A Guide to Minimalism in the Real World
You don’t have to live out of a backpack or move into a tiny house to experience the joys of a minimalist mindset
Minimalism seems to have become a race to own the least. Have you gotten rid of 40 bags of stuff in 40 days, or 5,000 things in a year, or whittled down your life’s belongings until everything could fit into a miniature house? In an essay on Boing Boing, the author and entrepreneur James Altucher proudly listed the items he owns: “I have one bag of clothes, one backpack with a computer, iPad, and phone. I have zero other possessions. Today I have no address. At this exact moment I am sitting in a restaurant and there’s no place for me to go to lie down.”
I’m a big fan of Altucher’s work, and think it’s fantastic that he’s found what works for him. But such extreme strategies aren’t practical for most people. If you have young kids, for instance, living out of a single backpack isn’t a method for simplifying your life — it’s a way to make it infinitely more difficult.
It’s true that decluttering can make you happier and healthier. But I believe our obsession with “restrictions” is a distraction from the real benefit of minimalism. It’s about much more than what you own. It’s about making space for what you want in life.
Last year, I decided to take a minimalist approach to my own life, selecting just one thing to commit myself to in each area — one book at a time, one podcast on my phone, one go-to stress-relieving technique. As a result, I gained a focus that I’d never experienced before, and have since achieved things that I never thought possible. I’ve been able to find more time to write, work four days a week, earn more than $25,000 a month, and most importantly, experience more of what life has to offer.
In other words, practicing minimalism doesn’t mean you don’t need to sell everything and live out of a backpack. There are many ways to embrace a minimalist mindset in a way that makes sense for your own situation. Here are some real-life strategies.
Decide what you value most
When you have less mental clutter, you can more easily make room for the things in your life that give you immense fulfillment. But before this happens, you must decide what those things are. The three things in my life that I value most are writing, my family, and my career in technology. Minimalism has allowed me to channel my focus into these three areas.
Learn to say no
This year, an opportunity came up that would have allowed me to meet one of my biggest heroes. I said no. I had just started a new career and had several writing deadlines. While the old me would be kicking current me, I’m not willing to sabotage my focus.
With minimalism, “no” is one of the most important tools at your disposal. Saying “no” allows you to create the space you need to get those things you really want.
Ditch the filler
My articles used to be epic walls of text that would take forever to read. I decided to apply a minimalist approach and write some shorter pieces. I started becoming more considerate of the people reading my work, delivering them as much value as I could as quickly as possible. Now, my articles are more widely read, shared, and commented on. There are ways to eliminate the filler in all sorts of areas of your life — your meetings, your grocery store trips, and your entertainment habits are a few examples.
Limit your phone to 10 apps
When I started practicing minimalism, I knew I needed to blast my digital life with a proverbial fire hose. I deleted every app on my phone and then slowly added back only the ones I found I couldn’t live without. The end result was just 10 apps on my homescreen, which has allowed me to cut out the distractions and spend more time with my thoughts.
Focus on fewer friends
I once collected friends and acquaintances like old Tupperware containers shoved in a kitchen cabinet. I believed that building a network was about quantity over quality, and I didn’t put much effort into cultivating relationships that made me happy.
But during a period of unemployment, I realized that many of my “friends” were not the people I once thought. This was a hard lesson to learn, but, in a way, it was a blessing. I was able to apply the minimalist approach to my relationships and discard those who were only interested in my life because of the former position I held. This allowed me to spend more time with the small group of people I love, those who care about me as a person and not just the size of my social media following.
Reduce your physical possessions
While minimalism is about more than physical possessions, getting rid of stuff has still improved my life tremendously. I moved last year, and my new apartment just didn’t have room for all the junk I’d collected. I was forced to make conscious decisions about everything I owned: I cut my wardrobe in half, discarded my tie collection, and sold the recording studio equipment I was hoarding out of guilt to the highest bidder.
Perhaps the biggest realization from this exercise was that the less stuff I needed to own, the less money I needed to earn. This was one idea that helped me transition into a four-day workweek at my 9-to-5 job. If you’re trying to declutter and don’t know where to start, you can read about the process I used.
Minimalism isn’t about rules or numbers or completely empty spaces where you just sit there and stare at white walls. It’s a way of life, an opportunity to spend more time on what you value and less time in areas of your life that don’t bring you any joy or fulfillment. Experiment with it, and see what works for you.