When I think of minimalism, a very specific stereotype comes to mind. If you’re a minimalist, you’re either cut off from the world as much as possible and living in a log cabin in the woods somewhere, or you’re a wealthy westerner who can afford to adopt a minimalist lifestyle because you’ve already got enough savings to quit your job and live freely.
Of course, these stereotypes are wrong! You don’t have to be rich to be a minimalist, and you certainly don’t have to live in a cabin in the woods (though that’s the dream!). However, it can be tricky to know how to be a minimalist when most websites and blog posts are aimed at people who already have far more than you. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I don’t feel as though I can justifiably call myself a ‘minimalist’, but I do try my hardest to live life as simply as possible, in order to have less of a negative impact upon the planet.
Why Should I Try Minimalism?
Being a minimalist, or adopting a minimalist lifestyle is possible – and even beneficial – for many people. It would be insensitive of me to assume that everyone can be a minimalist, so I’m just going to refer to my personal experiences with minimalism and you can take what you will from it.
Minimalism is better for the environment. We live in a world today of high consumerist demands – this is putting more and more pressure on the earth’s resources and people out of sight are being exploited left right and centre. A key example of this is fast fashion, the industry which demands people’s consumption every single week of the year. Over consumption of anything can have negative consequences, and it’s up to us as individuals to do our research and make wise choices.
Minimalism is also better for your individual happiness. It’s hard to back this up with sources and facts, but using myself as testimony – a decluttered life equals a decluttered mind. I still get stressed, and anxious from time to time – I’m a student, it’s a given! – but things which I used to get stressed out about no longer bother me. I used to worry pointlessly about what people would think of my outfits. Now, I don’t care what people think, and the kind of people I hang out with wouldn’t judge me on what I wore anyway.
Minimalism is also good for your wallet. Once you shift your mindset away from buying stuff all the time, of course you’re going to save money! When you only buy the things that you really need, you become aware of how much you used to spend on pointless clutter. When I first moved out of university accommodation and into my own place, I used to buy a string of fairy lights every time they went into town – my bad!
Minimalism as a Student
So now I’ve talked about the potential benefits of adopting a minimalist lifestyle, it’s time to talk about how to put that into action as a student (or really, anybody who is on a budget!).
As I’ve said already, being a minimalist may not be physically possible or practical for everybody, so I’m just going to discuss the things I do which I consider minimalist, which you might like to try, too.
The fashion industry is a dirty business. After learning ‘the truth’ about fast fashion, I realised I simply couldn’t ignore the little voice in my head anymore, I couldn’t justify to myself the need for buying a new outfit. Every time I walked into a high street clothes shop, I felt guilty. So, I stopped going clothes shopping. For a few months, I just wore what I had and resisted buying any new clothes. That wasn’t hard to do as I was trying to save money anyway. When it was time for me to move out of my flat and pack to leave for my semester abroad in Iceland, I had a purge and donated every item of clothing that I hadn’t worn in the last four months to charity.
Since then, I’ve had another serious sort out. After travelling with a heavy case from Iceland back to England, and from England to Spain and back again, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need all this stuff. Now, I’m left with only the clothes I absolutely need, and it feels so good. I have one pair of jeans, one pair of leggings, one pair of workout leggings, and a skirt. When it gets especially cold I wear my leggings underneath my jeans. I have four short-sleeved t-shirts, one long-sleeved top, one shirt, a vest-top, and two jumpers/sweaters (the rest belong to my boyfriend). For smarter occasions, I have three dresses, one which was a Christmas present and two which I bought recently from a charity shop. I have one pair of boots, which I can wear all year round (British summers are never spectacularly warm), and one pair of trainers.
Most of the clothes which I own now were either given to me as gifts, bought second-hand from charity/vintage/thrift shops, or I’ve had for years. Although it may seem like my outfits are quite repetitive, it means that everything matches! Besides, it’s cool to have simple fashion tastes.
If you want to minimalise your wardrobe, I recommend pulling everything out, laying it all on the bed, and being ruthless. If you’ve not worn that top in over a year, you won’t miss it. Keep only the essential outfits – the ones which you wear, love, and utilise frequently. Otherwise – donate it, recycle it, or sell it on.
Fortunately for me I’ve never had serious problems with my skin. Beyond a bit of eczema on my legs from when I was a child, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I did go through that awful phase in secondary school where I covered my face and neck in foundation every morning because I thought I needed it to look beautiful – it took a few years to phase that out, as I was convinced I looked pale and sickly without it. Anyway, today in 2017 my cosmetics shelf is very simple – partly because of minimalism, partly because I never really felt the need to have many beauty products to begin with.
I wash my face with a cruelty-free shower gel, the same that I wash my body with. I’ve never had any problems with using this on my face, although I know some people prefer to use specialised products. I have a rose and lavender water toner from lush, which I use whenever I feel the need to. That’s all I use on my face, and I don’t wear makeup. For those of you that do wear makeup, I strongly recommend embracing the au-natural look. It’s really refreshing for your skin and saves so much time in the morning!
In order to keep your makeup/cleansing products as minimalist as possible, I recommend only buying what you need, and keeping the products that you do buy cruelty-free. If you can afford it, buying from brands like Lush is good because they have a good product ethic! If you’re not sure whether you need a certain product or not, I advise you to step back and think about why it’s being advertised to you. Do you need it? Or do they just want you to think you need it so they can take your money? When in doubt, don’t make impulsive purchases – go away and think about it before buying.
People with periods – the best way to deal with sanitary products in a minimalistic style (is that even possible?!) is to think reusable. Mooncups are an incredibly popular, ecofriendly, sustainable product which will definitely save you money and resources in the long run. These aren’t suitable for everyone (such as myself), so I prefer to use reusable sanitary towels instead. It sounds a bit weird, but they are so comfortable and definitely worth it. I started off with just three, but it’s definitely more convenient to have at least six.
I’ve written a post before about how to be a vegan on a budget, which in my opinion is quite similar to being a minimalist with your diet. Whether you’re vegan or not, many of the things I’m going to say about being a foodie minimalist will apply.
Firstly, I’d say it’s important to eat simply. Make sure you get a variety of fruits and veggies obviously, but keep your meals simple. Keep your cupboards well-stocked of all your essential staples. These will vary from person to person, but at the moment mine are oats, rice, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, kale, and chickpeas. All of my meals contain at least one of these ingredients, and then from there I build up. When you can, I recommend buying your fruits and vegetables locally. If you can’t, then buy from the supermarket but favour items which have been grown in the country you’re in, or seasonally-appropriate food.
The less plastic packaging you get with your food the better, too. This is why markets are good because you can buy things in recyclable paper bags. It’s always useful to carry cotton tote bags around with you so then if you ever do need to buy something from the shop, you can take it away in that rather than using a plastic carrier bag. We all know how bad they are for the environment and wildlife!
Avoid buying too much junk food as this is often heavily processed, full of different ingredients and additives, and not good value for money. Taking a step towards eating more whole foods is a far better choice for a minimalist to make!
This part is particularly difficult for students. How are we supposed to get rid of most of our belongings when we need so many of them to work? I’ve read about minimalists who no longer keep books, as they give them on after they’ve finished reading them. This is definitely not possible for me, as the majority of my bookshelf consists of textbooks, ethnographies, and other anthropology-related items. All specific to my course. All expensive. And of course a true minimalist would probably not have a laptop or a smartphone, but I need those to do my work.
So when it comes down to possessions, the best bit of advice that I have is to judge things on a case-by-case basis. Try and treat it in a similar way to your clothes – if you use it regularly, keep it. If you never use it and it’s just taking up space in your room, consider selling it. But if you don’t use it but know it will come in useful in the future… then it makes more sense to keep hold of it for now. Of course, if you’re a student at university, chances are you have a place to store stuff at a parent/family member’s house short term, so you could probably leave items that you’re on the fence about with them, and then decide later whether it’s worth keeping. If you haven’t missed it whilst you’ve been away, chances are you won’t miss it if you sell it!
Where to go from here…
If you’re really interested in becoming a minimalist or adopting that way of life in the future, the best thing to do is to read up about it and learn more for yourself. You can probably find YouTube videos on the subject as well, and there are loads of documentaries on Netflix, such as Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things, which is quite an easy watch. Here is a link to some popular books about minimalism that you might want to check out.
Apart from that, I just recommend that you live within your means as simply as you can! It’s a learning process, a process which I don’t ever think we’ll finish, but once you start, the rest will just fall into place.
Leave a comment if you have any tips and tricks for being a minimalist as a student, or a budget minimalist – I’d love to hear from you! Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website for new content. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, Google + and Tumblr for even more!