Why I Stopped Playing the Minimalism Game

The minimalism game goes like this: On the first of the month, you throw out one thing. It can be anything that you own and don’t need anymore. On the second of the month, you throw out two. Then three, four, and so on – you get the idea. If you play all the way through, you get rid of something like 500 items.

When I started playing this game in August, I did not know that before the month was over, I’d be sitting in an empty room in an apartment that wasn’t mine. All I had with me was a suitcase of clothes and some bare necessities packed in complete desperation at 5 a.m. in my old apartment, my old life. Involuntarily, I faced the most minimalist scenario of them all: Moving into an empty, unfurnished room, leaving most of my belongings behind.

Starting afresh

Aside from the hurt and grief that comes with such significant life changes, I was also angry about losing my apartment. That place, and the things in it, had felt like a safe haven. Empty rooms brim with possibility, but they seldom feel like a haven. Needless to say, there is no point in pursuing the minimalism game any further – this time, I’ll have to work the other way around.

 

Situations like this can be very overwhelming. There is the urge to make the emptiness of the new room go away. Looking at it from a mindset of “less clutter, more clarity”, however, an almost empty room can also be a good thing, especially in the early stages of sudden life changes.

How much “stuff” do you need?

Here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few days. If you are ever in a similar situation, these may help to clear your mind and re-focus.

  • What do I absolutely need to feel safe and comfortable here? A bed? A desk? Flowers? A rug?
  • What (if this is an option) can I take from my old life that will make this place feel like a home? A potted plant maybe or a beloved armchair?
  • What did I love about my old place? What didn’t I love?
  • Is there anything I am glad to have left behind?
  • What do I miss the most?
  • Do I want to decorate the walls? How?
  • What have I always wanted but for some reason (i.e. not enough space, your roommate or partner hated it, didn’t match the colour scheme) did not have in my old home? Can I have it here?

Above all else, don’t rush. Take time answering these questions. Breathe, and remember: An empty room is space for a fresh start, clutter-free and with a clear mind. Eventually, you will be “home” again in this new place. Trust in the process!

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13 Comments

  1. nice! i went through that process as well. first i thought “ok the empty wall does not need any form of decoration. it is perfect by itself”. but then i said: “but i would LIKE to have the zen garden picture there” and then i re-installed it. of course now, after throwing out most of my stuff, i feel relieved. most of the things i threw out i do not miss (except maybe for one dress) and it makes the mind clear to come home to an open, empty space. but a little bit of decoration is indeed necessary to make it a “home”. i used to have 10.000 deco items, now i have maybe 4 in the complete apartment. but it works perfectly. it is just the right amount for me.

    • Exactly – I think it’s so important to take the time to figure out what decorative items you WANT and be really selective about it. I’m very excited to figure out what I want on my white walls!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the questions. Starting over can be overwhelming when every. single. thing. is. gone. We recently suffered a house fire at the home we rented so I am about 4 weeks into this ‘starting over/empty house’ thing. Your questions are PERFECT! At first, I was so overwhelmed but realized most of it was from assuming the only option was to replace everything we lost and try to get that ‘life’, that ‘normal’ back. It wasn’t until I saw this as the opportunity to have a new beginning that I felt free to finally make decisions. The choices were simple when I allowed it to be different this time. It is a rare opportunity to really, thoughtfully choose how you want your life to look and to reassess. The only thing I would add to the list to help avoid feeling overwhelmed is to focus on the big things that are the ‘skeleton’ of your home first (furniture, etc.) and then move to the smaller items that make it unique and function. The process takes time and energy and it helps to give yourself permission to let it take a while. Think of how long it took to build the life you had previously – building a new life takes time. Wishing you well in your new beginning!

    • Thank you so much for sharing! Losing your belongings in a fire must be so tough – I’m so happy and touched that I could help you even a little bit with this article!

      And yes, great addition to the list – big things first! I am just now moving into my first single apartment after having shared a place while I got back on my feet, and I noticed that it helps tremendously to just have furniture and the bare necessities (dish towels and other practical things) while you get settled. It helps you feel less lost!

  3. Love the minimalism game but I admit I have never gotten to the end of the month. I usually drop out about the 20th of the month but i do play the game yearly. It helps me to see things that weigh me down and I have never let go of something I truly love.

    I also make sure that 5 items are donated or discarded every week. Sometimes I do it by going through old medicine or makeup but other weeks the items are more substantial. I love it.

    • That’s a really great system, I love it! No wonder you never get to the end of the game, it doesn’t sound like you hoard too much stuff. I live in a one bedroom apartment and I’ve purged quite a bit so I don’t think I’d get to the end either…

  4. “Empty rooms brim with possibility, but they seldom feel like a haven.” – You’re absolutely right. I didn’t do a minimalism challenge or count items or anything, but I did go through our things over time and we reduced so much that we are now comfy minimalists. It works for our family of six. 🙂

    • I think “comfy minimalists” is such a good way of putting it! Minimalism shouldn’t be about reducing at all costs, it should be about clearing space and creating room to breathe – without “depersonalizing” a space entirely!

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