Whenever I give a presentation on downsizing and de-cluttering or teach a course on it, I always tell people that it will give them a new life perspective.
It may seem like a pretty lofty statement – how could donating a few bags of clothes and a few boxes of kitchenware change your life?
Because, if you’ve come to the point where you are ready to start practicing minimalism, your life will never be the same.
I learned this firsthand through my own downsizing experience when I got rid of about 80% of my belongings and moved into a 160 square foot tiny house on wheels in 2015.
It wasn’t just about getting rid of some extra stuff around the house. It ended up being about emotional freedom, spiritual freedom and a whole new perspective on the world around me and how I experience peace and joy within it.
Before I started practicing minimalism, I was pretty much what I would consider the average middle-class American. Although I didn’t have a lot of fancy clothes or expensive purses, I did have a lot of stuff for one person. I lived in a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo by myself and the entire thing was full, from one side to the other.
Every room was fully furnished, every drawer was full and every closet was utilized to the max. Even though everything was very neat and organized and there was no obvious clutter, there was also not an empty space to be found anywhere. Again, pretty typical for a middle-class American.
I had a lot of clothes, shoes, purses, bath products, books, movies, CD’s, pictures, dishes, kitchen appliances, sports equipment, holiday decorations, tote bags, luggage… the list goes on. But even though it looked (and felt) like a lot when I would pack it up to move from place to place, once it was all put away in its rightful places, it became almost invisible.
Which, is how we all can so easily become blind to our stuff.
It’s not like someone pulls up in our front yard with a big dump truck and unloads a house full of stuff all at one time. If they did, we obviously would be outraged and immediately want to pare it down. But, when it happens slowly…over time… it’s a lot easier to ignore.
So, there I was… pretty much like everyone else, with a full apartment, a full storage closet outside the apartment and a whole lot more stuff than I really needed.
But, when I decided that I was going to move into a tiny house on wheels, I was forced to make a change. I wouldn’t have the luxury of having “extras” in my 160 square feet. I would only have room for the things that were either truly necessary or truly brought me joy and represented who I am.
So, I got rid of all the excess – the extra furniture that I didn’t need, the dishes and kitchen appliances that I didn’t use, the movies I no longer watched and CD’s (youngens – they were this crazy way to listen to music before iTunes) I didn’t listen to, the clothes I didn’t wear and all the supplies for hobbies I didn’t do and sports I didn’t play. It all had to go.
And to be totally honest, other than realizing that I did want my Nutribullet after all, so I could make healthy smoothies with me on the road while traveling, I didn’t miss any of that stuff after it was gone. Which makes you wonder… why in the world did you need it in the first place?
Which brings me to the first way that my life changed after I started practicing minimalism…
1. I realized I could live with a lot less than I thought.
Before I started living a minimalist lifestyle, I never really gave much thought to what I needed to get by. But, I can guarantee you, I probably would’ve freaked out if someone told me I had to get rid of half of my stuff. Unfortunately, most of us in this country live with a scarcity mindset (some to a higher degree than others), so we feel the incessant need to hold on to things, to gather them and collect them to feel “safe” and “secure.” But, when I came to a point where I was ready for change and got rid of 80% of my stuff, I realized that I had been living with so much more than I needed for a long time. In fact, even after I had made such a drastic downsize, I still lost some more of my stuff to a robbery. And then later, after my tiny house fell through, began living a full time nomadic lifestyle with the rest of my stuff in a small storage unit – meaning I could actually live with even less than the remaining 20%.
2. I started wanting different things.
After I started practicing minimalism, I began to desire different things. Whereas, before I may have enjoyed shopping for new clothes or receiving random gifts from loved ones on the holidays, I now wanted to do things instead of have things. I realized that I would rather spend my money on experiences and trying new things, traveling or spending time with friends and family, than having a tangible item. It just didn’t make sense anymore to want to collect random things around the house, when I could be doing so much more outside of the house instead.
3. I could shop differently.
Because I wanted different things and that “need” to buy things had been broken, I was also able to start shopping differently and let me tell you, this was a BIG one. Not only was I a bit of a “retail therapy” gal thanks to my mother, I also (like the rest of the country) was easy prey for the marketing gurus that be. Commercials, advertisements and store layouts are all specifically designed to get us to buy things that we don’t need. They create a sense of urgency or a sense of beauty, desirability or even just a sense of familiarity or comfort (hello, Target run). Some of it is subtle and some of it is downright obvious (once you’re paying attention), but it’s all designed to do the same thing – get you to BUY. But, once I emerged from that zombie-like bubble and was able to see more clearly and began wanting different things, I started to become more immune to these tactics too. Now, I can walk through a store and not feel the overwhelming need to buy stuff I didn’t come in for (hello, Target $1 bins) and even if I do end up putting something in my cart, I usually put it back before I get to the register because I’ve realized I don’t really need it. Not only is this incredibly freeing and nice on your checking account, but it’s also very empowering because you’re no longer falling for their tactics.
4. I feel lighter and freer.
One thing about clutter is that you don’t even realize half the time how much it can stress you out. You may walk around your house with a general sense of overwhelm or fatigue, but never make the association between those feelings and your clutter. But, it’s true – when you are constantly surrounded by piles of stuff or you feel like you’re constantly picking up and organizing, your stress levels will go up. Not to mention worrying over the more money you have to spend to maintain and house all of that stuff. Now that I live a minimalist lifestyle, I have an overall feeling of freedom and lightness that doesn’t go away because I am no longer tied to my stuff. Sure, I still enjoy having my own things around me, but they don’t rule my life anymore. I know that they are just things and that my joy and peace comes from outside of them, not through them.
5. I get to LIVE more.
Perhaps the biggest way my life has changed since I started being a minimalist, is that I finally started LIVING it and stopped just surviving it. Because I am no longer tied down by so much stuff, I am more free to do things that I’ve always wanted to do. I can travel more, try new things, spend time with loved ones and use my time, money and energy toward MY LIFE instead of random possessions. I get out of the house more, I stress less and I live more. Because life now is not about having things, it’s about doing things. And that, to me, is the biggest reward all in itself.
Until next time… keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!
If you’re ready to change your life and start practicing minimalism (or even just a version of it!), my “De-Clutter” e-course can help! I’ll walk you through your whole house, one room at a time, and help you tackle all that clutter once and for all. I truly want you to live a freer, more joyful life too and want to see you get there. So, come join me in the class and let’s get you on your way to your new life!
Jenn Baxter is an accomplished author, speaker and freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been published in numerous print and online publications and appears at tiny house festivals, healthy living festivals and private engagements across the country, speaking on the subjects of downsizing & minimalism, clean eating, healthy living and spiritual health. She appeared on HGTV’s “Tiny House Big Living,” is a regular guest on the NBC morning show “Charlotte Today” on WCNC-TV and has also appeared as a guest on the Tiny House Podcast, The Purpose Show and LiveTiny Canada.
In 2015, Jenn launched her website, Live a F.A.S.T. Life, based on her own experiences with clean living and downsizing into a 160-square- foot tiny house. She now teaches others how to make similar changes in their own lives through her online webinars and her e-course collection, De-Clutter, De-Tox, De-Stress. Her new book, Live a F.a.s.t. Life: How Stripping Down and Cleaning Up Gave Me My Life Back is available now on her website, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.