The Story of How It All Began: My Path to Minimalism

All things were ready for us at our birth; it is we that have made everything difficult for ourselves, through our disdain for what is easy. – Seneca

I’ve been asked by many people how I begun my minimalist life. I’ve also been asked how did I do it?

My hope is by reading this blog, you will be provided with practical, insightful tips and lessons on changing the way we think through minimalism.

Here is my story.

In the summer of 2008, I felt the need to start ridding myself of my huge mound of DVDs, CDs, books, and college textbooks that I no longer watched, listened to, or read. It didn’t appeal to me anymore, where once it had given me a hobby of spending and collecting. Ooh, a special 2-disc 20th anniversary collector’s edition in a pretty case? I had to have that! If I get that, my collection would be complete. Until the next eye-candy came along.

This cycle of consumerism had to stop. I had to do something drastic.

So I sold it all on Amazon. Every last movie, music album, and book. Not only did I feel a physical weight being lifted off of me, I cleared out my closet and filled my wallet with some extra cash. I’ve made hundreds of dollars by re-selling all of my used items online. That summer alone, I made $500. I sold other items periodically throughout the year and have made over $1,000 in all.

These items were literally sitting in my closet as cash waiting to come back to me. All I had to do was free it. In freeing my items, I also freed myself from the cycle of spending and collecting things.

From there, it snowballed.

I examined my clothes and gave it a hard, close look. What do I actually wear? As opposed to what I think I will wear but will never put on ever again? What is too small/big/tight/loose/outdated/trendy on me? What still has its price tag on? What have I only worn once, never to be worn again?

These were some of the questions I asked myself and I demanded an honest answer as a result.

The answer was I did not need even 3/4 of the clothes I owned because:

  1. I didn’t wear it.
  2. It was no longer useful and essential to me.
  3. It was too small/big/tight/loose/outdated/trendy on me and did not fit my body nor my sense of style.
  4. I no longer cared for or liked it anymore.

What did I do with all these unwanted clothes? I did 1 of 3 things:

  1. Donated it to the local shelter or clothing drop box
  2. Passed it along to younger cousins or friends who wanted the clothes
  3. Trashed it if it was extremely worn out and old

Furniture was next. I sold it or gave it all away.

On Craigslist, I sold my bookcase, coffee table, dining table and chairs, and futon. My desk and chair I gave to my little brother.

I thought I had needed all this when I moved into my apartment in 2007. It was the buyer’s mentality. Oh, I’m moving out on my own, therefore, I need these things. It was automatic behavior for me and I didn’t realize that I don’t need it when I didn’t even use it. Duh!

Papers, files, folders, photos, and documents were next on my hit list. Needless to say, I was on a roll after getting rid of so much stuff. I did not show any mercy in this category.

What I didn’t need anymore, I recycled or shredded. What I did need (but didn’t necessitate a paper copy), I scanned, then shredded. If it was an original document that I had to keep a paper copy of (e.g., title of my car, passport, birth certificate), then I kept that in a small portfolio of important documents. Photos, I eliminated all paper photos that I had mindlessly printed over these years. I kept them electronically on my computer instead, deleting duplicate photos and photos that I no longer wanted to see (e.g., old photos of friends and boyfriends no more).

I used to be sentimental. Now, not so much. I no longer have emotional attachment to objects. I prefer to reserve that energy, time, attention, and love to people instead. This does not mean I am a cold, harsh, unloving individual incapable of appreciating all that we have, including the material things. Like writing in my nice Moleskine journal.

The difference is knowing where your happiness lies. Is it with things or is it with people and experiences? I choose the latter.

The minimalist life isn’t for everyone. But it is for me. Will you come join me as we journey through minimalism together?

View Comments

  1. Kiran says:

    I love Moleskine Journals! It’s refreshing to write down what comes into your mind without whipping out a computer. I mean, I don’t bring my laptop everywhere I go. Very nice.

    • I love the feel, touch, and design of Moleskine journals and notebooks. It’s just so nice and no laptop can replace the touch-and-feel of good ‘ol fashioned writing!

  2. Steve Austin says:

    I was most intrigued here by the *order* in which you tacked the cut-down. I wonder how differently (if it all) your downsizing would have unfolded had, for instance, the papers-files-folders-documents-photos step had been much earlier in the sequence? Would you have been as merciless in that category had you hit it earlier?

    • Realistically, probably not due to the fact that my paper documents are much smaller in size, weight, and space than say, large furniture pieces. I believe it may have helped me by visually getting the big things out of the way, that I was able to tackle smaller things. Because they are “small,” I could’ve easily gave the excuse, “Oh, it won’t take up much room!” But over time, it will accumulate as well.

  3. Matt M. says:

    I always love these posts – there’s a tangible sense of glee in the words, the very same sensation I felt whenever I started dumping my own stuff awhile back. :)

    I haven’t made it quite as far with my minimizing yet, but I do have a pretty interesting story on why I started in the first place: I got robbed. Your story is much more pleasant to read, haha.

    Keep up the great work!

    P.S. “The difference is knowing where your happiness lies. Is it with things or is it with people and experiences? I choose the latter.” A perfect summation, I think, of the minimist philosophy. :)

    • Thanks, Matt! And I’m so sorry to hear that your story begun with you being robbed … not exactly the way we would want to go about decluttering our lives, but hey, at least you’re looking on the bright side of things! :D

  4. tokyin says:

    When a person joins a movement, begin to live a different life style, or suddenly make changes in life – sometimes it’s with a great reason, sometimes it’s with ulterior motives, sometimes it’s because of what other people/the leader said.

    For example, a person became a Red guard during the Cultural Revolution is because “someone” said so; a person suddenly become a devoted “church-goer” is because he wants to his girlfriend wants him to do so.

    But for you, your decision and path to become a minimalist is with good reasons and it’s a wise one; it comes from the bottom of your heart and it makes your life simplier, easier, and less burden. Your decision is a great one.

    A lot of people understand (mentally) that things of this world will pass away sooner or later, but it’s too difficult for them to let go, or they have too much pride to let go.
    What’s good for a man to gain the whole world, but in the process he lose/let go of the most important things – family, people, and maybe eventually, his own heart and soul?

    • Jonathan, beautifully described, the minimalist way!

      You are so right in that if the decisions to change your life (whether that be to minimize your stuff, change careers, or pursue your dreams) are made from the heart, it will be much more authentic and real. :) Thank you for sharing!

  5. says:

    Nina, this is very nice story! I believe I have already started something similar, but I am now in the period that I’ve lost the personal energy to unclutter my life. This article helped me and I am happy to say that I will read the rest of the 6 top posts :) nnThanks for your story.

  6. Nina Yau says:

    Awesome, Jan! Glad to hear that. Best wishes on creating your own personal minimalist journey!

  7. Chester says:

    This reminds me of what I am going through right now. I went to the Philippines in 2005 for the first time and I realized that everyone was happy even tho they didn’t have that many possessions. Then I realized, if they can do it, I should be able to the same thing. So since then, I have been trashing/donating/selling my possessions that I don’t even use. And nothing new coming in unless I need it. Slowly, eventually I will have less items, since accumulating didn’t happen overnight either.

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