Prepare yourself for a simple life in 21 days. This is the guide for those looking to live a life of minimalism.
I would like to teach you to enjoy your life by eliminating the excess. This guide is a comprehensive toolkit with best practices on becoming a minimalist for good. If you follow along, you will be on your way to a more meaningful life sooner than you can imagine – 21 days to be exact.
I’ve broken the sections down into one-day actionable chunks, for a total of 21 sections, or days. The declutter process is a physical and emotional experience. Although this guide can be read in one sitting, it works best when used as a day-by-day habit-building (or habit-breaking, depending on how you look at it) guide.
I am a long-time marketer of products and services, and feel best-suited to discuss minimalism from the perspective of someone who lives in the noisy world of advertising. After all, marketers need to cut through the clutter on a daily basis to get their message across effectively. There is more choice in this world than ever before. I can count eight different types of eggs when I visit my local grocery store.
Technology allows us to connect in a number of ways – ways we’ve never seen before the 21st century. You can now track your sleep patterns with an app on your phone, and even have it wake you gently depending on how deep you’re sleeping. Artificial intelligence will proliferate the power of automation, eliminating countless jobs in any given industry.
An ever-changing world is upon us, and yet the population is not optimizing their day. Employees are expected to work more hours, even as processes improve. We fill our leisure time with visits to the shopping mall or storage area, just so we can add more stuff to our pile of stuff. There is a trend as people realize the detriment of living a cluttered life.
We are seeing an uptick in the search for minimalism as our worlds become more complex. People are realizing how much of an impact clutter is having on their lives and they want to do something about it.
I spent the good part of two years assessing how to become a minimalist after falling into the trap of a cluttered world myself. The majority of what I owned was collecting dust in cupboards and drawers. My life was occupied with constant work projects and literally no time to spend with family. I had no hobbies, I was in a toxic relationship, and my job took over my life 24/7. Something had to give. I stripped away the majority of my possessions to see what type of impact it would have on my well-being. After all, I felt like my life was suffocating with all of the stuff around me.
I noticed immediate benefits after the switch to minimalism. My stress and anxiety improved (I think my hair grew back too). My health and fitness improved. The biggest change: more time. More time to do the things I love. Running, writing, reading. I had literally forgotten how good it felt to read a book in peace, or to run along the beach without the fear of being late for my next appointment. I have regained my life on the path to minimalism, and now I am ready to share what I’ve learned with you, in this actionable guide. After 21 days – yes, in only three weeks – you will become a minimalist. You will have the life you deserve, free of clutter. Let’s run through the step-by-step process for becoming a minimalist, to the point where you could be living with less than 300 items and full of new adventures on the horizon.
Are you ready? Let’s begin.
Day 1: Why minimalism?
Before we even begin to clean up your stuff, I want to get to the heart of why you’re doing this. Is this a rational behaviour, or a decision based upon emotion? It’s important to be careful when we decide to throw away items which may carry sentimental value. I want you to think long and hard about detaching yourself from the material world. People do actually gain joy from buying items, and that may be your proper lifestyle. I encourage you to hold onto your joys in life once you start this journey.
Your task for the day:
List all of the reasons why you would like to live with less, and what you hope to achieve in becoming a minimalist. Once you’ve nailed down your list, reflect on it. See what stands out to you. Now you should have meaning behind your motive to change.
Day 2: The A / B / C piles
We can lump our possessions into three piles: A, B and C.
Pile A is the group of possessions we use and need on a daily basis – they are the essentials, the items we need to thrive in life. You will never dispose of this pile unless an item is broken or needs dire replacement.
Pile B is the “occasional use” pile. Every now and then we might find value from these items. They are not quite essential, yet useful in specific situations. You will have emotional debates with yourself as to whether you should keep or discard select items here.
Pile C is the group of items you can live without. You rarely, if ever, use these items. It’s time to be ruthless by saying farewell to this pile.
Your task for the day:
Start to segment your items into the appropriate A / B / C piles. Make a spreadsheet of items to give you a better visual. You may be surprised to discover how many items fall under the C pile. Group the C’s and emotionless B’s into a collective pile. After that, you’re done for the day, don’t give it another thought.
Day 3: The garage sale
Now that you’ve had a good night’s sleep and you’re confident in the previous day’s gathering effort, let’s move quickly and decisively to push that discard pile away from your life. Advertise a weekend garage sale with friends and family to get the ball rolling. You can publicize via Craigslist, Facebook Events or SMS, to name a few. If you cannot sell everything in one sitting, consider donating the rest to a local charity or thrift store. Remember that this garage sale is to clear away the items you know for sure are unnecessary to living your life.
Day 4: Digital assets
Raise a hand if you are guilty of a computer desktop screen full of file and program icons.
You may have hundreds of files there, making it near impossible to find what you are looking for at a moment’s notice. With the right organizing method, you can reduce your file-searching stress for good. Start off by creating A / B / C folders. Sound familiar? It is. We’re using the same principle we tried with your physical possessions, by categorizing the importance of files. I review my desktop weekly to ensure information is filed appropriately. If you manage your desktop on a regular basis, you can reduce your file count too. Delete the C folder when you’re finished.
Day 5: Phone apps
I have run into countless people who have at least five full screens of apps on their phone. Do they use them all? How many phone applications do you carry on your phone? How many of those note-taking apps do you really need? The answer: one or less. Choose the least-used apps and group them in a folder. Take a look at the outliers and decide if they are really needed for daily use. If not, delete them. By clearing away unused apps, your phone experience will improve as navigation is cleaner.
Day 6: Clothing
This one requires a day of reflection in solitude for some people. Clothes are one of the most challenging items to separate yourself from. I recall donating my dress shirts after having spent a fortune on them. Even though they still fit, I had to clear them away as they were collecting dust. You might have clothes that still work for you, yet have overstayed their welcome. It’s time to realize that your fresher clothes need the spotlight. I never realized how many high-quality clothes I wasn’t wearing due to the fact that I was keeping around the mediocre ones. Continue with the three-pile method to segment your clothing appropriately.
Day 7: Shopping malls
Shopping is a social activity. We love hanging out at the mall with friends, trying on new things. I am here to suggest you limit your social outings at shopping malls. Emotions run high, purchases are made on impulse and most people leave wondering how they spent ridiculous amounts of money. The shopping mall is a casino in disguise, for all ages. We talk about how casinos do not have clocks – neither do malls. If you need to buy a replacement item at the mall, try to go alone. Control your buying impulses by picking up necessary items on Craigslist. Save the social outings to other forms of experiential activity, such as fitness classes, dinner table conversations, or coffee chats.
Day 8: Meetings
The majority of our day is occupied by meetings if we live in the corporate world. The best approach I recommend to tackle your meetings is to group them all into one day. Get it over with near the beginning of the week so you can focus on key objectives and goals for the quarter. Sometimes an IM conversation is enough to handle what would have otherwise turned into hours of tedious face-to-face chit-chat. Every meeting should be purposeful, with an intended outcome before the meeting even begins. Ensure everyone has clearly labeled to-do’s from the meeting. Eliminate all impromptu meetings. If it’s not in the calendar, we are not having a meeting. Time is a scarce resource. I believe in respecting everyone’s time and you should too.
Day 9: 100% paperless
Step 1: grab a laptop/tablet.
Step 2: throw away your notepad.
Step 3: add all to-do’s into your calendar.
You can purchase a laptop for less than $300 now. Chances are you have one laying around your home somewhere. I find that since I’ve gone paperless, my productivity has improved two-fold. My paper note-taking required me to double-enter information, as I found myself emailing out tasks anyway. Paper notes can get lost in a sea of newer notes, and it’s more difficult to action on items that are buried in reams of pages. Plus my handwriting is downright horrendous – think doctor’s notes.
Day 10: The workplace
The workplace is for many of us a second home, yet we treat it differently. It’s fascinating to see the outstanding organizing skills of my colleagues at their place of work, yet their home situation is quite the opposite. I find a trend in that a tidy employee can be an untidy homeowner, or vice versa. Here are a few easy tips to make your workstation pristine, and free of those pesky sticky notes.
Adopt the one-touch rule.
Handle the task right away if it will only take five minutes. Longer than five minutes? Chuck it into the “project” pile for future thought.
See Day 9. This is a quick way to clear away those old receipts. Need to keep a copy of the receipt? I like using a free app from the makers of Evernote, called Scannable.
Stop spreading yourself too thin.
This is the best advice I can give you. You’re taking on too many to-do’s and now you’re struggling to clean up the mess. Ask for help, collaborate with others, offload administrative responsibilities to direct reports. Control your pile of work before taking on the next project, otherwise you will burn yourself out.
Day 11: Zero waste program
How are you currently disposing of your banana peels? What are you doing with leftover meals? Is your trashcan full every week? Once you go minimalist, your environmental footprint naturally declines. Your propensity to purchase packaged goods will shift in favour of fruits, veggies, and other healthy alternatives to the high-sugar junk food our Western society has been accustomed to for decades. I am really interested in those who have adopted a zero waste program. This takes minimalism to the next level.
Day 12: Zero inbox program
If you’re not loaded with emails in your inbox each day, you must be doing nothing! Whenever I tell people I always have less than 50 emails sitting in my inbox at a given time, they give me a blank stare. The average person carries 500 unread messages. Unread! That equates to chronic stress, continually thinking about those unopened emails. Hmm, when will you get around to it? It’s time to permanently clear your inbox so that you can manage it like a magician doing the disappearing act.
First off, don’t delete the emails yet. Open them first. Look for an Unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email you find unnecessary. The problem is we receive recurring emails from businesses we don’t do business with, yet never let them know we’re not interested. The Unsubscribe addresses that issue.
Next, staff emails should be reviewed for depth of content. If it’s a one-sentence email, kindly ask the employee to IM or call you instead for future quick interactions. The worst scenario is responding back and forth with one-liners by email – it’s the slow, tedious way of communication.
Get long conversation strings handled by a meeting or phone call. Group email conversations could tally up quickly, and it’s disruptive and time-consuming to follow the entire string of messages, 98% of which do not relate to your situation.
Allocate emails to folders for future review. Using folders with labels in your inbox will keep you organized.
Hit “delete” ruthlessly. Do bulk deletes if you’ve finished unsubscribing from the unwanted emails.
If you follow these steps, you will be a zero inbox rockstar in no time.
Day 13: Simple eating
Standardizing your meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner can be the best way to clear your brain from thinking about what to cook each night. My meals are prepped on Sunday for the majority of the week, to avoid the temptation of eating out. Food is a necessity in life, not a luxury. Make your meal prep simple and healthy.
Here are a few eating tips. Breakfast should be your biggest calorie intake meal. I eat most of my fruits and vegetables in the morning and at lunch to fuel my busy day, with dinner typically consisting of chicken or fish salads.
Stop using salad dressing, even if it is a vinaigrette. Dressings are full of hidden sugar content. Try deliciously healthy substitutes like lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, or avocado spread. It doesn’t need to be bland to be healthy, as lemons are one of the healthiest superfruits in the world.
Day 14: Craigslist
The buy-and-sell mecca that is Craigslist could be your one-way ticket to minimalist success. A portion of your B pile of goods should be sold on this platform to gather a few extra bucks for your bank account. Ensure your listings include quality photos and captivating headlines to reel potential visitors in. Be prepared to sell your goods at 50% or less of their historical value, which is typical for any classifieds platform.
Day 15: The backpack test
Going away for a few days? Can you fit it all into a backpack? Let’s experiment! Dig up a basic pack, no more than 30L in capacity if you can. You will be surprised at how easily it is to pack light for multi-day trips. Roll up your clothing to avoid wrinkles. Wear one pair of shoes on your feet and leave the rest at home. Stick with travel-size items and store them in Ziploc bags.
Day 16: One screen
How about storing your whole business and personal life in the cloud, for free, with only a few platforms? Here are the tools I use to make it happen:
- Google Apps (Drive, Sheets, Docs, Calendar, Maps, Hangouts, Gmail)
- Scannable (receipt capture)
- WordPress (website creation)
- BlueHost (web hosting)
- GoDaddy (domain names)
- MailChimp (email marketing)
You will notice Google apps above comprises of a number of different tools to manage your business. I like to keep it simple by having a hub for everything. Google is the closest platform to accommodate for this. Once you start adding too many software platforms, your world becomes unfocused and difficult to manage.
Day 17: Television
Television is, aside from the smartphone, the biggest time-suck of the 21st century. If I could wave a magic wand to make all of the household televisions vanish, I would. Although I’ve been a long-time television couch potato, I would implore you to sell your TV and get outside. Or sell your TV and work on your hobby. Most of the world will go home after work, plop on the sofa with their engraved butt imprint, and watch TV until they fall asleep. You will accomplish nothing in life by passively consuming television shows. Change your life for the better by cutting it out entirely.
Day 18: Relationships
Relationships can consume a chunk of your social life, as they should. Ensure your relationships with others are positive. With minimalism, your goal should be to minimize any toxic relationships that are holding you back from personal growth. I have let some bad connections haunt me for years. If the situation feels like a burden, it likely is. Sever ties with the bad people in your life by categorizing them into A/B/C piles as well. The pile philosophy can apply to any decluttering approach, tangible and intangible.
Day 19: Finance
Get a free bank account by consolidating services from different providers. Set up an automatic investment with reinvested dividends. By reinvesting your dividend income, you are compounding your earnings exponentially with money you never had before investing. Stick with index or mutual funds to ensure stable growth in your funds. I played with penny stocks briefly, and would suggest you steer clear from that gamble. Always seek the advice of a financial expert before taking the final plunge.
Day 20: Your brand
I’ve run into countless cases of people who run their business and personal life like a roller coaster, swayed by the next shiny object. The most attractive feature of minimalism is that it actually stands out while the noise fits in. Let’s take your brand, for example. It can be personal and/or business-related. Is your brand message all over the place, or are you clear and concise in your communications?
Minimalism is not just about physical possessions. Your intangible assets are actually the most overlooked areas. As we improve technology, we will see a movement of clutter from physical to digital form. Clearly honing in on your personal and/or business brand will make a difference in your life as you realize the benefits of a focused, clearly-defined image.
Day 21: Fulfillment
And I’m not talking about the logistics term for fulfillment…Now that you have a clutter-free life, it’s time to do something with it! After all, true minimalists appreciate the little things in life and experience all the world has to offer. Start taking up hobbies that you never had the time to take part in before. I would say having at least one hobby is a must for everyone reading this guide. Tap into your childhood memories to discover some of the simple things you enjoyed as a child.
Three months later: The revisit
The journey is just beginning. Every three months, you should review your situation. Are you relapsing? Keep this guide on-hand to ensure you follow the minimalist approach in life. Sometimes it’s nice to have a support system to coach you along the way and keep you on track. I recommend having your closest family and friends hold you accountable for this new lifestyle.
The journey to living with less can bring you what you’re looking for: less stress at work and home, more free time to work on your hobbies and more time to spend with your family and friends.
What are you waiting for?