The Making of an Amateur Minimalist


So that post I wrote last week? That was my rock bottom, at least as far as the state of my house is concerned. I just can’t handle it anymore. Something needs to change. Something big.

Little changes aren’t going to work. These issues are entrenched. They are symptoms of much larger issues in my life, of my ways of coping and my habits of consumption. No mere system of staying organized is going to help me; change needs to happen at my very core.

I started reading a book about becoming a minimalist. That word wasn’t in the title–in fact it seemed like a simple little book that I didn’t really expect would offer any new or helpful ideas–so I was surprised to find it was almost entirely about living a minimalist life. At first I didn’t think much of it–how could I ever become a minimalist?–but the more I read the more I realized that all the reasons I thought I couldn’t make these changes were the exact reasons why I had to.

I need to own less stuff–significantly less stuff.  I need to fundamentally change the way I buy things. I need to alter my understanding of what is necessary. I need to drastically simplify my life.

So I’m changing my attitude, and in time I will change my actions. I know this is going to be hard–sometimes it will feel impossible–but I also know that I have to do this. If I don’t there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY anything will change. I will continue buying too much stuff. I will continue spending too much money. I will continue owning more than I need and more than I can manage.

The amazing thing is, adopting this attitude will address two of my biggest issues: money and clutter. If I can do this, my life will be 100 times better. I’m sure of that.

It’s going to take a long time to get there, but I truly believe that I’ll arrive at my destination because I know, deep in my soul, that I have to. Every time I have to make a difficult decision about what to keep and what to get rid of, I will remind myself of what keeping stuff ultimately does. Every time I think not buying something will make me unhappy, I will remind myself of how unhappy buying stuff eventually makes me.

Of course I’m starting small. A major overhaul like this is going to take a looooong time. It will most likely take years for me to completely change my habits. But I need to start somewhere, and I have a plan for my first steps. For the next six months I will do the following:

1) Plan my consumption. I will not buy anything at all during the month (except consumables that are REPLACING something we already have and use and have run out of). I will write everything I want to buy down, along with its price and where I can buy it. I will rank prospective purchases in order of importance/desire and at the end of the month, I’ll go over them all with my husband. He is already a minimalist at heart (I didn’t realize this until now!) and he will help me decide what we really need. He will also help me determine what will go out if a new item comes in. (See below.)

2) One in, one out. I will be instituting a one in, one out policy. This applies to ALL THE THINGS. It’s straight forward enough when it comes to clothes (if you buy a shirt, you get rid of a shirt) but I’m hoping to do it for other stuff as well, like kitchen utensils and furniture.

3) Culling the crap. For the next six to twelve months we’re going to need to seriously reduce the stuff we already own. We’ll be getting rid of WAY MORE than the stuff that is leaving to make room for something new. We need to bring our total number of belongs down considerably, in ways that it makes me uncomfortable to think about. Already I’ve marked a LOT of my kids toys for donation, stuff I never would have considered letting go of before I made the decision to change our lifestyle. It’s going to be hard to get rid of some of this stuff, but I know I have to. Keeping it around is making me way more unhappy than saying goodbye to it will.

{One concept in the book is the Power of One, the idea being you don’t need more than one of any specific thing. The author suggests trying to live with just one sweatshirt for a week to see if you can get rid of all your other sweatshirts. I thought he was fucking crazy. I have something like seven sweatshirts and I will be hard pressed to get rid of all but one of them–at least right now–but I know I can start small. When I talked to my husband he suggested maybe just one sweatshirt for each of the hooks on the sweatshirt rack (there are currently 2-3 sweatshirts on each hook). That seems doable and I’ll be going through them tomorrow. I’m sure in a year I’ll be able to live with even fewer sweatshirts, and some day the idea of having two might be preposterous. But I’m certainly not there yet.}

4. Immerse myself in a minimalist lifestyle. I’m going to need to keep drinking the Kool Aid to stay on track with this stuff so I’m going to search out blogs and books about a minimalist lifestyle. If you have a recommendation, please let me know.

I’m sure there are those of you who think I’m crazy, or that this is just a fad I’ll eventually abandon. A small part of me worries about that too, but honestly, I really do think I am ready to make this change. I hit my rock bottom. I have come to understand, with absolutely clarity, that I have to change. I recognize that the way I’m living does not make me happy and I really believe that these changes will improve my quality of life. I’ve tried everything else and nothing has worked. I have to do this.

I will do this.

{I plan on writing more about this journey as I hit pot holes and celebrate small victories. I’ll be using the badge above to mark these posts and curating them on a separate page. I hope in the end I’ll have a record of my transformation for others and for myself.}

Have you ever considered drastically reducing your stuff? What do you think would be most challenging about doing so?


  1. Not crazy at all – this is GREAT! I need to reduce too, and reading about the sweatshirts, I thought, “yeah, 2-3 would be good.”. I can’t go minimalist and don’t want to, but I need to reduce big time.

    Good for you!!!!

  2. I think this is great for you, like you said, its clear from your posts that money & clutter (and time) are your biggest issues, and this addresses them. I am no minimalist, but a good de-clutter is really really freeing. I feel like with more physical space, I also get more mental space. its amazing how those things are connected somehow.

  3. In prepping to sell our condo, we gave away/threw away TONS of stuff. The resulting “less” made me much happier. We’ve moved to a house 2.5 times the size of our condo and – other than yard-work stuff and blinds – haven’t bought anything new. I am so much happier without crap crammed into every drawer/closet, etc., so much so that I plan on doing another give/throw away purge soon.

  4. I can so relate to this! One of the most amazing gifts we received while living in our temporary location for seven months was that we were there with minimal belongings. We only had the things that fit in our cars, plus the few things we picked up to make our life more comfortable (extra towels, a few kitchen gadgets, additional toys for the kids, etc.) in our furnished apartment. It was so amazingly freeing! We returned to our home loaded with stuff, and both my husband and I have been overwhelmed by the sheer clutter in our house. Thankfully, we’re moving in June, so we have to start purging and downsizing anyway, but I feel the same way. I look forward to reading your posts on this, and I know they will motivate me, too (just the way your previous posts have motivated me to start preparing better meals for my family, as I also rely on the old standbys for meals). Thanks for always being so honest! Your posts always help me to critically think about my own life.

  5. My husband and I have lived a minimalist lifestyle for the whole time we’ve been together, first out of absolute necessity and then simply out of a shared philosophy and it has truly worked for us. Despite living in the Bay Area on significantly less than six figures, our family of four has managed to live comfortably, debt free and even accumulate a significant savings.

    Although there is nothing complicated about our approach, it is about a lot more than not eating out or buying extra things. I know that everybody needs to make the choice about what stays and what goes. It’s personal. But the most important piece is that you see that you do have choices and that you make them consciously.

    I recommend this blog:

    1. Hello Carlita! So good to hear from you again.

      “But the most important piece is that you see that you do have choices and that you make them consciously.” <-- This! This is definitely it. This is what I need to keep in mind moving forward. It is why I moved to this space (more on that tomorrow) and I want it to be the guiding idea of my life. Thank you for reminding me, and for the blog.

  6. Once again you are sharing from the personal but reflecting a huge population in our nation and making the topic open. Being older than you, I remember when such openness would have shocking and socially unacceptable. Any yet, the problem was as common if not more than it is today. It needs to be open and shared and normalized!!! I hope you continue to share your journey on this path as by doing so you are holding hands and supporting so many others.
    Two books:
    The Hoarder in You Robin Zasio
    A current book. Author was the therapist working on the tv series about hoarders. Her point is we all have some degree of hoarding innate to our personalities. It is normal and simply human to accumulate, and this has saved lives literally at some points. She talks about how to keep this under control, how to deal with our material goods, and that it is an ongoing process not a one time event. I think you might find it good re-energizer when you are a few weeks down the road you have embarked upon. You can get it for free from the San Francisco Public Library system and it is not a long book.

    Your Money or Your Life Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
    This is a MUCH older book. The second half talks about how to invest money and while it was apt at the time we are now in a different economic/financial market and different strategies need consideration. In the first half they are advocating knowing where you spend each penny and dollar, and then evaluating how much time you spent earning that money versus the value received from the material good ~ with the knowledge that time spent earning that money is time you do not have for other activities…like YOU, the children, your marriage, US your readers who haunt your site for postings. They encourage recognizing each person’s waterloo spending issue so you can name the urge which allows you to control your response. Again, short and easy reading but they do encourage some work sheets that help you see what you are doing. I suspect your current mentioned source will also have you doing the same processes. The authors are on the extreme side of how they live their lives but the information is adaptable to ANY ONE and any life style.

    One blog: The author got started with The Compact which was a challenge about not buying new for a year for principles about over consuming in a finite world. And then got excited about living differently after she saw a real financial difference also. She is in Portland and has older children than yours. Sometimes her ideas on how to solve a need/want/desire are really inspiring and encourage thinking outside our normal box. Sometimes I roll my eyes for different reasons.

    Do not forget to take pictures of anything you give to charity because the IRS is asking for more proof of donations than just a charity receipt or you list on paper IF/When they come to audit a return.
    Remember consignment stores for children’s things in good condition.
    AND, your local Parks/Rec centers for donations of single piece items for children’s play room…. I think one is Eureka Valley Rec Center at Collingwood & 18th near Castro&Market. Not sure if that is local enough for you. But the SF Mother’s Group would know and might know the rules for donation there. Clearly they do not want things with parts that get lost!
    Getting stuff out the door as fast as you identify it is really key and your children would enjoy the Rec Center……
    THANK YOU!!!!!!!

  7. Yes, we are massively downsizing starting soon. This summer we started to unbox our garage of boxes and more than half went away and I think less than half of what was kept will make the next cut. We got rid of over half of our clothes and it was so freeing and yet we still have too much. I should write about the whole thing again soon.

  8. I think this is a fantastic idea! Like you said – cutting down on the “stuff” in your life fixes both the money & clutter issues. I am trying SO hard to do this too. I was doing awesome while pregnant (got ride of SO much stuff) but it’s slowly re-accumulating and I’m ready to do another huge purge – especially of kids’ stuff (clothes/books/toys/etc). It’s such a freeing feeling! My biggest downfall is Amazon/Target purchases. It’s just so easy to buy at the drop of a hat, and I NEED to get better about that.

  9. Late with chiming in, but wanted to share my thoughts.

    I was thinking about this as an option for you after your last posts. Grey and I have lived this way for awhile due to space constraints and being on a tight budget. There is something to be said about not having to worry about the things that occupy your life and it is freeing to purge. Easier said than done too.

    I think toeing into this is very wise and I truly look forward to hearing about your experience. May it bring you some peace.

  10. I think ALL of us could stand to downsize our belongings a little. The vast majority of us in North America have WAY too much stuff.

    Clutter is a big issue between dh & me. I honestly don’t think I’m THAT bad… but yes, there are certain “hot spots “in our house that could stand a major weeding (including our books, which no longer fit on the shelves and are now sitting in stacks on the basement floor… we’ve had some water seepage down there so I seriously need to cull some of our collection — painful as the thought might be). I seriously think one reason we’ve been in our house for 25 years it that going through all of this stuff & packing up to stage a house & then move would be such a huge hassle. :p

    I found that losing my job/retiring a few months ago has been helpful in this respect, both in terms of getting rid of some stuff and not buying new stuff. I have had more time for cleanup projects like filing & shredding old bills and tackling the pile of magazines in the corner that drive dh nuts. We’ve both been on severance packages, but our income is about to start dropping soon as my dh begins collecting his pension — and while we can still live comfortably, we do need to watch what we spend and think twice about impulse purchases. I had already started culling my makeup collection before I lost my job — I had tons of lipsticks I hadn’t even touched and some of them had already dried out — and realistically, how many lipsticks will I need to keep or buy if I’m not going to work & putting on makeup every day?? (Even when I was working, I had a handful of favourites that I used regularly while the rest sat untouched.) Likewise, I have lots of clothes, and I certainly don’t need to buy anything new for work now. If anything, I could use another pair of yoga pants, since that’s what I am living in these days. 😉

    Reading your post & your request for resources, I remembered this woman, who used to lead a regular downsizing challenge on an iVillage board I used to frequent years ago. She’s written a number of books on the subject, with a “Zen” perspective.

    Also, I always liked the Aussie guy who used to be on Oprah — Peter Walsh:

    Good luck!

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