Photo by Flickr user Robert Benner.
Contentment is reaching a place of utter serenity and satisfaction with life. Many believe that the more you acquire, the happier you’ll be. However, you will often find that the more you own, the more discontented and unsettled you feel. There is too much in the world to keep us preoccupied, heightening our stress and pulling us in multiple different directions all at once. This is why many people are turning toward minimalism, striving for a simpler life and relief from all the pressures of our society.
Unlike many stories of the minimalist lifestyle you may hear, you don’t need to do something extreme like sell your car or build a tiny house to live in to see a difference in your life. Whether you’re looking for a change in your routine or ways to declutter your house, here are 101 manageable ways to simplify your life. They are sorted into categories for easier navigation.
Photo by Flickr user davidd.
1. Ask yourself some starting questions. If you’ve caught the minimalist bug, it may be tempting to get started on decluttering your home right away, but don’t dive in before establishing your goals. What do you want to accomplish? What rooms need extra attention? How much space do you want to free up, or how much clutter do you want to eliminate?
2. Start with a clean slate when decluttering. Whatever problem area you are working on, it is best to take everything out first. Empty your closet, dump out your dresser drawers, or clean off your desk. It may be overwhelming, but sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better.
3. Sort your items into piles. Organize as you go by designating things as keep, throw away, recycle, give away, sell, or undecided. There are some items that no one else may want or be able to use, which you can dispose of with ease. If you have a local Goodwill or similar organization nearby, you can drop off some of your better stuff there. You can also sell it online through sites like eBay, or Craigslist for local pick-ups of big items. Use the “undecided” pile sparingly and don’t put off your final verdicts for too long.
4. Get rid of clothes you rarely wear. Clothes that are not the right size, are not a flattering cut, shrunk in the wash or have noticeable stains, or possess some other defect that makes you avoid them should be tossed. This also applies to clothes that align with an outdated fad or items you only wore once for a special occasion. Don’t hang on to a certain outfit strictly for its sentimental value.
5. Choose versatile clothing. The easier something is to mix and match with the rest of your wardrobe, the more likely it is that you will wear it. Oddly-colored or specialty pieces greatly narrow down your choices for what to pair with them.
6. Cut down on accessories. You don’t need tons of shoes, hundreds of pairs of earrings, or a purse to match every outfit. Again, keep things that are versatile, as well as your absolute favorites, then get rid of or give away the rest. This also means showing some restraint and not caving every time Claire’s has a store-wide sale.
7. Clean out your medicine cabinet and cut down on beauty products. Try to pare down to the essentials – bandages, antibacterial ointment, pain meds, and so on. Don’t keep medications left over from past surgeries or acne remedies that didn’t work if you aren’t using them. Also, don’t buy into the lie that you need an array of cosmetics to improve your appearance – and even if you do genuinely enjoy makeup, you don’t need every product or shade of eye shadow out there. Doing this will cut down on your prep time in the morning and boost your self-esteem.
8. Invest in multi-functional furniture. Do you occasionally have overnight visitors, but not often enough to warrant furnishing a guest room? Get a futon, sofa bed, or convertible couch. Do you have a lot of stuff to store but no more room for shelves or cabinets? Find a bed, coffee table, or other piece of furniture that features extra storage space. And as we discussed earlier this week, nearly any appliance you can think of is multi-functional!
9. Get rid of rarely-used appliances and dishes. Small appliances may collect in your house or on your countertop, and whether they are well-meaning gifts from wedding guests or reminders of that great idea you had months ago to fix breakfast smoothies, they don’t all need to stick around. Unless you can find some good reason to justify keeping them, such as actually intending to make smoothies in the near future, you should get rid of them. This goes for duplicate kitchen utensils, unused cooking accessories, and excess dishes.
10. Get rid of major appliances. Building on the previous step, some people have found that they can live without owning many major appliances that seem like necessities. You can safely store most foods without a refrigerator, clean clothes without a washer or dryer, and cook meals without a stove. If you think these bulky appliances take up too much space, think smaller or discover other alternatives.
11. Don’t keep something just because you might need it someday. Many of us fall prey to the mindset of holding onto everything “just in case,” but this could quickly lead to clutter. If you haven’t needed it within the past six months, you probably won’t any time soon. Get rid of it, and if somewhere down the line you do end up needing whatever it was, you can always go out and buy a new one.
12. Get rid of items that belong to your “fantasy self.” We all have those somewhat unrealistic visions of what our lives could be like – traveling the globe in style, going on rigorous hiking trips during the summer, attending upscale parties, or spending afternoons in a local coffee shop writing the next best-selling novel. However, many of these things don’t end up panning out, whether we don’t have the means to support them or we simply outgrow them. Either pursue these dreams, or shed the clutter that accompanies them to make room for what you truly see yourself achieving.
13. Don’t simply move clutter into your garage or basement. Out of sight, out of mind does not apply here. You should not avoid the issue of clutter by relocating it somewhere else where you won’t be stepping on it or running into it. Dig through your garage, basement, or other out-of-the-way storage spot to make sure what you are keeping there is worth holding onto.
14. Declutter before organizing. Make sure you’ve cleared out your throw away, recycle, and give away piles before you start organizing. The “sell” pile can be stored somewhere out of sight until every item has found a new home – or if this process is taking too long, you can change your mind and give away whatever is left instead.
15. A place for everything and everything in its place. This is a good rule of thumb to follow when you are organizing your home. Create a system that makes sense and is easy to remember. Label boxes, drawers, totes, trays, and any other storage containers if it helps.
16. Prevent accumulation of clutter. Once your home is in order, make sure it stays that way. Align with the organizational system you have in place. For items you are borrowing, like books from the library or a movie from a friend, designate a temporary storage spot – this way they don’t get mixed in with your belongings, but they aren’t a source of clutter.
17. Process mail as soon as you get it. Sort through your mail when it arrives, tossing any junk mail, ripping up credit card offers, setting aside letters or cards that need responses, and paying bills. This way you have one less thing to think about and it doesn’t start piling up.
18. Put things away as soon as you are done using them. We should really mind the rules we give our children. Like a kid instructed to put his playthings in the toy box when he’s done, we should stash our things when we’re doing using them for the moment. This keeps your space uncluttered and easier to clean.
19. Keep your desk clean. Your desk is a hub of activity. It’s generally where bills get paid, taxes are taken care of, email is checked, and Facebook is surfed. Whether you are using it for work or play, it should be kept tidy and organized.
20. Enjoy without owning. This is a big one. It is entirely possible to love a book, movie, TV series, or other piece of media without owning it. For example, borrowing books recommended by friends from the library saves you money and space – especially if you don’t end up liking them! Invest in your very favorites, and save the space a massive library or DVD collection would’ve taken up for something else.
21. Get rid of one thing a day. If the previously discussed approach to decluttering seems daunting, you could always start small. Resolve to get rid of at least one thing a day that you know you don’t need. Before too long, you’ll be able to notice a difference.
22. Clean as you go. Wash your dishes after you finish a meal. Take care of spills immediately after they happen. If you happen to glimpse something gathering dust, get a dust cloth and take care of the job. Don’t put off these small tasks and allow them to build up into an evening or weekend full of cleaning.
23. Restrict the number of things you collect. Collections and minimalism are largely incompatible, as most collections simply take up too much space to be justified. If you are the kind of person who is prone to starting collections of everything they enjoy, I have two suggestions for alternatives. One is to narrow down your collections to one or two that matter the most, or you can focus on collecting small things that can be stored more easily.
24. Tackle your “category of excess” head-on. We all have those problem areas we know we should work on. There always seems to be that one thing we know we don’t need but want to make excuses and exceptions for. For the Minimalist Packrat, it was her extensive collection of incense and related accessories. Get rid of collections you aren’t passionate about and cut down on hobby-related materials.
25. Prioritize the things that stay. However, if the rest of your house is well-managed and clutter-free, you can give yourself a little leeway. Even the thought of getting rid of all of my books is upsetting, so take my advice: you don’t have to toss everything. Pick what’s important and reserve some space – a precious commodity – for it, while getting rid of the other things that don’t measure up.
Photo by Flickr user Mo Riza.
26. Decrease your media consumption. Many minimalists advocate a media-free lifestyle, because a lot of modern media is saturated in advertising messages that encourage you to buy more stuff, but for some of us our favorite TV shows are just too good to pass up. Instead, I would suggest that you use media more thoughtfully. Engage with media less often, and when you do, make sure that it is something you genuinely enjoy and not just something to kill time.
27. Digitize your media. With modern technology, there are many ways to access the media we want that don’t take up space or require extra equipment to use, like DVD players or gaming systems. Go paperless; read the newspapers and magazines you like online. Download your music from Amazon or iTunes instead of purchasing CDs. Use services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or Amazon to watch TV shows or movies. Consider the Steam gaming platform, which requires no discs or separate systems.
28. Digitize your papers. Impressive collections of papers can build up over time, from greeting cards or letters to receipts and bank statements. Find ways to cut down on how much paperwork you save as much as possible. Obviously you will need to hold onto important things like birth and marriage certificates, but there are ways to digitize almost everything else. You can type up to-do lists, put together spreadsheets, and scan more complex documents.
29. Limit the amount of social networks you use. What baffles me is how interconnected social networks are. There are ways to instantly share the same post or photo through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr simultaneously. My question is – if it’s the same content, why do you need it in so many places? Analyze your social media usage and only keep the accounts that are the most useful and beneficial in helping you connect with the meaningful people in your life.
30. Check your email only twice a day. Only bother with reading and responding to emails once in the morning and once in the evening. The rest of the day, think about other things and try not to get tempted to check.
31. Better manage your inbox. Don’t only cut down on how often you check your email, but also take preventive measures so your inbox won’t be as daunting to tackle. Reduce how many online newsletters you are subscribed to and more aggressively filter spam.
32. Read fewer blogs. There is a lot of interesting content out there, but there are only so many hours in the day. Trim your list of RSS feeds or unfollow Tumblr blogs that are of lesser importance so you have more time to read the posts that actually matter.
33. Declutter your computer’s desktop. Just like your physical desk, your computer’s desktop should be neat and organized. Not to mention the more icons you have, the slower your computer will run, so remove all but your most frequently used shortcuts.
34. Keep your files well-organized. Come up with a logical system of folders for storing all of your files, and give both your folders and the files within them names that make sense. If you plan on digitizing much of your papers, they will need to be easy to locate for all your everyday tasks.
35. Cut down on bookmarks. If you aren’t careful, your list of bookmarked web pages can build up quickly. Delete many of the links that aren’t as important or find some way to consolidate them. For example, if you have a lot of items saved that you want to buy in the future, add them to an Amazon wishlist so they will all be in one place.
36. Ditch gadgets you rarely use. If you listen to music from your phone more often than you do from your iPod, then why would you need an iPod? With many gadgets able to perform multiple functions, you don’t need any one-trick toys around. Also get rid of any old chargers or cables that go to devices you no longer use or own.
37. Turn off your cell phone. Sometimes constant text messages or updates can become a nuisance. Unless you’re expecting an important call, there’s no harm in switching off your phone for a while and giving your brain a break.
38. Don’t own a TV. No more planting yourself in front of the tube for hours or leaving it on to provide background noise – unplug it and get rid of it, or never buy one to begin with! This will drastically decrease the amount of advertising messages you are exposed to, and if you really want to watch a certain program or movie, you can use one of the streaming services I mentioned earlier.
39. Get rid of your cable and landline. If losing your TV feels too extreme to you, you can always get rid of your cable service and strictly use your TV for prerecorded movies or shows. Also, if you primarily use your cell phone, there is no need to continue your landline service. Discontinuing both of these things will save you money as well as simplify your life.
40. Take time to completely disconnect. Every now and then, go on a total technology fast. Spend quality time with your family, friends, or spouse; read a book or journal; or simply use the time to meditate and reflect. Or, at the very least, make boundaries for yourself when it comes to how often you use your computer or check your phone.
Health & Wellness
41. Eat slowly. This improves digestion, helps you lose weight, and encourages you to savor your meal instead of gobbling it down without fully tasting it.
42. Eat healthy. Among other benefits, this helps greatly reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization, or need for medication. Unnecessary medical bills can only serve to further complicate your life.
43. Cut fast food from your diet. One step further is completely eliminating fast food from your diet. Some people cannot afford to do this, based on time or money constraints, but it never hurts to skip on that burger or order of fries whenever you are able.
44. Create a meal plan. This will help you get on the right track to healthy eating by structuring your meals each week. It will also help you save money by planning in advance for the ingredients you need.
45. Drink water every day. Make sure to stay hydrated and have at least one glass of water every day. Water helps energize your muscles, moisture your skin, and keep your kidneys healthy and functioning.
46. Exercise. Besides the obvious benefit of assisting in weight loss, exercising also helps you clear your mind, reduces stress, improves your mood, and helps you sleep better at night.
47. Meditate. Carve some time out of each day to meditate. Even a twenty minute session can do wonders for calming you down, settling your thoughts, and leaving you refreshed and ready to take on the rest of your day.
48. Avoid unhealthy habits. Cut down on or quit negative habits such as smoking, drinking, or doing drugs. These could build up over time and lead to various health problems.
49. Make sure you get enough sleep. Depending on your age and activity level, you need a certain amount of sleep each night to help keep you awake, alert, healthy, and productive during the day. If you routinely skip out on sleep or stay up too late, it affects your concentration and how much work you are able to get done.
Photo by Flickr user Images Money.
50. Create a budget and stick with it. This is one of the best pieces of advice to give when it comes to managing your money. Planning for grocery expenses; limiting how much can be spent on entertainment, luxuries, or other non-necessities; saving for big purchases; and tucking a bit away for emergencies are all excellent ideas for staying out of debt and ultimately improving your life.
51. Live frugally. Your budget should not be overly forgiving. Make guidelines for yourself and then follow them. Avoid splurging, shop around for the best deals, take advantage of sales and coupons, and don’t be wasteful.
52. Get out of debt. A source of stress for thousands of people across the country is the burden of debt that they carry. Even though student loans, mortgages, credit card bills, and car payments represent important investments, over time they can overwhelm us and feel never-ending. Before you make another big purchase, consider clearing your debts first.
53. Bank online. As with everything else, you can go paperless with banking. Instead of statements in the mail, stay updated by checking your balance online, and request that any checks be directly deposited into your account if possible.
54. Automate bill payment. Arrange to have your rent, insurance, phone bill, or any other payments automatically taken out of your account every month so you don’t have to think about them.
55. Keep a grocery list on your refrigerator door. Write up an inventory of all that’s in your fridge and cross things out as you use them. This way you know when certain things are running low and when it’s time to plan a trip to the store to restock.
56. Shop with a list. Keep yourself accountable on your shopping trips; make a list for yourself of what you need to pick up and don’t stray from it. Try to only shop when you actually need something.
57. Shop one day a week. Don’t make multiple trips throughout the week. Compile a complete list and take one day to stop by all the stores you need to.
58. Don’t get sucked into materialism. This is a common message minimalists preach, but it is a worthwhile thought. Society today is all about consumption, making convincing arguments for every product in existence and why you need to shell out just a few dollars more and bring it home.
59. Add items to a wish list as you think of them. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits personally recommends keeping a 30-Day List. When you find yourself really wanting to buy something for yourself, write it on the list. After 30 days have elapsed, if you still want it, then you have permission to buy it if it is within your means. However, the idea is that, after this span of time, the impulse to buy is not as strong or you may have forgotten about it altogether.
60. Do things at home as much as possible. Save money on gas and the products or services you want to purchase by doing things at home – eating, watching movies, entertaining, working out, and more.
61. Don’t drive everywhere. If the weather is nice and the place you want to go is relatively close to your house, why not walk there instead? This gets you some fresh air and cuts down on your car’s mileage and gas usage.
62. Work from home. Granted, this may not be an option for everyone. However, if you run your own small business or your boss will permit telecommuting, then working from home is a great idea. It is a more relaxed environment and again means spending less on gas.
Photo by Flickr user Zaneology.
63. Decorate innovatively. Instead of buying and storing seasonal decorations that are only used once a year, find other ways to spruce up your house on the holidays. Designing with festive colors or hanging up family photos are just a couple of alternatives.
64. Do your holiday shopping throughout the year. Avoid the rush during the month of December by purchasing your gifts earlier in the year. There is no rule that says you have to wait until the end of the year to do your Christmas shopping. If you encounter something you know your friend or family member would like, buy it for them and store it safely until it’s time to exchange gifts.
65. Alter your wishlist. Let your friends know that you want to keep your clutter to a minimum and ask for things that don’t take up space. Movie tickets, gift cards, edible treats, spa treatments, salsa dancing lessons, iTunes cards, and ebooks are just a few suggestions.
66. Ask for quality time together. A neat idea by Miss Minimalist is giving your friends one-less-gift certificates. These ask for the gift of your friend’s time in place of a tangible something.
67. Exchange experiences or services. Offer to accompany your friend to a concert by their favorite band, tend their yard or garden, organize or clean a room of their home, babysit their children, or do them a favor.
68. Donate your gifts. The truly selfless and admirable route when it comes to Christmas is giving back to your community. Donate funds or volunteer your time to the charity of your friend’s choice, and request that they do the same for you.
Photo by Flickr user chattygd.
69. Eliminate stress. That is really what the rest of this list is all about. It’s been proven that stress shortens your life and contributes to sleep problems, appetite changes, depression, and more. Less stress means a simpler, healthier, and more enjoyable life. Cut down on the stress you don’t need, and learn better ways to cope with the everyday stresses you encounter.
70. Live intentionally. Start every day knowing what you want to accomplish before you go to bed at night, and have a central purpose in mind for your life on a broader scope. Focus is incredibly important to have for a fulfilling life.
71. Remove the extraneous to focus on the extraordinary. Don’t collect hobbies, friendships, or things thoughtlessly. Strive for quality over quantity.
72. Create routines. In particular, it’s good to have a morning routine to help prepare you for the day, an evening routine to encourage relaxation and ensure better sleep each night, and a cleaning routine for your home. The word “routine” has a bad connotation to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean routines will make your life boring. Rather, they will simplify certain aspects of your life so can more thoroughly enjoy everything else.
73. Limit your commitments. There are a lot of opportunities to socialize or get involved with your community, but if you regularly pile too much on your plate, eventually you’ll get burned out. Drop all but the handful of activities that enrich you the most.
74. Trim your to-do list. Do not make yourself feel obligated to complete so many projects or chores within the span of a day. Instead of composing a lengthy to-do list that you may or may not manage to finish, put together a short list where you know you’ll be able to check everything off in a day’s time.
75. Make boundaries. Tell yourself you can only run so many errands or attend so many events during the week. If you work from home, communicate your hours to your family so they know you aren’t to be bothered unless it’s urgent. Boundaries help you avoid getting overwhelmed and prioritize the important.
76. Schedule time to pause. Try not to pack your schedule so tightly that there’s little room to breathe. Leave space between your tasks so you don’t feel rushed.
77. Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking has actually been proven to reduce productivity, impair cognitive ability, effect your short term memory, make it harder to tune out distractions, and increase the amount of errors in your work. Do only one thing at a time, and do that thing well.
78. Finish one task completely before you start a new one. This doesn’t strictly relate to multitasking, although that is also a part of it. Do not start one task, take a break, then pick up a different one after. Complete what you were working on before switching gears and tackling something new.
79. Only read one book at a time. I have been guilty of starting a novel, laying it down for a while, and then opening up a nonfiction book or collection of poetry, which is difficult enough. Even harder to juggle are two works of fiction. Don’t intentionally confuse your mind with conflicting information; live in the world of one book before you embark on the adventures of another.
80. Learn to say no. In spite of the sad eyes your friends may give you, it is perfectly okay to decline invites sometimes. There is no harm in taking a night to look after yourself or spend quality time with your family; surely they will understand. This step also means saying no to bad or unproductive habits.
81. Make room for meaningful relationships. Discard unbalanced friendships and end toxic connections. Life is too short to continue clinging to people that are only passively invested or not healthy for your emotional wellbeing.
82. Don’t chase trends. This practice generally only serves to stress you out and create clutter in your home. Try not to compare yourself to others, and don’t give in to the urge to follow the crowd. Just concentrate on being yourself!
83. Carry less stuff. Don’t tote around cards for memberships that are years old in your wallet or stock a complete first aid kit in your purse. Try to narrow down what you carry to the things you use the most – car keys, license, debit or credit card, and so on.
84. Get a simple haircut. Straightening, curling, spraying, styling, and otherwise tending to your hair can be time-consuming. Get a haircut that requires little maintenance. If you want to go one step further, cut your hair short so that it takes less time to wash and dry.
85. Create a family calendar. Whether it’s just you and your spouse, or you’re living with a gang of little ones, using a calendar can make managing your schedules a lot easier. Jot down due dates for assignments, doctor’s appointments, play dates with friends, family gatherings, and anything else you need to keep track of.
86. Declare a work-free zone. Josh Rueff of Living Apex had an excellent idea for maintaining the proper balance between your work and personal lives. Whenever you are driving home, pick a landmark, and as soon as you reach it, thoughts about work are not allowed. If you work from home, the equivalent is setting down whatever you were in the middle of as soon as your hours are up and not picking it up or thinking about it again until the next day.
87. Complain less. Choose to focus on what’s positive in your day rather than what irritates you, because chances are most of the things that bother you are also things you can’t change. Don’t waste your time cursing circumstantial things, but find joy anywhere you can.
88. Cut down on critical and judgmental thoughts. Face it, you aren’t going to get along with everyone you meet. Train your brain not to be so quick to criticize, and keep any unhelpful comments to yourself.
89. Choose your battles. Not everything is worth picking apart and arguing about. It’s fine for your friend to have no desire to try a new recipe you whipped up, and it’s totally cool that your spouse doesn’t like one of your favorite movies. Don’t raise a fuss about something unless it’s actually important.
90. Don’t meddle. Do not intrude where you are not welcome. If someone else wants your input regarding a situation in their life, they will approach you about it directly.
91. Keep your conscience clear. Life is a whole lot easier when you aren’t constantly looking over your shoulder. Resist activities or mistakes that you know are impure, unkind, or would fill you with guilt.
92. Reduce distractions. Close your email program, turn your phone on silent, switch off the TV, and concentrate fully on the task at hand. If this sort of self-control is a real challenge for you, there are several apps that block distracting websites, including the StayFocusd app for Google Chrome users.
93. Eliminate wasted time. I will admit, sometimes I have every intention of getting work done, then I find myself scrolling endlessly through the blogs I follow, and the minutes tick away. Drastically limit activities you know are time-wasters, or drop them completely. Only engage in what is genuinely entertaining, educational, interesting, or productive.
94. Stop procrastinating. Putting off tasks or chores for later is so tempting, but this always comes back to bite you. Even if you claim you are someone who works better under pressure, there’s nothing wrong with relieving yourself of some of it before your deadlines are looming over you.
95. Be flexible. Learn how to go with the flow and make allowances for the constantly changing and unpredictable nature of real life.
96. Think first. Consider what you are about to say or do beforehand. This can prevent a lot of hurt feelings and poor decisions.
97. Soak up simple pleasures. How long has it been since you truly admired a sunset or took a quiet moment to savor a bit of dessert? Don’t be afraid to slow your pace sometimes and delight in the world around you.
98. Don’t inflate your expectations. When it comes to yourself, don’t get into the habit of scolding yourself for every small mistake and not accepting anything short of perfection. With others, remember that they are only human like you and don’t impose impossibility high standards.
99. Ask for advice. Don’t be too stubborn to ask someone else for their expertise, whether it deals with cooking, raising children, organization, artistic pursuits, relationships, or anything else. They will more than likely be happy to help because they can undoubtedly remember a time when they were in the same position as you.
100. Let others help. If you find yourself frazzled with too many things demanding your attention, ask someone else to shoulder some of the burden. This could be babysitting your kids, mowing your lawn, raking the leaves, editing your manuscript, or whatever else you need. Request a favor from a family member or close friend, or pay a neighborhood kid or student a few bucks to get the job done.
101. Take time to be thankful. Be grateful for every unexpected blessing, and appreciate what you have. If you adopt this mindset, contentment will naturally flow from it.
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