7 Tiny Steps for the Beginner Minimalist

Similar to considering other lifestyle changes, people who are thinking about becoming a minimalist generally fall into 3 categories.

  • ONE: Let’s Go – Where is the dumpster?
  • TWO: No thanks – I don’t have a stuff problem, I have a space problem.
  • THREE: I’m interested, but I don’t know where to start.

Sometimes, the twos make the jump when they see how happy the ones and threes are.

I’ve become a minimalist slowly. I stepped in to minimalism, stepped out, moved forward, moved back and finally began to lean in consistently.

What took me so long?

Over the course of 7 years, I simplified my diet, stuff, debt, health, home and busyness. There are a few reasons why I intentionally took my time.

  • In my experience, slow shifts are more sustainable than radical change.
  • I have a family and they come first.
  • I had to experiment to determine what was enough for me.
  • I was seeking more. Just getting rid of stuff wasn’t my intention. I wanted to discover what meant most to me, what made my heart sing.
  • I am still seeking, experimenting and defining enough. I don’t have an end point in mind.

If you are a beginner or somewhere in your journey to simplify your life and become a minimalist, enjoy these tiny steps.

7 Tiny Steps for the Beginner Minimalist

1. Write it down. Make a list of all the reasons you want to live more simply. If you are sick of debt collectors, write it down. Mad that you never get any time with your kids? Write it down. To stressed out to sleep at night? Put it on paper. Want to fire your boss? Yep, write that down too. These are your whys and your whys will provide great leverage when you think it’s too hard to keep going. Your whys will help you remember what matters.

2. Discard the duplicates. Walk through your home with a box and fill it with duplicates. If you have two sets of measuring cups, put them in the box. Copies of the same book or DVD? Put one in the box. Doubles on place mat sets? You only need one. Once you fill the box, label it “Duplicates” and put it out of sight for 30 days. If you don’t need anything or don’t remember what was in the box, donate it.

3. Declare a clutter-free zone. This area could be a kitchen table, your nightstand, a countertop or a drawer in your kitchen. Use that clutter-free zone as inspiration to live with less. If you enjoy that clean, clear environment, expand the zone a little bit each day. A clutter-free countertop can become a clutter-free room and a clutter free room can become the clutter-free, minimalist home you’ve been thinking about.

4. Travel lightly. Travel always renews my love of minimalism and living simply. The next time you take a trip, pack for 1/2 the time. If you are traveling for 4 days, pack for 2. You can wash and hang clothes if you need to or wear the same things twice. See how it feels to carry less baggage.

5. Dress with Less. If you haven’t considered Project 333, dressing with only 33 items for 3 months (clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories) sounds extreme, but thousands of people know that it actually makes life easier instead of more challenging.

6. Eat similar meals. When you think about how much time you spend thinking about what you are going to eat for lunch, make your family for dinner, or what you need to pick up at the grocery store, it’s clear that food is not always simple. Try eating the same breakfast and lunch all week and have 2 or 3 dinner choices that rotate throughout the week. If your family complains, let them know it’s an experiment and then talk about it at the end of the week.

7. Save $1000. An emergency fund simplifies everything. If you are paying off debt, only pay your minimum payments until you can save $1000. If you aren’t in debt, but still spend what you have, set aside money every day or every week until you reach $1000. Try the 52 week money challenge and in 45 weeks, you’ll save more than $1000 without ever contributing more than $45 in a week. Money for emergencies reduces stress and emergencies.

Try these one at a time and continue to take tiny steps and lean into the life you crave. Even if it takes 10 years to get to where you think you want to be, the benefits begin immediately.

The beauty of being a beginner minimalist is that you can be curious, and daring. You can ask for help, get back up if you fall, and look forward to new adventures in a life with less stuff, drama, debt, and obligation.


  1. Vada says

    I created a $1,000 emergency fund several years ago when I started the Dave Ramsey program. I now have no debt (except the mortgage), and am fortunate to have enough saved to cover me for a year if I lose my job. I STILL also keep that $1,000 emergency fund, however, to cover things like unexpected car repairs and vet visits. After months of not having to use it, last month those things amounted to $950. Now my budgeted weekly savings will go back into this account until it is back up to $1,000. It is a lifesaver and I am less stressed about things happening that I have not budgeted for.

    I am trying to become more of a minimalist and agree that the transition can take several years. I appreciate your blog as it has been extremely helpful to me!


    • Courtney Carver says

      So glad Vada. Thanks for sharing your experience with creating an emergency fund. It’s so important.

    • kamlesh kumar says

      Great! I am also trying to create an Emergency Fund and your doing the same really inspired me.

  2. says

    Courtney these are excellent ideas! After 2 years of minimizing areas of my life, I still consider myself a beginner. I think it’s a process that is always evolving depending on each person’s situation. Number 7 is definitely going to be a priority of mine this year.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Awesome Lauren. A beginners mind is the best way to approach this anytime during the process.

  3. says

    These are great ideas and I just transferred 3.00 from my checking account to savings to cover my next 2 weeks and will keep doing this.
    Thanks again

  4. says

    Write it down. That is probably the best advice I have seen on beginning to be a minimalist. If you don’t need it or it bothers you and you wnat to let it go, write it down so that it doesn’t go away and you will remember that this bothers you before it bothers you again.

    Throw it out (my personal favorite) or let duplicates go to the goodwill or dumpster or some other place, that is a plan I have been working for a while now. Quite amazing how good my life feels when its clean and ready for important things.

  5. says

    This is awesome! Even as someone who has been dabbling with minimalism for a couple years, this is a good reminder when I tend to fall off the wagon in one area or another part of my life. Lately, I have made a commitment to take more leaps and bounds towards what I really want out of life and simplifying my life in terms of finances, relationships, personal, jobs, school, family etc. so I can really make room to enjoy what matters the most is my constant goal. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Jamie says

    This blog has been my inspiration. I adore you for it, really it changed my life! I come from a family of hoarders, the real deal too much to the point of paths. I have helped process estate after estate as this generation of my family ages and I said I will not do this to my family. Leave a heap of stuff for them to deal having no idea what is what. I purged and learned the words, No Thank You. It is almost like they want to enlist me in the hoarding. Or I take it and give it to charity, never letting enter my home. I have shared your blog with several because I need like minded people supporting me. I have so much room in my life now and am ever so grateful!

  7. says

    I think writing it down is important. I used my blog to write down my reasons for wanting to downsize. Then the next thing I did was to tackle my closet and remove anything I hadn’t used in the last 6 months. I was so fired up with the closet cleanout that I moved on to other rooms in the house. I skipped the box it for 30 days and just used the 6 month rule on everything.

  8. says

    I have been working on decluttering my home since Thanksgiving. I’ve made progress and donated a lot, but I still have much more to do and have lost my initial enthusiasm because it is hard letting go of items. I will use your “discarding the duplicates” tip to help me get through the next round of decluttering.

  9. Sabrina says

    I just saved about 1000 EUR over the last year. I have a very small income and have to pay my student loan, so there is not much left to save. But having that emergency fund gives me some freedom, and I am able to pay off the student loan quicker now.
    I am slowly and constantly decluttering my stuff. That gives me freedom, too. I give away most of the stuff I don’t need, just sell a few things that make more than a few Euros.
    One thing that helped me a lot and was a great starting point for decluttering was getting an ebook reader. I read a lot and had tons of books. Now I mostly read on my ebook reader and gave away a lot of books. I always thought that it would be hard to give away my books. Now I know that it’s not hard. And if I can give away my books, I can give away (almost) anything!
    But to become a real minimalist I still have a long way to go…

    • Sabrina says

      I just got the news that we have to find a new appartement. Moving will speed up the process a lot, I guess!

  10. says

    I love having a clutter-free environment. It just feels like I’m in more control of my life and in turn, I do really become more in control.

    “You can wash and hang clothes if you need to or wear the same things twice.” ==> I do this but some people just HAVE to wear something different every day, haha! I don’t have any problems if my friends see me with the same clothes that I wore recently.

  11. Marla says

    In two weeks, my family and I (three of us)will be moving from a 2,000 square foot house to a 1,100 square foot condo in urban Denver. Once we get there and get used to public transit/walking, we plan to consider selling a vehicle. Over the past months we’ve been reducing what we have a bit at a time. Your blog, your story, and others in the BMWL community have been a huge inspiration to this process. Thank you!

  12. Heather says

    •ONE: Let’s Go – Where is the dumpster?

    This is me!!!!!!!!! I am down to the nitty gritty of stuff I have. Example: I cleaned out my first aid kit, which was exploding with items, either expired or that I had quadruple of. Nice and neat now. :)

  13. says

    I’ve been doing the 52 week savings plan for 3 years now and every year it helps save for our minimalist vacation in the surrounding national forests of Seattle. It’s something I pass on to my clients all the time as an easy way to make progress without having to stress to much about it.

  14. Emmanoel Ferreira says

    Hello Courtney, very nice article, very helpful first steps to become a minimalist! I have some questions, though, and I hope you can help me somehow. I’m a Graphic Designer/Game Designer and College Professor, and I’ve been trying to have a minimalist life for at least 3 years, when I read about it in a magazine that talked about the Cult of Less and Life Edited projects, but it’s been very hard. Having a minimalist life makes much sense for me, but as hard as I try, I always end up having more stuff than before (and especially more debts). My problem is not with expensive stuff, but with stuff I want to experiment/use, but they are the kind of stuff that are not possible to rent. These stuff fall into 2 categories (most because of my professional interests): old computers and video game devices. The problem is that after two months of usage I have learned what I needed, I’m done with that stuff and I don’t want to maintain them. Here comes the problem: it’s much more difficult to sell these stuff than to buy them. Of course I could sell them half the price I paid two months before (on sites like eBay), but I always feel stupid in doing that, and most of the times I end up not being able to sell the item. So, how can I have a minimalist life if I want to experiment stuff that I must own (because they are not “rentable”)? Thanks in advance, Emmanoel
    p.s.: I’ve come to your site via Life Edited :)

    • Beatriz says

      Let’s assume you bought a $500 game system, used it for 2 months and are over it. Now, you have 2 options:

      – Sell the device for $250. Net result: you spend $250 for 2 months’ entertainment and you don’t have additional clutter
      – Keep the device instead of selling it for half price. Net result: you spend $500 for 2 months’ entertainment, have clutter in your life and, eventually, you will have to donate or recycle the system, since no one will buy it.

      1 seems to be by far the better option.

      However, that is for something you already have. The best time to make a decision is before buying. A few ideas:

      – Do you really need this system? What do you expect to learn from it and is it really that different from the previous model, similar model, etc? What will you use that knowledge for?
      – Do you need it new? Why not buy it used on eBay?
      – Do you need it now? The price will like be lower in a few months, specially if you buy it used.

      • says

        Good points, Beatriz. I agree with you that the best time to make a decision is before buying.

        In most cases though, we are never 100% over something. If we find that we might use it again 5 years down the road, then we are not just paying for the 2 years, but for the potential that we might use it again. And then we’ll have to weigh the value of that potential vs having clutter. It isn’t always so clear cut. Of course, this is just 1 example.

      • Emmanoel Ferreira says

        Thanks for the reply Beatriz. In fact, what you told me is like I was renting the device for two months, paying $250 for the “2-month rental”, and if the time I spent with the device is longer than two months, the less was the “rental” price, correct? Interesting point of view! Maybe if I can put the things this way, It will be easier to resell those stuff, even for half the price.

        • Angela says

          I’m late to the conversation, but if you see this, I want to encourage you that whatever you can sell the item for is something. If you can’t sell it quickly or don’t want to take time to sell it, and you give it away, you can also see it as a rental–or like you bought a ticket to an event such as an amusement park. That money is gone. You had your fun. And you can let it go and move on rather than keeping the physical clutter. I have been trying to learn this myself that if I don’t sell something right away, I’m better donating it even though I need/want the $.

  15. says

    These are great tips! Saving the first $1000 to start an emergency fund is so important. Once you start the minimalist journey, it is so easy to get that first $1000. Sell the junk you don’t need to save money for things that you will need later.

  16. Rose Cole says

    I have been gravitating toward minimalism for a few years but it took an epiphany in the form of a major illness to wake me up and get serious as I really wanted to live a simpler life. Thanks to your website and others like it, I have come a long way toward meeting my goal. my house is now a place of quiet serenity, a place of refuge instead of a container for “stuff”.
    I found the 52 week money challenger on another website and I am currently putting away double the amount called for. My goal is to get rid of the ratty, allergen laden carpet in my bedroom and replace it with wonderful, eco – friendly bamboo, but it does not come cheap and putting money away a little at a time takes the sting out of home repairs!

  17. Toni says

    Thank you so much for this advice. I have been moving towards Minimalism for some time but didn’t get serious until I heard a radio show with the guys on and I was hooked. I got rid of all jewelry & other useless accessories. Now I just wear a watch. Last count I had 12 different watches! Your list is helping me organize my downsizing. I just love this guide!
    Thank you so much for your help.

  18. Joy Carrera says

    I struggle with simplifying meals. I live in Peru as a missionary and we eat lots of fresh food and unprocessed food. But that means more baking at home, more prep time, few “shortcuts”. It is “simple” food but not really “simple” as far as the work that goes into a meal. My husband and I like GOOD food which also means variety and then we have the typical eating habits of 3 growing children. I am only one year into my journey of simple / minimalist journey (starting with this move of location and reducing our possessions to fit 13 suitcases.). But simplifying food is something I still struggle with. Any other suggestions other than the ones mentioned above? We eat 90% of our meals at home (we all take leftovers from the supper for lunch the next day). Thanks. Joy

    • Valerie Kravettev says

      Part of simplifying is knowing where you will not compromise–where you *want* to make the investment of time, money and energy. I wonder if food is an area where you really need to simplify. You are eating better than most people in the United States right now, and the payoff for this in your future health and your children’s health will be invaluable. The only thing I could think of, if you aren’t already, is to get your children more involved in the preparation. It might save some time for you, and would give them skills they would use their whole life. Do a search on the web also–I got a couple of hits for “healthy food preparation for the week” that might give you some ideas on how to streamline a bit. Good luck!

  19. Lorettajoy says

    What has awakened me is turning 70! I am ready to really be ruthless with stuff!! to have more time with people and the things I love. Living each day to the max and cleaning out all the stuff my kids will eventually toss out. This will make my life more pleasant and help them, too.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  20. Kerry says

    “The beauty of being a beginner minimalist is that you can be curious, and daring. You can ask for help, get back up if you fall….”

    I love this! Minimalism seems a bit scary sometimes (What if I have nnothing to wear? What if I need that 2nd soup ladle???) But this frames it beautifully. I’m being curious and daring. I’m subverting the dominant paradigm, something I dearly love to do. And, really what can I possibly lose?

  21. Jules says

    I am hoping to become a minimalist. Definitely the person who wants to be ready for the dump truck, who doesn’t know where to begin, but always thought space (or lack thereof) was the problem. So now I’m ready to rock this minimalist thing. If I can just write the stuff down. Ouch!!

  22. Stick says

    Hi Courtney! How does one become a minimalist without feeling deprived? I’m still in the process of

    • Holly Moseley says

      I feel more freed than deprived – so far! But I live in an urban area – there is abundance all around (but not so much in my own space now!).

    • Angela says

      I’ve noticed when I go on a trip, I like to bring a few things I enjoy doing. I took note of what I’ve brought with me over the last year, and everything (the fun stuff) fit in a little bag. I didn’t have time to use most of it, but it made me smile knowing that I need so little even though I like to be creative. I was able to bring my Kindle (though I am a book-lover, I use this more and more), yarn and needlework, a variety of notebooks and paper and art paper and a variety of art supplies, and my laptop for blog reading. Think about what you like to do on vacation-what makes you feel pampered? Can you fit those into a bag-even a huge bag? Or a cabinet? If you can, set aside a space in your home for those things you treasure. A cabinet, a bookshelf, a closet, a desk, a little dresser, however much room you need to fit your treasured luxuries that you use and enjoy. Then move on to minimizing the rest of the stuff. I am working on this! It is so freeing, and I have my small cabinet with all my treasures-it keeps me from getting too much at once, but I can replace as needed.

  23. varuni says

    I have started several times, but could not do so continuously. Your article is good inspiration to start again . When ever I start decluttering i always think that I might need those Items ” somday” and I do not want to part with them . That is my problem

  24. Jen says

    I have 4 children age 6 and under who share a room…until we build a 1700 square foot home. (In the planning stages). I am so sick of stuff! I have been getting rid of tons of stuff. My family kind of laughs at me for it but my brain cant function if i have things around that i dont use. Why save 3 tubs of baby clothes if i dont have room? Less is better im learning! And i love having a clean, manageable home.

  25. Chris says

    You are an inspiration! I love the practical approach you provide in simplifying one’s life! Keep up the good work! I am definitely looking forward to diving into one of your eBooks as soon as I’m done with my current eBook :)

  26. Spider says

    I have been a minimalist for most of my life, raised as one and after a five year “break” getting back to it now. I agree with a lot of things on this (and other) website(s). But not the simplifying food part, where you eat 2-3 meals a week. Yes, I used to buy the cheap bread too and could life of ten euro’s a week for groceries, but no it wasn’t healthy for me. Variation is important! Good food is also important! And ofcourse you don’t have to serve a gourmet every day, I make list for a week and always look at the discounts of the week when writing it down, but I do think it’s very important for your own health to take in enough variety and sometimes that costs more money and more time.

  27. Bonnie Parker says

    I was a victim of a theft last Jan. and realized at that time I was getting tired from caring about stuff. I have sold donated or tossed alot.My son and his boys live with me and I can not stand all the stuff. Sometimes I wish I could just live in a small place with only the few things needed to survive. It seems the older I get the less I want.