Minimalist living has become very popular in the last few years, as many of us look for ways to consume less and find fulfillment outside of material wealth. But is it realistic to become a minimalist, especially if you have a family?
I say yes, and here’s why:
For me, living a minimalist lifestyle wasn’t a conscious decision that I made one day. It happened more out of necessity and circumstance. It was a slow and somewhat unintentional transition.
I went from a typical consumerist lifestyle to one of realizing that less is more. I’ve come to realize that I actually enjoy owning less stuff, and I promise that you can, too!
Based on my experience, here’s how to become a minimalist without even trying:
Can your life fit into your car?
You have to pack your life up into a mid-sized sedan. Could you do it?
What can’t you live without to really be happy and comfortable each day? What is absolutely essential to your daily life for health, happiness, and comfort?
In 2008, I packed my life up into a Honda Civic and drove it across the country. I spent 3 weeks on the road from Pennsylvania to Alaska, sleeping in hostels, motels, hotels, a tent, and even the car.
Looking back on it now, I have to laugh, because I packed some of the most impractical and silly things for my summer in the Last Frontier (Alaska). I had just left Florida Florida, so naturally, I thought it was perfectly reasonable to bring my wardrobe of sundresses and tank tops, in addition to more sensible Alaskan-wear. When you think of Alaska, don’t you think sundresses? I was definitely still stuck in the Florida-living mindset!
What happened during the 3 weeks on the road was that I came to realize just how little I actually needed in order to be comfortable, clean, and happy. Most of what I’d brought along remained packed away until I arrived at my destination. All I truly needed were the basics.
Now, this admittedly becomes a bit tougher once you have kids. They require more “stuff” than a single person seeking adventure. However, you can still apply this mindset when clearing out your kid’s clutter.
Think about what they really need and use on a day to day and weekly basis. Go look in their bedroom right now, and I’m sure you could fill up a box (or several!) with the stuff that never really gets used. Their needs are actually really simple and basic- it’s us parents who make it so much more cluttered and complicated than it has to be!
It’s all about your mindset
Now, I do realize that unless you’re planning a nomadic life on the road, you aren’t going to be packing up your family’s entire life in your car. However, you can still use this mindset as a basis for downsizing, getting rid of the things that you truly don’t need, and adopting a more minimalist lifestyle.
Live out of a suitcase and a carry-on
Now here’s where I really stepped up my minimalist game. That first summer in Alaska, the weather was quite damp and chilly. Never the less, I still managed to wear sundresses on occasion, cold weather be damned! But honestly, I didn’t need half of what I had brought.
By the time that first summer season was over, I ended up having to ship boxes of my stuff back home to Pennsylvania. It was expensive, and I’m sure that I could have lived happily without that random stuff, like books that I’d thrifted, and clothes & accessories that I barely wore. I ended up donating most of it to Goodwill once I was back in PA.
So as I planned for the next summer, I knew just how little I needed to live happily and comfortably. When I flew to Alaska again the following Spring, I packed much smarter. I brought one suitcase with weather-appropriate clothes and shoes, and a single carry on.
I realized that my laptop, my personal care items, and my clothes were all I needed. I had achieved a true minimalist wardrobe, and essentially a minimalist lifestyle!
When it comes to clothing, pick your favorites
Over the next few months in Alaska, I didn’t have to spend an hour stressing over what I’d wear, because I had pared down my choices to a few favorites. I didn’t waste time straightening my hair with a flat-iron or fussing over my footwear options. I wore what was practical and what I liked. I was much more interested in experiencing things, rather than dressing to impress.
When you own less, you literally have less baggage. Less stuff to lug around, less stuff to keep track of, less stuff weighing you down and taking up space.
Ultimately, you find that life is a little easier when you have fewer options to consider when it comes to those material things. You own and enjoy the things that you really, really need and love, and that’s enough!
Those shoes that have been sitting in your closet collecting dust for the last 2 years? Ditch them. You don’t wear them because you don’t like them. They either aren’t your style anymore, or they hurt your feet, or they just don’t go with anything you wear.
When it comes to clothes and shoes, pick your favorites and ditch all the rest.
When I wasn’t working in Alaska, I was outdoors, hiking, walking, and wandering. Prior to that, I wouldn’t really have called myself the outdoorsy type, but the more time I spent enjoying nature, the more I grew to appreciate and love it.
I didn’t spend my free time watching tv, and I barely even checked up on the news. It was so great to build closer connections with the people around me, rather than watching and worrying about the many things I couldn’t control. Nightly entertainment involved walking to waterfalls, or going down to the cruise ship docks and watching the ships pull away.
Spend some time exploring the outdoors, and you’ll quickly realize how much time you’ve wasted sitting in front of a tv, being distracted by shiny things that marketers want to sell you.
Focus on experiences and enjoying the company of others. Spend time outside, even if it’s just your backyard! if you have kids, help them develop a love for nature and an appreciation for the outdoors. Your backyard, a park, a nearby pond- these can all be wonderful places to explore.
When you’re busy exploring, you won’t be worrying as much about how you look, or what you should be buying to “enhance” your lifestyle.
Life can be simple, and rich
In Alaska, I often cooked in a shared kitchen, making do with whatever pots, pans, and utensils were available. I rarely used a microwave. I slept in employee housing and the furniture I had in my room consisted of a bed frame, mattress, dresser, and a desk. Just the essentials.
I didn’t even have a bedspread, so instead, I used my sleeping bag, unzipped. I cooked in a minimalist kitchen, and I slept in my minimalist room. This was how I spent 3 summers up there, and yet I never felt like I was missing out or being deprived of anything. I had become a minimalist, without even trying.
It changed my outlook and changed the way that I think about “stuff”, and what we really need.
Life can be simple and rich. You don’t have to complicate it with all kinds of stuff. Sure, appliances and gadgets can make life more convenient, but whoever said that life should always be convenient?
Sometimes, you end up finding deep satisfaction in simplicity.
Although I’m no longer living life out of a car or a suitcase, I appreciate the minimalist lifestyle that I adopted over those 3 summers. My life is filled with more stuff these days, but I do my very best to minimize. I never want to feel weighed down by my belongings, literally and figuratively speaking.
My minimalist lifestyle is always a work in progress. I prefer it because it helps keep me focused on the things that truly matter in life, like shared experiences with the ones I love. That, and I don’t really like to spend money if I don’t have to!
More on Minimalism: How to Get Rid of Stuff
Do you consider yourself a minimalist? Do you think you could become a minimalist?