Let Me Tell You What It’s Really Like To Be A Minimalist

It isn’t all perfectly organized closets and stylish Scandinavian furniture.

October 25, 2017
minimalist living room
My teeny-tiny living room—with the only table I own. Mandy Ferreira

As I stood in front of my trashed closet, clothes and unopened boxes of tea spilling out the door, I decided this was it. I was finally going to start living like the minimalist blogs I had been religiously reading. I was tired of putting my closet back together after it collapsed under the weight of all of my stuff, I was tired of moving it all in and out of dorm rooms, and I was tired of feeling like there was no room for me.

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Since that moment I have aggressively reduced the amount of stuff in my life by more than 75 percent and heavily downsized my living space. Five years later, my boyfriend and I now happily live in a 275-square-foot one bedroom in-law rental with a tiny closet and a shared 4-drawer dresser.

But it took me years to slowly get rid of everything and feel comfortable calling myself a minimalist. I never felt like I fit the description. My stuff still gets messy. I have a whole drawer of workout clothes and many jars of tea. Doesn’t that disqualify me?

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I finally realized the numbers don’t matter. I don’t know how many things I own. I am not obsessed with reaching an arbitrary figure or living with as close to nothing as possible. My life doesn’t look like a perfect clutter-free utopia as seen on Instagram, but I’m happier than I have ever been. I have gotten so much more than I’ve given up, even if minimalism isn’t really all perfectly organized closets and Scandinavian furniture.

Here are eight things you can expect to happen if you decide to take the plunge into minimalism. As with any lifestyle, it has its downsides. Getting rid of stuff won’t magically solve all your problems, but I've found it gives me breathing room to truly be myself.

 

minimalist kitchen
Every item in my kitchen is something I need and use regularly. Mandy Ferreira

 

1. When Something Breaks Or Gets Lost, You Feel It More Acutely

It was so easy to let things go in the beginning. Each box donated or item sold made me giddy. I was addicted to the feeling of letting go. But after massively purging, giving up something I value is painful now.

It took me weeks to move on when my bike was recently stolen. Shattered canning jars or dishes break my heart. I have shed tears over a ripped shirt and sulked about a torn notebook.

I am not sentimental about these items (okay, maybe a little bit about the bike), but they have more importance to me now than they did when my living space was overflowing. I intentionally chose what I own and got rid of all of the things that didn’t support the life I want to live. From my single pair of jeans to the pots in my kitchen, my possessions matter to me. The more I use something daily, the harder it is for me to let it go.

Related: 17 Ways To Produce Less Trash And Save Money—According To Zero Wasters

Part of it is practical. My boyfriend and I only have room for four bowls. When one breaks we seriously feel its absence. I have already cut out the excess, and anything less is too little. I don’t have spares. Yes, I can replace things, but time and money are a big barrier. I have already invested so much into choosing what I own. I hate to have to try to replace it.

 

2. You Spend More Time Shopping, But End Up Buying Less

Every buying decision feels all the more important as a minimalist. I frequently spend months mulling over a purchase and often end up not buying it all. It’s difficult to justify spending money on adding something to our small space when that money could go into savings instead. In some ways, I put more time and energy into shopping than I did before – I just don’t buy as much.

Related: The Best Places To Shop Online If You Want To Save Money And Live A Zero-Waste Lifestyle

To be fair, I have never really liked shopping, but in the past it was all too easy to settle for something that was ‘good enough.’ Except it wasn’t. Much of what I used to buy would clutter my closet and shelves because it wasn’t what I was really looking for.

Now I spend more time researching to make sure the item does exactly what I need it to and that I will like it for years to come.

minimalist closet
The tiny closet I share with my boyfriend. Mandy Ferreira

 

3. You Save Money

I wasn’t a big spender before I became a minimalist thanks to a college budget, but living with less has easily saved me thousands of dollars. Gone are the impulse purchases and the piles of things I rarely used.

I never would have been able to move into my boyfriend’s cozy apartment if I hadn’t downsized my stuff. Our small space saves me $1,000 a month in rent. It also lets us stay in a neighborhood we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.

Related: 9 Things You Should Always Buy Used

4. You Learn To Do Without Or Find Creative Solutions

Just about everything I own has more than one purpose. Canning jars are drinking glasses, food containers, and organizers. Our only table serves as a desk, dining room table, and food prep area. You won’t find any gadgets in our kitchen or single-use devices.

Instead of running out to buy something I think I need, I see what I can do with what I already have. The internet is full of helpful hints on how to repurpose things or make do. In a real pinch, I borrow things from friends and family. There are only a handful of items that I’ve gotten rid of and later wanted to use, but I’ve always been able to make something else work in its place or borrow it. I have yet to truly regret letting something go.

Related: I Gave Up Snotting Into Paper Tissues For Cloth Hankies 3 Months Ago—Here’s What I Learned

minimalist kitchen
In our tiny kitchen, there's no space for messes to pile up. Mandy Ferreira

 

5. You Use Things Until They're Completely Worn Out

Every single thing I own adds actual value and utility to my life. Quite a few, petite jars and a used road bike included, give me warm and fuzzy feelings. I hang on to things until they are completely beyond repair and no longer useful. I’m proud of the shirts I’ve worn through, my 5-year-old cell phone, and the jars that are older than me.

Related: 8 Invaluable Things You Should Always Buy At The Thrift Store

6. You Won’t Let Messes Pile Up—Because You Can’t Afford To

I only have enough clothes to go eight days or so without dipping into swimsuit-as-underwear territory. If we don’t do the dishes after dinner, we won’t have anything to eat off the next morning (or anywhere to make breakfast). We never have to dig ourselves out of a huge mess, mostly because we don’t have enough stuff to create one in the first place. We do our laundry once a week like clockwork and dishes at least once a day. Minimalism forces you to always be on top of things so you never have to feel the pressure of a mounting list of chores.

Related: What It’s Really Like To Live In A Tiny House

minimalist medicine cabinet
My clutter-free medicine cabinet. Mandy Ferreira

 

7. You Have More Free Time and More Room For People

I’m frequently blown away by how much time people spend buying new things, taking care of them, organizing them, and looking for them.

It takes my boyfriend and I 30 minutes to clean the apartment top to bottom. Our weekly laundry takes me less than two hours, including hanging most of it up inside to dry and waiting for the washer to finish. I never need more than five minutes to pick up at the end of the day. I don’t waste time trying to manage or corral my stuff. I have cut out all of the other activities and time sucks that don’t add value to my life (good riddance, cable, Facebook, long commutes, and makeup).

I have so much more time for my family and friends now. Our stuff doesn’t get in the way of spending time doing what we really love. 

Related: 11 Storage Ideas To Steal From Tiny Houses

8. You Get Good At Knowing What You Really Want

Each item in the get-rid-of-pile is a test of knowing yourself. Does it make you happier? Does it help you live the life you truly want? Everything I chose to keep highlighted what really mattered to me.

Yes, it’s great to know what clothes I like and only keep those, but knowing what I really want goes well beyond the stuff on my shelves. Being a minimalist has helped me make the jump to freelancing full time and going all in on the things that excite me or bring me joy. It has helped me uncover what I really want in life and given me the space and money to actually live it.

Related: 4 Main Causes Of Clutter In Your Home, Plus Genius Ways To Eliminate Them