10 Beginner Tips for the Collegiate Minimalist

As part two of the Minimalism series, we discuss different tips to help change your lifestyle and focus more the things you find important!

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10 beginner tips on becoming a minimalist

This article is long overdue since I promised its arrival in the first part of the minimalist series, What It’s Like to Live as a Minimalist and Why You Should Consider It. Although these tips are helpful on their own, if you don’t fully understand what Minimalism is, I suggest you read the first post and come back to these tips later!

As a refresher, the concept of Minimalism is:

To remove all the distracting clutter from one’s life and promoting everything of value and purpose.

Vague, right?…. It’s supposed to be! There isn’t a strict guideline that Minimalists must adhere to. Actually, you’ll realize most aspects of minimalism are quite vague but seem otherwise because of people I call “policers” (people who reinforce singular ways of doing things).

Now that you have the concept, it’s up to you to make up the rules!

Related reading: How to Create Minimalist Neutral Outfits (+ Styling Tips)

1. Before Getting Started, Visualize Your End Goals

There is so much more to Minimalism than just “getting rid of stuff”. Although minimalism starts out this way for most people, they quickly realize that removing “clutter from one’s life” doesn’t stop at the physical objects.

Of course, these tips will give you insight on how to clear out and clean your space, but I will also give you a couple of tips on doing the same with your psyche.

Before you even think about throwing away things in your apartment, take out a sheet of paper and write down your goals, AKA the things you want to achieve by practicing minimalism. Identify your motivations behind removing distractions from your life.

Here are my goals, to get you started:

  • Spend less time cleaning
  • Have a clutter-free space with a layout for my necessities
  • Stop having those “OMG moments” right before class or work where I’m not able to find anything
  • Develop my organizational skills
  • Find ways to use my time more efficiently
  • Reduce toxic behaviors/mentalities
  • Spend less when shopping or going out

By having an end destination in mind, you’ll be more committed to accomplish your goals. I also call this the problem-solution method. Identify all your problems and what you hope to achieve by finding solutions.

2. Get Inspired

Becoming a minimalist is essentially a lifestyle change, so you should approach it like you would other lifestyle changes. For instance, if you wanted to eat healthier, you might pin new recipes to your Pinterest boards or read books on nutrition. You can approach becoming a minimalist in the same way. Just like any major change in your life, it’s important to do your research and get inspired.

Here’s what inspired me to become a minimalist:

I touched on this in my last post on minimalism, but I’ll repeat it here. After moving for the third time in two years (from my dorm to an expensive apartment to a “fits my budget” apartment) and helping my dad move, I was over having so many things that had to move with me every time. By moving these things place to place, I felt literally chained to these items and wanted to break free.

During the week before my third move, I read the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Kondo’s book was my first inspiration to officially declutter my life.

My other inspirations came from the Minimalism documentary on Netflix and blogs like mnmlist and Be More With Less, as well as people on Instagram.

While scrolling through Instagram, I found photos of spaces I used as a template for my own. For example, the photo below is what I wanted my kitchen cabinet to look like when, at the time, my cabinet was filled with tons of mismatched Tupperware that would fall on top of me every time I opened the door.


3. Organize by Category, Not location

This decluttering tip comes straight from Kondo’s book. I used to organize by location (i.e. bathroom, bedroom, living room.) when I should have been organizing my home by category. For instance, items of a category, such as papers, are usually stored (or in my case… left around) in many different places, so if you’re discarding and organizing room to room, you’re actually doing the same work multiple times. If you focused instead on “all the papers” first, you’d be more efficient at organizing.

So once you’re ready to start organizing, write down all the categories of things in your place and check each category off once it’s been tackled.

Example list:

  • Clothes
  • Shoes
  • Toiletries
  • Kitchen Utensils
  • Books
  • Mail
  • School documents
  • Confidential Information Documents (i.e. birth certificate, SSN, medical records, etc.)

4. Ask Yourself “What Would I Miss if Every Item I Owned Disappeared?”

It’s easiest to approach the situation of minimizing by deciding what to keep rather what to get rid of. Normally the process of minimizing takes a couple times before you get it right. As Kondo says in her book,

There are two types of judgment: rational and intuitive. It is your rational judgment that prevents you from discarding useless items. Your intuition often tells you that you no longer need an object, but your reason has the tendency to formulate various arguments against throwing it away. These thoughts will force your decision process to go back and forth.

Most of us can’t initially shake off these “rational” (more like irrational) internal arguments for keeping an item. Ask yourself, “What would I want back if every Item I owned disappeared?”.

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this my favorite item of the bunch?
  • Have I used this item in the last 6 months?
  • Does this item *spark joy*?
  • Does this item provide purpose? If so, does it provide more than one purpose?

5. Discard the Least Important Items First

The process of discarding things should follow a linear order from least important to most. Starting with difficult items like mementos or things other people gave you will just halt the minimizing process before it has even begun. So, instead:

  • Get rid of junk you’ve been meaning to get rid but haven’t gotten around to yet.
  • Throw away anything that is torn, cracked, or broken. (You deserve better!)
  • Discard all duplicates.
  • Sort through functional items and keep only the necessities (i.e. Clothing, Kitchen Utensils, etc.).
  • Books & manuals – You will never read that old textbook again (trust me, just sell or donate it), and you can find manuals online.
  • Papers – Turn school documents digital and keep confidential documents in an expandable folder.
  • Mementos – Everything you keep should hold a sentimental value. Try limiting these things to one shoe box.

By accomplishing small and easy tasks first, you build up momentum to conquer the hard ones.

6. As a Last Resort: Temporarily Hide Items You’re Unsure About Getting Rid Of

I once met a guy who read books on minimalism and might have been over inspired to declutter his apartment. He ended up throwing away tons of his things only to realize later on that he needed some of them. On the other side of the spectrum, my long-time roommate tried to justify keeping absolutely everything she owned (this includes four spatulas). You should try to find the middle point between these two approaches.

If you’re unsure whether you will need or find an item useful later on or have trouble detaching from items, put the items in a box and hide this box deep in a closet. Chances are you will all forget all about it and when you stumble upon it again you can finally get rid of it, knowing you didn’t miss those items!

7. Choose Quality Over Quantity

Choosing fewer, higher-quality items over lots of cheaper items has many benefits even unrelated to minimalism. One of my favorite pieces I wrote here on College Fashion is Why Quality Clothing Matters More than You Think. In this piece, I explain how purchasing quality clothing over fast fashion saves you money, gives you peace of mind, and helps you feel more confident.

It’s a concept that is contrary to the logical belief that spending less will save you money. If you factor in the lifespan and the resale value of a cheap item compared its quality counterpart, you will often find that you’re saving money with quality in the long run.

Quality over quantity fits in with minimalism since you are choosing to only hold on to the things that hold the most value to your life. Since you are living with less, why shouldn’t the few things you value be of quality?

8. Think Before You Buy

One thing I LOVE about minimalism is that it changed my shopping habit for the better. I used to go into a TJ Maxx and leave with like… 20 items every time. There’s is just something about a good deal that is hard to walk away from.

Now, I don’t just buy something because I want it in the moment. Sure, I do miss the thrill I got from shopping but I remember that the thrill was always short-lived and my new items just became more junk in my life.

My new habit is if I see something I want or need, I ask myself a hierarchy of questions:

“Do I have something that can fulfill that item’s task?” (That question is actually quite fun if you like being creative!) “If I don’t need it for that long, can I just borrow it?” “Can I get it at a thrift store?” “Is it worth the trade-off on space, upkeep, and money?” Many times, these items stop me from impulse buying, so they save me lots of money in the end.

9. Minimalize Your Life… Not Just Your Stuff

Once you declutter your space, you’ll want to do the same with your life! One thing that happens so often in college is the temptation to succumb to an overwhelming abundance of opportunities.

It’s thrilling to say “YES!” to everything that comes your way. That part-time job – “YES!” Become a leader for your student organization – “YES!” Take on a full class load – “YES!” A part-time internship – “YES!” Mentor a Freshmen – “YES!”

Although this may be tempting, when you do this too much, you’ll find that you’re stretching your finite amount of energy too thin. You’ll soon learn that it’s better to estimate from past experience what you can handle and only take on those opportunities. It’s better to do a few things well than it is to try to do everything and perform poorly.

Pick those top few opportunities that seem most essential for your future. You’ll find that your energy is better spent and focused on fewer opportunities than multiple.

* For more on this concept: Check out Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

10. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

I used to be incredibly guilty of comparing myself to others and I believe this trait is a learned behavior, not a natural one. In middle school, I remember obsessing over an overpriced shirt that said “Hollister” on it. I didn’t wear this shirt because of I liked it… I wore it as a status symbol as a means to fit in. (Bet you can relate!)

This behavior continued as I went to high school and eventually college, only the comparisons changed. My roommate received a Masters degree faster than I received a Bachelor’s. Other friends would post Instagram pictures of their study abroad trips in Spain, Italy, and Amsterdam giving me a serious sense of FOMO. My co-worker always had all the newest and coolest makeup palettes from Sephora.

Thankfully, minimalism has helped me to stop with the comparisons and focus only on my own life and priorities.

In the end, if we’re too busy focusing on what others are doing and the things they have, we’re only doing ourselves a disservice. It’s better to have peace of mind and be thankful for what we do have and enjoy the moments we have before they pass us by.

What do you think?

What do you think about Minimalism? If you are a Minimalist, what are some tips for beginners you think I missed? Also, what are your personal goals as a minimalist? If you’re thinking about becoming a minimalist, were these tips helpful? We would love to hear your feedback, so leave a comment below!

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