Ask 100 different people living a minimalist philosophy to define the practice and you likely will get 100 different answers.
Living a minimalist lifestyle has its roots in the Japanese tenets of simplicity and harmony with one’s surroundings. Its modern expression doesn’t need to involve limiting your possessions to 100 items or relocating to a tiny house; each minimalist tweaks the idea to fit his or her lifestyle, objectives and philosophy.
Not only does living a minimalist life free up the money needed to buy more stuff, it frees up time, energy and money spent maintaining, repairing and cleaning that stuff.
Click through to see how to live minimally and comfortably without spending a lot.
Unclutter Your Current Surroundings
You don’t have to move into a tiny house to start living like a minimalist. Start with decluttering one room at a time and sell or donate anything you haven’t used in the past year.
“Remember that your life is also measured in moments as well as money,” said green designer and artist Pablo Solomon. “The less time you must spend on routine cleaning and maintenance, the more time you have for other things that you might value more.”
Swedish Death Clean
Not only does an afternoon of “Swedish death cleaning” sound more fun than decluttering, the thought behind it benefits your loved ones. You get rid of unnecessary clutter so that those you leave behind don’t have to do this task when you pass away. Getting rid of all of that stuff has another benefit in our lives. Having fewer possessions makes our lives simpler and less stressful.
Use the Blue Dot System
Getting rid of seldom-used stuff is basic to minimalist life. Over the course of a month, place an adhesive blue dot on the underside of each item you use, such as kitchen appliances, exercise equipment and other items in your home. At the end of the month, sell or donate to charity anything that doesn’t have a blue dot. This also is a way to check yourself should you feel your home getting cluttered in the future.
Schedule Time to Downsize
It’s easy to procrastinate or linger over downsizing your home. Schedule specific hours to work on the task. Rita Wilkins, president of Design Services, Ltd., said she enlisted the help of friends to work on one area of her home for four or five hours one day per week to help her downsize from a 5,000-square-foot house to an 867-square-foot apartment in a one-year timeframe, she shared in her 2017 TEDx talk. Downsizing your home ahead of a move will save you money since you won’t need to move or store items.
Don’t Hesitate, Don’t Look Back
Pack up items you’re getting rid of in boxes or black garbage bags and seal them. At the end of each decluttering session, take the boxes to the nearest donation site. Storing them in your home or garage will just tempt you to review your decisions and reclaim things based on emotion. The donation receipt from your local charity can help save you money during tax time, and knowing your item went to a good cause will allay any bouts of donor’s remorse.
Never pay for a storage unit to store your stuff instead — it’s always a terrible idea.
Change Your Surroundings
Getting away from all of your stuff — such as moving into a smaller dwelling — can be the best way to divest yourself of it. Give yourself a few weeks to transition to your new digs. Move with just the bare necessities, such as a bed, couch and dishes. Retrieve what you feel you must have during the next two weeks. Hire a yard-sale company or estate-sale firm to sell the rest, and enjoy getting a check from the proceeds.
You can use downsizing to get out of debt, too. Tiny living helped this couple pay off more than $200,000 in debt.
Become a Landlord
Moving into a smaller home often comes with a smaller price tag, but you might be able to make money in the process, too. Sandra Shaud, a mortgage broker and an expert on real estate for retirement, suggested buying a two- to four-unit property with as little as 3.5 percent down using an FHA mortgage program. “Live in one unit and collect rents from the other units, which greatly reduces your monthly cash outlay,” she said.
Not only do your tenants help make your mortgage payment, but you’ll live rent free and have an income once the property is paid off as your property value appreciates.
Living like a minimalist requires a place for everything so that you know what you have and can avoid making duplicate purchases.
“One of the things we see a lot with our clients is multiple purchases,” said professional organizer Ben Soreff of H2H Organizing. “They know they have items like light bulbs or toilet paper, but they can’t find them so they buy again.” Designate a specific spot for everything to avoid buying items you already own.
Ditch Retail Therapy
If garage sales, thrift stores or retail blowout sales give you joy, living a minimalist lifestyle is going to be tricky. The very act of shopping gives you a dopamine rush that causes a feeling of happiness, but you can find it in other ways. “Switch from accumulating stuff to focusing on experiences or spending time with friends and family,” Soreff said.
Make Yourself Wait
The same chemical that brings pleasure from buying things also can make it difficult to resist the urge, leading to impulse purchases. In the book “The Inner World of Money,” authors Marty Martin and William F. Martin recommend waiting 24 hours to buy any items that aren’t on your necessity list. As dopamine dies down, logic can take control, helping you avoid collecting clutter and blowing your budget. The authors recommend a 30-day waiting period for luxury buys such as jewelry or a hot tub.
Buy One, Release Two
One of the best tips for a minimalist lifestyle is to get rid of an item every time you buy one. Challenge yourself to part with two or more items for each new purchase and decide how you’ll dispose of the items when you get home. These extra planning steps can help counteract dopamine-fueled impulses that will cost you money you hadn’t planned on spending.
Quit Going to the Grocery Store
Everybody has to eat, but grocery stores are designed to entice you into leaving with more products than you came in to get. Avoid the store altogether by creating a list of staples you can fill monthly through Amazon Pantry and get fresh produce and meats from your local farmers’ markets. Make your list while browsing your own pantry. Just like in brick-and-mortar grocery stores, avoid shopping in either place when hungry and stick to your list.
Buy in Bulk
From Amazon, buy things you use regularly in bulk, such as pantry staples and sundries. Get a big bottle of your favorite hand lotion and put some into travel-size containers to tuck in your purse or keep on your nightstand instead of buying lotion plus a hand cream.
Buying in Bulk: Does Your Dollar Really Go Further at Costco?
Save money the next time you buy furniture by designing a minimalist living room. Get furniture that has reclining sections to eliminate the need for an ottoman. Raise the legs for easy access to vacuum underneath. Forgo a coffee table and use light, skinny tables on each side of your couch where you can set your drink while watching TV. Use velcro to attach the remote control to the underside to keep the tabletop uncluttered.
Craft a Capsule Kitchen
Save space, money and time prepping food by taking the capsule kitchen challenge, in which you limit your food items to 33 basic ingredients. The list doesn’t include spices, oils or other flavor enhancers, and you can change the list every three months to reflect seasonal availability. Gather a list of core recipes where you can mix and match your ingredient list, and you’ll never wonder “what’s for dinner” or let food go to waste.
“Cooking great food doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on fancy equipment,” chef Gordon Ramsay has said. “Get some basic equipment and you’ll be set in the kitchen.” In his kitchen kit video, he recommends just 17 pieces of kitchen equipment, including two saucepans, one frying pan, a casserole dish, a roasting tray and a baking sheet.
You don’t need to spend money on the latest gadgets to prep your meals, either. Ramsay says you’ll be well set using three knives, a pestle and mortar, a chopping board, kitchen scale, sieve, grater and peeler. In fact, you can outfit your entire kitchen for under $120.
Eliminate Disposable Products
Living a minimalist life includes eliminating products you have to buy over and over. You’ll find minimalist lifestyle tips on the internet for eliminating everything from plastic baggies to dryer sheets to save money and cut down on clutter. For example, lambswool balls — or even tennis balls — can eliminate the expense of dryer sheets and save money on electricity by drying clothes faster. A French press not only takes up less room in the kitchen than a drip coffee maker, but it delivers gourmet coffee without waste for pennies a cup.
Make Products do Double Duty
The average household spends $42 a month on cleaning supplies, according to consumer spending statistics compiled by Statistic Brain. Keep the house clean for a lot less using everyday products such as distilled white vinegar, club soda and tea tree oil. The environmentally friendly combo performs best when freshly made and is as effective as bleach against E. coli on ceramic, according to a 2015 study by The Society for Applied Microbiology.
Join Project 333
The brainchild of “Soulful Simplicity” author Courtney Carver, Project 333 issues a challenge to live for three months at a time with just 33 items in your wardrobe. Those items include shoes, outerwear, jewelry and accessories as well as your daily wardrobe, but not pajamas, workout clothes, wedding rings and loungewear. Box up and store — or give away — items you don’t love. The project saves you money by giving you the confidence to look great in less time, leaving you more time to focus on things that really matter, such as finances, success and time with loved ones.
Share a Wardrobe
Remember when you used to share favorite clothes with your sister, best friend or college roommate? Just because you’re “adulting” doesn’t mean wardrobe sharing is off-limits. Invest in a solid fashion piece and take turns having it in your closet. Minimalist blogger and fashionista Jenny Mustard takes it one step further, mixing and matching wardrobes with husband David to create her one-of-a-kind look. Sharing a wardrobe is just one of dozens of ways to save money on clothes.
Ignore Sales Emails
Living a minimalist lifestyle involves cutting down on clutter in every facet of your life, including your email. Unsubscribe from emails from store credit cards to get “money-saving” offers designed to make you spend money. Although you’ll never be able to completely avoid emails trying to sell you more stuff, email programs such as Gmail make it easy to sort and mass-delete offers from unknown senders or to unsubscribe from email lists.
Buy a Used Car
Downsizing your home isn’t the only way to enjoy a minimalist life. “Many people buy new cars and trade them in every two or three years, and they constantly owe a car payment,” said Sharon Marchisello, author of “Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy.”
Get a mechanically sound car that is two to three years old and plan to keep it for a number of years. Not only will you save money on car payments, the cost to register and insure an older vehicle is lower, too.
Park Your Car
Some minimalists choose to live without a vehicle, saving money on insurance, fuel and repairs. Walking, biking, ride-share services and public transit are all good options if you live in areas that make it easy to go car-free. For more rural areas, check out apps such as Waze Carpool and AYA Carpooling to see if others in your area travel similar routes. Be sure to contact your insurance company to reap discounts for low mileage and usage-based habits.
Read Books on Your Phone
Downsizing your library doesn’t mean you can’t curl up and read a good book. Listen to audiobooks on Spotify or Audible or check out free e-books through online libraries. Other free e-book sites include Open Library — it hooks into vast libraries, including Project Gutenberg and WorldCat — to connect you with more than 20 million titles. See 74 more things you can get for free.
Quit the Subscriptions
Whether it’s a monthly magazine or the latest pet-toy-of-the-month club, your subscriptions are defeating your minimalist life in more ways than one. Even minimalist subscription boxes can leave you with odd items that you end up stuffing in a drawer or leave lying on the table. Keep purchases intentional to avoid getting billed $10 to $100 in unnecessary monthly expenses and keep clutter out of your space.
Change How You Train
Save money by canceling your gym membership and jettison your home exercise equipment. Try these cheap workout trends instead.
“Instead of paying for a gym membership or a league, I found a group of guys that play at the local park,” said Phil Risher, who shares how he paid off $30,000 worth of student-loan debt in a year on his blog Young Adult Survival Guide. He also hikes local trails with his dog, using the occasion to spend time with people he knows. “Instead of going out with friends, I invite them to go hiking with my dog and me,” Risher said.
Make a Budget, Track Expenses
After downsizing your home and expenses, remember to downsize your budget to match. You’re less likely to fritter away the extra money if you write it into the budget for paying down debt, building investments or saving toward a vacation fund. Track your expenses to hold yourself accountable. Couples can use apps such as Honeydue or Better Haves to track mutual expenditures, and Amazon’s Order History Reports give you a breakdown of everything you spent on the site during any specified time period.
Try one of these 15 easy-to-use budget templates.
Get a Hobby
“We waste so much money when we’re bored, unhappy or feel like we should treat ourselves,” Mustard said. “Having something to do that is rewarding, fun and mentally satisfying can help so much with staying away from those online shopping sites. We don’t have to shop to be happy.” It also can help you avoid spending money on things like pay-per-view movies by keeping your hands and mind busy and discovering a deeper sense of fulfillment.
Scale Back Your Work Week
Wilkins reported that after downsizing from her spacious country home to a city apartment, she now lives comfortably on just 5 percent of her former income. But that wasn’t the only benefit. “A ripple effect of downsizing is that I also downsized my company’s work week for a better work/life balance,” she said. “We now work three days and we play four. And we actually grew the company by 27 percent last quarter.”
Find Your Inspiration
Wilkins’ journey to success through downsizing started with a trip to Senegal, where she saw people who lived with far less than most but were filled with joy. Find your own source of minimalist inspiration. Ideas could range from visiting a tiny-house village in the United States to traveling across the world on a Workaway vacation where you volunteer your time in exchange for a place to stay with local families.