• Anita Chastain, MBA

The #1 Thing I’ve Learned as a Minimalist

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Today, I'm going to tell you about the most important lesson I've learned as a minimalist.

I never intended to become a minimalist. I sort of bumped into it on my way to something else.

I was unhappy with the demands of life and work. I craved a simpler life. A less complicated life.

So I quit my job, found a part-time job teaching, and became a writer. On the happiness scale, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

I wanted a different life, a better life. And I created one.

Minimalism Changed How I Live My Life (In a Good Way)

When I left my job, the first thing I had to do was cut my spending. And that was a painful decision.

Shopping was my hobby and had been for years.

But I simply didn't have the money.

And so it happened, that right around this time, as I was pondering my new life with less money and a dream of living a simpler life, I watched the documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.

I found minimalism and it inspired me to change my spending habits and my values.

I started questioning whether I needed all the stuff I had accumulated over so many years of spending so much money. And I settled into a sort of peace with myself about spending less money.

What I couldn’t see myself doing was giving up most of what I owned. That just wasn't me.

But I was drawn to the idea of having less stuff. The idea of owning less felt very freeing.

And that's when I started thinking about getting rid of a few things and learning more about minimalism.

Starting to Think Like a Minimalist

Making the decision to get rid of what I didn't need, want, or use led to a shift in my thinking. I adopted a minimalist mindset about material things and what they brought to my life.

This mindset shift changed my entire way of thinking about what I needed to live a happy and fulfilling life.

I cleared out the stuff that didn't matter in my life.

I cleared out the stuff that didn't matter in my life. I removed the clutter that took up space but added no value.

The first thing I cleaned out was my closet. Shoes, clothes, purses, and scarves.

If I didn’t wear it or didn’t like it or it didn’t fit, I donated it.

I cleaned out the bathroom closets. Towels, wash clothes, shower curtains I wasn’t using, and had no plans to use in the future. I donated them.

I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets too. This was a big job because I like to cook, and I like to buy things related to cooking and eating.

I had a lot of duplicate and unused items. Serving pieces, glasses, mugs, utensils, cookware, and bakeware. Donated.

Re-Evaluating My Relationship with Material Goods

As time went on, I started to re-evaluate my relationship with material goods and my reasons for owning so much of it.

One day, while dragging bag after bag of unwanted stuff to my car, it occurred to me that much of what I bought was filler stuff for my life. I bought stuff because I shopped for reasons other than need. I shopped to fill holes in my life.

If I was bored, I shopped.

If I wanted a distraction from other things, I shopped.

If I was stressed, I shopped.

Shopping filled a need that was unrelated to what I bought. Over time, shopping filled my home with stuff, more stuff than I needed or used.

In the grand scheme of things, owning a lot of stuff doesn’t really change life your life all that much.

Putting all that stuff in huge black bags and dragging bag after bag to my car helped me realize that, in the grand scheme of things, owning a lot of stuff doesn’t really change life your life all that much.

And that's when I realized just how much my values had changed because of minimalism.

Owning all that stuff gave me a fleeting feeling of happiness, but it didn’t solve my problems. In fact, it would never solve my problems. I needed to work on changing how I lived my life rather than bury unhappiness under a pile of stuff.

Minimalism Helped Changed My Values

Before becoming a minimalist, I spent a lot of time and money buying stuff that I thought would make my life better instead of prioritizing life experiences that would make my life more meaningful.

We find meaning in life through what we do, not what we own.

Today, I believe that we find meaning in life through what we do, not what we own.

This one belief influences nearly everything I do. It influences my short-term plans -- what I do today -- and my long-term plans -- how I see myself living my life 10 years from now.

Think about this for a moment:

If we could buy our way to happiness, the rich would be outrageously happy and the poor would be inconsolably sad.

But that’s not the case. I know sad people who are rich and poor people who are happy.

Owning things brings a certain amount of comfort and beauty to our lives, but true happiness and long-term meaning are found elsewhere.

How can I be so sure of that?

Well, I can tell you much more about the people in my life and the experiences I’ve had than the things I’ve bought.

That says a lot about what truly matters in life.

The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned as a Minimalist

So here's the lesson I learned on my journey to minimalism:

Experiences make our lives meaningful, not the material goods we buy along the way.

Not convinced? Consider this example:

You're probably sitting down right now. Whatever you're sitting on is comfortable enough that you haven't moved. Eventually, however, you'll stand up again. And the longer you're up, the more your memory of where you're sitting right now will fade.

Even though the seat is comfortable, it won't make a lasting impact on your life.

Your memory holds experiences that made a lasting impact on your life.

Your memory holds experiences that made a lasting impact on your life. Think about a wonderful experience you had with your family growing up. It could be anything -- a trip, a family gathering, or a conversation.

The memory of that experience is still with you today. Years later, that experience still makes you happy.

There are very few material goods in life that have the ability to bring out that kind of emotional response.


Today I make intentional decisions about what comes into my life, both in terms of experiences and things.

I'm more aware of what's matters in my life, and I try to avoid doing things that don't align with those beliefs.

I’m also happy owning less. After purging the excess stuff out of my life, I'm content with what’s left.

There’s not a single thing that I regret giving away. In fact, I can’t imagine why I would need or want to own more.

What are your thoughts on choosing experiences over stuff? Email me at anita (@) simplelife365.com.


NEXT: You might enjoy reading 6 Signs Your Stuff is Taking Over Your Life.