The Freedom of Minimalism

Person holding rainbow colored umbrella in front a snowy pond
Photo by Anastasiya Yilmaz on Unsplash

Several years ago, I began to take my first steps down the path of minimalism.  However, I did not just wake up one day and decide to become a minimalist, first I was led to the concept through a desire to become debt-free, and then the goal to go plastic-free and live a more sustainable lifestyle, as I wrote about in my article entitled How Dave Ramsey and Going Plastic-free led me to Minimalism. I discovered and reviewed The Minimalists’ first film,  and that led me to read several of their books including Everything That Remains, which I reviewed as well. From there, it blended into the countercultural concoction of plastic-free, zero-waste, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, protecting-the-earth-and-animals-lifestyle I am striving toward. I now follow quite a few minimalists, have read Marie Kondo’s books, participate in Project 333, and I’m even considering living in a tiny house someday.

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” -Democritus

What is Minimalism?

There’s not one single definition for minimalism and it’s often misunderstood. It’s about living with less physical items to free up space in your home, mind, and heart for the more important things in life.

“Minimalism is simply removing the things that remove you from your life.” Courtney Carver, bemorewithless.com and creator of Project 333

“Minimalism is not a numbers game…It’s about finding the perfect balance of enough. It’s learning to be content with what you have.” -Kathryn Kellogg, goingzerowaste.com

“It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much.” -Leo Babauta, author and minimalist

“What Minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff — the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities — that don’t bring value to your life.” -Colin Wright, minimalist and author

As all minimalists will point out, minimalism does not mean barren walls and living bored. It doesn’t mean not owning nice things, in fact, it often means owning fewer but higher quality items. It does not mean you can’t entertain, have children, or limit belongings that are essential to your life. Minimalism means living intentionally. It also aligns with environmentalism and sustainability.

Boy with blue sled in snow
Photo by me

Why minimalism?

“It’s a way to escape the excesses of the world around us — the excesses of consumerism, material possessions, clutter, having too much to do, too much debt, too many distractions, too much noise. But too little meaning.” -Leo Babauta, author and minimalist

All of the minimalists I’ve mentioned have websites, books, and podcasts dedicated to the why, and I encourage you to delve into those. Some of the reasons include having more time, eliminating debt, finding true purpose in life, living cleaner, and pursuing passions and hobbies. The Minimalists wrote, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

“minimalism is freedom from the modern rush…We are too hurried, too frenzied, and too stressed. We work long, passionate hours to pay the bills, but fall deeper into debt. We rush from one activity to another – multitasking along the way – but never seem to get everything done.” We can try to live within our means and we might find ourselves much more content.

Courtney Carver described in her book, Project 333, that after going minimalist and downsizing from a large house to a small apartment, she knew she “had made the right decision when my husband woke up one Saturday morning and said, ‘Guess what I’m not doing today? I’m not raking leaves, mowing the lawn, replacing the roof, or negotiating with neighbors to replace the fence.’ Instead, we went for a hike.” How lovely!

Couple walking in winter forest
Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels

Consumer Culture

“We own too much stuff. And it is stealing our joy.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Why do we have so much stuff?

A great deal of our desire for excess possession comes from our culture, which pushes and praises consumerism. In fact, we are told that we are good citizens if we consume and spend. We grow up to get a job so that we can buy property, cars, trendy clothes, and all the things we’ve been told will make us happy. Ownership has typically been viewed as a sign of success. We are exposed to an average of 5,000 advertisements daily and told that we need more, to be more. Joshua Becker wrote, “Minimalism is countercultural. It is contrary to every advertisement we have ever seen because we live in a society that prides itself on the accumulation of possessions.”

“Living doesn’t cost much, but showing off does.” -Jeffrey D. Sachs, economist and author

This consumer culture leads us to compare our lives and our stuff to that of others, which causes consumer competition. This fills our homes with unnecessary belongings and creates discontent.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Child being pulled in sled in snow with rainbow winter hat
Photo by Marcel Walter on Unsplash

Organizing

I used to believe organizing was the key to having a clean home and an easy lifestyle. I’ve spent hours of my life organizing and reorganizing my belongings, believing I was doing something good and healthy. I would spend hours online learning organizing methods and ideas. I loved organizing so much that at one point I even wanted to become a certified professional organizer so I could do it for a living. Now I see the errors of my ways. The best organizing is not having excess amounts of items to organize. The Minimalists wrote an article entitled “Organizing is Well-Planned Hoarding,”3 and I completely agree.

“You don’t have an organization problem, you have a too-much-stuff problem…You don’t need to organize more, you need to own less.” -Erica Layne, author of The Minimalist Way

The excess stuff gets in our way and limits us as every possession must be cared for, cleaned, and maintained. “Each one will require time, energy, and effort once they enter your home,” Joshua Becker said. If you own less stuff, you don’t need to shop at stores like The Container Store (a former favorite of mine), and this saves time as well. I’ve gotten rid of so much that I was able to sell most of my storage containers at my last yard sale.

“It is better to own less than to organize more.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Girl making a snow angel
Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

Teaching Our Kids

If we have children it is imperative that we pass down the belief and understanding that relationships, love, giving, and contentment are far more important than any item they can ever buy. If we at least have what we need, the basic necessities, then everything else is a blessing.

“We must teach our kids how to handle envy and how to overcome it. It is important we help them learn how to focus on the positive, the shortsightedness of comparison, and the foolishness of jealousy. We should teach them to be generous and grateful, and to celebrate the success of others.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Man skiing with dog
Photo by Puneeth Shetty on Unsplash

Less Is More…

Sometimes, as the saying goes, less is more. Owning only the things that add value and joy to your life. Participating only in those events that bring fulfillment. Spending time with those we love. Learning to be content with all that we do have.

“Modern society has bought into the lie that the good life is found in accumulating things – in possessing as much as possible…Minimalism brings freedom from the all-consuming passion to possess…It values relationships, experiences, and soul-care. And in doing so, it finds life.” -Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com

Less Is Now!

Though I’m not yet fully living the minimalist lifestyle I seek, I’m continually inspired by minimalism. It is a process and I’m working that process.

So I was very excited to learn The Minimalists are coming out with a new Netflix documentary, coming out today! What a great way to start the new year! The trailer alone inspired me to write this post, and I thought I’d dedicate my first post of this year to minimalism. Because minimalism has something positive to offer all of us, on some level.

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “What Is Minimalism?,” by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

Article, “What is Minimalism? Maybe it’s not what you think,” by Courtney Carver.

Book, 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste, by Kathryn Kellogg, 2019.

FAQs, “Minimalist FAQs,” by Leo Babauta.

Article, “Minimalism Explained,” by Colin Wright, September 15, 2010.

 

Footnotes:

Project 333: How a Minimalist Wardrobe Can Save Your Sanity and Save the World

Project 333 book cover

Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that is more about freeing the mind from overwhelming choices and clutter and less about the actual clothing. I have been participating in Courtney Carver’s Project 333 for almost 2 years, and this year she released a book about the project, which I highly recommend.

Today, I’ll tell you about Project 333’s role as a model for minimalism as well as about my own journey with the wardrobe challenge.

“You can  remove a significant amount of stress from your life simply by reducing the number of items in your closet.” -Courtney Carver

Clothes and eyeglasses folded
Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

“We wear 20 percent of our clothing 80 percent of the time, yet 100 percent of our wardrobe gets 100 percent of our attention, emotion, space, and time. That’s exhausting.” -Courtney Carver

The Project

Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge where you dress with only 33 items – including clothing, accessories, jewelry, and shoes – for 3 months. A few exceptions include undergarments and workout clothes, but check out the website (link below) and the book for the full guidelines.

“Remember that what you are wearing is probably the least interesting thing about you.” -Courtney Carver

The experiment began when Carver tried wearing the same 33 pieces interchangeably for 3 months to see if anyone noticed. But no one did. “People care more about what they wear than what I wear,” she writes on her website. We can simplify our lives and free up mental and physical space for things that matter more than clothing.

“There are so many things I’d rather think and talk about than what’s on sale, or where you got that dress/purse/shirt.” -Courtney Carver

Clothing rack with business clothes
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Too Many Choices

Decision fatigue, as minimalist and author Courtney Carver describe it, can be eliminated by reducing the amount of small daily decisions. If you think about all of the decisions we have to make every single day, it is no surprise that we are all overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and worn out. What or where to eat multiple times per day, what to cook, what to wear based on what we are doing that day, what to say in conversation, write in an email, what chores we need to complete, errands we need to run, exercise, what to watch out of thousands of choices, what to read, what to listen to (audiobook, podcast, or music?), when to take the car in to get the brakes checked.

If we have children, we have an additional set of decisions to make: school, homework, meals, clothes, hygiene, permission slips, lessons or sports, money, when to fit in quality time, and when to teach them about any number of topics. Add in any kind of shopping, which is nothing but decisions at every angle and which overwhelms all of the senses. On top of that, we have social media, a monster of comparison and decisions based on what other people post. If you take the time to think about all of the micro-decisions we make every single day, it’s mindblowing. So most of us don’t, we just power through and that eventually takes a heavy toll on our mind, health, and lives.

What to do about Decision Fatigue

We have far too many daily choices to make, far more than humans have ever had to make in history, and it overwhelms our brains and taxes our ability to make good decisions. It makes us mentally and physically tired.

What can we do about it? We can eliminate some of those daily choices by meal planning in advance, checking email less, and by reducing the number of clothes in our closets. Less decision making equals less stress and more time for the decisions that matter to us. This was the driving force for Courtney Carver’s creation of Project 333.

“Fewer decisions about what to wear allow more clarity for more important choices.” -Courtney Carver

Additional Benefits of a Small Wardrobe

Improved Self-Esteem

If you only own clothes that you feel and look good wearing, then every day you will feel more confident. “It’s utter madness what we do to ourselves while simply getting dressed,” Carver wrote about the negative self-talk and guilty thoughts we have from owning clothes we spent too much on but don’t wear or clothes that don’t fit our bodies correctly.

“Limiting your clothing items to 33 items for 3 months forces art. Limiting your wardrobe does not rob you of personal style – it causes you to find it.” -Joshua Becker, Clutterfree With Kids

Saving Money

You will obviously spend less if you buy less clothing overall. “Investing in one $100 dress that actually fits you saves more time and money than spending on five $25 dresses through-out the year,” Carver explains.

“The average woman owns $550 in clothing that has never been worn.” -Courtney Carver

By eliminating impulse buys from shopping to fulfill boredom, you will save even more. Carver has talked about how she used to fulfill a deeper need by shopping, thinking she was bored with her clothing, but that the issues were much more complex and had nothing to do with her wardrobe.

Saving the Environment

A minimalist wardrobe not only helps you live a better life, but it helps the environment too. Here are a few fashion facts from Carver’s book:

      • The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year.
      • 95% of discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled.
      • The amount of water for annual clothing production could fill 32 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, while over 1 billion people across the world lack access to safe drinking water.
      • Polyester (which is plastic) clothing can take up two hundred years to decompose.

Carver says when trying to build a new, more eco-friendly wardrobe, don’t try to replace your entire wardrobe all at once. “The most eco-friendly thing you can do is to consume less by using what you have,” she writes. Stay away from trends and look for clothes that have a more classic appearance, and your clothes won’t feel out of style.

“Trendy looks good today; timeless looks great everyday.” -Joshua Fields Millburn

My clothing journey

Like many people, I used to have too many clothes. I had two dressers and a closet full. Years ago, I reduced my clothes by a third because I wanted to move one of my dressers into my son’s room instead of buying additional furniture. Later, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and cleaned out my clothes even more.

Clothing piled on bed
I piled my clothes on the bed. This photo was taken after the first cut.
Piles of clothes on the floor.
My pile of clothes to donate.
Drawer using Marie Kondo's method of folding.
Dresser drawer using Marie Kondo’s folding method.

My Project 333

When I discovered Project 333 almost 2 years ago, I was surprised and excited about this new challenge because I felt like I’d already let go of so much. By then I’d become inspired by minimalism and began living with a more minimalist mindset. But I still owned far more than 33 items of clothing.

Using the Project 333 website to clear out clothing again, I began building my capsule wardrobe. I put everything on the bed again. I made three piles: favorites, maybe keep, and donate. My favorites went back into my closet and dresser. Per Project 333 guidelines, a large amount of maybe’s and out of season items went into a storage container. The donate pile got boxed up for the local thrift store.

Bin of clothing
Bin of clothing to reassess next season.
Closet clothing
My closet after doing Project 333 almost 2 years ago.

I ended up with a few more than 33 items, but as Courtney Carver always says, the purpose is not about the exact number as much as it is the intentionality. I think I had around 45 items including shoes and accessories (but not jewelry). But I was left with about thirty empty hangers which I was able to donate. I also had an entire empty dresser drawer which became my bedsheet storage, instead of the bathroom closet.

Today

My Project 333 has evolved over time, as it does for everyone. I ended up getting rid of many of the items in the storage bin because I forgot about most of them within the first 3 months. I also do not rotate my clothes seasonally anymore because of where I work and where I live, both of which have changing climates! I keep all of my clothes in the closet and dresser and have no clothes in storage. So I do own more than 33 items, but for year-round wear.

Closet clothes
Image of my current closet.

I continue to follow Project 333 rules, such as:

      • My workout clothes do workout
      • I don’t go shopping unless I actually need an article of clothing
      • I only own shoes that do not hurt my feet
      • I let go of items I haven’t worn in the past year, with a few exceptions: one vintage dress that belonged to my mother, a Halloween costume, and my wedding dress.
      • My size fluctuates sometimes so I keep a few items that are too small and too big.

As I replace articles of clothing, I’d like to buy more sustainable clothing. I’d also like to buy more muted tones so that it will be easier to mix and match.

Minimalist Fashion Might Be the Answer

Overall, this minimalist fashion mindset is about what’s important for our sanity and the environment as consuming less is the key. If you want to make your clothes last longer, Carver says to “do laundry better” by line drying clothes or using wool dryer balls. Furthermore, common laundry detergents and fabric softeners are full of toxic chemicals that are harmful to human health. You can read my post on how to replace fabric softener and dryer sheets to learn more.

Thank you for reading, and please subscribe. Let me know in the comments below if you are participating in Project 333!

 

Check out these great links related to Project 333:

      • The Project 333 website
      • Courtney Carver’s article, “33 Little Lessons from Minimalist Fashion Challenge Project 333”
      • Carver offers a list of sustainable clothing resources on her site
      • The Minimalists’ podcast with guest Courtney Carver
      • Minimalist Joshua Becker expands on the benefits of a small wardrobe in this video.
      • For inspiration, you can search Project 333 on youtube or Instagram and you will find people who are participating and their experiences.