Ten First Steps to a Simpler Life

There are many ways to start down a minimalist path – it's not a one-size-fits-all blueprint.  One of these ideas might be just right for you.

10 ways to begin with minimalism

1.  Visualize your pared-down life.

Take a break with pen and paper and make a list of three to five things that would change if you embraced minimalism.  Would you have

  • a living room that's ready for relaxing and socializing?
  • a kitchen with clear counters ready for cooking and baking?
  • a polished table ready for dinner or a family board game?
  • a bedroom that's private and restful?
  • a bathroom that's spa-like?
  • fewer but better toys that your kids can put away on their own?
  • fewer but better clothes that fit and flatter and make getting dressed a pleasure?
  • a calendar with some empty slots for down time or spur-of-the-moment creativity?
  • a balanced budget, with a plan for getting out of debt?
  • or some other improvement in your day-to-day life?

Discover your minimalist priorities.

2.  Make your bed.

I know I sound like your mother, but this could be the first step toward creating a truly restful sanctuary.  Declutter excess pillows, dust ruffles, and blankets.  Enjoy the way a neat and pretty bed improves the feel of the entire room, and let this clarity and simplicity ripple outward.

3.  Create one minimalist area.

This could be the top of your desk, your bedside table, your kitchen island, the bathroom counter, the coffee table, or somewhere else.  Remove everything from the space.  Throw out the trash, donate the dusty, and find a home for the items you use.  

Thoroughly clean the area, and replace just one or two items that will make the space pleasant or efficient.  A lamp and a family photo on your desk, for example, or a bowl of fruit on the kitchen island.  Or leave the area completely empty, if that's more calm and inspiring.  Enjoy your minimalist space, and commit to keeping it that way.

4.  Donate duplicates.

It's relatively painless:  grab a box and fill it with extraneous items, such as towels, vases, mugs, tee shirts, and the third set of dishes you never use.  Realize that you have enough, and donate the box immediately if you can.

5.  Go deep.

Do you have tons of partially-used hotel shampoos cluttering your cupboard?  Multiple mini containers of floss and toothpaste from the dentist?  Extra lipsticks and eyeshadow palettes?  How about canned foods shoved to the back of your pantry?  Books you bought but never read?  Clothing you've never worn?  

Go deep, from the surface all the way to the bottom.  I still have to do this sometimes.  Don't just landfill these items.  Return them (if you still can), donate them, sell them, or use them.  Use what you've collected, and become sensitive to the habits that are bringing clutter into your home.  Commit to buying no more until you've used what you already own.

6.  Unsubscribe.

Information is a wonderful thing, but when the flow is never-ending it becomes stressful and noisy.  If you're still getting newspapers or magazines (physical or digital), consider which ones you actually read. which ones inform or entertain you, and which ones make you discontented or simply get piled on the coffee table.  Unsubscribe from those.  Evaluate RSS feeds, phone apps, and too-frequent emails from companies you once did business with.  What's left will be more useful and accessible.

7.  Toss.

Clear out expired foods in your refrigerator or pantry.  Ditch outdated potions and pills from the bathroom (place pills in sealed bags with coffee grounds or kitty litter to discourage scavengers).  Recycle expired coupons and junk mail.  Donate old textbooks to Books for Africa, or remove the covers and recycle the pages.

8.  Wait.

Lots of clutter (and debt) results from impulse purchases.  Try delaying unplanned purchases for a day, a week, or even a month.  Keep a record of the items and their prices, and once your waiting period has passed, see if you still desire the item as much as you did.  If you could afford to buy it now, would you?  Or have you forgotten all about it?

9.  Drop it.

Give yourself permission to resign from one activity.  Only you know what has become a chore or an obligation instead of a challenge you thrive on or a rewarding chance to do good and share your time and talents.  Set aside other people's expectations, set aside the guilt, and free up some space for rest and serendipity.  Go ahead and pare one activity from your child's schedule as well.

10.  Pack for disaster.

A crisis makes things very clear.  Where I live in California, a flood or a wildfire could mean you have minutes to leave your home.  What do you pack?

  • medications, glasses, hearing aids, etc.
  • important papers (these should fit in one file box)
  • phone and laptop, charging cords
  • wallet/purse, keys

And if you have time:

  • a change of clothes, some extra underwear and socks
  • the same for your kids
  • pet carrier/leash, food and water bowls, litter box

If you can, you might also grab family pictures or photo albums, or your child's most beloved cuddle toy.  Once your family is safe, and you have the bare necessities for survival and communication, you'll realize that everything else is either replaceable or completely unimportant.

Start anywhere... today!


  1. "donate the dusty" The easiest way to choose in all the minimalist writings I've ever read. Great tip!

    1. Thank you, Linda. It can be your minimalist mantra!


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