Just Start

I had another post scheduled for today, but it came to me while I was watching my husband do push-ups at 5:30 this morning that I needed to write again about habits.

Many of us have good habits that were taught to us (nagged into us) when we were small, such as "wash your hands" and "brush your teeth" and "turn off the lights when you leave a room."  (My dad was a stickler for that last one!)

And there are habits that every minimalist should practice to help keep clutter at bay.  Maybe you also learned some of these habits when you were young.  "Don't just put it down, put it away" is one that was often uttered by my mother, and it started with toys and clothes and wet towels and went on from there.  If that's not a habit for you, you might want to learn it now.

"It's a lot easier to keep up than to catch up" refers to the fact that having routines for household chores, and cleaning as you go, will keep your home from becoming filled with clutter and unfinished jobs, rather than being the beautiful, spacious, and inviting home of your dreams.

If you have not developed daily and weekly routines, or if you've thought about them but aren't practicing them regularly, these are habits you want to learn.  Start with one, such as cleaning up the kitchen every night after dinner (it really only takes a few minutes), or dealing with mail as soon as it comes into the house (this can take as little as one minute).

"One in, one out" is a habit that helps maintain the decluttered state.  If you've done the work of removing the excess from your home, don't waste your efforts by hanging onto old, unused, or unusable stuff when you replace or upgrade it.  Donate, recycle, or discard a comparable item so that new purchases don't cause your containers to overflow.

If you're trying to reduce debt, there are some habits that can help you to do that.  First, "buy less," which might require the development of several smaller habits to finally make that big change a reality.  Again, picking one, such as tracking your spending in a problem area (providing motivation to get that area under control) or using the seven day rule (to curb impulse buying), and focusing your efforts, will be more effective than just having a general desire to stop shopping.

A second habit I recommend for reducing debt is Dave Ramsey's debt snowball.  Millions of people have used this method to get out of debt, and it works because it's about behavior modification.  In other words, it creates a new habit to replace your old habit of acquiring debt, and it does it with the built-in reward of seeing each debt, from smallest to largest, disappear.

That's the thing about practicing new, beneficial habits -- they replace old, harmful habits.

I've been practicing the habit of getting out of my chair every 30 minutes to do some stretching, jogging in place, or a household chore -- anything to break my habit of sitting for hours at a stretch, which researchers are saying is as bad for you as smoking.

Maybe this habit isn't an issue for you, but instead you want to develop a bedtime ritual along with an earlier sleep time, or you want to replace sugary, fatty snacks with fresh fruit and veggies, or you want to take an internet intermission once a week.  These are fantastic habits!

Remember that changes are easier to make when you begin with small steps.  It's hard to tell yourself you're too tired or too busy if your new habit is tiny.

You know sudden huge changes tend to fail.  Remember those "whole new you" plans that lasted less than a week?  (Believe me, I've done it too!)  Take smaller steps.  Choose just two or three tiny changes to start, and allow those to become firm habits before you try more.

Don't try to be impressive, just be consistent.

I've started with one minute of stretching or jogging in place for every half hour I sit at my desk or on the couch (I usually do more than one minute).  My husband was inspired last summer to start with five push-ups first thing every morning.  He now does 50, and never misses a day.

When you do a tiny habit every day, you enjoy immediate success, find it easy to meet or exceed your goal, and continuously move forward.  Your motivation grows as you achieve those small wins, and you develop confidence and momentum.  You control your behavior by completing a very simple task, and over time this practice creates new, better habits.

So go for it!  Decide and commit to a new habit.  Make the habit so tiny to begin with that it's impossible not to do it.  Tell a friend and ask her to be an accountability partner.  Make a calendar, and give yourself a star each day that you accomplish the new habit.  Try to keep that row of stars growing for 30, 40, or 60 days, until the new habit feels natural.

Just start.

P.S.  If you liked this post and the links, you might find my book Minimalism A to Z (paid link) useful.  It's full of inspiration and practical ideas for living a freer, happier, more intentional life through minimalism.

Photo by Jurien Huggins in Unsplash


  1. Hi Karen,
    I love this article and your suggestions for successful habit changes. Will refer to it in my next LinkedIn and Facebook posts.

    1. Hi Margo,
      Thank you for your kind words! I'm so glad you found the post inspiring, and I'm flattered you want to share it with your followers.

      All the best,


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