How to become a minimalist means different things to different people.

Some may have the daunting picture that minimalism means living in a spotless tiny house with one pair of shoes and riding a bicycle to work.

While this may be minimalism to some, it’s not a “one-size-fits-all” concept.

Having been minimalists for over ten years, our life looks a bit different and something that evolved with time.

It’s now somewhere in-between the tiny house and “normal” life (although Ryan does want that tiny house! It’s in the 5-year plan…)

But believe me, it didn’t always come easy. This article is a loose recipe on how to become a minimalist. 

How to Become a Minimalist Ryan And Alex Duo Life

how to become a minimalist

“Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.”
— Joshua Fields Millburn, author and co-founder of theminimalists.com

Our Minimalist Journey

The first thing to know about how to become a minimalist is that it’s a process, not a one-day flip switch.

For Ryan especially, it took years to become a full minimalist. When we first met, I couldn’t believe how much stuff he had. Ryan loves toys.

There was his bright red pickup truck, a fishing boat, motorcycle, and even a snowmobile (totaling $8k). Ryan — who did summer fishing and ice fishing — had $7k of gear. Plus $2k of hunting gear and another $3k worth of tools, spare parts, and a trailer.

And, finally, a pet chicken named Martha (priceless).

Considering Ryan had only graduated from college three months before with tens of thousands in student debt, he was absolutely a hyper-consumer. The only thing minimalist in his life were the Vibram toe shoes he wore everywhere. 

How did someone like this go from snowball consumerism to wanting to live in a tiny house?

How Long Does it Take to Become a Minimalist?

For us, minimalist living was a series of small steps over many years. While there are challenges out that to turn you into a minimalist in 30 days, we feel that the full transformation takes years. 

It’s like developing a healthy lifestyle. Sure, you can lose some weight in a month and start exercising, but you haven’t developed anything sustainable yet.

Our minimalism arose naturally because we moved around so much.

When we started dating, I was already slated to move to China for work. Ryan decided that he liked me more than his toys, sold everything, and moved to China with me.

After spending three years in China, we lived in Texas for three years, and then lived out of our backpacks for the past three years while we traveled as digital nomads in South America.

Throughout that time, our eyes were opened about how well you can live out of a backpack. The things that once seemed so important to us (a big wardrobe, a million housewares, and even a car) were now trivial.

In 2020, we bought our first home together in Colombia, fully renovated it, and put into practice what we’ve learned as minimalists all these years. Finally, we were able to design a home fit for our specifically minimalist needs.

Now, when we return to the US, it strikes us how much stuff people have. As we travel from the airport, we drive past more and more storage units for the excess stuff that no longer fit into enormous American houses.

Here are a few shocking facts about consumption in the U.S.

  • A 4-person family home contains 300,000 objects yet typically the family only uses and lives in 40% of the space.
  • Still, somehow Americans own 2.2 billion square feet in storage units… for the things that don’t fit in their homes.
  • Average household expenditure in the US has doubled since 1985, to the point where families spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than on higher education.
  • Due to this, 43% of American households carry credit card debt, with the average debt above $16,000.

It’s more important than ever for people to become minimalists because believe me, stuff isn’t the answer.

What Does it Mean to Be Minimalist?

“When I started letting go, I started feeling freer and happier and lighter. Now I am a minimalist. Every possession serves a purpose or brings me joy.”

— Joshua Fields Millburn

First off, being a minimalist doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not a consumer. So, what is minimalist living then?

The goal of minimalism is to build a simpler and less cluttered life that prioritizes the things that bring you joy. It means living deliberately and making intentional decisions.

If the thing that brings you the most joy is a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte every day or buying a new paperback for your book club each month, then do it.

Minimalism equally means cutting out the things in your life that mean nothing to you.

Perhaps, you’ve come to realize that you only buy new clothes, lease an expensive car, or drink that dang Starbucks pumpkin spice latte to keep up appearances.

If you don’t actually care for or need these, then stop wasting your time and money on them. Actually, time and money are really the same thing, aren’t they?

Additionally, the minimalist mindset goes beyond how you deal with material possessions. As we become more and more minimalist, we try to bring simplicity to all areas of our life. 

For example, our simple to-do lists are not cluttered with busy work. Instead, we only focus on the productive things, such as following our self-care checklist, that we know will bring value and reward. 

Why Work to Become a Minimalist?

The motivations to becoming a minimalist range from wanting to become debt-free, free up more time for your hobbies, or to regain a sense of calm, peace, and order.

No matter what your starting point is or how far you need to go, becoming a minimalist will show you more than anything what makes you happy and what you really need in life.

Plus, minimalism is an avenue for you to live authentically.

Whether or not you want to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, focus more on the things you can make with your own two hands, or prefer to live off-the-grid in the woods to await the next zombie/pandemic apocalypse is up to you.

You do you, and minimalism will help propel you on your way. Here’s the process on how to become a minimalist, step-by-step.

How to become a minimalist, Step-by-step

1. Define What Makes You Happy

When first learning how to become a minimalist, we recommend trying out this exercise that we learned from the book, Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) by Scott Rieckens:

Write down ten things you love to do weekly.

(We’d love to see what you write, feel free to leave it in the comments).

Both Ryan’s and my lists had significant overlap, including items like:

  • Reading our books together in the morning with a cup of coffee
  • Finding and trying out new recipes to cook for dinner
  • Working on our home renovation
  • Walking to the farmer’s market every Sunday morning
  • Gardening

You may notice that our list doesn’t require a lot of “things,” and it’s likely yours doesn’t either.

For us, living a minimalist lifestyle means only keeping the things and objects that genuinely make us happy. Everything else that isn’t necessary can be sold or donated now and borrowed or rented later.

But, for the things that are important to us (let’s take coffee), we like to buy high-quality items that we cherish and display. For us, this is our favorite, hand-crafted mug and a beautiful French Press.

True minimalists are happier people because they intentionally spend more time doing the things that make them happy. 

Now that you know what things in your life are adding value and increasing happiness, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start a minimalist lifestyle. 

2. Learn How to Get Rid of Stuff

Decluttering and minimalism go hand-in-hand because it’s so easy to accumulate and hoard stuff that we no longer need. 

Additionally, psychologists have found in studies that decluttering your space helps ease and declutter your mind as well. It turns out that the hidden junk in your hall closet is weighing on your brain.

Clinical psychologists at UCLA found that people with messy homes were at a higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Meanwhile, researchers from Princeton University showed how clutter decreases focus and limits how efficiently your brain tackles projects.

As a beginner minimalist, decluttering and getting rid of stuff is the most daunting part. However, to learn how to become a minimalist and sustain a minimized life, it’s the most important step.

Trying to become a minimalist without decluttering would be like trying to lose weight without learning how to eat healthier. 

So, “How do I start a minimalist lifestyle?” The short answer: decluttering. 

Plus, we love decluttering as a first step in being a minimalist because it’s a definitive action that sets the stage for your new minimalist life.

We share our full decluttering strategy in our article, 30-Day Declutter Challenge.

You can download our free PDF calendar that takes you day-by-day tackling different rooms as well as giving you time and strategies to process, sell, and donate your items thoughtfully.

It’s a complete guide on how to minimize your life. 

What’s more, is you can make money while decluttering, from selling online to having an old-fashioned garage sale.

It feels great to earn money for things you don’t need, and selling to people who are grateful to repurpose and recycle your old stuff.

30 Day Declutter Challenge Printable

Printable 30-Day Declutter Challenge PDF

Download our printable calendar as your 30-day roadmap to decluttering your home and selling your stuff.

While this is no easy task, the feeling of accomplishment and stress relief pays off immediately.

3. Take the Time to Make Thoughtful Decisions

Because the consumer world, with one click purchases and same-day delivery, feeds on those who don’t. They know that if you buy before you think, you’ll buy things you don’t need.

Minimalism is about being very thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional with every decision.

Learning how to become a minimalist at home primarily involves decluttering. However, maintaining your new minimalist lifestyle is all about shifting your mindset.

So, while minimalism is certainly about the stuff, it’s also a mindset and a mantra. Engraining in this and understanding what it means to you personally will help you continue to live a happier life.

This goes beyond thoughtful consumerism.

It means asking questions like, “Is this errand the best use of my time today?” as much as asking, “Do I really need to upgrade my car or, can I continue using my old one and simply rent a truck for this trip?”

While it takes some time to get used to, you’ll learn that becoming a minimalist is as much a mindset as it is a shopping strategy.

Now that you’ve purged items for a more orderly home, think hard of how and when you’ll introduce new things into your life.

With the same care and thought you gave to the items remaining in your home, you’ll start to use that same care and thought with your habits and day-to-day decisions.

For us, our minimalist mindset has come out strong as we do a full home renovation.

Now, every space is carefully designed, all options considered, and our minimalist personalities are shining through with smaller closets but larger living spaces.

4. Quality Over Quantity

Becoming a minimalist doesn’t mean you’ll never go shopping again. It simply pushes you to become more sustainable with your choices and choose options that are multipurpose and bring you joy.

Instead of buying three fast-fashion pairs of jeans from H&M for the year, maybe invest in a single, high-quality denim that will last a decade. Then, read how to care for it.

For example, we learned from Tan France’s MasterClass to avoid washing your jeans. Instead, stick them in the freezer to remove germs! Tan, the fashion guru himself, still wears jeans that he bought when he was 16 years old!

Having a quality over quantity mindset is one that most minimalists should internalize and let guide their habits. Let every piece of clothing in your closet be your favorite piece of clothing.

5. Don’t Let Judgement Get In The Way

Who do you think is more likely to be a millionaire: a lawyer or a plumber?

Believe it or not, it’s the plumber.

In the book, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley, years of data were analyzed and it was found that millionaires were most likely to live in middle to lower-income neighborhoods, drove a pickup truck, and only wore suits that cost less than $500.

The reason why the plumber is more likely to be a millionaire than a lawyer or doctor is that they never had to keep up with the Joneses.

Their neighbors don’t expect them to drive fancy cars or wear designer clothing. In effect, they were able to stay minimalist.

The truth is, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice that you’ve become a minimalist, so don’t fear the judgment that may never come.

If you wear the same dozen shirts to work for the next year, we bet you that no one will know the difference. If you decide to hold off leasing a nicer car for a few more years, no one will know or care.

Instead, think of the importance of ruling your own life and making purchasing decisions for your family and your family only.

Don’t worry about other people judging you (because they probably won’t notice) and don’t judge other people on their spending habits either.

And, of course, don’t buy things just to fill a void or convince yourself that you’re happy. You won’t find long-term fulfillment and happiness by buying the next iPhone or latest fashion trend.

Instead, funnel that money into your investment account or towards something that will truly bring happiness and create more freedom in your life.

After all, the American dream is about opportunities, not about things.

“What happens is you have to learn to contract your “needs,” so that you can create a buffer around your life. And create this independence to where you’ve got enough savings that you can say take this job and shove it if you need to.

You don’t have a bunch of debt pounding down on your head buying things you don’t really need with money you don’t really have to impress people you don’t even really like.

And so what you’ve done there is gave up your independence, gave up your freedom in return for some stuff that’s gonna be worth nothing in next year’s garage sale.”

— Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover

Minimalism FAQs

1. How to become a minimalist with family?

One of us is a spender, while the other is a saver. We both became minimalists.

While minimalism can become slightly more complicated when there are multiple people to contend with, it’s not a bad thing. We’ve learned about families of eight becoming minimalists together, over time.

Sure, you might not be able to make the executive decision to get rid of the TV, but you’ll be able to grow as a family as you define what is and isn’t important to you.

While becoming a minimalist with your family, make sure they know that you plan to be more intentional and deliberate with your belongings. Let them know that for your items, it’s your decision, but listen to their advice.

If one person is really against getting rid of certain items, you can try packing them in a box to leave in the basement. If the box remains untouched for a month or two, make the agreement in advance that it will get donated.

The important thing is not to pass judgement on one another. If a few of your family members are hoarders, just lead by example and show how much you value and love the few items you do keep.

2. How long does it take to become a minimalist?

You can quickly feel the benefits of minimalism. In fact, most experts recommend tackling the major decluttering project and finishing within days or weeks. 

Therefore, the heavy lifting to become a minimalist can be done within 30 days, and there are a lot of great challenges out there to help you do that.

First, there is the popular 30-day minimalism game where you get rid of 1 thing on day one, 2 things on day two, 3 on day three, and so forth. 

Or, you could pack all of your belongings into well-labeled boxes and only unpack the items that you need when you need them. After thirty days, you have to analyze whether or not you need what’s still in the boxes. 

Lastly, you can download our 30-Day Declutter Challenge which will help you with both decluttering and forming a minimalist mindset.

Once the heavy lifting is over, it takes months if not years to develop the mindset required to sustain a minimalist lifestyle. As we mentioned earlier, for us it took years and our minimalist lifestyle continues to evolve.  

3. How do I start a minimalist lifestyle?

We highly recommend watching the Netflix documentaries by The Minimalists for inspiration. The original documentary is called ‘Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things‘ and ‘The Minimalists: Less Is Now.’

Then, you need to learn how to get rid of stuff. It’s essential that you start downsizing, decluttering, and organizing your life. Next, follow the steps in this article to prevent you from reverting back to thoughtless consumerism.

4. Why is minimalism bad?

Well, it’s not good for the economy, that’s for sure. Our stock investments are doing well thanks to non-minimalism. 

Since minimalism is a mindset, not a set of strict rules, it can only be bad if an individual does a bad job tailoring minimalism to their specific needs or ignores the needs of other people around them. As we discuss earlier in how to become a minimalist with a family, it’s important to factor in everyone’s opinion and compromise as needed.

Minimalism could also be bad if one takes it on too fast or extreme. If you declutter in a fury, you might regret getting rid of some things and if it’s too extreme, you need to refocus on your list of things that make you happy.

5. Are minimalists happier?

Yes, absolutely. Minimalists only keep the things and objects in their life that genuinely make them happy. By eliminating everything else, stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue are reduced. 

So, when a minimalist looks in the closet, they only see their favorite clothes. 

6. Is minimalism a trend?

Minimalism is not a trend or a fad. It’s simply a strategy and thought process to make sure that what you’re buying and consuming is done intentionally. Ideally, you’re only buying things that promote your health and happiness, and not simply what society thinks you should do.

There is real concern out there at the pace of consumerism. As purchases become easier to make with same-day shipping, the planet and environment is feeling the strain.

In 2019, Amazon revealed that they emitted as much carbon dioxide as the whole country of Norway.

So, by following a minimalist mindset, you can choose to help yourself and even help the planet. This mindset can have lasting effects and will be around for many years into the future.

7. Do minimalists save money?

With minimalism, it’s possible to save money, but that is not the end goal.

Since minimalists put so much thought into what material items they purchase, they never impulse buy which saves a lot of money. 

That money can be saved or spent elsewhere on something that brings value and happiness.

For example, now that the minimalist doesn’t buy a new iPhone every fall, they could spend that $1200 on a vacation.

Saving money is not a requirement for minimalists. In some cases, it lets us rationalize spending more money.

For example, instead of buying 5 pairs of jeans for $30 each, they might choose to buy one quality pair for $150.

Overall, though, minimalism can be a helpful tool to overcome debt, or at least get a better grasp on where your money is going. This makes it easier to budget and save money, if that’s your goal.

 

Closing THoughts

Many people think that becoming a minimalist means downsizing to a tiny house, wearing one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, and riding a skateboard to work.

But, it’s not.

Minimalism doesn’t mean you have nothing and buy nothing. It means you have the perfect amount of things, and you spend money on things you love… and stop spending money on the things that don’t matter to your health and happiness.

Why should you go minimalist? Outside of the psychological benefits that researchers have found (less anxiety, lowers risk of depression, and improves focus), it allows you to focus on what matters.

We can all admit that we live in a heavily consumer-driven world, where we feel dissatisfied without the newest iPhone and without leasing a nicer car.

There’s a reason why more plumbers are millionaires than lawyers; they don’t have to keep up with appearances.

 

“I encourage you to imagine a life with more. More time, more meaningful relationships, more growth and contribution and contentment.

A life of passion unencumbered by the trappings of the chaotic world around you. What you’re imagining is an intentional life.

Not a perfect life. Not even an easy life. But a simple one. And to get there you might have to let go of some stuff that’s in the way.”

— Ryan Nicodemus, author and co-founder of theminimalists.com 

After being minimalists for over 10 years now, we’re always asked, “So how do I become a minimalist?”

This article is our best step-by-step guide on how to minimize your life, but we are by no means the experts.

If something has helped you on your journey to becoming minimalist, like a great book, or you think we missed a key step in this article, please bring it up in the comments.

30 Day Declutter Challenge Printable

Printable 30-Day Declutter Challenge PDF

Download our printable calendar as your 30-day roadmap to decluttering your home and selling your stuff.

While this is no easy task, the feeling of accomplishment and stress relief pays off immediately.

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Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

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