Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Francine Jay of Miss Minimalist.
“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” – Moshe Dayan
People often ask me, “What’s so great about being a minimalist?” I usually answer with one word: freedom.
And by freedom, I don’t necessarily mean ditching your house, ditching your job, ditching your responsibilities, and traveling the world with a backpack (though yes, I’ve done that).
The freedom I’m talking about runs much deeper. It’s long-term, it’s sustainable, and it courses through your veins even when you’re doing the 9-to-5, making mortgage payments, and putting a child or two to bed each night.
How Stuff Enslaves Us
Excess possessions have the power to enslave us in three ways:
1. Physically. Let’s face it, stuff is cumbersome and difficult to transport. So the more we have of it in our rooms, closets, drawers, basements, attics, and garages, the less nimble we become. We may even pass up promising jobs or other opportunities because of the hassle of moving it. In other cases, our stuff builds up to form a prison around us: have you ever avoided a social visit because your house was too messy for company?
2. Psychologically. Too much stuff can weigh on our spirits, and make us feel heavy and lethargic. It’s almost as if each possession is tied to us with a piece of rope, dragging behind us as we try to move around. Excess things not only clutter our homes, they clutter our minds – making us too distracted or overwhelmed to think clearly and accomplish anything.
3. Financially. Stuff can also enslave us via the debt used to pay for it. The more money we owe, the more sleepless our nights, and the more limited our opportunities. Consumer debt can keep us working jobs we don’t like, simply to make the minimum payments. It can delay (or destroy) our plans to make a career change, go back to school, or start our own business.
How to Break Free
Fortunately, adopting a few minimalist techniques can help us break free of those shackles:
1. Declutter, declutter, and declutter some more. Get rid of at least one thing each day, and you’ll be 365 items lighter by the end of the year. Better yet: pick an area of your home (a room, a closet, a drawer) and completely empty its contents. Put back only those items you regularly use, or truly love – and donate or sell the rest. Decide what to keep, rather than what to toss.
2. Realize you are not what you own. Sometimes we fear that getting rid of certain things means getting rid of part of ourselves. But remember: you are not the college notebooks and swimming trophies packed in the basement; you are not the designer shoes and handbags lining your closet; you are not the books, gadgets, craft supplies, heirlooms, or tchotchkes in your living room. Your memories, dreams, and ambitions aren’t contained in these objects – they’re contained in you.
3. Ask “Why?” before you buy. Don’t bring another item into your home without extensive questioning – especially if it means charging it to a credit card. Ask the following of each potential purchase: “Do I really need you?” “What value will you add to my life?” “Are you worth the extra hours I’ll have to work for you?” “Are you worth the space I’ll have to devote to you?” Curb impulse purchases by giving yourself a cooling-off period: instead of buying something immediately, wait 36 hours and see if you still “need” it.
These simple strategies go a long way towards giving us the upper hand over our possessions. When we clear our homes of the excess, stop identifying with our stuff, and put the brakes on new accumulation, we gain control – of our homes, our lives, and our futures.
Every time we toss (or choose not to acquire) an unnecessary item, we gain a little bit of freedom: from paying for it, storing it, cleaning it, repairing it, maintaining it, protecting it, insuring it, worrying about it, and schlepping it around.
And all those little bits of freedom add up to something big: more time, money, and energy for what’s truly important to us. Not necessarily for traveling the world, but for playing with our kids, relaxing with our friends, pursuing our hobbies, exploring our interests, and embracing new opportunities.
When we eliminate the distractions of excess stuff, we gain the freedom to dive into life, deepen our relationships, and discover our full potential. And that’s what’s so great about being a minimalist.
Francine Jay is the author of The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life. She blogs about living a beautiful life with less stuff at Miss Minimalist.
I love these ideas. This year, in addition to donating more things I don’t use, I stopped buying what I do not need. One question I ask myself is,”Will God love me more if I buy this?” :O)
i am not sure when my first post was, but this has changed way i think about EVERY thing.
a year ago i hated my car, now i love my cheap running car and every little ding i have on it, its paid for and hope to keep it going another year. 217k miles on it, and hope to get it to 250k before it dies.
i know i have gotten rid of at least a ton of possessions this year, between donating, taking to the curb for others to take home, and throwing. i am far from over, as now we are cleaning basement.
see people trying to fill a void by acquiring more and more, but still chasing happiness by spending time and money to get even more.
this Christmas everyone got less number of gifts, but more meaningful and useful gifts. i have used cash for all presents. i even bought myself something. getting rid of the bulky pots and pans we used for camping and got a set that all fits together. will be a smaller, lighter set for camping tote. the old pots and pans can find a new home. but i feel this is a wise purchase, been looking for months now to find a reasonable set that will cut down on weight and size of what we all take with us camping.
Craig Martin says
Why is it that everyone (particularly those in the minimalist movement) always assumes there is no middle ground? That you are either a minimalist or you love a house and life full of clutter?
It is possible to surround yourself with possessions that make your life and house feel like a home without having to completely strip your environment down to one coffee cup, a bowl, and a plate.
Sometimes what you describing as Freedom is really much closer to deprivation and scarcity. Sure an environment with stacks of clutter may feel like a prison, but an environment with nothing in it just feels like a prison cell.
finding that sweet spot is so important. i think everyone has their own idea of what is clutter. im not throwing anything that i love away. i know i am able to enjoy the things i love more, now that its not fighting for attention of all the senseless knick knacks. the things that have meaning, i keep. i don’t care if i have duplicates if i love it. so not sure what exact measurements are for define minimalist, but i am starting to feel more comfortable where i am headed.
some people would be happy with a paper towel, could use it as a plate, soak up water and squeeze it into mouth, so its also a cup, then use it to wash face, rinse it out, use it to wipe off table, dry it to use as a towel. maybe that’s exaggeration…heehee
my main goal is to not leave a mess for my kids.
Haha had a giggle at this. Living off the smell of an oily rag.
Many of the postings that I’ve read in this blogs do not insist on extremes but rather are just inviting people to think deeply about what’s important to each individual and also to see if each person has at least some excess that can be shared with those who are in need. So I like the idea of there being two sides to this issue. Getting free of what is weighing some people down but also donating to those who could make good use of what is not being used by it’s owner.
We are on move number 7 in 7 years. I am finally starting to see the beauty of minimalism after years of hording and moving the same things unused. It is still hard for me to get rid of things often and I go back and forth so tonight I packed a big box and garbage bag full of food items and packed them off to the women’s shelter before I could change my mind. Though I still have that slight eek feeling I feel much freer!
Carol Phipson says
Andrea, can we talk? I am onto my 8th move in 10 years. I need to share …..
A few years ago I was in and out of the hospital fighting for my life. 6 months into the fight (Aprjl 2011) I was laying in a hospital bed in another town thinking about our storage room that was packed with family heirlooms and extra furniture and household goods “just in case.” I told my husband that when I got well I was going to start getting rid of stuff. I did not want to leave all of it for my family to have to deal with when I am gone. Four years later, the storage room is half as full as it was. I’m starting to go back through it and am also starting to work on minimalizing my kitchen and wardrobe. Since some of the things I have gotten rid of and am still getting rid of are worth a little money, I am saving to take my granddaughters to Disney Land. I can’t explain to anyone how liberating this process has been.
Fun Woman says
The ‘Attention’ energy we give things is understated. Think of that thing in your hall/laundry/cupboard that you think, ‘I need to fix that/ get a new charger/ paint that’ etc. At one stage, I had so many of these unfinished things hooking little threads of my attention per day that I gradually went into this perpetual state of overwhelm. This ‘gathering’ mentality is old. (Not bad, but out dated). There is so much stuff now. We don’t need to keep doubles of things – like our parents did. There are mega marts in almost every town.
Eleanor Lebrecht says
Yes, your statement: “Decide what to keep, rather than what to toss” really worked for me when I did Project333 and I sorted out my clothing with help from Courtney Carver, the bemorewithless lady .
Teri Clifton says
Wish I could claim voluntary de-clutter but in fact a life transition forced it and what an enormous gift in disguise. The end result? Freedom from inertia and a whole new realization that the objects had a hold on me while it is experiences that I hold in my heart. <3
Tonya Hawke says
I love your posts . I have already started to get rid of a ton of stuff and it feels fantastic. I am wondering if you ever write posts about getting out of the massive debit that happens when we do buy to much stuff. I would love to hear your ideas !
I have started decluttering. I am a little bit herky-jerky with it, but I believe just getting started is a “big thing”. As I come across things I don’t use, I place them in a box. When cleaning out a drawer or a closet, I may fill a box in 1 day. Other times it might take weeks. When one box is full, I put it in the back of my suv. After 2-3 months the suv cargo area was fairly full. I made one trip to drop it all off. I also have been giving away some excess things to people in my life that might want or need them. Even some houseplants! It feels so good! Because I have started letting go of things, I am so much more aware before I buy anything. Another big step! My house doesn’t show it a lot yet. I always kept things fairly tidy on the surface, but the drawers and closets were so jammed, I couldn’t find anything. Thank you so much for your posts. They truly inspire me.
Yes….I loved this post!
Kevin D says
My girlfriend just moved to my area. She has her own apartment – 2 1/2 bedrooms. 1 (large) bedroom is full of totes, full of stuff she will NEVER use, and has NOT used in years. The totes go from top to bottom, from left to right – there has to be over 50 of them. You can’t get in the door. And.. she is driving here with a car full of additional stuff.
The apartment went from the most beautiful apartment I have ever seen to a junk yard. It makes me ill.
So wondering how clutter affects relationships. Not just yours, but anyone’s.
Yes great topic!
Kevin D says
The worst time for Minimalist is on the horizon… Christmas!!! While I love the holiday because of what it stands for and the people I get to share it with, I hate receiving gifts that I will NEVER use. I remind everyone who gives me a gift to i) keep/include the receipt; ii) don’t feel hurt if, after the holidays, your gift is given to the church or Goodwill.
My recommendation of gifts for minimalists… (non expiring!!!!) GIFT CARDS for :
1) auto repairs,
2) shoes stores,
4) movie theatres,
5) gas stations,
The cards can be stored in a small area and used when needed – my jogging shoes need to be replaced after the winter!
Anyone else have any Christmas (horror) stories or recommendation for “Minimalist” gifts?
Newspaper or magazine subscriptions, massage or manicure or pedicure gift certificates, cash, restaurant gift cards, bookstore gift cards, postage stamps, dog or cat food, your time, baked items, help around their house or apt.
Jason H says
I’m 3 months new to minimalism and love it. Come to find out my Grandfather was a minimalist as a result of the Great Depression. I miss his wisdom of keeping it simple.
love to hear that, usually its the flip side, all I hear from older people is that they save everything because they grew up in the Great Depression, until their families have to deal with the mess when they pass on.
Miss Minimalist says
Thanks for all your wonderful comments! I’m so glad you liked the post, and I loved hearing about your personal efforts to pare down your lives. I think the “freedom of less” really has to be experienced to be understood. :)
I’m very grateful to Joshua for inviting me into the community here!
Kevin D says
Thank you for starting up this site! At one point in my life, I thought I was the only Minimalist… it is nice to know I am not and others get the same joy and freedom as I do. :-)
Kevin D says
Being a minimalist is, in a word,… Liberating!!!
After I converted, years ago, I started finding everyone else’s world claustrophibic. I would preach to them the joy of owning as little as possible. Sadly, it is NOT contagious, and has not caught on.
For me, I would not live any other way. All my friends work extra hours for stuff they just don’t need. They buy it, feel empty, and then buy more in the hope that will fill the void. It never does. I spend that extra time with the people I love.
In 2010, my only new possessions are a GPS, a few DVD’s and this LapTop… and, even then, I feel that is too much. :-)
Be well and travel light my fellow minimalist…
The ‘Realize you are not what you own’ has been a really tough one for me to explain to people. I’m helping a friend declutter and she truly believes the old notebooks and trophies are her legacy, that they need to be kept to preserve the memory and explain who she is. I disagree; if you need items to explain who you are, then you aren’t expressing yourself clearly. Unless you’re leaving behind a diary, people aren’t going to know you any better from going through your stuff,
I really enjoyed this post and am linking to it tomorrow.
This post is perfect!!! Thanks Miss M :)
Being introduced to the concept of “deciding what to keep instead of what to toss.” has made such a change in the mindset of how I declutter. Before, I used to only get rid of useless or old or wornout things. Now that I am on the journey to minimalism, I find myself asking what I really do want to keep and why. And it has been very freeing.
Thanks for a great post!
I sooo resonate with this post, Francine! Purging most of my useless belongings felt so much better than I ever thought it could. Now I realize it was because of the psychological stress.
This really hit home after moving and seeing all of our accumulated crap. It was eating away at my soul. Thankfully, I now how much less (and I’m still reducing) but you’re so right…it’s so freeing! Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. One of the best decisions I ever made :)
Hey, I’m just some 17 year old kid that was trying to find something to write on for his senior project when I happened to get to this site. I love my stuff and really enjoy little nick nacks to keep as reminders of my life, but reading some of these blogs really has changed the way I am planning to live the rest of my life. I don’t know if its necessary for me to empty my room of all my admittedly useless stuff, but I will see the material world differently from now on. Hopefully for the better.
Me, here, now. says
You’re lucky you’ve been able to start so soon! Not that it’s ‘ever too late to start’, because it isn’t. But starting early can only open up countless opportunities from a young age. You don’t fall into the same trap as ‘The Joneses’ and you live a life with more purpose. Your fledgling wings spread and soar higher and further than those chained to what is perceived (read as ‘conditioned’) a ‘normal’ lifestyle. Living ‘The Dream’ isn’t what those mad men of marketing peddle, it’s being free from the weight that ‘stuff & clutter’ (physical, psychological) bring.
Holden, I’m new to this site, just wondering what new insights you have, are you still thinking same way about minimalism
Living the Balanced Life says
I am on the journey to minimalize, not to the 100 item mark, but to the level that I find the freedom, I am looking for. It is amazing how much lighter you feel when you look at an area of your life that has been decluttered to only the things that are desired and needful.
Great breakdown of how to begin that journey!
Thanks so much! Trying to get rid of 50 items every weekend. Talking small steps, empty a room, closet, or drawer and just put back what is necessary. Seems impossible but the small steps really help. Getting rid of things makes you feel so free! Less clutter in one room is like an energy boost. Just on the road to recovery of becoming a minimalist.
Lisa Fine - lisasfoods says
Thank you Francine! Love this post, and posts like it, which have all helped me declutter an enormous amount of stuff in the last few weeks. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted, all from giving away, throwing away, and selling old books, clothes, college notebooks, and lots of other stuff I no longer need. While I have been a minimalist in my buying behavior for a few years, I am now tackling removing unwanted and unused items. Always great to have reminders and motivators like this.
Well said! Keep spreading the word . . . decluttering will set you free.
Gip @ So Much More Life says
This is a great introductory post to minimalism. You have it exactly right.
I’ve seen some minimalist bloggers trying to de-emphasize the importance of decluttering, but this is a mistake. It’s the most important part of the process. Clutter saps away energy that you will want for something else.
Faith @ Minimalist Moms says
I love this! Yes, it’s the freedom that is contagious. I think that’s why people can go from never having heard about minimalism to “Oh my gosh, I want that” kind of feeling.
Great tips too. “Decide what to keep, rather than what to toss” is great advice along with not bringing in more clutter in the future. I also really enjoy your blog!
Kevin D says
I asked the question about Minimalist Christmas gifts only to click on your name, after the fact, and see that you already have a list. :-)