. So I made a ho e for them. There are days that I take time off from picking up after my hubb or kids because I am off having me time, and it’s wonderful to know that five minutes in each room and the house looks slick and span. For me it was a journey that started because of needing more time playing and wanting to keep what I do have in good shape. Very well written, thank you.

  15. Kelekona says

    I’ve been wandering around other minimalist blogs and wonder if a few of the more extreme ones have a similar mental quirk as the hoarders. It might even be the same quirk as the hoarders, but at the opposite end. Or the minimalism is a backlash against hoarding, like someone being a complete teetotaler because they’re afraid one beer will turn them into an alcoholic.

    For clarification, I’m talking about people who can’t put a fried egg in their ramen because they only have one saucepan.

    It would be harder to tell because while hoarders tend to attract the health department, extreme minimalists mainly draw passive attention. The biggest indicator of a problem is the phrase “I can’t visit you because I have no place to sit.” The hoarder because all surfaces are buried, the extreme minimalist because their only furniture is a pad on the floor to sleep on.

  16. John Smith says

    I’ve been a minimalist my entire 40 years.

    I just don’t understand the love of things.

    There are really only 2 things you need to be financially successful in the USA.
    1) A strong work ethic (for me that means working on things I love, and not working for a corporation).
    2) Despise material things (avoid them unless an absolute need exists).

    If you do the 2 items above you will likely end up with more money than you know what to do with. I retired age 35 and was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, rather dirt poor.

    I know where my minimalism comes from. I was raised by my Grandfather who passed away when I was 16. He lived through The Great Depression, and either by choice or by circumstance became a minimalist.

    My Grandfather taught me that the important things in life are relationships and life itself .. living, not planning to live, but living!

    With minimalism I’ve rarely done things for any other reason than believing it was the right thing to do.

    I obtained several degrees in several different fields because the learning process intrigued me. The money came simply by happenstance.

    After all when you have nothing to buy (but the necessities) you find yourself with a lot of free time to do what you love and a lot of money piling up.

    I know my friends are true friends because they have no idea that I’m wealthy, because I don’t show it.

    I wish all those embarking on minimalism the best. I have little doubt that most people will find it far better than a life as a “conspicuous consumper”.

  17. says

    Interestingly, for me, 2 & 3 came at the tail end of my journey. I didn’t realise I was heading down the minimalist path at all. Heck, I thought minimalism was a kind of interior design concept, not a way of living. I can’t for the life of me remember how I found out about the minimalist lifestyle, but when I did it was like a lightbulb went off in my head! Over the years, I got rid of most of my debt – paid off the car – and the decluttered and got rid of 80% of my possessions because I was moving countries. I found my 1000-sq feet apartment too huge for me so I rented it out and moved in with my bro. I was amazed at the weight that lifted off my shoulders and how stress-less life had become. I am now living from my suitcase and have never been happier. It’s nice to find other people on the same journey.
    I have always been puzzled why people would want to buy big houses or fancy cars.

  18. Carl says

    What a ride!

    I’m in my fifties, single guy working as a mining exec so spending and accumulating were second nature. The additional hassle was having a low working class (basically poverty) background. When you can’t have anything you want something, regretably when you can have anything you then overcompensate and want everything.

    Most things in life that are good – diet, exercise… take effort and the not so good – being lazy, smoking, junk food etc. are instantly gratifying and self rewarding. Minimalism would be the first thing I have done that is life changing where the process is rewarding as you progress. Minimalism and the unloading of dust laden stuff was like an express train bearing down and picking up speed.

    The rewards were instant and as cupboards became bare, things got dispatched it was addictive. I ended up having to go to the tip at night. In my small mining community, people only start off loading when they are quitting and leaving town – I wasn’t but the questions I was getting asked clearly indicate people thought I had gone a bit potty.

    When my parents come and go after their mid year visit, the rest of everything goes – telly, stereo, unused furniture. Won’t come soon enough.

    Recently I came to the realization that I will not need to renew my home contents insurance. All that is left to steal will be a watch, lap-top, camera and guitar. Pinching the couch or dinning room table and a bed would be a tad pointless.

    I am relentlessly stuck on point 5 and as I am selling stuff and reducing expenditure at the same time I have had reverse cash flow into my bank account for two months – weird.

    I have no doubt people I know would now think me eccentric (polite descriptor) – I don’t care. I live in my world, with my values and I like it here. Never been happier and the only regret is not starting sooner.

    More power to you all and thanks for your collective advice and wisdom.

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  20. says

    This has definitely been true for me, although I think I am still at step 10 more decluttering. Just when I think we only have things we need I start to feel like I surrounded by unnecessary stuff. Thanks for the post it certainly is a journey!

  21. Ana Lopes says

    Hello from Portugal!
    Here we are just leaving a national financial crisis but I have never seen such a big consumerism everywhere I turn and it still isn´t Christmas time! Although portuguese people have had in the last few years less money in their pockets, people are still evaluated based more on what they own than on what they are. It´s kind of sad!
    Anyway, congratulations on this wonderful post. I´m still struggling between #5 and #7. It is after all a process, not an aqquisition… :)

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