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Minimalist Makeover: How Simplifying Your Life Will Bring You Major Happiness

Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."

We’re putting out a “5 Days to Minimalism” series to help you clear clutter from your life really, really quickly. Day 1 is all about exploring the rise of the minimalist mindset, how it has helped others, and what it can do for you.

In today's age of tiny homes, Soylent, and capsule wardrobes, you don't have to look far to see minimalism's touch. Living modestly has become an aspirational feat, and the less-is-more mantra pervades all facets of society.

So when did this shift toward simplicity start? According to the New York Times, its cultural underpinnings lie in the art scene of the 1960s. Back then, the term minimalist was coined as an insult to describe Frank Stella and other painters whose work had "minimal art content." The phrase then seeped into fashion, design, and architecture, used to describe luxurious products that were intentionally sparse. Marie Kondo's decluttering bible, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, helped introduce the philosophy to the mainstream in 2014, where it still lives. Nowadays, minimalism is something everyone seems to be after.

The wellness connection

A catchall term that offers a way to achieve simplicity through clearing clutter, minimalism can be applied to our homes, wardrobes, dinner plates, and mentalities. It represents a more mindful way of living—one in which you analyze how everything in your life is affecting you and drop what no longer serves you.

"Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life's important things—which actually aren't things at all," The Minimalists' Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two leaders in the movement toward simplicity, told mbg. "By clearing the excess from our lives, we free up time to focus on our values; and, of course, health is a cornerstone value in living a meaningful life."

Tiny testimonies

We reached out to a few minimalism masters to find out what the shift has opened up for them. Here's what they cited as some of the biggest draws of pared-down living.

1. Bea Johnson: Spent 40 percent less money by adopting a minimalist, zero-waste lifestyle with her husband and two boys.

"When you feel the need to buy less, you'll have more money to spend on other activities. My family and I have discovered a lifestyle that is rich in experiences instead of things; a life that is based on being and doing instead of having. My kids and I have been able to do things that most people never get to do—we've snorkeled between two continents; we've gone ice climbing; we've gone bungee jumping and skydiving. To me, life is about connections with others, creating memories with each other, and that's what this lifestyle has enabled for us."

Inside Bea's zero-waste home
Photo by Michael Clemens

2. Sara Weinreb: Shopaholic-turned-minimalist who now touts a capsule wardrobe of less than 40 pieces.

"Ever since I started living with a lean, minimal capsule wardrobe, I have the time and space to focus on my friends, building my business, and my overall mindfulness practice. Instead of staring at a closet full of clothes trying to decide what to wear in the morning, I have time to journal, meditate, and then get dressed easily. Instead of spending time shopping, I spend time at yoga, or focusing my efforts on the people and work I care about. Not only have minimalism provided physical space for me, it has provided me with emotional space I couldn't have imagined before."

3. Stevie Trujillo: Moved into a van to travel the world with her growing family.

"When my husband and I first downsized from a beachfront apartment in Venice, California, into our Sprinter van and decided to start traveling the world seven years ago, we feared all the time together in close proximity would drive us apart—but that couldn't be further from the truth. Indeed, sharing a vision and so much experience while working together to make our nomadic lifestyle a reality has gifted us with intimacy and strength many couples struggle to achieve. Now, with our 4-year-old daughter in tow, we make it an extra point to connect with other families, too, as we explore different cultures and beautiful places. For us, there's nothing we could buy that would gift us this feeling of partnership and belonging in the world. It's priceless."

Stevie's van adventures
Photo by Stevie Trujillo

4. Alyssa Ackerman: Full-time traveler who has spent the last few months living in a van.

"With hoarding genes in the family, living minimally has not come naturally. With it, however, has come a decisiveness for what I choose to bring into my life, whether it's a relationship, a practice, or an object. With it has come a thoughtful curation of what I continue to surround myself with. And most importantly, with it has come a more honest understanding of self through detachment. This understanding that I am not a sum of my things, that these things do not define me, helps me define me."

5. Julie Puckett: Gave up traditional city life to move into a bus with her husband.

"To me, living minimally has meant learning how to let go. It's shocking how much emotional baggage items carry, and pruning the excess means opening yourself to people and experiences that truly bring you joy. I feel more empowered, more capable, and much more creative than I did before I began this process, largely in part because of the realization that my surroundings aren't me. I don't have to be trapped in a negative mindset if things aren't outwardly perfect. Living with less strips down and defines what is most essential to you. It is absolutely a gift you give yourself."

Julie's bus escape
Photo by Samuel Laubscher

6. Amie Tollefsrud: Downsized to a 124-square-foot home in Hawaii.

"Most people probably view living in a 124-square-foot hut with hardly any physical items as suffocating and restrictive, but I have found the exact opposite to be true. Minimalism has allowed me to experience a type of freedom that I never thought possible. I am no longer forced to work at a job I hate in order to pay a mortgage on a house I rarely spend time in. It has allowed me the freedom to move to Maui with my husband and made planning to travel the world while working from my laptop a realistic possibility."

7. Danielle Chabassol: Moved into a van where she works remotely with her husband.

At the start of my journey into minimalist living four years ago, my goal was simply to have less stuff, and less clutter; and achieving that goal turned out to be very rewarding in itself. But the process of downsizing also sparked a chain reaction that completely changed my life and my priorities. Owning less stuff has allowed me to live in a smaller space, to spend less money, to work less, and has ultimately given me the freedom to spend my time the way I want. This freedom, for me, is more valuable than anything I've ever owned.

Ready, set, go!

So have we convinced you yet? The good news is you don't need to move into a van or get rid of all your clothes to reap the rewards of minimalism. This week, we'll be featuring easy ways to adopt the philosophy across all aspects of your routine, so be sure to check back in tomorrow to get started!

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.