When you picture a minimalist, what do you see? Is it someone who only dresses in neutral, coordinating colors? A person who only owns one pair of shoes for each season? Someone who refuses to purchase unnecessary home decor or sentimental knick-knacks? It’s true that a minimalist could very well meet any of these descriptions (there are many ways to be a minimalist), but minimalism is, at its core, a lot simpler than any of that. Really, it’s all about mindset shifts.
Minimalism as a concept can often feel intimidating or even a little pretentious to some. But when you break it down to simple mindset shifts, it feels a little more accessible. One self-proclaimed minimalist, Carrie Reese, told me their approach to minimalism is simply governed by repeating the phrase “I have everything I need,” again and again — just five little words.
While cutting things back to the bare minimum when it comes to possessions is certainly not realistic for everyone, I assume you’re reading this because you want to start simplifying your life at least a little bit. Adopting a minimalist principle or two can be a gentle and gradual process that works to enhance the life you’re already living (yes, even if you want to own more than 10 pairs of shoes… for each season).
If you’re looking to learn about some other minimalist-approved life rules to bring into your own day-to-day schedule, here are eight places to start.
1. Follow the “one in, two out” rule.
Sure, you might have heard of the one in, one out rule where you donate or get rid of one piece of clothing (or furniture, etc.) for every one you bring into your home. But have you considered the one in, two out version?
Carine Vinett, founder and CEO of Chic Shop, told me that living in a small space means it’s imperative that clutter isn’t building up over time. “I have a one in, two (or more) out rule,” Vinett said. “I’m always going through my daughter Valentina’s clothes and toys, especially when the season’s change and around her birthday when I know there will be an influx of toys.”
2. Have a yearly clean-out.
Self-proclaimed minimalist Megan Peterson keeps things organized in her home by having a yearly, top-to-bottom cleanout.
“Every year we do it and systematically work through every room in the house to toss clutter, donate, or sell items we no longer use,” Peterson explained. Once the unnecessary items are gone, she and her partner “functionally organize whatever survives.”
3. Embrace the “a place for everything, and everything in its place” mantra.
Ashley La Fond, an organization consultant for Open Spaces, told me that the phrase “a place for everything, and everything in its place” is her go-to organization rule when it comes to minimalism.
“By making an intentional decision about where things should be stored, and giving everything a ‘place’ you no longer have to search for the belongings that you need, and it makes cleanup a breeze,” La Fond said. “Take this one step further, and store items where they are intended to be used. This makes completing tasks much more streamlined and efficient.”
4. Follow the “clear surfaces, clear mind” rule.
Is your brain feeling a little cluttered? Having more trouble focusing than usual? That messy desktop probably isn’t helping, according to La Fond.
“Clutter isn’t just seen, it’s felt. Keep your surfaces clean and free of any unnecessary items… to avoid distractions and the disorganization that creates mental clutter,” La Fond said. “Limit what you keep out to the things that you use daily — store everything else out of sight.”
Looking for an easy way to quickly declutter surfaces without getting rid of everything you own? La Fond suggested using a nesting tray or designated bin for every item in a certain area (say, a desk or a kitchen table). “If the container of choice starts to overflow, then you know it’s time to do an edit,” La Fond says.
5. Don’t buy single-use items.
When was the last time you thought about how many specific uses you can get out of any single item? This single question could be a great entry into minimalist principles, as Michelle Doody explained.
“I try not to buy single purpose items, like an avocado pit remover. I also won’t buy something if I have something at home that does the same job,” Doody said. “[If] I don’t like the look of my water bottle, but it still works… I can’t justify a new one.”
I don’t know about you, but as someone who currently owns somewhere between five and 12 reusable water bottles, this one hits home.
6. Put a regular fridge clean-out on your schedule.
Keeping your fridge clean, organized, and clutter-free can be surprisingly difficult. Plus, it’s a task that’s very, very easy to put off. After all, how many people are staring at the inside of your fridge other than you and your family? But having a clean and easy-to-access fridge means an easier cooking and clean-up experience, too, so it’s worth it.
Marissa Hagmeyer is co-founder of organizing company NEAT Method and told me she does a weekly fridge touch-up when she puts away groceries each week. “That includes rotating half-used items so the oldest is in the front and making sure leftovers are front and center,” Hagmeyer said of the weekly routine. Sounds like a good way to never let a bag of spinach go to waste again.
7. Embrace the “everything behind doors” mindset.
Edgar Blazona, founder of BenchMade Modern, shared that having a rule of “everything behind doors” is a way to achieve the aesthetics of minimalism without having to throw away things you aren’t ready to part with quite yet.
“You can have a lot of stuff, but most of it needs to be behind doors — closets, dressers, baskets, shelves. Keep it hidden away from eyesight,” Blazona suggested.
Another self-described minimalist, Luz Valdovinos, shares a similar mindset: “My goal is one day the only things visible will be ones that I find pleasing or used for decorative purposes. Everything else will live behind a cabinet or drawer,” Valdovinos explained. Sounds pretty nice, right?
8. Only Buy a New Product When You Run Out Of an Old One
Samantha Rucobo told me that she considers herself a minimalist when it comes to beauty. After realizing that she had multiple versions of the same type of product, she decided to adopt a more minimalist philosophy.
“About two years ago I decided I would only buy something to replace something (e.g. a finished product). I essentially force myself to finish something, even if I don’t love it before purchasing something,” Rucobo said. “I now only have six skincare products… and the same with makeup. This really [forces] me to buy only things I truly like and avoid fad trends. This has also saved me a ton of money and has made me less wasteful and mindful of my purchases when it comes to beauty/skincare. In an industry that is constantly coming out with ‘new things,’ it really helps me decrease waste and save money.”
Rucobo’s philosophy in particular is a great reminder that minimalism doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You can use bits and pieces of minimalist rules and principles to create a wardrobe that is more efficient, to stop letting food go to waste in your fridge, or to make your decor a little more peaceful — without throwing away everything you own.