10 Lessons From 10 Years as a Minimalist

by Mike
10 Lessons From 10 Years as a Minimalist

10 years ago, a random Twitter post led me down the rabbit hole of minimalism. After discovering the benefits of living with “less,” I was inspired to chuck out most of my possessions, stick to the essentials, and become a full-blown minimalist. 

To be fair, I wasn’t exactly rolling around in stuff. I was a (broke) college grad who had just moved into my parent’s basement and had very few assets to my name. 

But I *did* have a bedroom overflowing with clothes, furniture, and baseball memorabilia from my teenage years. 

In just one week, I packed up my stuff, then donated, sold, or trashed over 80% of it.

As I look back over the past decade, I thought I’d share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about minimalism and how it’s changed my life. 

Ready? *takes a deep breath* Here we go. 

The excitement fades but the value remains. 

When I first started practicing minimalism, I was truly giddy. I felt like I had a new lease on life. My perspective had completely shifted and I felt a rush of excitement as I purged my things. This faded as minimalism became my new normal. But that’s not a bad thing. Even though the initial honeymoon phase ended, the benefits of minimalism have remained.

You spend less time cleaning.

Less stuff in our apartment means fewer things to take care of. There’s less clutter crowding our counters, desks & shelves. And it doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to clean our entire apartment (parents reading this: “Wait till you have kids!”). Sure, it takes some work upfront to get organized and create a system for where things go, but once you’ve got that down, keeping your home clutter-free is a piece of chocolate-frosted cake (mmm, cake).

You don’t need to marry a minimalist.

I remember being worried I wouldn’t be able to find a partner who would understand my lifestyle. I assumed I was limited to being with someone who also identified as a minimalist. But thankfully, that wasn’t true. I just needed someone who was open-minded, a good listener, and who respects the fact I’m going to wear the same outfit in every photo we take. When you share those values, most of the friction in your relationship will fade away.

It’s not a religion.

Some people take minimalism way too seriously. From the way some people speak about it online, you’d think it was a cult. But just because you’ve personally found minimalism life-changing, doesn’t mean you need to judge people, impose your beliefs on others, and talk about it with a sense of superiority. Did minimalism help you? Cool. Let’s go get some tacos.

We upgrade too often.

Brands do a great job at convincing us we need to replace our phones, computers, and kitchen appliances every couple of years. But do we really need to make the upgrade? Will those extra pixels, different buttons, and a new sleek design really improve our lives? That’s up to you to decide. But you may find that the phone or laptop you have now meets your needs just fine. Maybe if you choose not to upgrade, you’d be able to pay down more of your debt, and you could save one less thing from ending up in a landfill.

It won’t solve all your problems.

That was a rude awakening. The rush of becoming “a minimalist” can make you feel like you’ll never face another significant challenge in your life again. But over the years, I’ve still experienced burnout, severe anxiety, difficult conversations, and impossible decisions. And I’m certain there’s more to come. In saying that, minimalism has made those problems easier to manage. Since I worry less about “stuff” and less about finding success, I can focus my attention on overcoming the difficult problems I face.

People overthink it.

Should I keep the manual for my toaster? Should I get rid of my Harry Potter book-set? What should I do with that vase that my mom got me last Christmas? Listen, I get it. I overthink just about everything. But there comes a point when these questions become a stalling tactic. You’re afraid to let go because you don’t want to make the wrong decision. But ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? You recycle the toaster manual and need to look it up online. You give away the book-set and later decide to repurchase it on your Kindle. Your mom gets a little upset about the vase but understands that it didn’t match your design taste (good luck with that convo btw). Stop overthinking, and start taking action. You can apologize later.

It (surprisingly) makes receiving gifts easier.

Now that my friends and family know I practice minimalism, they really understand my values. I’m unlikely to receive random crap I don’t need (and that I’d eventually have to give away). Instead, the gifts I get these days are really thoughtful experiences, a nice bottle of whiskey or fresh-baked treats. It’s important to have these conversations before the holidays begin. If your family and friends care about you and want you to be happy, they’ll totally understand you don’t want random electronics from Sharper Image this year.

Detaching yourself from stuff makes you less of an ass.

When I was in college, my brother gave me 4 really tall beer glasses… they didn’t last very long. One by one, each of them shattered, and I remember feeling pain and frustration each time I had to sweep up the broken pieces. This was likely in-part because I was struggling financially and they would have been difficult to replace. But I was also way more emotionally attached to stuff than I am now. Cars will get dinged up, my phone’s screen will crack, and coffee will spill on my clothes. But now that I’m less attached to stuff, it doesn’t affect me at all.

Minimalism is a practice.

As your life changes, the stuff you own will need to change as well. And that’s because what we own today might not be useful or helpful one year from now. When you move into a new apartment, adopt a pet, give birth to your first child, you’ll need to buy new stuff (or get hand-me-downs from family). And when you find that stuff is no longer adding value, you can find a better home for it.

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