Becoming a Minimalist: A How-To Guide

By Christine Fonner | December 4, 2013

My dad had this habit of calling me Imelda Marcos growing up. I had a thing for shoes. And handbags. And cute jackets. I converted a bedroom into a big closet and I filled it up.

After four years of living to work rather than working to live, I had a revolutionary moment: I started purging all of my stuff. I felt trapped and weighed down. It was time to re-prioritize. Over the last three years, I have gone through several phases of becoming a “minimalist.” There is no proper way of getting this done.There is no secret formula that makes it really easy to get rid of all of your “stuff.” It’s a process that takes time to sort out and to begin minimizing your inventory and then looking at material possessions differently.

If you are looking to live out of a few bags, one room, or your car, this Guide may prove to be helpful.

This is my How-To Guide to Becoming a Minimalist.

Phase 1: The Initial Purge

I originally wrote about “How I Became a Minimalist” in November, 2011. At the time, I thought I was really becoming a minimalist. Looking back, I wasn’t a minimalist. I had just REDUCED the amount of stuff I had. This is now referred to as “The Initial Purge.”

Step 1:  Downsize. In order for me to take the first step seriously, I actually got rid of my house. I know this might be drastic. It’s not necessary but it definitely helps. If this isn’t practical, then I suggest setting up “The Rule.” 

Step 2: Establish “The Rule.” If it hasn’t been used or worn in —– months, then it goes in the pile. It’s important not to make exceptions unless it’s a family heirloom or something you aren’t really ready to part with yet. Don’t worry, you’ll part with it at some point. 

Step 3: Create “Sell” and “Give Away” Piles. One of the most rewarding things about initially getting rid of your stuff is the money you can make from it. This provides you with some positive incentive to keep getting rid of stuff. Sell it, bank it, and enjoy the freedom of less stuff.

Step 4: Become an Expert on eBay and Craigslist. This may be a hard step because there is a lull in the action. Your perfectly good stuff now has to SIT THERE while it waits to be purchased by some other pack rat. You’ll be tempted to pull something out of the pile. You’ll be discouraged by the mess that sits in the corner. Hang tight. Once the stuff sells (or doesn’t) you get to take a nice healthy trip to Goodwill. 

Step 5: Salvation Army Truck Day. So, that lava lamp your ex-girlfriend gave you for Christmas five years ago didn’t sell. Neither did your nun-chucks and samurai sword.   It’s time to donate. Call up your local Salvation Army and help them help people in need. They will come to your house with a big truck and pick up all the furniture, clothing, and odd-ball items you don’t want and they will do it for FREE.

Congratulations. You have completed Phase 1!

Phase 2: The Real Purge

So, you are proud of getting rid of that initial pile of your worldly possessions. You leave thinking, “That wasn’t so hard!” and you are ready for Phase 2. This is where the releasing of your possessions becomes hard. Sentiment may get in the way. “Man, I love that worn in Black Flag shirt…” and when the “Well, I might use that third flashlight I found in the closet sometime soon…” kicks in.

Step 1: Change “The Rule.” Cut your rule in half. That’s right. Cut it in half. If your rule was, “I haven’t worn or used this in one year…” it’s now 6 months. If it was 6 months, it’s now 3. 

Step 2: Start with the Clothes. We all have way too many clothes. Especially shirts. Be systematic and start with the drawers – socks, t-shirts, pajama bottoms. If it hasn’t been used according to your new rule, put it in the “Give Away” or “Sell” pile. Do the same for the closet. Start with shirts, then pants, then dresses (if you are into that kind of thing). 

Step 3: The House Tour. Now it’s time to move beyond your clothes. Walk around your house and pick items that you are “ready” to get rid of. Paintings, books, dishes, DVDs, chachkies. The Rule applies to everything. If you aren’t ready to part with something yet, that’s okay…for now. Put it down and move on to find something else.

Step 4: Another Round of eBay and Craigslist. You are now, by all means, becoming an expert on these two sites. You may have even thrown Pennysaver into the mix. You are starting to get a surge of excitement every time you look at your PayPal balance. 

Step 5: The Repeater. You are really proud of all that hard work! You have a big pile of stuff! You are selling like no other and dropping bags off at Goodwill to the point you are on a first-name basis with the collector. No. It’s not enough! You aren’t done yet, my friend. Phase 2 isn’t over. Are you SURE you need that piggy bank from grandma? Do you really need a set of 12 wine glasses? Repeat Steps 1-4.

Congratulations. You have completed Phase 2!

Phase 3: You Are Legit

Step 1: Choosing Your Storage Method. It’s time to become mobile. Your house is no longer your home. Where your possessions reside is where you reside. You are ready to hit the road, sleep on a buddy’s couch, or take a long and much needed sabbatical. It’s time to pick how you are going to carry your belongings with you. Initially, I chose two Action Packers, three 90 liter Patagonia Black Hole travel duffel bags, and two Arcyterx 40 liter Silo backpacks.

Step 2: Pack It Up, Pack It In. It is time to organize your personal possessions by type or season. The Action Packers are used for hard goods: books, important papers, photos, mementos, shoes, and oddball items (I couldn’t let go of that fishing reel from grandpa). The Patagonia bags are used for seasonal items and camping gear: Winter, Summer, Camping/Outdoor. Being type A, I color coded these (orange – summer, blue – winter, and black – outdoors) and then wrote the type using Vis-a-Vis pens on the outside of the bag. The Arcteryx backpacks are used for your wardrobe.

Step 3: The Leftovers. Inevitably, you are going to have some random leftovers that just don’t fit into this new method of storage. That’s okay. You have now chosen your “essentials” that fit into your “If shit hits the fan and I gotta run, I am grabbing my bags and running.” You’ve done a pretty dang good job of pairing your shit down. To fix this problem of leftovers, repeat Step 5, Phase 2 repeatedly until everything fits.

Step 4: 50 Shades of Bathroom Products (Usually Applies to Girls Only). Now, if you are a girl, you have more than likely excluded bathroom products. These are usually in tubs, bins, and boxes already so in your mind, it’s already packed up and packed in. These are usually also considered essentials. How could I possibly get ready without three moisturizers, two types of chapsticks, four hair products, and two hair brushes? Impossible! Well, it is possible. Buy smart. Using quality products means you can use less product. To work this whole bathroom thing out, I chose one plastic drawer bin for medicine, backup products, and general items. I then re-purposed two makeup travel bags: one for makeup and the other for my daily items (moisturizer, cover up, chapstick, lip gloss, travel hair brush, tweezers, etc.).

Step 5: Survival for Two Weeks. Everything is organized. You are mobile and you have gotten rid of 75% of your possessions. Now it is time to put it all to the test. Pick items that you will need for the next two weeks. Clothing, toiletries, books, water bottle, etc. Whatever you think you are going to need for two weeks, pack it into those Arcteryx bags. This is another opportunity to do another “purge.” Now that you have your daily essentials picked out, pack up your boxes and bags and put them in your closet, pack it into your car, or just generally put it away so you can’t see or use them.

Bonus Step: Living in Survival Mode. Test out your minimalist status. Try to stick to the items in your Survival Pack for two weeks. Continue to re-think items in your inventory. Is there anything else that you can get rid of? Anything else you don’t need anymore? 

Congratulations! You have completed Phase 3 and are now a Bonefied Minimalist!

Phase 4: Reflection and Maintenance

*This process began for me in 2011. I am constantly revisiting the Phases and Steps to try and maintain a level of minimal possessions. Being in one spot for an extended period of time, I think it’s in our nature to collect and nest. Over three years, I have completed the three phases and have now paired down my possessions so they fit into the back of a Subaru and I can hit the road. I can pack up all of my things in 45 minutes flat.

*The most important gain out of the process of becoming a minimalist is the new way you start looking at purchasing items. My new motto is, “If I can’t use it more than three ways, I don’t need it.” Everything I own, I use every day. Usually, in multiple ways. Before I buy something new, I think about the depth of need, the ways I could use it, and if it fits into my storage set up.

*Another really important view I started understanding on a deeper level was the amount of waste and unnecessary crap we manufacture, distribute, and waste money on. I also started to existentially think about how this impacts the world, environment, and my quality of life. Yes, I guess you could say that becoming a minimalist can bring out the hippie in you.

*To be a true minimalist, you have to purge and then maintain. Look at your purchases constantly with a critical eye and only buy to replace what you use or to fill a gap in your daily routine necessities.

Need more information? Need help or motivation? Don’t hesitate to contact me at christine@roamlife.com

Copyright 2013. Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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5 thoughts on “Becoming a Minimalist: A How-To Guide

  1. Pingback: Becoming a Minimalist: A How-To Guide | Roam Life

  2. I have recently felt the need to enter what you are terming phase one … I think I will take some of these tips to get it done. My goals are probably not going to take me much further than stage one since I really just want to reduce, to make my now small feeling home feel a little more spacious, but I think these tips will help reduce the amount of stuff I hold on to ‘just incase’ or for sentiment

    • Thanks for sending a comment my way and I am glad you found this post helpful. Whether it’s just doing a basic downsize or you want to hit the road with a backpack, the process starts the same. I hope your downsizing goes well!

  3. This is the best ‘how to be minimalist’ guide I have come across. I’m ashamed to say I am probably still hovering around phase 1, it’s been a very slow process for me but I feel like I’m now ready to be strict with myself and tackle phase 2. Thanks for giving me the push I needed.

    • I am really glad you have found this guide helpful! Simplifying your life is always a process and don’t be hard on yourself is you are still in phase 1. Remember, this has taken me three years and I am still constantly revisiting the phases! I would love to have you check back in and let me know how you are doing and what your goals are!

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