Maya Angelou changed my life with one simple sentence, “We need much less than we think we need.”
As soon as I heard it, in my heart, I knew she was right. I need less than I have, and I need less than I think.
But how could I go about learning this truth? How could I learn how little I actually need?
In October 2010, I tried my first “Minimalist Experiment.” A Minimalist Experiment is any intentional decision we make to challenge our assumptions about how much we need to live.
Society is constantly calling us to expand and upgrade every area of life: our home, our car, our kitchen, our wardrobe, our technology….
A Living with Less experiment provides us the opportunity to see if there is a more intentional, more focused, better way to live.
To conduct a Minimalist Experiment:
- Choose an assumption in your life to test (How many articles of clothing do I need?)
- Choose a new amount less than you have (I’ll try 50% less clothes in my closet)
- Choose a period of time (I’m going to test this for two months)
- Remove the excess from your field of vision (I’ll put my extra clothes in the attic)
- After the experiment, reevaluate what you learned (That was amazing! I love owning less. I’m going to send Joshua an email about how brilliant he is)
For each of these experiments below, I encourage at least a 29-day test in your home. But the longer you go without (60-day, 90-day, etc.), the more you will learn about yourself and how much less we actually need.
Here are 21 Minimalist Experiments to Try
1. Project 333
This was the minimalist fashion experiment that changed forever the number of clothes that hang in my closet. And it’s the one experiment I think everybody should try.
2. Keep One Television
When my kids were 6 and 3, we decided to test out having just one television in our home (rather than the existing four) and try it out for the 3 months of summer. We loved it! And to this day (14 years later), there is still just one television set-up in our home.
3. Halve Your Decorations
It’s important to remember, before we go much further, that these are simply experiments. You don’t need to burn your extra clothes in the backyard or throw your extra televisions off the roof. Just move them somewhere else for a period of time. After the experiment, you can bring everything back if you hated it.
For two months, try fewer decorations in your home. You can cut them in half, or one-third, whatever you choose, Choose the least meaningful decor in any room, remove them, and try out keeping only your favorites. See what you think.
Maybe you’ll discover Francis Jourdain was right when he said, “One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.”
4. Try a No-Buy Challenge
For just one month, buy nothing but groceries and toiletries. See if you find the experiment more difficult than you thought or easier than you thought—there are lessons to be learned either way.
Take note how much your bank account can change in just one month.
5. One Coffee Mug
Pick your favorite mug. Decide to use only that mug for the entire month. Store the rest somewhere else. Maybe you need fewer coffee mugs in your cabinet than you think.
6. Less Furniture
Choose one room in your home and temporarily remove 1-2 pieces of furniture. Move the items out of your way as best you can (if possible).
As you do, how does it make you feel to have the extra space in that room? Furniture often takes up more space than we think.
7. Limit Make-up Options
For one month, experiment with less make-up. This could mean wearing less make-up on your skin… or just limiting the make-up options in your drawer. Choose the colors you love best, and see if there’s any benefit to your morning routine and/or how you feel all day long.
8. Watch Less Television
Many of us got into bad habits during COVID and shaking them can be difficult. To help realign my life around greater priorities, I am currently testing out 30-days of no television. That is the living with less experiment I’m trying right now.
This type of experiment could also apply to social media or video games or podcasts or any number of activities we suspect are taking up too much of our time.
9. Clear off your kitchen counters
Try clearing everything off your kitchen counter for 29 days. You’ll love it.
10. Remove half of your books from a space
Books can be a beautifully decorative item. They can also encourage reading and learning. But too many, in too small a space, can also be visually distracting—especially in open shelves and bookcases.
Test your assumptions on how many books is the right amount by removing half (or a third) of them for a period of time.
11. Leave a corner empty
Years ago, I helped a woman declutter her living room. At the end, one of the corners was empty. She said, “Are we just going to leave that corner empty? I don’t think I can do that.”
I replied, “Maybe not. But if you rush out to buy something just to fill the space, you’ll never know for sure. How about we give it one month? If you still hate it empty, go purchase something to fill the space. But maybe you’ll start to like it more than you think.”
Last I heard, a new decoration still doesn’t fill the space. There is beauty in empty spaces.
12. Limit Tupperware to 8 containers
Find 8 food storage containers with easily identifiable lids. (Bonus points if the containers nest inside each other.)
Put the rest of your food storage containers in a box, write the date on the top of the box, and take it away from your kitchen. Commit to this new experiment for at least three months.
You’ll never go back to a cluttered Tupperware drawer or cabinet again. Well, maybe you will, but I doubt it.
13. One place setting per person
Personally, we keep two settings per person—which comes in handy when we entertain.
But there are lots of people who do keep just one and love it. Maybe it’s an experiment worth testing out in your home. You’ll never know until you try.
14. Hand-washing dishes
We first started hand-washing dishes in November 2010 as a two week experiment. I immediately loved the intentional closing of a meal in this way.
Still, 13 years later, we hand wash after almost every meal only running our dishwasher occasionally as recommended by the manufacturer.
15. Rotate some toys out
Owning fewer toys benefits our kids in numerous ways. They learn how to be more creative, helpful, careful, and share.
Although you may want to consult your children before you decide to relocate their unused toys, there’s a pretty good chance that after only a few weeks of rotating out some old toys, they will be forgotten entirely.
16. Kitchen gadgets
There never seems to be enough storage space in our kitchens. Yet most of our grandmothers cooked far more often, far more elaborately, and far better than many of us today… in much smaller kitchens. The truth is that when it comes to cooking, simple is almost always better.
Check out this brilliant article from The New York Times: A No Frills Kitchen Still Cooks. Then, store all your unnecessary utensils in a plastic bin, put them away out of sight, and see if you just enjoy cooking a little bit more in your new, clutter-free environment.
17. A Simplified Meal Plan
I started eating the same breakfast and lunch several years ago. Although, my hope at the time was to make the habit change for a long while, I knew I could stop anytime and go back to my old variety.
But nope. I learned to love eating the same breakfast and lunch every day. Maybe you will too.
18. Unsubscribe from Email Lists
Try unsubscribing from every email newsletter that you receive in the next month. You can always subscribe back if you want. But maybe you’ll find the calmer, more peaceful inbox more enjoyable than the sales offers constantly arriving.
19. Spend one day a week unplugging from work and other responsibilities
Rest can quickly become a neglected priority in our busy lives. For the next month, choose one day each week for intentional rest—no work allowed.
20. Try Hotel-living in your bedroom
There is a growing movement to style home bedrooms like hotel bedrooms.
Interestingly, I’ve met a number of people who decided to become minimalist after going on a trip. As they left their typical surroundings and spent some time in a calm, peaceful, decluttered hotel room with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes, they became drawn to the lifestyle of owning less.
Of course you don’t need to leave your home to test out that same feeling of calm and order. Most of the articles online seem to focus on buying expensive linens or wall hangings to turn your bedroom into a hotel room. And that type of stuff can be fun, but it can also become distracting.
My recommendation, if you want to experiment with hotel living in your own bedroom, begin by simply removing everything from your room you wouldn’t normally find in a hotel room. You’ll be surprised how big of a change that makes alone.
21. Spend a week only using public transportation or walking instead of driving a car
If your city’s amenities allow, try one week without driving your car at all. Maybe you hate it and rush back to grab the keys on the 8th day. Maybe you find your area’s public transportation more convenient than you thought. Either way, you’ll discover something new about yourself and something new about your community.
There are any number of experiments you can try in your home: Fewer pillows, fewer coats, fewer magazine subscriptions, fewer hobby supplies… The list goes on and on. Choose one that seems like a good fit for you and your home.
Test your assumptions. There is a beautiful life-giving joy to be found in the realization of how little we actually need. Minimalist experiments can help us discover that.