The moment I realized I had too much stuff came as I was preparing for my first backpacking trip to Africa. I had to decide what to take and what to leave behind. Looking through my decidedly pre-minimalist closet, I discovered I hadn’t worn 75 percent of my clothes and thought, “Why do I have so much shit?!”
The worst part of it all was learning that 75 percent of my closet was worth about $3,000. I actually spent $3,000 on things I never even ended up using.
Backpacking in Africa completely woke me up. The families I spent time with had very little, but they didn’t seek for more. They were content. Happy. They had everything they needed. I wanted to live like that.
When I came back from my travels, I returned to my daunting closet and removed everything I had in it. The only items I put back in my closet were the ones in my backpack. I knew that as a traveler minimalism was important to me, but now I wanted to live a simpler, more enriched lifestyle.
Adopting minimalism in my daily life meant realising that all the stuff I currently had did not define me as a human being. My possessions did not reflect what brought me joy, or who I was. I wanted to live a lifestyle that is representative of what matters to me, and none of this stuff mattered.
I did not need an excessive amount of clothing—what was important to me was forming real human connections.
So I asked myself, “If I had less and appreciated what I had more, does that mean I can experience and appreciate my life and relationships more?” The answer was yes.
Becoming a master minimalist isn’t about having less things. It’s about figuring out what truly matters to you, and appreciating what you already have.
Here are a few things that helped me during my minimalist journey.
1. Identify your essentials.
Write down what you absolutely need to use every single day. Be as descriptive as possible. For example, instead of writing ‘clothes,’ write out ‘shirt, jeans, socks.’ List it all down: your keys, wallet, phone, toothbrush…these are your essentials. The more detailed you are, the easier it will be for you to decide what to let go.
Here is the backpacking list that inspired my minimalist lifestyle:
Four-Month Travel Checklist
- Two pairs of pants
- One long sleeve shirt
- One t-shirt
- Two tank tops
- One bra
- One rain jacket
- Five pairs of underwear
- One swimsuit
- Sseko sandals
- Shampoo/body wash
- Hair brush
- Hair ties
- Prescription drugs: Ciprofloxacin, Probiotic, Imodium
- Bug spray
- Passport and visas
2. Ask yourself what adds value to your life versus what is collecting dust.
This is the hardest part: being honest with yourself. As I was going through my belongings it was really easy for me to decide what stayed and what had to go. I realised I cycle through an essential core group of clothing (and things) that I always came back to. Those were the keepers.
If it was ‘collecting dust,’ meaning if I hadn’t worn a piece of clothing or an accessory in a long time, or if I couldn’t remember why I had a certain item, it had to go. The process can get tricky with items that hold sentimental, emotional value.
For example, I adore my record collection. While I don’t need to have all these records, however, I still listen to them consistently, and doing so brings me joy. On the other other hand, I do not need for clothes that I do not wear to still be hanging around in my closet. I don’t need them because I don’t use them.
If you are having trouble with this process, I suggest checking out Courtney Carver’s Project 333, a minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress yourself with 33 items or less for three months!
3. Get rid of the fluff.
Begin separating what goes into the donate box and what goes into the sell box. You absolutely should not throw things away as that would be a waste!
If you’re having trouble figuring out what to donate or sell, call your local thrift stores, or even ask any friends or family if they need anything that you may have. Clutter can create such a negative force in your living space. You’ll feel refreshed and find peace when you let go of things you don’t need in your home.
4. Consume less.
We are told by the media that we need to buy new clothes to keep up with the trends. What makes it so easy is that it’s not expensive to do so, thanks to fast fashion companies like H&M and Forever21.
When you achieve Step 2 on this list, however, consuming less comes second nature. Whenever you are faced with the decision to buy, buy only what you need, and only buy things that are of higher quality, that are sustainable, and that are ethically made. Part of consuming less is consuming consciously.
5. Minimise your waste.
Going zero waste helped me become a minimalist. During the transition, I had to think about everything I used and make sure it would never end up in a landfill.
Living zero waste means everything has to serve a purpose. Instead of buying plastic disposable razors, I bought a safety razor. Instead of plastic water bottles, I bought myself a Klean Kanteen. My inspiration? Check out Trash Is For Tossers. By minimising your waste, you’re already minimising your consumption of things you don’t need.
Are you ready to become a minimalist?
What is important for you to understand is that you cannot turn into a minimalist overnight. Take your journey toward minimalism one step at a time, and as you develop a conscious understanding of what is truly important to you, you’ll become a better, happier, and more fulfilled individual, surrounded by what you truly value in your life.