11 Revealing Ways to Experiment with a Simpler Life Today

I've said it before – experiments are fun and can be very enlightening.  Since we live in a consumerist culture, experimenting with minimalism can yield some real surprises.

Of course, we're all consumers.  We eat, we need clothing and shelter, we use tools and supplies to accomplish our work.  Life requires consumption.  But consumerism is a social and economic order that "encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts," according to Wikipedia.

dish cupboard

A questionable goal

In our society, we're not supposed to establish a sustainable level of consumption, but are expected to meet increasing desires.  It's considered normal and desirable to consume more and more as time goes by.  That's called "getting ahead."

By almost every measure, we consume more per person now than we did 60 years ago.  Yet most of us still have long lists of things we want or believe we need.

We never seem to be satisfied – and our society doesn't want us to be!  But are we really "getting ahead" if we're never happy?

We have to consume to survive, but we don't have to consume an ever-increasing amount, even if others expect us to.  We can decide to buck that trend, whether it's to

  • gain financial freedom
  • gain energy and time for different pursuits than earning and spending
  • reduce stress and decision-making
  • reduce environmental impact
  • redefine success and what makes a good life

11 ways to sample minimalism

Any or all of the following experiments will help you see "how low you can go" – that is, how little you really need to live a happy, comfortable life.  You won't really know unless you try, and if you don't try you'll have less incentive to ignore consumerism.

Here's the part that might convince you – you don't have to give away most of your belongings and then discover that super-simplicity is all wrong for you.  You can sample it first.

Choose one or more of these experiments, and notice how it affects your daily life and how it makes you feel.  You might be surprised.

1.  Try one-piece dining.

Most of us have cupboards full of dishes – maybe two or three sets or more.  If you're someone who has friends over for dinner every week, or makes a habit of inviting neighbors in for coffee and snacks, you might not be able to do this experiment.  But a lot of us never have someone over except on holidays, and may use disposable dinnerware for those.

So challenge yourself to use one plate, one bowl, one cup, one fork, one knife, and one spoon for all of your meals for one week.  Use one pot, one pan, one spatula, and one cooking spoon.  Use one knife, one cutting board, one mixing bowl, one baking dish, and one set of measuring utensils.

You'll probably prepare simpler meals as a result of having less to cook and eat with.  That's all part of the experience.

2.  Create a work uniform.

You don't have to restrict clothing options for every area of your life to give this a try.  Simply take a cue from Steve Jobs and former President Obama, and limit your options for work.  Some of the most successful people in the world do this because it saves time, lowers stress, increases productivity, and lets them discover a style that makes them feel confident and comfortable.

You could literally choose one suit or dress (and vary with accessories), or just go with black or navy pants (or skirt) and a white shirt.  But for a bit more flexibility, try a 7-piece mix-and-match wardrobe of three bottoms, three tops, and one layering piece, such as a blazer or cardigan.  If you stick with two or three colors that you like together, these pieces will combine into 18 unique outfits (half of them don't use the layering piece).

3.  Go furniture-light.

Some minimalists choose to live with very little furniture.  I remember a long-ago Miss Minimalist post about her decision to live without a couch.

I'm not saying minimalists can't have couches.  But we should make our possessions fit our lifestyle, rather than buying and owning something just because it's expected.

So leave your couch and your bed where they are.  But question your many side chairs, and all the little tables (end, bedside, coffee).  Question your bookshelves and your desk (I love working at my dining table).  Question stools, benches, curio cabinets, and any piece that has simply become a place to stash your stuff.

That's right – some pieces of furniture are no more than clutter catchers.  Famous cleaning expert Don Aslett* called them "junk bunkers."

  • Cedar chest:  a fragrant way to protect things you never wear
  • China hutch:  a space to keep dust off the stuff you never use to feed anyone
  • Magazine rack:  a high-class way to store reading matter you'll never read again

What can you remove?

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

4.  Travel small.

Packing for a week or weekend getaway with a small carry-on-size piece of luggage is a great way to try out a super-simple life.  You give yourself the chance to decide on your absolute must-haves, and leave everything else behind.

5.  Borrow, don't own.

Do you own something that you use only once a year or just a few times during part of the year?  It might be a candidate for borrowing (or renting) instead of owning.

For example, you might be able to borrow a tent and other camping gear from a family member or friend.  In return, you can take care of their pets, plants, and mail when they go on vacation.

Or maybe you own a weed whacker which you use half-a-dozen times every summer.  Perhaps you could borrow one from a neighbor, and then whack their weeds in exchange.

You can borrow books from the library.  Or rent dishes, tables, and chairs from a party supply company when you host Thanksgiving dinner.  There are a lot of ways to own and store less.

6.  Reduce d├ęcor.

In one room, take everything off the walls, then remove the area rug, toss pillows, vases, candles, photos, plants, and any other knickknacks.  (It's a great time to dust, polish, vacuum, and otherwise deep clean your space.)

Live with your undecorated space for a day, or up to a week.  Let yourself adjust to a barer room.  Does it seem larger and peaceful?  Or sterile?

Add one lovely plant or a vase of fresh flowers.  How does it make you feel?

Thoughtfully add 1-5 additional decorative pieces.  Appreciate those pieces for the next couple of weeks before deciding whether you need more.

7.  Consider no makeup.

If you're used to wearing makeup every day, this may be startling.  So pare down to just three products – perhaps a foundation with sunscreen, a bit of mascara, and lipstick or tinted lip balm.  You can file and buff your nails instead of using polish, which is healthier for you anyway.

How do you feel about the faster, simpler start to your day?  Do this in conjunction with #8 below, and see if you can remove other self-care products such as tooth whitener, acne treatments, and eye creams.

8.  Drink more water and less of everything else.

Coffee, tea, sodas, juices, milk, and even many fruits and vegetables will help hydrate your body, but water is calorie-free, caffeine-free, and sugar-free (and without the artificial sweeteners found in diet drinks).

I'm currently doing this myself, and have just 1 or 2 cups of coffee or tea per day.  I drink 6-8 cups of water, sometimes infused with lemon, lime, or mint.

My grocery list is shorter, and I save money when we eat out.

9.  Change gift-giving.

When your next birthday or a holiday arrives, ask your loved ones for no gifts.  Alternatively, suggest a charity to which they could donate in your name, or express your preference for experiential gifts over material ones.  Let them know that a meal out, a concert ticket, a massage, or a museum visit would make you happier than a new gadget, tchotchke, or clothing item.

While you might possibly give physical items to the young children in your life, consider making all other gifts experience gifts too.  If you must have something to wrap, choose a gift that will be used and used up, such as:

10.  Go car-light.

If you don't live in a city, you may not be able to go car-free.  But you can still reduce the miles you travel.

  • Share a ride.  Go with a friend to church or another place you both regularly visit.  Investigate carpooling to work.
  • Work from home.  Even one day a week will save 20% of your commuter miles.
  • Combine errands so you can take care of them in one trip instead of several small ones.
  • When possible, walk or ride a bicycle instead of taking the car.
  • Reduce after-school activities so you don't spend every afternoon in the car.
  • Reconsider driving to the next town over just to go to a certain restaurant or see a movie.

11.  Stop shopping.

I recommend doing this for at least 30 days to start breaking the modern habit of buying something new whenever the notion strikes us.  Limit your purchases to food (from grocery stores, not restaurants), gasoline, and necessities like toothpaste and toilet cleaner.  Obviously, you can still pay for medical care or auto repairs if needed.

Become aware of your shopping triggers.  What makes you want to buy things you don't need?  Are you addicted in some way you've never noticed before?  (Maybe you suddenly crave a fast food burger and fries instead of the tuna sandwich and apple you've brought for your lunch.)  Keep track of the things you feel like buying but are able to resist.  How much money does this represent?

Decide for yourself.

One insight gained by these experiments is to learn that much of what we eat, wear, buy, and otherwise consume is a result of habit, not necessity.  We often don't think before we acquire more, which is the goal of advertisers.  When we shake things up a bit, we're able to stop letting them hijack our decision-making.

How low can you go and still live comfortably?  You might surprise yourself.

Did you enjoy this article?  You'll love my just-published book, The Minimalist Experiment, the 6th volume in my new Minimalist Basics series.

It's useful to experiment with simplifying your life.  You can find out what's hard, what's easier, what works or doesn't work for you, and what you might like to make permanent in six life areas:  physical clutter, digital clutter, your mindset, your schedule, your finances, and your personal well-being.

The Minimalist Experiment lets you explore the possibilities, with plenty of inspiration and encouragement for your journey.  Big changes come from tiny steps taken over and over.  One or more of these experiments is sure to make a positive difference in your life.

* Parts of The Minimalist Experiment were previously published as The Minimalist Challenge.  The work has been completely revised, updated, expanded, and reformatted to fit the Minimalist Basics series.


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