Corey and I have always been pretty frugal.
That’s translated to very full drawers, closets, and a basement of things that could possibly be useful someday. We wouldn’t want to buy something again later if we already had it now.
When we set out to embark on this minimalist challenge, we weren’t sure how it would go.
Would it cause marital strife? I felt ready to go through and let go of things in our lives that we no longer needed. Corey’s always been a bit more of a packrat than I have, so would he feel differently?
We were worried that we wouldn’t have enough things to get rid of. We initially told a few friends that we were planning to do a minimalist challenge. They looked around our house, laughed, and said, “You don’t even have that many things.”
Despite these worries, we decided to do the minimalist challenge anyways. Even if we didn’t make it the full 31 days, we’d still be better off than before.
What is a Minimalist Challenge?
First, let me start by sharing more about minimalism. Minimalism has existed all throughout human history. The basic premise is that, as a minimalist, you are intentionally living with only the things you really need. Another way to describe minimalism is moving toward simplicity and away from consumerism. Minimalists value experiences and relationships and desire less stress in their lives.
We’ve always enjoyed gamifying our finances. Gamification helps us to tap into intrinsic motivation. When we learned about the minimalist challenge, we thought this gamification would give us a nice jumpstart.
I was first introduced to the minimalist challenge by Wanderlust Wendy. Before she and her husband became nomadic travelers, they did a 30-day minimalist challenge.
This meant that for an entire month, they focused on getting rid of things. On day one, they got rid of one thing. On day two, they got rid of two things. This went all the way to day 30 where they got rid of 30 things. They treated it as a game and competed against each other!
Then I met, Rose Lounsbury, a minimalist coach, at Cents Positive (a financial independence retreat for women) this past fall. When I learned she was doing a 12-day minimalist challenge with her Facebook group, we decided to jump on board.
This was the final push we needed. We decided to do our minimalist challenge for December. We participated in Rose’s 12-day challenge and continued to do the full 31 days.
We knew this would be a challenge, but we were excited about it!
Why You Should Do a Minimalist Challenge
There are so many benefits to becoming more minimalist in our daily lives. I will share the few of them that have impacted me the most.
1. Financial Freedom and Stability
I remember the first time that I saw a meme that said, “Look around your house. All that clutter used to be money.” I had never thought about it that way before, and it hit me.
I used to spend so much money on buying random stuff that I didn’t need (books, trinkets, clothes, shoes, etc.). If I had saved the money instead, I would have greater financial stability and a lot more options right now.
Minimalism helps people build financial stability whether that be debt-freedom or financial independence. If I had focused on minimalism sooner, I could have transitioned into part-time work or a job I enjoyed earlier.
I can obviously only focus on this moving forward. I will no longer waste my hard-earned money on things that I will end up getting rid of anyways.
2. When We Have Less, We Desire Less
Logically, we all know that having more stuff does not provide us with more happiness. Yet, the vast majority of people in our world are on the hedonic treadmill.
The hedonic treadmill is a cycle that starts with getting something new. When we get something new, we are excited for a short time. We get a hit of dopamine, which makes us feel good. Unfortunately, that feeling doesn’t last for long. Because we want that feeling again, we keep wanting newer and better things to help us achieve it. The hedonic treadmill locks us into a cycle of consumption that doesn’t actually increase our happiness.
When we realize what is happening, we can break this cycle. Once we realize this, we can figure out what truly makes us happy – strong relationships, meaningful work, and experiences. When we focus our time, energy, and money on these things, it becomes a lot easier to live with less.
3. Less Stress and the Ability to Live in the Moment
Having so much stuff causes us stress and makes it hard to live in the moment. Clutter bombards us with excessive stimuli and brings up feelings of guilt and embarrassment. These make it hard to relax and also stunt our creativity and focus.
4. Minimalism Helps us Reduce our Carbon Footprint
One thing that could truly help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce the number of things that we buy. In fact, 60% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and transportation of the goods we buy. By consuming less, we can play our part to prevent climate change.
In short, minimalism is good for an individual’s finances and emotional health and can also have an impact on the greater world.
What We Learned from our Minimalist Challenge
Over the course of December, we got rid of over 500 things. After we documented the items for each of the 31 days, we continued to get rid of things. We just didn’t keep taking photos to share.
We accomplished our goal and then some, and we learned a lot from doing the challenge.
1. Keeping tabs on what we have is important.
I was surprised throughout the process that there were many things that we forgot we had. There was expired food in our pantry and expired sunscreen. Why? Because we forgot about it before we could use it.
We had 4 wine bottle openers. Why? We either bought them or they were given to us, and we didn’t take tabs on what we already had.
As we were going through things, we also found some placemats and cloth napkins that neither of us recalls seeing before. We had certainly never used them, so we decided to donate them.
It’s important to know what we have so that we:
- Don’t let it go to waste
- Don’t buy a replacement
- Get rid of duplicates or things we don’t want/need.
2. We got rid of things we were keeping out of guilt.
Through this challenge, we got rid of so many things. We systematically went through many areas of our house. It made me realize that there were things I was keeping, not because I needed or even wanted them, but because I felt like I should keep them.
Many of these things fell into the categories of books, magazines, gifts or clothes.
For example, a couple of years ago, we used some extra (about to expire) airline miles for magazines. We were excited about then when they first arrived, but soon after, we got bored (a great example of the hedonic treadmill). We still kept getting the magazines, and they piled up. We didn’t get rid of them because we felt guilty about not reading them.
We had these mugs that my mother-in-law bought us. They were very pretty, but they couldn’t be microwaved without the handle getting scaldingly hot. Because they were a gift, we had felt like we needed to keep them.
Finally, the last thing was that I was keeping clothes that no longer fit. Why? Because someday I might lose weight and be able to wear them again.
Sometimes our stuff adds stress and negativity to our lives. I don’t need to look at the stack of magazines that make me feel guilty for not reading them. I don’t need to keep the clothes that remind me that I could possibly lose weight (even though I’m perfectly healthy). Mugs that don’t serve their primary purpose do not need to be kept just because they were a gift.
We learned that it’s okay to let go of these things.
3. It was amazing how much we accumulated without realizing it. We want to be more intentional about what comes into our lives.
It’s amazing how many things we had gotten for free. We had an unbelievable amount of swag from events (so many bottle openers!). We had countless free toiletries like toothbrushes from the dentist and hotel shampoos. These things pile up over time.
We definitely want to be more mindful of what we bring in to our house. Personally, I plan to turn down the toothbrushes at the dentist and not take the hotel toiletries. When I go to events, I’m going to turn down swag that I don’t need. Many minimalists go by the “one thing in; on thing out” method. I’m not exactly sure we’ll go this far, but we might get there.
4. The more we got rid of, the easier it got.
At first, it was challenging to figure out what to get rid of. As we went further into the month, it got a lot easier. Instead of making it into a big thing, I could just be waiting for water to boil for coffee. During these 5 minutes, I’d go through a drawer or shelf and find 10 things to get rid of.
As we got further into the month, we definitely got more into it. We’d choose a large space like the desk or the spare bedroom closet to go through. In it, we’d find more items that we’d need for the day. When this happened, we’d save extra things to add to future days.
One turning point for me was when I was going through my sock drawer. At first, I opened it and picked out 6-8 pairs of socks to get rid of. It felt like I didn’t make a dent.
I went back, emptied out the drawer and decided what I wanted to put back on. I got rid of about 40 pairs of socks, and I still have about 40 pairs. Who could possibly need more than 40 pairs of socks?
As we got rid of more things, we started to realize that we actually need fewer things to live a fulfilling life. I expect this learning will stick with us even more as we continue on our minimalism journey.
5. 31 days wasn’t long enough.
We did the minimalist challenge for 31 days, and we got rid of over 500 things. Surprisingly, we felt like it wasn’t long enough. We didn’t make it to every area of our house (including the bathroom linen closet, our front coat closet, and our basement). For some areas, like our bookshelves, we felt like we barely scratched the surface.
By the end of the month, we were starting to feel a bit of decision fatigue. We were making so many small decisions about what to let go of and what to keep. So, we’ve decided to take a small break. I will likely continue to pull things out and put them in a bag to get rid of but not in such an intense way.
We have discussed that we may want to pick this up and do another challenge for spring cleaning in April.
6. The minimalist challenge helped us to be grateful for everything we do have.
We are so fortunate. We have everything we need, things that make our life easier, and things that bring us joy. It’s important for me to remember that we are already some of the most fortunate people in human history.
Our consumeristic ways don’t add to our happiness. Instead, helping others and preventing climate change will bring us a lot more happiness and meaning.
How To Do Your Own Minimalist Challenge
The mechanics of doing a minimalist challenge are easy. It’s some of the emotional and relational components that can be more challenging. Here are the tips that we have.
1. If you have a spouse or partner, build an agreement that you want to do this together (if possible).
At first, Corey was hesitant about participating in a minimalist challenge. As I discussed it with him, I made it clear that I wouldn’t make him get rid of anything he wasn’t ready to get rid of.
If you want to help them understand, you could share the benefits of minimalism. I’ve included some in this post, or you could seek out other minimalism resources available.
If you are unable to get your partner on board, that’s okay. I’d recommend just getting rid of things that are yours. If you’d like to get rid of anything that is shared, run it by them first.
2. Figure out a way to hold yourself accountable.
It’s easy to start things like this and give up after a few days into it. This is why I encourage you to find accountability. You could:
- Find a minimalism group on facebook, as we did, that is already running a minimalist challenge
- Share on social media your intention to do a minimalist challenge for a defined period of time. Then, post a photo each day of what you are getting rid of. We did this, and we started to see a lot of people cheering us on along the way or actually start participating.
- Create a calendar and mark off each day you’ve completed.
- Simply share your intention with a friend and asking them to hold you accountable.
3. Make a list of the areas of your house and go through them systematically.
For the first few days, it seems easier to just walk around the house and choose things to get rid of at random. Once you need to get rid of more than 8 things, this becomes more challenging.
I would recommend making a list of the different areas of your house so that you can go through them systematically. Here is a brief list to get you started:
- Kitchen Cupboards
- Coat Closets
- Shoe Rack
- Linin Closet
- Broom Closet
- Bedroom Closet
- Spare Bedroom Closet
- Bathroom drawers
When we would tackle one area, we’d often generate more items that we’d need to get rid of in a single day. If this happened, we would save them for future days.
4. Don’t be too strict with yourself.
We did this in December but we knew that we wanted to be done with it by December 23rd. We wanted to drop off all the donations before my family came into town for the holidays. We didn’t worry about finding and getting rid of things on the exact day of the month it was for.
We pre-chose things that we were going to get rid of for a lot of the days (particularly the latter days). This allowed us to finish before our family came into down.
For us, it was important that we did it, but it didn’t matter exactly when.
5. Finally, get rid of your stuff!
If you don’t have a regular place where you drop off donations, do some research. Find out if there’s a Goodwill or another thrift store nearby.
As you are going through the month, determine what you will do with things. There are many options including:
- Donating to your local thrift store or Goodwill
- Donating things (like toiletries) to a shelter or other nonprofit
- Giving them away to friends
- Throwing away things that would not benefit anyone
We actually utilized all these options. We donated the vast majority to our local thrift store. We donated some toiletries to a homeless drop-in center. I gave my (good) extra socks to a friend who is doing a clothing ban. Finally, we had a few things that we threw in the trash, such as pens and markers that didn’t work, expired food, or things that were broken.
You could also determine if it would be worth it for you to itemize your donations for your taxes. If it does make sense for you, we recommend this donation valuation guide. If you have items that don’t show up on this list, a rule of thumb is to value something at 1/3 the retail value.
Jumpstart Your Minimalism Journey by Doing a Minimalist Challenge
It can be a challenge to build any habit. Before doing this challenge, we would get motivated once in a while to go through our clothes or books. We’d get rid of a few things, feel good about ourselves, and move on with our lives. Then we’d continue to bring more things into our household and have to do it again a few months later.
This minimalist challenge has jumpstarted this habit for us. Not only did it push us to get rid of more at once, but we will also now be more mindful of what we bring into our home.
After only one month, it’s hard to see or feel results. I’m very interested to pay attention to the long-term results of this process.
Have you done any decluttering of your home? What results did you see?
I’m feeling inspired to do my own! We already embrace minimalism, but it’s easy to let random junk slip into your home. Did you consider selling any of your belongings?
That’s awesome! I’d definitely recommend doing it. I forgot about it but we actually did sell the two end tables from day 3. Beyond that, we didn’t sell any of it though. We didn’t feel like it was worth enough to be worth it.
In the challenge, we didn’t include a couple of pieces of furniture that we are trying to sell or any of the textbooks that are still worth something. Have ou had success selling things? If so, I’d love to hear what you’ve done!
We sort through the main collection area, the basement, about every 2 to 3 years. But the biggest purge was when the basement was a mess and mice took over. This forced us to throw away many things which had already been useless for us but yet we still kept. I’m not sure if anything at all that we cared about was lost to the mice.
It felt fantastic. Which is why we clear it out about every 2 to 3 years today and donate what we can. I wouldn’t be surprised if we moved to a smaller house if that also may feel liberating some day as well.
Thanks for sharing Pete. It does feel good to get rid of excess things. I still think we need to keep getting rid of more and make it more of a lifestyle to feel the long-term benefits. I’m really happy to hear from others their success because it’s very inspiring to me!
Congrats on getting to the end of your challenge! Let me know if you end up doing another, maybe I’ll join you. We have a lot of kids stuff that’s accumulating in our basement!
Hey! We might do another challenge in April!
It would be fun to get a group of folks for accountability!
I will definitely let you know!
Every time I’ve moved in the last 5 years (which has been thrice) I’ve downsized. However, I could stand to get rid of more. I typically make myself get rid of something when I bring something new in but I’ve made exceptions to this.
I’m looking forward to doing this with you in the spring. Nice work, BTW!
Thanks, Deanna! I’m looking forward to this as well!
Thanks for sharing your experience. This will definitely help people to hopefully hold on less stuff and leave a more meaningful life.
For us, we’ve been there, done that. Now that we travel the world with just 2 carry on each (details: https://www.nomadnumbers.com/2019-women-carry-on-packing-list-for-nomadic-long-term-travels/), we definitely got confirmation that we don’t need stuff to be happy. We end up cherishing every single piece of item we carry which us, which lead to a major issue. We can be pretty sad when we ended up either breaking, loosing or having to replace any items because they have added so much joy in our life.
Hi Mr. NN,
Thanks for sharing! I can imagine that when you have fewer things, it feels challenging to let them go. We still have SO MANY THINGS, and it can sometimes feel challenging to let them go.
I hope our story inspires people!
Thank you for sharing. We often try to live a semi-minimalist lifestyle but like anything else could always improve.
This last summer we moved and did a massive purge of things we no longer needed or used. We found that a lot of the stuff we got rid of was gifts from other people that we had no use for.
That is a big struggle for us. Our families know that we are trying to adopt a minimalist lifestyle yet they continue to buy things for us that we do not need, want or ask for. We have tried talking to them about this on numerous occasions with no success.
I would be interested in joining your spring challenge.
Yes, gifts are so hard. It’s interesting – someone told me once that once a gift is given, it has served its purpose. The person giving you the gift. I see that perspective, but it’s also really hard!
I definitely still have many things I received as gifts that I just need to get rid of.
I’ll put you on the list for potentially joining April’s challenge.
Great article. I really want to do this! Right now I’m in a 90 day organized home challenge. What I’m finding is that each area I organize, there’s something that is rarely (or never) used! I just need to get the hubby on board…he’s a “collector” and it’s often difficult for him to purge things (particularly collectibles, but sometimes other things too). Anyway, maybe I’ll send him your article to help him see the benefits 🙂
Wonderful! I’m so glad that you felt like this was helpful! Good luck getting your husband on board.
It’s amazing how once you start looking at things how many unused things there really are!
Day 2 and I am so amped! I have to slowwww down and take on 1 room at a time!
So liberating to clear the clutter 🙂