What Minimalism Looks Like for Us
Over the last few years, our family of four embarked on a journey to do the opposite of what most do in our society today: minimize our lives, reduce debt, and pursue a life of meaning and purpose. This led us to have the freedom to leave our full time jobs and start two businesses in the same two years we had kids. It sounds pretty crazy looking at it on paper, and in reality it was. However, none of this would have been possible without taking the first step of minimizing the clutter in our lives.
For many, the word minimalism brings up images of depriving oneself the finer things in life. But this could not be further from the truth, and the beauty of minimalism is how it can fit any lifestyle. Minimalism looks different for everyone and that is what makes it so beautiful. As the Minimalists say, it is a tool to make space for a meaningful life.
For those who think it is not possible to embark on a minimalist journey with kids, we are here to show you otherwise. Here is what our process of minimalism looked like as a family of four.
Step 1: The Budget
Our first step toward minimalism was to get a handle on everything we were spending and set a realistic budget that allowed for saving. And yes, it was as intimidating as it sounds. Facing the reality of looking at our income in relation to debt and spending is easy to continue to set aside. It’s just not fun to look at.
We took this initial first step by starting an account on Mint.com that allowed us to look at our bank accounts, student loan debt, mortgage, and credit cards all in one place. Having a view of everything was the critical step to planning a realistic budget. It was initially unpleasant to look at, but the difficult things in life often lead to the most meaningful change. We had always been somewhat financially mindful even before this point, and had always paid off our credit card every month. The majority of our debt was auto loan, student loan, and mortgage. We had the habit of tracking our spending for years, but had never stuck to a strict budget.
Step 2: Develop Conscious Spending Habits
After we became aware of what was incoming and outgoing, the next step was to eliminate unneccesary expenses and change our spending habits. Again, this step will look very different for everyone! This part of the process happened in phases, and is still ongoing. We started by implementing some simple spending rules for ourselves.
Our initial rules were:
- Wait 30 days before buying a non-consumable item.
- No new items other than consumables for my husband or myself, used items are allowed.
It took a lot of training to get comfortable sticking to our rules, but again progress is made in zones of discomfort. These rules helped us face the reality of how reflexive our spending had become. And at first glance, the rules look like they are based on depriving ourselves but that could not have been further from the truth. While we went through this process, we also developed the habit of focusing on gratitude for the things we have in life that we really value.
Of course, we had a few moments where a much-used kitchen appliance like the food processor would break, but we did not let ourselves replace it right away even though we knew we likely would in the future. Learning to live without something even briefly, be uncomfortable, and learn something from it is a skill. We refined our skill to live without and pleasantly surprised ourselves. The no spending rules also become a fun game!
Step 3: Enter the Decluttering…
The next big step was minimizing what we currently had in our home. Anyone who walks into our home currently would likely not label us as minimalists. But through limiting spending, focusing on gratitude, and finding a new home for items in our house that no longer had meaning to us we were able to curate a life that made sense for us.
We had so many perfectly good items that were just not serving a purpose for us, but we knew if we found them the right home they could serve a useful purpose for someone else.
There many different ways one can go through the process of decluttering, including donating, recyling, or selling. There is much debate over which of these methods is best, but I would recommend trying them all to find what makes sense for you. For us the surprising answer was to focus on selling our items, which is usually the least recommended path toward decluttering a home. Let me explain why this route made so much sense for us.
Why We Opted to Sell Before Donating
When we first started to minimize, the process began with my own wardrobe. It was not pleasant to realize how many clothing items that I just “had to have” at one point in time, that had only been worn once or not at all. When we first started, we focused on donating but I quickly found the task of mindlessly putting clothes in a bag to take to a donation center was not doing anything to help me change my spending habits. The gravity of how each of these items was impacting my life in a negative way did not hit me.
So instead, I focused on selling the items that were still in good condition (which was nearly all of them). By carefully inspecting each item, taking pictures, writing a description, and setting a price on Ebay it forced me to make the process very mindful. My closet alone took 3 months to get down to only the items I was using. After all of that work, I knew I never wanted to go through that process again and it made me a much more conscious consumer.
Maintaining a lifestyle focused on the meaningful things in life is never ending, but the benefits are beyond worth it. As stated above, the path toward a meaningful life looks different for everyone and minimalism is just one of the tools used to get there. We frequently revisit each of the above steps on a regular basis and make adjustments as needed. We changed our life to focus on quality time spent with our loved ones, pursuing work full of purpose, and having experiences rather than focus on accumulation of material goods.
We hope by sharing a snapshot of our journey, we can inspire others to start a journey of their own! Have you also taken steps toward living a meaningful life? We would love to hear about it in the comment section!
Looking For More On Minimalism? Start Here.
Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Essential: Essays by the Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
The More of Less by Joshua Becker