Want to live a more minimalist life? Here's how

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

News article image

Minimalism. It’s a word you probably hear thrown around all the time; but have you stopped to think about what it actually means?

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known as The Minimalists, have. In fact, they’ve spent quite a lot of time studying the concept of minimalism and finding ways to apply it to different aspects of life.

Minimalism can be defined in many ways, but for our purposes, the best way to explain it is a means to achieving a greater sense of freedom, contentment, personal growth, health and purpose. According to The Minimalists, minimalism isn’t about limiting your number of possessions or quitting your job; it’s about getting to a place where you’re able to make decisions about what you want to accomplish in life and how to get there. If these goals include owning under 50 material objects or working for yourself, great. If not, that’s alright, too.

The most important, and likely most difficult, mindset change that comes along with being a minimalist involves finding happiness in life and experiences, rather than in things and belongings.

Ready to get started on living a more minimalist lifestyle? Here are some tips garnered from the Minimalists to help you start working toward this goal.

Make a plan

Did you know that, scientifically, it takes 21 days to form a new habit? Keep this in mind when you begin your journey into minimalist living. To help yourself stick to your guns long enough to form your new habit, make a list of your goals and the steps you’ll need to take to accomplish them. Don’t be afraid to get specific!

One tip for defining your goals includes making a list of things that you feel like you should do versus things that you feel you must do. For example, I should cook myself dinner three times a week, go to the gym before work and clean out my closet to find old clothes to donate. I must, however, save $50 every week, carve out 45 minutes to read every day and find a way to get more light in my apartment. When you’ve identified your musts, determine the first step that you’ll need to take in order to accomplish each one, and make a schedule dictating when and how you’ll begin working toward your new goals.

Write down the steps you’ll be taking in the coming week — focusing in on a small time frame makes any task feel easier and goals feel more attainable.

Take out the trash

If you’ve ever watched a romcom, you might be familiar with the post-breakup scene where the main character parades through their apartment, tossing everything that might remind them of their former significant other. It’s not necessary to go through a breakup to perform this cleansing ritual, and it can be quite fun. Now, I’m not talking about throwing out the things that you’ve already designated as trash. I’m talking about grabbing a bag, walking around your place and finally getting rid of all those things you said you might get toss one day, if you only had the motivation.

Not sure what’s gotta go and what doesn't? Never fear....

The 90/90 rule

One of the most popular rules of minimalism is called the 90/90 rule. When you encounter an object, consider whether or not you’ve used it during the last 90 days, and whether you think you’ll be using it in the upcoming 90 days. If you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll be surprised to see how many things you own and simply don’t touch for extended periods of time.

Another - albeit a little more extreme - way to decide what to keep and what to ditch is to pack up all of your things, as if you were going on a trip, and only take out the things that you think you’ll need during the next week. After doing this for one week, see how long you can go without unpacking the other things, and after a month or two, you’ll realize what you never took out. It’s safe to say that you can toss those items.


One of the great enemies of minimalism is the emotional meaning that millennials tend to assign to objects.

I’m not going to tell you to throw away everything your great grandmother ever gave you. But, if you come across something you had completely forgotten about and then find yourself reassigning emotional meaning to it in order to justify keeping it, try to reframe this thought process. If you haven’t seen an object in months, chances are you probably won’t be seeing it again in the near future. If it has a nice memory attached to it, remind yourself that you have this stored in your brain and can access it whenever you need it (arguably easier than you can access the object!) and find happiness in remembering it.

One of the best parts about minimalist thinking is reminding yourself that you can search through your own memories and bring joy to yourself without even having to see an object that’s spending the rest of its time cluttering your space.

Bowls & baskets

One of the first words that comes to mind when you start talking about minimalism is “decluttering.” A good strategy when going minimal in your apartment is to keep flat surfaces clear. Calmness, focus and cleanliness are just a few of the benefits of clearing your surfaces.

You will reach a point where there are some objects you simply cannot live without, like those extra rolls of tissue atop the toilet. When these moments arise, grab a decorative bowl or woven basket to easily turn a mess into a neat container (on the outside, at least).

Invest in quality

When you own less things, you’re able to invest more in the things that you do purchase. If you’re looking for the perfect set of containers, know that the higher quality the purchases, the longer they will last and the more benefit you’ll get from them. It’s times like these when quality over quantity really does pay off.

Same goes if you're shopping for insurance — sure there may be a plan that means your monthly payments will be cheap but if your doctor isn't in network, your out-of-pocket costs will be higher and you didn't really end up with a quality product.

Find a focus

Another extremely useful minimalist tip is to approach your transition one room at a time. When you’ve decided upon the room you’re going to start with - the living room, for example - choose one thing in the room that you’d like to serve as the focal point. This could be your desk or even your sofa, and will help guide the rest of the decor for the space.

Choosing a single focus in each room will help keep you on track, as well as making sure you aren’t going to overboard with the decorating. Aside from your one main focus, you really don’t need much in terms of physical objects. Think of it this way: If your focal point is your sofa, every additional item that you bring into the room will unnecessarily take some attention away from the sofa.

Put everything in its place

When you’re finished with your first round of your minimalist makeover, you should have an awareness of every single thing that you own and where it lives. Coffee maker? On the island in the kitchen. Slow Cooker? Bottom shelf on the right. Spare set of keys? Top drawer of the nightstand.

When all your belongings have a designated place, you’ll be able to keep track of them in a more efficient way, and won’t be surprised when you open a pantry door and 16 reuseable shopping bags, three scarves and a case of water come piling out.

Minimalism is all about making yourself feel happier and more comfortable in your space, as well as freeing up time for you to be able to focus on the things that really bring you happiness. Taking these first steps will open the door to the potential of a newly refreshed mindset for a brand new year.

Image: vgajic