The Ultimate Guide to Realistic Minimalism (What You Need, What You Don't, and How to Break the Cycle of Wanting)

When it comes to what furniture you should and shouldn't keep, your focus should be on utility above all else. Look around. If there's anything you keep that doesn't serve a functional purpose, let it go. There shouldn't be too many of these items.
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Woman preparing parcel for shipment in her cozy loft apartment
Woman preparing parcel for shipment in her cozy loft apartment

Minimalism is more than just a pleasing aesthetic. It is a way of life, one that yields extraordinary benefits for mental and emotional health.

First and foremost, since the large majority of our perception is rooted in sight, that which we consistently and repeatedly show ourselves develops and conditions us to a particular mindset (and therefore, emotional state). Simply: The less we're surrounded by clutter and mess, the less stressed we're going to be.

But more importantly, it's a psychological stance against the ever-powerful consumerist culture. It is not about living uncomfortably just to say you live with less; rather, it's about being grounded and grateful, not wanting nor wasting. It breaks the cycle of the need for more, more, more.

Because the reality is that we don't need more. In fact, we don't want more either. All we want is to be happy with what we have. The narrative behind purchasing one more thing, gaining one more wealth symbol is: "I will be happy when..."

Ultimately, the presence of so many barely used but "necessary" things stresses us out, as it becomes difficult to maintain, and creates chaos that our brains cannot quantify.

But here's the thing: Most people find minimalism impossible (or undesirable) because they don't want to live with three shirts and in an empty space. That's understandable. No part of that is appealing or fun. But there is a middle ground.

So here's your guide through everything from clothing to books to decor to furniture to knick knacks from your grandma. What you need, what you don't and how to deal with wanting more once it's gone.

1. Clothing:

Some people will suggest investing in a "staple" wardrobe -- a collection of classic, well-made pieces that can be mixed and matched to look effortlessly on brand for any given occasion. Simplify your wardrobe by sticking with the modern-day necessities.

But the point is not to live a utilitarian life, it's about getting down to some genuine roots. It's about getting rid of the things you keep only to fit someone else's mold, and letting yourself be happy with the few pieces that represent who you truly are.

So let this be your guide instead:

If you haven't worn it in over a year, let it go.

If you're keeping it because you were made to believe that every "grown person" should have it (but you don't use it or like it) let it go.

If you are saving it for a "someday," someday when you're thinner, when there's a wedding, when maybe you get invited to a wine tasting, etc. let it go.

If it does not feel like yours, let it go.

If you are keeping it because you feel as though you must have an endless armoire of clothing that you never wear more than once, let it go.

If you don't feel good when you wear it, let it go.

If you're keeping it because you're afraid of what it "means" to not have much clothing, let it go.

If you were to lay out your outfits for the next two weeks and you wouldn't even consider throwing it in somewhere, let it go.

If it is being saved for an occasion that is not within your everyday life, let it go. (If you don't like it enough to wear it normally, you'll wear something you do when said occasion arises, or you'll disillusion yourself further and go out and buy something else to wear.)

If someone came into your home and said they needed to take a few pieces of clothing but couldn't return them, let go of the first pieces you'd be comfortable with them taking.

How to break the cycle of wanting: Clothing is deeply attached to image. The people who are most compulsive about what they have and don't and what they wear and don't are the ones who struggle with just that. The narrative of buying new clothes is this will make me a different person, I need it. Now, of course, you're going to buy clothes in your life, it's not a bad thing, nor is it an inherently unhealthy practice. But when it comes to excessive consuming, it's crucial to question your motivations and take stock of your mental state. If you find you're doing it to fill a void or shift your image, address that instead.

2. Books:

This suggestion is going to get some flak, as the idea of building a personal library is as regal as it is charming. But unless you were so moved by a book that you want to reference it or read it again and again, let it go.

A book that would have otherwise remained on a shelf for the rest of your life could be a life-changing story or message someone who couldn't afford to actually purchase it never would have received, had you not donated it.

Keep the books that truly changed you; that shifted your mindset or helped you through a trying time.

Keep the books you have from your childhood, if you have any left.

Keep the books you'd want to give to your own children to instruct them on life or just to have them read one of your favorite stories. Those are worth the extra baggage.

How to break the cycle of wanting: You should never stop wanting books. But get a library card instead. Purchase the books you want to keep on hand to re-read or reference (or download the Kindle version instead).

3. Decor:

In the age of Pinterest boards and aspirational Instagram accounts, it's difficult not to justify yet another mirror plate of succulent plants.

However, when it comes to decor, minimalism doesn't require that you have barren walls and empty coffee tables.

It does, however, encourage that anything that doesn't have meaning go.

If you're going to hang something on your wall, make it something that moves you, that means something, that represents something to you.

If you're going to keep something on your table, make it a gift from someone you love, or just an item that truly lifts your spirit when you see it.

It doesn't necessarily have to be sentimental, but it does have to invoke a positive feeling. Anything else is just a waste.

How to break the cycle of wanting: When you're out and about and see some useless piece of decor you feel you just need to have, immediately recognize that your desire is most likely rooted in wanting your space to emulate that which you perceive to be beautiful and "good." Once that's subsided, question whether or not it's worth that much money to just sit around and be functionless. If you're still interested, question whether or not it invokes an emotional response from you (most often, it shouldn't.) Decide not to gather meaningless things in your space.

4. Furniture and utilities.

When it comes to what furniture you should and shouldn't keep, your focus should be on utility above all else. Look around. If there's anything you keep that doesn't serve a functional purpose, let it go. There shouldn't be too many of these items.

In terms of kitchenware and utilities, stick to one golden rule: nothing should exist in multiples. One frying pan and baking sheet, if cared for and cleaned after each use, should absolutely suffice... and so on.

How to break the cycle of wanting: We live in the age of replacing, not fixing (and that applies to more than just objects). Put time and effort into maintaining the things you own. Value and care about them and see how instantaneously your space feels magical to you, now that it's filled with things you are truly grateful to have.

This post originally appeared on Soul Anatomy. For more, follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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