It’s the trend thats swept the nation since Tidying Up with Marie Kondo appeared in our Netflix recommendations — minimalism. You may only know of minimalism through the context of art or music, but it’s actually also a way of life that’s been around long before Western cultures decided to commercialize it. In fact, it’s been a practice in Japan for centuries, and evidence of minimalism as a lifestyle can also be found in texts from various religious groups. Denouncing possessions to gain spiritual focus has long been a practice of Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns.
However, thanks to a newfound interest around minimalism, it’s a practice many are undertaking — and finding it difficult to do so. So what should you know before you decide to try out minimalism, and more importantly, what should you be asking yourself before you embark on it? We scoured the internet for minimalist advice, and spoke to some expert minimalists to find out. Check out our list of questions you need to ask yourself below.
1. How does this help me live the life I want most?
“Minimalism is about creating space in your life for the things that matter most to you,” says Jennifer Burger, creator of Simply + Fiercely. “From your closet to your schedule, the first step to decluttering is to have a clear picture in your mind of the life you want. Then, once you’re armed with this vision, you can ask the most important question: How does this help me live the life I want most? With this focus, it’s easier to see what should stay and what should go.”
2. What is the real cost and is it worth it?
“When we think about the cost of our possessions, we have a tendency to focus on the price we paid, but this isn’t the whole picture,” says Burger. “There are maintenance and storage costs, environmental costs, and a mental cost as well. If you’ve ever felt stress or anxiety about your clutter, then you know exactly what I mean. With this balanced view of the real cost of your ‘stuff,’ you should be able to make better decisions about what to keep. Even better, you should ask this question before bringing something new into your life.”
3. How much is enough?
“Decluttering can be overwhelming because there are so many decisions to make, especially if you’re dealing with a lot of stuff,” says Burger. “One way to lighten your mental load is to set boundaries ahead of time by defining how much is enough. For example, if you decide you only need two winter coats, then you only have two decisions to make — which two should I keep? For many people, this is easier than going through a huge pile and deciding one by one what to do.”
4. How do I apply minimalism beyond decluttering my wardrobe?
“Sometimes we only think of clutter as stuff in our home, but often we find clutter in our finances, calendars, to-do lists, and other areas,” says Courtney Carver, creator of bemorewithless.com, “Determining the most stressful area may give you some direction in terms of where to start.”
For Carver herself, this meant applying minimalism to her finances to to help tackle debt. “I was deep in debt for decades and it was one of the most stressful parts of my life,” Carver wrote on the blog, “I was so ashamed and overwhelmed that I ignored it most of the time. I never understood what the real numbers were until I put them on paper. Even though the numbers didn’t paint a pretty picture, it was a relief to see where I was starting from.”
5. Why is minimalism so hard for me?
“One reason we end up with clutter is because we struggle with self-awareness and self-honesty,” says Burger, “It’s not easy to admit you’ll never fit into that dress again or (despite the expensive leggings) you’re really not that into yoga. These admissions challenge our beliefs about ourselves and it’s uncomfortable — but it’s a necessary part of minimalism.”
“In order to let go, you must be willing to have an honest conversation and perhaps, rewrite the stories you tell yourself,” she continued, “It can be confronting, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to embrace your true self.”
6. What do I do with everything once I’m done decluterring?
“It’s a good idea to think about how you’ll dispose of your unwanted goods before you start decluttering,” says Burger, “There are two reasons for this, first of all, not knowing what to do with your stuff can actually be a huge roadblock. If you don’t have a plan, then you’re less likely to follow through. I’ve heard many stories from people who have ‘decluttered’ but the bags never actually made it out of the house!”
“Putting a little thought into how you’ll dispose of your clutter means you’re more likely to do so responsibly,” she continued. “It’s tempting to haul everything off to your local charity shop but unfortunately, many are already overwhelmed with donations. Instead, do a little research so you can match your goods with the organizations or people who can best use them.”
7. How should I determine the value of my possessions?
According to Carver, there are a ton of reasons we might hold onto something we don’t need, and asking yourself regular questions will stop you from making excuses to keep things. She urges people to ask themselves when decluttering, “Would I buy this today?” and “Have I used this in the last year?”
As well as asking these questions, she also encourages people to think deeper about why they’re holding onto things when determining whether something is truly valuable to them. “The just-in-case excuse for holding on is a messy combination of fear and procrastination,” she says, “We hold on because we aren’t quite ready to let go but we rarely use or enjoy the just-in-case stuff we keep. Take a look in the back of your closet, in the junk drawer, under the sink or in boxes in the garage or attic, and it’s clear that just in case means never.”
Then there’s the battle of owning things for the life we have versus the life we want. “Aspiration ownership is a slippery slope,” she continues. “If you aren’t enjoying and using the things you own, perhaps you purchased them for the kind of life you wish you had, or for a life you want people to think you have. Consider how you might be more present and engaged in the life you actually have if you got rid of those things.”
But one of Burger’s greatest tips in adapting to minimalism isn’t just stopping buying something outright, but pausing the purchase. “While you are decluttering, slow the inflow too,” she says. “Stop buying things you want or think you need. Pause and ask the question, ‘Do I need it right now?’ If you can, wait 30 days before you buy it, chances are your interest will fade.”
8. What does minimalism mean to me?
“A few years ago, I asked my readers what it means to be a minimalist and the response was overwhelming,” says Burger. “I received over a hundred in-depth emails, and it confirmed my belief that minimalism is deeply personal. For some people, it’s about owning as few material possessions as possible, but for others, it’s about making more intentional choices, or it’s simply a design aesthetic.”
“There are no right or wrong answers,” she continued, “you don’t have to give up wearing bright colors or collecting art if you don’t want to — but you do need to decide on your definition of minimalism so you’re clear about your goals.”
9. Should I be taking minimalism online?
Carver stresses that becoming a minimalist isn’t just about getting rid of all the clothes you never wear or books you never read. Instead, it’s a way of life that you should apply everywhere. Most notably, to our social media. “Spend less time online overall, but when you are engaging in your social feeds, curate them to support the changes you are making in your life,” she writes on Be More With Less. “Follow and unfollow accordingly.”
10. Does it spark joy?
Of course, we can’t cover advice about minimalism without including a tip from the woman who sparked this obsession. Marie Kondo’s crowning question is always, “Does it spark joy?” Encouraging anyone attempting minimalism to ask themselves this question about every possession they own, Kondo explains that this is how best to decide whether or not you need something in your life.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Grazia.