9 Common Mistakes People Make When Starting A Minimalist Life

Updated: Apr 10




You can hardly miss it - those light and airy minimalist rooms, tidy shelfies, and hyper-organized pantry pics floating around on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Maybe you've even looked at your own space and wished for a clean and clear slate to work with. You're considering a stab at downsizing and becoming more minimalist. Before you start, here are 9 mistakes all minimalist beginners make and actionable steps on how to avoid them!


1. NOT CREATING AN ACTION PLAN

Starting without a plan is one of the most common mistakes made by people who are new to simplifying, downsizing, or becoming minimalist - myself included! An unplanned approach will likely lead to feeling overwhelmed, wasting time, and cause a bad case of decluttering fatigue. It's super helpful to start out with a little bit of research.


Come up with a step-by-step plan that works for you and list your goals before starting off. This can be as simple as following a YouTube series, reading a how-to book like "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up", or utilizing a how-to blog article. Once I realized that I needed an organized and focused plan of attack, I utilized a combination of all three methods, picking and choosing what sounded most relevant to my personal goals.


"Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” - Joshua Becker


2. NOT SETTING ACHIEVABLE GOALS

Minimalism is a lifestyle choice, and your lifestyle needs are not going to exactly match anyone else's. Failing to to have a clear endgame and set of goals will make the process of discarding extremely difficult and time consuming. This is where goal setting comes into play. Know your "why". Have strong reasons for why this is a change you'd like to make. Envision how having less will help you and how your life will be different. Maybe decluttering will give you an open space for you to practice yoga, create a cozy book nook, or set up a home office. Perhaps your goal is to have less things to dust, organize, or keep track of.


Write down, type up, or mood board your ideas for how you envision your life. If you're into journaling, then cue the scented candles and the gel pens! But if you're like me, maybe a Pinterest board, a list of reasons & goals on your phone, or writing down 5 "whys" on a piece of paper might be more your speed. Write about, dream up, and envision your life with less stuff to manage. Set simple, achievable goals for yourself.


"People cannot change their tidying habits without first changing their way of thinking."

-Marie Kondo




3. NOT REALIZING THAT ORGANIZING ONLY HIDES THE CLUTTER TEMPORARILY

As The Minimalists will bluntly tell you, "organizing is well-planned hoarding". Taking everything out and rearranging it is not the same thing as decluttering. Same thing goes for creating new storage systems. I know this sounds obvious, but an extremely common mistake is to get rid of a few things, organize the remainder, and then call it day. I know, because I have also made this blunder and can vouch for its total ineffectiveness. Regardless of how tempting it may be, do not spend any time, money, or effort on organizing as you declutter because this is a step best saved for last. Focus on discarding unwanted and unneeded items first.


"It's human nature to take the easy route and leap at storage methods that promise quick and convenient ways to remove visible clutter. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, and the room once again overflows with things." Marie Kondo




4. NOT STARTING A SHOPPING BAN

I will admit to an embarrassing mistake I made several times; when I first started out, I bought items I viewed as being "minimalist". For example, I bought a really tiny "investment" purse that I viewed as simple and minimalist. While it did force me to reduce what I carried, it was still too small for my lifestyle needs. My S.O. caught me trying to shove all the things into it and knew right away what I was really doing. A few other "purge-inspired" purchases I regretted later were buying storage containers, a shelf, and all-white shoes. I was confusing a minimalist aesthetic with the minimalist concept of being mindful about the items I brought into my life. Additionally, I did not realize that more storage solutions were hindering and not helping.


This an extremely common pitfall. In order to avoid this, start a self-imposed shopping ban. Make a resolution to not make any unnecessary purchases outside of essential needs until you have completed your entire discarding process. Once you have finished decluttering, you will know exactly what you already own and what you don't need to purchase again.


In the meantime, start a running wishlist where you can write down ideas for items you might want to add, replace, or upgrade in your home at a later date. This will give you time to think about and re-evaluate your purchase plans. By the time you have completed your discarding process, you will be looking at your home and your belongings with a fresh pair of eyes.


"The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past." - Marie Kondo



5. NOT DISCARDING RESPONSIBLY

If you are going on a purge-spree, you may quickly find yourself surrounded by piles of things waiting to be properly discarded. The more the "get rid of" pile builds up, the more tempting it can be to simply chuck everything into the trash. There were a few times where I unintentionally stockpiled huge amounts of things to get rid of. I didn't want to load up my car full of stuff to donate yet again, so I literally trashed everything. I still regret that decision, knowing that those items could have easily avoided the landfill. Discard responsibly whenever possible through upcycling, recycling, selling, or donating. You will feel so much better knowing that your belongings left your home in a responsible manner.


"I had always suspected that one could build an entire house from what went into the landfill, and, sure enough, it's true." -Dan Phillips




6. NOT CLEARING IT ALL OUT AT ONCE

Whenever possible, try to avoid creating piles of things that you think your friends or family might want! It creates an extra step in the purge process, creates a delay in the items being discarded, and is a way of passing on your stuff from one space to another. Instead, donate or sell your items as soon as possible so that they can go to someone who truly wants or needs them.


So much of the stuff that I decluttered was donated to Goodwill. For over a year I was driving bags of stuff to donate across town and it became something that I dreaded having to do. I found that if I let my donation piles get too big, I would start putting off donating those items for even longer periods of time because I was too lazy to lug it all out to my car.


While those items sat by my back door, they collected dust and cat hair. My boyfriend would occasionally go through the bags and ask "why are you getting rid of this perfectly good/useful item?" while trying to reclaim said item. Then, even I would start reconsidering the items I had chosen to part with. I found that going to Goodwill once a week with small loads swiftly solved all of these issues. So whatever you do, clear it all out as quickly possible.


"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less." -Socrates




7. NOT SETTING DEADLINES

Another common issue is finding or coming up with new projects to do while you are decluttering. Often these projects just end up being an excuse to not get rid of something. If you plan on selling, repairing, upcycling, or DIY-ing anything you find throughout the decluttering process, set a hard deadline for yourself. Try to make your deadlines for 30 days or less, or whatever the shortest possible deadline within reason. If your deadline comes and goes without action, it's time to let go of those items once and for all.


"Sometimes the best teacher is our most recent failure." -The Minimalists





8. MISSING THE OPPORTUNITY TO FIND YOURSELF

As you go through the process of decluttering and simplifying your life, it can be motivating and inspiring to look at other people's minimalist progress. But don't forget that this process is about finding yourself. It's about discovering what is most important to you, what sparks joy in your life, and creating a lifestyle that suits YOU best. So whatever you do, don't compare yourself or your journey to others. Don't lose yourself in the process.


Take before and after photos, look back at your completed checklists, and take pride in all of the work you've done. Minimalism is not a competition for who owns less or whose house looks more Pinterest worthy. Becoming minimalist is about choosing what to keep in your life, and getting rid of the rest so that you can surround yourself with the things that you love, enjoy, use, and need to be your best self.


"The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past." Marie Kondo




9. FORGETTING TO TAKE IT EASY

Decluttering, responsible discarding, thoughtful selection, moving mountains of stuff, making lifestyle changes... it can be overwhelming and exhausting!!! A common mistake is to underestimate how much time and effort this process will take. Setting unreasonable goals and deadlines with cause total burn out. Marie Kondo even states that many of her clients take 6-9 months to complete their total tidying up process - or longer! Don't forget to pace yourself, give yourself breaks, and take it easy.


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