Almost a year ago, a friend of mine suggested I watch "Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things" on Netflix. I added it to my watch list but left it dormant there for some time until I finally finished binging "The Great British Baking Show". The last thing I expected was for it to change my life but when I started to look around my apartment, I realized the ambush of stuff that was infecting my life was becoming overwhelming.

What is minimalism?

The Minimalists behind the documentary, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, define minimalism as “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom.” A freedom from fear, worry, overwhelming, guilt, depression, and consumerist culture. A freedom from the imagined line of success and accomplishment through material means. A real freedom.

It is a lifestyle that leaves the specifics up to the individual. Minimalism runs on a spectrum. The imagery of an empty white apartment with one chair, one cooking pot, and a closet decorated with 3 shirts is one version of it.

Adopting a minimalist mindset doesn’t mean you have to purge every item you own though. It’s a mindfulness of the products we consume and use to create meaning in our lives. If you own 1,000 books, but each one makes you happy, keep your books!

The basic goal of minimalism is to surround yourself with things that genuinely bring you joy and let go of the things that don’t. Isn’t that worth a few hours of eradication and deep soul searching?

The benefits of minimalism:

There are some obvious benefits to downsizing your stuff, like fewer opportunities for your cat to knock it all off tables, but Minimalism goes so much further than that.

1. Minimalism allows you to declutter physically and mentally

Cluttered spaces are linked to anxiety, stress, and physical strain. Excess stimulation creates a wired mental reaction, sending signals to our bodies and creating a sense that our work is never done. Have you ever stress cleaned your entire apartment? It may have taken a few hours, but I’m willing to bet you felt pretty proud afterward. Imagine feeling that all the time.

2. Living our lives for ourselves.

The promotion of mindfulness in our physical commitments can blend into the social. While clearing out your closet, you’re allowed to clear out your schedule. Much like our purchases, we are over-committed to unnecessary social arrangements. If you give yourself more time and space to listen to your head and body, you may find that going to bed early one night is more beneficial than going out. There is a difference between being a flake and reclaiming your time.

3. Consumerism that works for the consumer.

There is a monetary freedom to consider. Without the pressure to purchase the latest and greatest products, hard earned money can be put toward other projects. Think for a minute how many concert or plane tickets you could buy with all the money you’d save not falling into the Target trap once a week. Consumerism doesn’t have to define you if it won’t benefit you.

4. Inner peace and mindfulness.

At this point, minimalism sounds like a hippy revival but stay with me here. The less you have, the more you appreciate what you do surround yourself with. You can start to define yourself by who you are and not what you own. Without the things and commitments to distract you, you are free to be any version of yourself that is the most authentic and beneficial.

Where do you start?

There is no single right way to take this journey. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t touched it in 6 months, it can go. It’s easier said than done. For the first few weeks, I found myself self-rationalizing each past purchase, mentally creating what-if scenarios in which I would need a tea kettle, coffee pot, and Keurig all at once. Go slow and start small. Like with any new task, practice makes perfect. Ask yourself this simple question each time you pick up something new: Does this serve a purpose in my life?

Try focusing on a single room or area at a time and work your way up to bigger decisions. Take minimizing a closet for example:

Tackling the dreaded closest monster

For me, the biggest project was hands down my feared closet. I had to go back to this project several times to wean myself off the “I may want this one day” habit but each time it got easier to be scrupulous toward my possessions.

I found a basic guide that worked for me and went from there, asking questions of worthiness as I went. It was a mantra I trained myself to adopt with each new article of clothing.

Start by bringing everything out in the open. Yes, everything. Remind yourself what you have. Then try everything on! Make two piles: Donate/Sell and Keep.

Does it fit? If not, Donation pile it is.

Do you still like it? You’re constantly evolving as a person and your style should reflect you! Use this as an opportunity to refine your aesthetic. Some things are classic and holding onto basics like well-fitting jeans, a good button-down, or solid colors will be both cost-effective and always in style. You deserve clothes that make you feel like the queens and kings you are! If something makes you self-conscious or doesn’t feel like you it isn’t worthy of being owned by you. Donate.

Has it been touched in the past year? If you haven’t been drawn to something in 365 days, even on laundry days, there’s a reason for that! Unless it’s a special occasion outfit, someone else will likely get more love out of those garments. Out it goes.

Damaged goods? If the hole in the seam of the armpit has kept you from putting on a shirt for months, despite only needed a few basic stitches, you don’t need it. If it was once white and now, well, isn’t, it doesn’t need you. Donate what you can and recycle the rest in other ways: reusable kitchen rages, glasses cleaners, testing fabric for your newest embroidery project. Don’t throw things away unless it’s a last resort.

Still on the fence? Ask for opinions of your “maybes”. Make a fashion show of it- Sex in the City style! Bring out your inner Carrie. Be critical! And remember, items don’t have feelings, they won’t be hurt if you pass them on. Only the clothing that actually fits and makes you feel good to walk out the door in the morning should be taking up your shelves.

The closet is a pretty solid place to start. And after you get the hang of the process, adapting the questions you use to define usefulness for all products will become commonplace. (Who needs 27 Bath and Body Works lotions?)

It all counts, even if you can't count it all

You don’t have to be able to count all your belongings on one hand. Just becoming conscious of the items we allow in our lives can do wonders. The man gives power to his possessions, the possessions do not give power to the man.

Think of the items in your life in terms of friends. We’re skeptical of the people we let into our lives. We only keep the ones around who brighten our lives for the better. Why should our belongings be any different?

See for yourself where this journey could take you!

Just because something doesn’t have a place in your heart or home anymore, doesn’t mean it won’t for someone else! Donate, sell to secondhand stores, reuse, reduce, recycle, be mindful, and help the environment!