minimalism – where to start?

photo of two chairs in front of a large window with a view of trees on a street. On a table between the chairs is a candle. A hardwood floor  stretches out in the foreground.

A cozy and calm seating area in our minimalist home.

When I write about mindfulness and leading a satisfying life, I often refer to looking at things through a minimalist lens. Minimalism can positively affect all areas of our mental, emotional, physical and tangible life.

Essentially, this means taking the time to look at what is filling up our day-to-day (such as relationships, career, hobbies, habits, objects..) chose what is important and then remove the nonessential.

But that is just part of the process! Now, as we are able to breathe and clearly see the lay of the land, we can start to filter in more joy and optimism by welcoming into life amazing people, productive habits and also essential (and hopefully inspiring!) objects.

Do you have questions about how to apply minimalism, on any level, to your life? Post below your thoughts and I will do my best to reply with some suggestions.

I look forward to some great discussions!

[For more on the topic, click on Minimalism 101. For more articles, click here to view categories on minimalism, organizing, coaching, mindfulness, motivation and exercises to try.]


minimalism – where to start?

11 Responses

  1. Thank you so much of all of your posts, Jo. I really appreciate it. I’m hoping you can help me with this one…. How do I know if I’m “done” decluttering? I’ve been working at this for years now, it seems, and I don’t have much stuff. But I still have mess. Do I just need to have better routines?

    Sahara February 2, 2015 at 11:15 pm #
    • Jo

      Thank you for reading!
      “Done” decluttering. What an interesting question!

      Let’s determine a definition first. Collins online dictionary describes decluttering this way: “to simplify or get rid of mess, disorder, complications”. So I interpret that to mean reduce as well as organize. So you may have reduced enough (don’t have much stuff) but still have mess.
      I invite you to break it down:

      Figure out first why you like to reduce (such as not enough room to house everything, don’t use certain things anymore, stuff becomes a psychic barrier, etc..)
      Are you using everything you have (and it is possible that you actually need/want a few more things!)
      If you are at the right amount for you, then perhaps you don’t need to reduce more.

      Now define what mess means to you. (trip over things, can’t find what you want, looks unappealing, etc..)
      Sit quietly in your space for a few minutes, perhaps with your eyes closed, and imagine how you want the space to feel. Cozy? Peaceful? Do you like it to echo of emptiness? What about the flow? Are there areas that need to be moved around to make more sense to you?

      Then based on what you come up with, try to match the feeling with the visual (what you see in the space). Contemplate your decor – does your choice of colours, art, etc. reflect the mood you want?
      In regards to routines, you likely know this already but whether someone has a lot or very little, all objects need a ‘home’. So an inventory exercise might be in order. Do you need more surfaces and storage? (Consider off site storage for seasonal things you need, if your place is too small to contain them neatly) Rearrange the easiest-to-reach spots to house your most used items. Ideally then you will put things down in the place they belong.

      I will add that I have been working on decluttering all areas of my life for over 15 years and I am still working on it! So be self forgiving and sometimes just enjoy doing nothing about anything 😉

      Jo February 4, 2015 at 10:19 pm #
  2. Hi Jo,
    I have sentimental stuff from my grandmother. After she passed, I was given the opportunity to pick through her stuff and take what I liked. I took home 3 garbage bags of stuff! I’ve reduced it to 3 boxes. I know I don’t need to hang onto everything but there’s also a sense that once I let go of this stuff, I’ll never get it back again. Is there a way I can declutter and yet hold onto the memories?

    Dani January 30, 2015 at 6:40 am #
    • Jo

      Hi Dani, thank you for your message.
      Inheriting ‘sentimental stuff’ and what to do with it is a common theme!

      Typical of a coach, I turn things around and ask you questions 🙂 What do you mean by “never get it back again”. Is this a tangible statement (these items are unique, of value) or is it a bit more emotional, such as you will lose touch with your grandmother?

      I am also curious about the 3 garbage bags of stuff. What was it about these items you ‘liked’ that drew you to them? How were you able to reduce it down to three boxes? Could you apply that strategy to reducing further? It appears to me that you are a decluttering kind of person so whatever your ‘minimalist’ philosophy is toward other areas in your life, view these items through that same lens here.

      An interesting activity would be to sit down and spend a few moments (without these objects) thinking about your grandmother. What is it about her that you want to carry with you through your life? Then think of one or two items in the boxes that really represent that memory of her and pull them out. Then imagine that the rest of the stuff ‘lived elsewhere’ (I like to say that phrase rather than ‘is gone’. These items don’t disappear – they will serve a purpose to someone else). Depending on how this feels, you may be able to part with the bulk of the items quickly. If not, store away the rest if you can’t part with them quite yet. Live with that arrangement for awhile and if that satisfies you, then let go of what is stored. If you need some support in doing so, bring over a favourite person to go through this exercise with you.

      I would love to hear about your progress!

      p.s. Last year I had a discussion on my Facebook page about letting go of stuff. I wrote about it in this post: There are some great comments from others about their process with decluttering. I think you would find it fascinating!

      Jo February 2, 2015 at 9:38 am #
      • Jo

        If I may share two stories about ‘inheriting’.

        When my step-father died, he offered to me and my siblings an opportunity to walk around the house and pick out things that we really liked, inspired good memories, etc. I chose a 70s jazz album that we used to listen to together (he had an extraordinary collection!) and two of his photographs in frames that I admired. Since then, I lost the album in a move but after years of hunting I found a CD version that I have since turned digital. The frames, although top quality, became out of style so I donated those and scanned the photos. I still have them in my digital collection. My favourite thing of all though are photos (digital of course!) of him during the time we knew each other and there are interesting stories I still recount about him.

        A lovely friend of mine, along with his family, just downsized their parents’ home of 60 years. You can imagine the stuff! They made a real party out of it, laughing and crying at all the treasures hidden away. My friend brought home with him a few trinkets to give to people he thought would enjoy them (he gave me a pretty necklace that he knew would match a favourite outfit of mine) and for himself one favourite chair. Knowing his own penchant for collecting too much stuff, he confided how happy he was to live in a different province and couldn’t afford to ship too much. A good lesson.

        Jo February 2, 2015 at 9:52 am #
  3. Hi,
    Not a question really but a comment.
    This past year has been tough so I have emptied out a lot (things and people). I just felt like I needed to. I know I did the right thing but it has felt a bit empty – I thought I would feel happier. What you say about deciding what to replace it all with makes sense to me! It is time for me to put some effort in to find better relationships to surround myself with. And I’ll think about more happy things to do.

    Jules January 27, 2015 at 9:35 pm #
    • Jo

      Thank you for your comment.
      I have written before about how minimalism reveals to me ‘my truth’. Clutter is a great barrier to seeing what is really happening (or not happening!) in your life. The transformation of simplifying can be a bit sobering sometimes. But this is what appeals to me about minimalism – how can I welcome in joy and satisfaction if there is no room to do so? With a cleared path, so to speak, I find it easier to make way for good decisions. Like you stated, it does take some effort. But the beauty of it all is that you get to choose – design what will happen next!

      Jo January 27, 2015 at 9:46 pm #
  4. Hi!
    The idea of minimalism keeps showing up in my life so I have started talking about it at home. I do feel like we have too much stuff and we’re doing too much. My husband’s response has been lukewarm but it might be the way I’m describing it. How do you suggest approaching it with someone who may not be on board?

    Susana January 21, 2015 at 10:38 pm #
    • Jo

      Thank you Susana for your question!
      I suggest to start exploring the topic on your own. There are many stories out there about people ‘mentally, emotionally and physically decluttering’ and many have families. Take note of what they do, why and what are their results. See what resonates with you. This may help you figure out exactly what appeals to you about simplifying life and therefore you may be able to articulate your desire to your husband. Besides mentioning how reducing things may work for you personally, you could also talk about some of the subsequent outcomes such as saving money and time, reducing cleaning and environmental impact.

      Then start first with slowly applying what you have discovered to your own possessions and activities. Chat with him along the way about your experience and he will get to see what it means to you. After awhile, he may be influenced by your changes and may wish to join in regarding his own life and your joint connections. Yet still, he may not.

      Very generally speaking, minimalism works for some people because they feel blocked, overwhelmed etc with their current situation and wish to do something about it. It can give them a sense of freedom and joy. Others may feel that things are fine the way they are so they aren’t drawn to make these changes. Even if your husband doesn’t get into it, he will of course want to support you with your endeavours but may not want to be pushed into it for his own life.

      For the joint areas of your relationship, this is the part where couples compromise so at least some movement can happen there for you. But you will make efforts to respect his wishes as well. And who knows? Perhaps he will surprise you and join in wholeheartedly! Only time will tell.

      Jo January 21, 2015 at 11:02 pm #
      • Thanks Jo. I like how you remind us to be respectful and compromise, LOL.
        Okay, I can do this. Alot of stuff in our attic and basement is mine anyways so I will start there.We’ll see what he thinks of it!

        Susana January 27, 2015 at 9:50 pm #
        • Jo

          Let me know how it goes!

          Jo January 27, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

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