5 Questions to Answer When You're Trying to Minimize

It sounds great to "live with less," doesn't it?  Less stuff to clean, store, insure, fuss with.  More time and funds for what you care about.  But what does minimalism actually look like, and how do you start to get that freedom and satisfaction?

Minimalism doesn't mean you have to sell everything except what you can fit into the back of a van (or even just a backpack).  Some people choose that lifestyle, but you can stay in your current home and still be a minimalist. 

Full disclosure:  My husband and I live in a two-bedroom apartment.  We have a couch, side chairs, lamps, a bookshelf, table and chairs, bed, dresser, a guest room bed, and a useful amount of linens and kitchen items.  There's art on the walls, plants, photos, a TV, and hobby supplies.  We even have some toys for when the grandsons come to visit.

We could go a bit smaller if it was necessary, but I don't aspire to live in a van.

5 questions to help you move toward minimalism

Minimalism is an intentional choice to turn away from consumerism and live with only the things you need and love.  Minimalism makes room for your life to revolve around something more worthwhile and fulfilling than your possessions – and you decide what that purpose is.

If you're ready to move beyond theory and start getting practical, here are some questions you can ask about your possessions as you decide what to keep and what to declutter.

1.  Could I live happily without this item?

You might say an immediate no when you consider your favorite chair or the washing machine.  But some items in your home don't add any value.  They're not practical, useful, or enjoyable.

So be honest.  Would you even miss this item if you didn't have it?  This is a good first question to ask, because if you can happily live without something, it's time to let it go.

2.  If it broke, would I replace it?

Sometimes we keep things simply because we own them.  We're caught in inertia or guilt, and it's hard to imagine not having something we've had for a while.  Maybe it's camping equipment you used to use, games you used to play, or decorative items you used to cherish.  You justify the space they take by the mere fact that they're yours.

So if they were broken, would you replace them?  If they were lost in a fire or a break-in, would you use insurance money to buy them again?  If not, you can safely declutter them.

This question can help with sentimental items too.  If you broke Grandma's turkey platter, would you look for a replacement piece?  If Mom's old costume jewelry necklace lost a few rhinestones or had a broken clasp, would you pay to have it fixed?  You aren't going to forget Mom or Grandma no matter what, so maybe their stuff doesn't mean as much to you as you think it does.  Declutter without guilt.

3.  Do I already have something that performs this function?

This question is about excess and duplication.

  • Why do you need four salad serving bowls if you never use more than one or two at a time?
  • Why do you need 23 mugs for the three people who live in your house, plus the few who might visit at any one time?
  • If you have a good knife, do you really need four different specialty slicers?

  • If you have two beds, do you really need nine blankets?

This is also the first question you should ask before you purchase something new.  Maybe you don't really need another cute handbag or a coffeemaker in this season's color.

4.  Does having this item make my life easier?

No question that your refrigerator and trash bin fit into this category, even if they don't exactly "spark joy."

But the pile of magazines in the corner that might contain recipes to try "someday" could just be an annoying pile in the corner.  Kids' toys that talk and beep but don't encourage autonomy and creativity could just be driving you crazy.  Inherited furniture that you don't like or need that fills your garage or costs money to store could just be keeping you from using your garage, building savings, or even getting out of debt.

Decluttering those items might make your life easier and less stressful.

5.  Could I borrow or rent it if I needed it?

If your brother owns a chainsaw, do you need to own one too?  If you each go camping just once or twice a year, do you each need to own all of the equipment?  You wouldn't buy (and store) a cement mixer just so you can lay a path down the side of your yard, would you?  Not when a hardware store will rent you one for the day or two you need it.

And speaking of laying cement – it's not always cheaper to do a job yourself.  Sometimes when a job requires a lot of specialized equipment, it's more economical to pay a professional to do the work.  Putting other people to work is just one way a minimalist might contribute to the economy without buying a bunch of stuff.

As you start decluttering, or if you get stuck, ask these five questions to help you decide what to do.  Minimalism is very personal, so it's always good to thoughtfully discover what brings you the most freedom and satisfaction.


  1. "We could go a bit smaller if it was necessary, but I don't aspire to live in a van." I needed a pick-me-up today and that line was it! Thank you!!

  2. I love your question number 4. Not "sparking joy" was never going to be part of my criteria. Although I do have some "extra" things just because they make me smile.
    Linda Sand

  3. I loved living in my van. Now this one bedroom apartment feels too big. :)
    Linda Sand

    1. I'm not knocking van living -- I know it's perfect for some. Just not something I'm planning for, at least not at the moment.

    2. I knew that. I was only saying I loved van living. I'm older than you are, though, so you might actually get there some day.
      Linda Sand

  4. Karen 'Putting other people to work to contribute to the economy' is a great suggestion. I value keeping small, local business going and money circulating close to home. Thanks!

    1. Yes! It doesn't always work out that way, but shopping local as much as possible is a fantastic goal.


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