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My Month of Minimalism: How I Decluttered My Life

I have a lot of stuff.

That’s not really meant to be a brag—far from it. More just a statement of fact.

Amazon deliveries arrive all the time. Knickknacks and little gifts and random tchotzkes take over spaces. I can’t stop buying art. And plants. And why do I have so many nail polishes? It’s one of life’s mysteries.

You probably have a lot of stuff, too. When did life start to feel so overstuffed?

When I discovered The Minimalists recently via an interview in Slate about their new book, their philosophy immediately struck a chord with me.

I especially liked that the movement that changed their lives began as such a tiny change. Here’s how Joshua Fields Millburn explains it:

“I started small, asked myself: What if you removed one material possession—just one—from your life each day for a month? What would happen?”

minimalism challenge
In the past, I would have read this article and thought, “That’s really cool; I should do something like that” and moved on with my life. Maybe I would have packed up a few things.

But ever since I started working for a startup that actively encourages self-improvement, I’ve grown into a different pattern—one of actively seeking goals to meet and ways to challenge myself.

So instead, I thought, “Oooh, I‘m gonna do that!”

One month later, I’m two giant garbage bags and one heavy box of my possessions lighter.

garbage bag giveaway

What did I get rid of?

A little bit of everything. No room in my house was spared my executioner’s eye.

In the kitchen: that olive oil dispenser, those cookbooks. In the bathroom: hand towels, the gifted lotion I’ve never opened. In the office: A computer stand, that lamp that doesn’t work. The inherited wreath, which adorned our front door when we bought this house.

My closet got hit hard—necklaces! sweaters! shoes! So did my desk, where multiple creative projects on a long hiatus finally got shut down for good. Candles went. Fancy cocktail-making tools went. Picture frames went.

The main categories of stuff I shed seemed to be:

Things I didn’t use or need

The most obvious category, like clothes I no longer wore or kitchen utensils I didn’t use. (Why was this stuff even in my house?)

Gifts or hand-me-downs

I was afraid to get rid of lots of these for sentimental or guilt-type reasons.

I can still love my friends and family just as much without possessing all the things they’ve ever bestowed on me, yes? Yes.

In fact, after years of totally excessive holiday gift-giving, my family recently decided to focus on donating to our favorite non-profits and charities instead. It’s been a great way to keep from falling into this trap.

Things that were decorative but not meaningful

My home is not sparse by any stretch of the imagination—my design aesthetic is basically “all the color and weird stuff I can fit into a space.”

But if it’s in my space, I want to it be a meaningful—like the weird old chair I picked up at my favorite store in Brooklyn, the painting I bought on the street in South Africa, the vintage dress that belonged to my grandmother.

A lot of the stuff hanging around my space was just…there. It wasn’t meaningful or useful. Preparing to get rid of these type things didn’t give me any sort of feeling at all, which let me know they were probably good choices to go.

Stuff I thought I might still use one day

…but hadn’t in a loooong while. This one felt the toughest to me. It wasn’t just that I worried I might need the stuff one day.

It was more like letting go of some future version of myself. The me who actually makes all the recipes in that great vegetarian cookbook and who crafts something new and beautiful out of that collection of thrift store frames like I had planned to.

The me who figures out what to do with these tiny birdhouses.

It feels like a small failure to give up on this future self—the person you could be, the things you might have done and meant to do.

But failure is inevitable, and humbling, and useful.

Priorities change. Maybe cleaning out the detritus of who you thought you might have been is what clears the path for what you’ll truly become.

And if I ever have an epiphany about what to do with the birdhouses (not likely), I can always get more.

Making room for more life

In the end, way more than 30 items exited my life (everything went to Goodwill, by the way). And I haven’t missed a single one yet. All the meaningless, clutter-inducing items I had been hanging onto out of inertia, or guilt, or some idea of my better future self, can now go to someone who can use and appreciate them now.

I’m still far from a minimalist—I could probably do this challenge again 10 times over and still have stuff to spare.

But I do feel a bit lighter. Really looking at everything I’m surrounded by and considering each item has given me a new perspective I want to keep.

And there’s a little extra room in my life for my next challenge.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

  • I haven’t read the book, but did hear the authors interviewed a couple months back. Very authentic and their approach is not only doable but scalable.

    For the past year I’ve been working on “Operation Downsize” in our house. Each day, one item has to go. Like you, no room has been spared. Everything from clothes and jewelry to duplicate kitchen gear and gardening tools (in case the old trowel broke). Gone. Still far from a minimalist, but loving the more open spaces in drawers & closets.

    • Courtney Seiter

      Nice, Terry! How inspiring! It’s amazing how things can accumulate so quickly; really cool to hear how you’re tackling it for the long haul! :)

  • I share your struggle to balance minimalism with what I call my “Polish grandma instinct”. (“I might use this one day, so I shouldn’t get rid of it.”) Downsizing is especially hard to do with items that are used rarely, but are definitely needed–that stud finder to help hang photos, a pitchfork to spread hay in the garden 2x/year. Having neighbors you can borrow from–and who can borrow from you–helps in this regard, as does community-based sharing projects like tool libraries.

    • Courtney Seiter

      Ha! I love your way of describing that instinct, Stacy; so funny! :) It’s really neat to think about the community aspect of “things;” awesome perspective!

  • Church! –> “Priorities change. Maybe cleaning out the detritus of who you thought you might have been is what clears the path for what you’ll truly become.” So true, Courtney!

    After recently getting rid of tons of stuff, I was just gifted (over the past week) with a lot more stuff I actually love by a friend who was moving into a smaller space. It’s funny how life works — as soon as you get rid of things you don’t need, you make room to receive something better!

    However, now process of decluttering resumes as I try get rid of stuff that I should’ve parted ways with before. It’s so much more challenging than I want it to be. I hate to admit that I’m more attached to things than I should be.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head when you mentioned feeling like a failure for having to “give up” on the person you hoped you would be. Not to mention, the regret of investing so much time and money on things you never used.

    I look forward to seeing your progress on this journey. I’ll continue to join you in spirit! :)

    • Courtney Seiter

      Wow, Thea, such a powerful comment (yours always are!) The feeling of being overly attached to things is something I still struggle with for sure; it’s a tough one to cop to, you’re so right. I love that your story has come full circle and you now have room in your life for the amazing new things from your friend. A lovely real-life metaphor!

  • Candy Cain

    Nice sentiments, put everything I have I collected and kept for a reason, I am a very practical person. I keep things in boxes with labels so that I don’t feel overwhelmed by my things. I have no need to de-clutter or remove anything I have everything I need. xx

    • Courtney Seiter

      Very smart! You must have a lot of storage space! :)

  • I met The Minimalist here in Chicago last week- they were great!

    • Courtney Seiter

      Oh, cool! Looking forward to digging into their book!

  • Thanks for the post! I really like the concept of ridding yourself of one thing every day. It’s much more manageable than planning a day when you’re going to get down to business and clean out that hall closet (too specific? oops!)

    I pledge to implement this strategy starting TODAY…that’s right today, not tomorrow!

    ❤Published Author of COMATIC and VOTED MOST LIKELY;

    • Courtney Seiter

      Cool; I’d love to hear how it goes!

      • So far, so good. One old broken-handled tote gone! ✌
        Guess I was finally forced to realize that it would never get fixed.

  • Great post! I’ll be starting this soon. I’ll make sure to link to it!

    • Courtney Seiter

      Nice; hope you enjoy giving it a try!

  • Kara Humphrey

    I’m right there with you, Courtney. Taking motivation from your article to actually complete this process of simplifying, and get stuff out of my house! (That’s the hardest part for me. The detritus of my life sits in boxes in my storage room for months before I actually donate it or pass it along to others who want it.) Kudos to you for challenging yourself and getting it done! Now, off to find a day that I can use for an organizational staycation…

    • That’s amazing to hear, Kara; best of luck to you! I have your same challenge. In fact, there’s a charity pile sitting on the bench right next to me as I type this! :)

      • Kara Humphrey

        Glad to hear I’m not alone!

  • Moving twice in the last year has helped me declutter and pare down. Instead of asking “What should I get rid of”, I ask, “What do I want to keep?”

    But after getting married and moving into a new place, I’m starting to wade through the gifts and clutter and ask “What do I really need?”

    • Those sounds like excellent questions, Caitlin! Interesting how they evolve!

  • I was fortunate to meet the Minimalists back when the still lived in Ohio a few years ago. They are very nice guys. I’m glad to see they are still doing their thing.

    We recently moved from a 3-bdrm, 2-bath, 2-story house into a 2-bdrm, 1-bath, upstairs apartment. It’s been a challenge, obvs. We still have a room full of boxes that need to be unpacked, but there’s nowhere to unpack this stuff TO. I’ve been working on getting rid of one box per week — whether that means getting rid of its contents or getting rid of stuff around the apartment to swap it out. The one thing we agreed not to get rid of is my books and his records. Everything else? Meh. Even baby girl has been pitching in — as long as we don’t touch her precious stuffed animals. Guess we all have “that one thing” which is a nonnegotiable. I’m good with that.

    • Sounds like you’re all really rising to the occasion! What a great challenge to conquer together! Best of luck to you in finding and hanging on to the things that really matter and letting go of the rest. :)

  • Our family continues to purge clothing and unused items every month. It feels great and our house gets less and less cluttered.

    Less is so much more. Great article. :)

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