How To Become a Minimalist and Feel More Freedom

Daniel looking at Lauren's stuff, wishing she was a minimalist

How To Become a Minimalist and Feel More Freedom

I used to own a plane. Not a real one, but a remote-controlled, 5-foot-wing-span, dual-prop, styrofoam airplane. I bought it online on a Sunday afternoon, back in 2012, when I was probably exhausted from the work week and bored out of my mind.

I flew that airplane once, at Central Park, on a beautiful summer day. The brief flight lasted about 5 seconds — the time it took the plane to take off, complete a half loop in the air and crash-land on the park’s Great Lawn. That’s also the time it took the Central Park Conservancy employee, frantically driving his golf cart-like vehicle in my direction, to let me know that I couldn’t fly drones at Central Park. What a stiff!

Bottom line: my plane cost me about $150 brand new, and I flew it for 5 seconds during all of its lifetime. That was a pretty expensive plane if you think about it. Each second that the warm, summer breeze of New York City caressed its wings cost me about $30 — plus shipping and handling.

After that, the airplane sat idle in my bedroom for 3 years, accumulating dust, before I finally gave it away.

* * *

Before Lauren and I decided to embark on our nomadic, location-independent journey, I used to take pride in being a frugal person (despite my frustrated drone purchase). I had my 4 or 5 pairs of shorts and pants that I would wear interchangeably; a dozen button-down shirts, at most, for work and for the occasional dinner; a few polos; a few workout tops and bottoms; and no more than 5 or 6 pairs of shoes, sneakers included.

It wasn’t until a few months before departure that I started noticing the amount of “junk” that I, a self-proclaimed minimalist by my own standards, was curating in my apartment. What was my 1992 Fortuna Düsseldorf soccer jersey doing in my drawer? How about this t-shirt, slim-fitted for my 20-pound lighter self? Or this nice polo shirt that I spent $80 on but never wore more than 3 times — because, deep inside, I really dislike polos?

Does this remotely describe your own drawers, your own apartment, your own life? Do you love that cool sweatshirt that you wore only once to the game when you were 20 years old? How about that nice skirt that you used to wear on your night-outs with friends, back in the day? Are they still sitting at the bottom of your drawer? Hidden in the closet, behind other “things” that you haven’t worn in a very long time?

Face the Truth: You Probably Use No More Than Half the Things You Own

As I was preparing to leave NYC, reality struck me: I had stockpiled stuff, lots of it. Not one of the worst offenders, by any means. But I still probably owned more (way more) things than I needed.

I am willing to bet that you are in the same boat. Doubt it? Here’s the test: put your phone down, open your closet door and your drawers, and look at it. Have you worn everything that you see in there in the last three months (not counting items for another season)? Have you worn at least half of it in the last month?

If the answer is “no”, you may be over-cluttering your space. And let’s not even talk about your garage, if you have one…

I’m a firm believer in accepting reality as it is, not as I wish it were. And the reality is that you probably spent thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars over your life accumulating things that you don’t need anymore — or that you never needed, to begin with. Clothes, shoes, golf gear, a four-wheeler. Dollars that, properly invested over time, could have bought you many round-the-world trips, or a one-year sabbatical in France, or a nice cushion in your retirement account. Being a minimalist is much easier on your wallet!

In addition to having cost you money at the register, these possessions take up space in your residence and cost you more money and effort to haul around every time you relocate. Plus they might make your house look busy, messing with your zen.

I know it hurts. Accept it.

Detach yourself Emotionally From “Things”… They’re Just “Things”

the 'Into The Wild' lead character is a minimalist

‘Into The Wild’ movie 2007

Things are not living entities, nor do they have feelings. They exist to serve you a purpose. Once they don’t anymore, they should be properly discarded. Believe me, they won’t cry.

One of the most liberating things that I did shortly before leaving NYC was selling, donating, trashing or otherwise repurposing things around the apartment that I no longer needed. Dust-collecting PlayStation 3 console? Sold on eBay (to a happy and grateful kid who never owned a “modern” video game system, by the way)! Winter jacket with my favorite soccer team’s logo on the back? Donated to the Veteran’s Purple Heart foundation! Outdated version of my college statistics textbook? Proudly dumped in the recycling bin! I even made $70 on an empty, collectors-item Absolute Vodka bottle that Lauren used to have on top of her closet.

Become a Minimalist

Try it yourself. Start small. Make a list of the items in your drawer that you (1) have not worn or used in the current season or (2) have made such good use of that they now seem to be falling apart. Rank the items by your order of preference, or by estimated future value (“well, maybe I can wear these shoes to Sally’s wedding next year…”). Get rid of the bottom half of that list. Before you trash your belongings, consider selling or donating them.

Sell at:

Donate to:

If you are thinking of traveling long-term, or want to live a location-independent life like Lauren and me, doing this will pretty much be a mandatory step. 

Adopt The Rule: “For Everything That I Buy, I Must Dispose of Something I Already Own”

Purging things you don’t need is only half the battle. The next challenge is curbing future purchases.

I know you absolutely need to buy that new dress for your friend’s bachelorette next month. After all, none of the other 28 dresses that you own match your new turquoise shoes. (sorry, I couldn’t contain the sarcasm)

One of your options could be renting instead of buying. For instance, sites like Rent the Runway offer thousands of options for female clothing and accessories for a specific event or day-to-day needs.

Settle for a Substitute

However, my main piece of advice here, especially if you are trying to save money for a trip (or for anything else that you consider meaningful in your life), is to refrain from buying things for which you have substitutes at home. Ask yourself if you really need that brand new car, considering you have a perfectly good 4-year old car in the garage? Do you need Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature soccer shoes, since you have that perfectly fine pair of Adidas cleats in the closet? Is Apple’s new iPad Pro really necessary for Christmas, now that you have so many different mobile devices spread all around the house?

But if you must buy a new espresso machine this fall, here’s the new rule that I suggest you adopt: you need to get rid of your old one.

This rule will not only stop the accumulation of “things” in your household, but it will also make you think. “Why must I spend $200, if I have a perfectly functional substitute at home that I am forcing myself to discard?” Not to mention that once (or if) you are on the road, traveling as a location-independent person, accumulating items as you put those miles under your heels will mean a heavier suitcase, which in turn could mean more discomfort and an eventual EUR 40 charge at the airport for excess weight.

* * *

UPDATE: If you need more inspiration or guidance, watch The Minimalist’s Minimalism documentary on Netflix.

* * *

How full does your closet look? Do you have a hard time parting ways with your treasured belongings? Or are you a veteran minimalist with advice to share?

Leave a comment below!

Like this? Sign up to receive these posts and more from Modern Odyssey in your inbox.


Daniel Martins
No Comments

Post A Comment