How To Live A Minimalist-Ish Life

So you’ve probably been stuck inside your home for the last three months. Maybe you, like me, have found yourself looking at all the fucking shit in your house and thinking why on earth do I have so much STUFF everywhere? Why do I make myself clean this, look at it, organize it?

Another side of effect of staying at home all the time is that I spend a lot of time on Pinterest. I used to scoff at all the pictures of bright, white, spartan living spaces. Like, who could live there? Where are the retro tchotchkes? Where are the cat hair tumbleweeds? It would take me two seconds to spill an entire mug of coffee on that ecru couch! Now, though; now, I drool at those pictures. I YEARN for all that uncluttered space. Those pictures are pornography for the housebound and socially distant.

It’s an unexpected pivot for me, as someone who declared Marie Kondo an enemy when I once took her advice to discard all unnecessary papers only to find that I really needed that marked-up manuscript for revisions a couple of months later. I have long lived by a decidedly “more is more” decorating credo, because where else am I going to put all of this cool vintage stuff I buy at thrift stores all the time? I do like a bit of cozy clutter, but my situation has gotten out of control. Staying at home every single day for over three months has been the wake-up call I needed.

Enter my newfound obsession with minimalism. I watched the documentary on Netflix, I have a rapidly growing minimalism Pinterest board, and my belongings are quivering with fear under my newly judgmental gaze.

The only problem is… this isn’t me. I am not an innate minimalist. I am an innate maximalist. This doesn’t come easily or naturally for me. The idea of decimating my book collection or – gasp – owning less than 15 funky retro coffee mugs strikes me as profoundly wrong.

I’ve sobered up after my initial fling with the possibility of becoming a real, true white-couch-and-two-plates minimalist, and in the harsh morning light, I’m seeing things more clearly. Capital-M Minimalism isn’t going to happen for me, nor do I actually want it. I just crave simplicity. I want to live with more intention, and I want to have less shit around to accumulate cat hair. I want more space to breathe. I want to be minimalist-ish.

Maybe this minimalist-lite lifestyle appeals to you, too. The following are my personal guidelines for being minimalist-ish:

  1. Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint: You don’t have to do the Marie Kondo-style slash and burn decluttering in order to simplify. If the idea of unsentimentally getting rid of most of your stuff makes you nervous sweat, or if, while seeking the life-changing magic, you have thrown out something you needed later and you’re now gun-shy about it (*raises hand*), just take the pressure off. You don’t have to do a 180 in a weekend and wake up on Monday with half the belongings you used to have. Commit to regular decluttering and take it a little at a time. If you’re unsure about an item this time and you’re really struggling with the decision to toss it, put it aside until the next go-round. Slow and steady progress is still progress.
  2. If you have a mess you truly love, keep it: We all have certain truths in our lives that just aren’t going to change. I am going to keep tons of books around, and I’m not getting rid of my large lot of inherited vintage Pyrex dishes. Maybe you have a collection of some kind that brings you joy, and I’m here to give you permission to keep it. That’s allowed when you’re minimalist-ish. Go HAM on trashing your decades-old credit card statements and keep your dang books!
  3. Pick your battles with yourself: Similarly, use your discernment in deciding when to get tough with yourself. Yes, I probably have six knit hats left at this point, but I want them all! It’s not a big deal because they take up very little space. My yarn stash, on the other hand, is a bigger deal, size-wise, and I’d feel better if I re-homed a bunch of those skeins. So pick your battles and don’t quibble with yourself over the small stuff.
  4. “Just in case” items are totally allowed: Hardcore minimalists will tell you not to keep “just in case” items around. A popular rule is if it’s not something you use every day and you can replace it for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes, get rid of it. That philosophy doesn’t bode well for a lot of my camping gear (I’m not going to buy new propane canisters every time I go camping just because they’re cheap) or other random things I own (I’m not going to buy a new curling iron every six months when I want to get extra fancy for a work meeting). Use your best judgment on this. Some “just in case” items can certainly get tossed, but you don’t have to go overboard. Assess your own needs and available space and do what works for you.
  5. It’s okay to hate capsule wardrobes: I don’t know who these people are who can get by on two tank tops, two pairs of jeans, and a dress, but I need more clothes than that. Furthermore, I have CLOTHING GENRES, and my casual clothes are nothing like my work clothes. It’s called being multi-faceted, folks. Learning to seriously pare down my wardrobe has been useful and rewarding, and it makes my life way easier to only have clothes around that I love. However, I’ve had to make this system work for me. I have casual clothes, work clothes, workout/hiking clothes, and comfy clothes. I know “comfy clothes” is a decidedly un-Kondo concept, but in my life (especially during #WFH), my cozies are my most important clothes, period. Keep each section pared down to what you actually need and love, but don’t get too hung up on trying to whittle your wardrobe down to 20 universal items. Normal people living through a pandemic just need more sweatpants than that system allows.
  6. Don’t be afraid to go it alone: You might be the only person in your family who wants to simplify, and that’s okay. No, you can’t (and shouldn’t!) secretly toss your husband’s childhood baseball card collection, but you can certainly clean up your own shit and have plenty to keep you busy. You can embrace being minimalist-ish without forcing it on your entire household.
  7. Being minimalist-ish is also a mindset: Contrary to what it looks like on Pinterest, simplifying your life is hugely about your inner landscape, not just your surroundings. Learning to bring more intention to your day by planning your to-dos, doing one thing at a time, and carving out dedicated chill time will go a long way toward helping you feel calm. The white couch doesn’t mean shit if you’re running around with constant mental chatter and endlessly scrolling social media. Try meditation to help you cut out the inner background noise, and really focus on giving your intention to one task at a time. If you’re replying to work emails, reply to work emails. If you’re making dinner, make dinner. If you’re reading a book, put down your fucking phone and read the book. This is one of the most positive lessons of my minimalist-ish life, and it has nothing to do with how many belongings I have. Sure, it helps to live more intentionally in a less-cluttered space, but the real work here is inner work.
  8. Incentivize yourself!: Let’s call this the gold star method. Take a cue from your kindergarten teacher and make this process fun and rewarding! I’m way more encouraged to clean out my closet when I know I can make money on my old clothes. I use Poshmark to sell my gently-used clothing and shoes, and I love it because they make it SO easy. Sign up with my referral code GROOVYRETROCAT to get $10 to spend!
  9. Make cleaning fun!: Keeping your space clean is a big part of being minimalist-ish. Cleaning also does not come naturally for me, but I have learned to love it by ordering all of my earth-friendly cleaning supplies from Grove Collaborative. I actually look forward to getting my Grove shipments each month, and I’m not kidding when I say that this company has totally changed my attitude toward cleaning. Sign up with my referral link and you’ll get a free 5-piece gift set with your first shipment – it’s literally like twenty bucks worth of free cleaning supplies and totally worth it. You’ll be hooked like me and your space will be cleaner than ever!

The whole point of being minimalist-ish is to reap the considerable benefits of simplifying your life through owning less while taking it at a comfortable pace. Once you get started, though, you’ll probably find that you grow less and less tentative about getting rid of belongings you don’t need. The longer I’m at this, the more willing I am to declutter and the more decisive I am about what should go and what can stay.

If you’re interested in minimizing and simplifying for the sake of your quarantine (and post-quarantine) sanity, take it one step at a time and do what works for you. Baby steps will do just fine. I’m rooting for you!