Buying is great. Owning stuff is great. More is better. Feeling down? A shopping spree fixes everything. Does this sound familiar? It does to me. For a long time, this was how I lived. I owned a lot of things and constantly bought new ones, rarely getting rid of old items. Over time, my possessions piled up. But one day, I decided to change. I no longer wanted to own so much. Owning things means carrying baggage, not just during a move but in general. I feel better owning fewer items and keeping my cupboards relatively uncluttered. It simplifies decisions and allows me to focus on quality.
What's the point of owning five wristwatches, of which I might regularly wear only three? And if all of them are of mediocre quality, just so I can afford multiple? Wouldn't it be better to own just one high-quality watch that goes with everything? The concept of quality over quantity is smart, especially for everyday items like smartphones, wallets, watches, clothing, or even my bed and desk chair.
How Much Do We Really Need to Live?
You don't need much to live. Basic needs include clothing, a place to stay, and food. Beyond that, a few items become essential to life. A bed, a smartphone, the internet, perhaps a bicycle for daily commutes to work. But many items you own aren't really necessary. Look around your room right now. Do you see things you rarely use and don't need? You might still get some money for them.
A Thought Experiment
There's a thought experiment I've often heard about, and it's quite eye-opening. Imagine throwing everything you own into a pile. Everything. Then remove only the items you use daily. What remains are things you think "might come in handy" someday. Put these in a box. If you haven't used something in a year, it can go.
Playing this out in your mind and examining items you never use can be enlightening. Decorations, old clothes, an outdated laptop, perhaps even your TV or stereo system.
Getting Rid of Old Things
These items can go. Owning less makes you happier – it does for me and many others. Try selling some of your items on eBay or at various flea markets. There's a buyer for everything, even old shoes or outdated electronics. Check eBay for items similar to what you might sell; you'd be surprised at what they can fetch. And money is money. You can use it to invest in new, quality items or save it.
I've been selling my old items on eBay for weeks. Others swear by platforms like Kleiderkreisel or Shpock for clothing and similar items. For larger items, eBay Kleinanzeigen is a good option. I've earned good money and feel better. What's the use of old items gathering dust in the closet? Except for memories, of course. But even some of those can be parted with. Owning three old laptops doesn't make me happy, but having a modern laptop that will last me for years does.
New watch, new wallet, new clothes. Out with the old. Instead of additional purchases, I now only make replacement purchases: a new pair of jeans only when the old one is worn out.
Duplicate Items and Keepsakes
Look around your room or apartment. You likely own some things in duplicates, "just in case." But as I often say, "just in case" items aren't really necessary, except for a few exceptions like a spare hard drive for backups.
Opinions differ on keepsakes. Many like to retain items associated with memories. I always ask myself whether I need the item to remember. Memories stay in my mind, item or not. It's a personal choice.
So far, my tips have mostly pertained to the living and sleeping areas. But if you own an entire apartment, you have more rooms, including a kitchen. Here, too, many items aren't necessary. Do you really need three pans and five pots? Usually not. Thus, decluttering is also applicable here. Plus, many people tend to collect glasses. It's highly unlikely that you'll need enough for a 40-person party.
Bathrooms can also be cluttered with unnecessary items. Do you need so many hygiene and cosmetic products? Makeup? Twenty towels? My bathroom is quite minimal. Sure, I'm a man, but even so, I periodically declutter. Especially when traveling, you realize you only need the basics.
When you embrace minimalism, you eventually become interested in different dietary options and start thinking about your consumption. This may not relate directly to a minimalist home but to a minimalist lifestyle. Many grab a daily coffee to-go, and over a year, those cups add up to a significant amount of waste. The same goes for food packaging. There's a lot of it, often unnecessary and wasteful.
Speaking of waste, those free newspapers with ads delivered every weekend also accumulate into a sizable pile of paper. A small sticker on your mailbox can reduce this significantly.
We own more than just physical items in our homes; old documents are important too. Most of us file away receipts, bills, old brochures, etc.
Let's be honest: we rarely need most of these documents again. I've started scanning all my documents and receipts. This quickly digitizes them as PDFs on my hard drive, searchable by keywords. This system is facilitated by receiving many bills and receipts online as PDFs already.
I scan letters and other papers, using the back of them as scratch paper for notes. For scanning, a multifunction printer like my Epson XP-610* suffices. For bulk scanning, I purchased the Canon LiDE 220*.
The only exception is official documents and high-value receipts, which I keep for several years. Also, bank statements can pile up. I switched to a direct bank and now only receive a monthly summary as a PDF. My only folder contains a handful of official letters, medical documents, and a few receipts.
Moving on from physical items, what about your hard drive, smartphone, or tablet? Many have a tidy home and desk but a chaotic computer. Files clutter the desktop and are scattered across the hard drive.
I've always organized my files into groups: pictures, videos, documents, music, each with meaningful subfolders.
You can losslessly or lightly compress videos and pictures to save space. Convert documents into PDFs for additional savings. Do you really need those 500 cute cat photos or the last 200 downloads? Such files should be regularly deleted.
- Images: ImageOptim for Mac, JPEGmini for Windows/Mac, jpegOptim/optiPNG for Linux, Photoshop, IrfanView
- Videos: Handbrake - the best software for this!
- Converting documents to PDF: Adobe Acrobat Pro (included in CreativeCloud), free tools like Foxit Reader
Cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Mega are useful. They allow access to files from all my devices and simplify sharing. Regular decluttering is key for phones and tablets. Delete unnecessary photos, videos, and apps. Save important files to your computer or cloud.
But remember, always back up your data!
My 2 Cents
I find such a lifestyle fulfilling. You can too. Take the leap. It was daunting at first, but it turned out to be a great decision. The money earned from selling old items can be used wisely, and I have less baggage in life. It simplifies decisions like dressing or moving. I've been motivated by many digital nomads – individuals who earn online, needing only internet and a laptop, enabling them to work from anywhere. They usually travel with just a backpack containing everything they need. It's the ultimate minimalist life. While too extreme for me now, I'm working towards it and find it very motivating and inspiring. It just feels light and wonderful!
For more on digital nomads, check out Conni at PlanetBackpack or Sebastian at Wireless Life / TravelWorkLife. Conni's book "Digital, Independent, Free" is packed with motivation and well worth every cent.
* - Affiliatelink