Minimalist Living, Step by Step

Pear Blossoms

A Guide to Gradual Minimalism

Many of us dream of simpler lives, with less stress, more satisfaction and more time to do the things we enjoy.  Though we try to make family, friends and hobbies high priorities, it still seems like we spend way too many hours a week earning money, running errands and doing chores.

What can we do to fix this?  Is minimalist living the answer?

I’ve read several inspiring books by writers who have successfully transitioned to the minimalist lifestyle, but the thing is, as much as I like reading the books, and as much as I admire the people who do it, I’m not ready to move into a tiny house or pare my belongings down to 100 things.

In fact, odds are good I’ll never do those things.  Some might say I’m just not cut out for minimalist living, but I think minimalist living looks different for each person.  Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) make big changes, you can gradually simplify your life just the right amount to make you happy.

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”

– Henry Ford

Over the years, I’ve learned that even when I don’t have the time or energy to take on a big project, I can get it done if I break it down into small steps.

Somebody who likes doing projects all at once might think it’s silly I’d spend a month painting the kitchen in 30-minute sessions when I could be done painting in one weekend of hard work, but if I didn’t plan to do only a little at a time, I’d probably never start at all.

It’s usually not hard to find short blocks of time to work on something, but giving up a whole weekend to a single project is hard for me.

I’m not sure why, but it took a long time for me to realize I could apply the same approach to changing my lifestyle as I do to remodeling my house – I didn’t need to switch to minimalist living all at once.  Instead, I could cut back gradually, make small changes to my habits and still end up with a much simpler life.

Being Green and Saving Green

Switching to the minimalist lifestyle gradually can be better for the environment and save money.  A lot of decluttering plans ask you to chuck things you could use up instead.  Of course, some of your stuff will need to be recycled, thrown away, sold or donated, but by making a plan, you’ll often be able to use up your extra stuff instead of getting rid of it.

A few examples:

  • When I cleaned out our pantry, I found a bunch of bags of dried fruits, nuts and seeds that were left over from recipes. Most of the bags held only a few spoonfuls.  It was really easy to turn those leftovers into delicious homemade granola using the slow cooker.
  • Somehow we ended up with a lot of extra cleaning products.  I pulled out the containers that were closest to empty and made sure we used those up first, so it didn’t take long to cut the number of bottles in half.
  • The same plan worked to shrink the pile of partly used notebooks we save for scrap paper.  It’s easy to make a big dent in the pile by using up the notebooks with the fewest blank pages first.  I put these in places where I knew I’d need scrap paper, like on my desk and by the phone.

You can gradually decrease the number of things you have just by making sure you use what you have before you buy more, and, by carefully choosing what to buy in the future, you’ll still end up with a lot less stuff.

“A habit is a behavior that starts as a choice, and then becomes a nearly unconscious pattern”

 – Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit)

The switch to minimalist living means creating new habits.  We have to change not only the way we do things, but the way we think, becoming more mindful and living more deliberately.

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote from Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare:  “Slow and steady wins the race.”  This is especially true when we’re trying to change our habits since our brains need to build neural pathways for the new habits.

Because it’s hard for most of us to create new habits, we’ll work on building systems that make it easier, including using lists and calendaring systems.

Your Tips for Minimalist Living

Through this blog, we’ll explore the small steps we can take that, over time, will have a big impact on our lives.  I invite you to share your tips for gradual minimalist living by commenting or by emailing me at

6 thoughts on “Minimalist Living, Step by Step

  1. Hi Christy,
    I’m reading a book by Jen Hatmaker entitled, “7, An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” You might be interested in her perspective on using less, doing with less.

  2. This is so true! It’s intimidating to contemplate beginning, but even when we have big goals, we can make progress a little at a time. It’s a great way to make sure that clutter doesn’t creep back into the cabinets, too.

    • Thanks. I know some people are good are clearing everything out at once, and I’m so impressed by them. But that’s not me, and I’m okay with that now.

      We’ve hit the point where we’re really seeing the difference in our lives now from the small changes and that makes it easier to continue. Heck, not just easier, but more exciting. We actually smile when we think about decluttering.

  3. You’re an inspiration to those of us with too much “stuff,” Christy! When my husband and I recently sold our three-bedroom house, put most of our things in storage, and moved to a studio apartment while we search for another, much smaller house, we found out that we don’t need much “stuff” at all in order to be perfectly comfortable.

    • Thanks so much. I find people like you (already living somewhere small) a great inspiration. As I mentioned in the blog, I just don’t have the personality to downsize all at once, but even so it’s amazing to me how much stuff I can get rid of and then still find more things I don’t use. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to minimize slowly.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.