Reflections on Less, How Living as a Minimalist Has Affected Me

continued journey into minimalism

Last time I was blogging regularly I had a lot of flux happening in my life. I had built a tiny house with my partner and we were trying to make a go of cohabiting the same patch of land as my mother-in-law.

In the long run we decided it was not going to work out and we transitioned back up to Arkansas.

Being minimal, the physical transition was very easy. We downsized some stuff we wouldn’t be bringing with us, we shipped six big boxes up to a friends and packed up the dog, the cat, and the rest of our worldly possessions into our teeny, tiny Hyundai accent.

We decided to bring in the New Year in Arkansas so we boogied our way down the road and landed just in time for a phenomenal new year’s eve spent with friends. Then we got jobs at the local health food co-op we’d worked at before (thanks co-op, for hiring us again), rented a one bedroom apartment in town and settled in to juicy living.

It’s been six months since we settled back down in our own place. We chose a low-rent spot of town with some serious perks. We got one of the biggest floor plans in town for a low-rent one bedroom and we’re located on a dead end road which faces a field with four gorgeous horses. Our large patio faces out on the horse field, making for some incredibly beautiful sunset scenes. Our complex also connects to the citywide trail which is a resource we use practically daily. Looooove the trail.Love it. Love it. Love it.

Our work commute is only 1.5 miles long and it can be walked in a pinch (recently put to the test when our one shared car broke down for a few days).

But I am not a picture perfect minimalist. I never have been. I’m not wired that way. I shop when I get emotional. I struggle with getting rid of things. I can create a clutter bomb in my space without even realizing it, just from not putting my stuff away for a few days.

Having said that, I keep myself in check. When we moved in to this apartment it was the first time in several years that I was really settling into a space, like I imagined myself living in the same place for more than a year, maybe even a few years.

There’s nothing like a tumbling stone to keep possessions to a minimum. You don’t collect good stuff if you know you’re going to be moving again. Moving so much really helped me to maintain my minimalism, but now that I was settling in somewhere, I was going to be put to a real test. Could I sustain my simple lifestyle or would I succumb to the temptation to fill up alllll that delectable space?


The first thing we did when we moved to town was rent an apartment. We got the apartment two days after arriving in Fayetteville. It was the first place we looked at, after a lot of driveby looking. At first I wouldn’t even consider them because the units were incredibly dated and there wasn’t an inviting feel of “hominess” from many of the balconies/patios.

But Patrick wanted us to take a second look. They were the largest square footage we’d seen at one of the lowest price ranges. They were on a dead end road which meant they’d be blessedly quiet compared to most other apartment units…. and they actually faced a horse field. Plus the patios were huuuuuge and they even had a washer/dryer in each unit. Out door living space has always meant a lot to us. I mean come on, we’ve lived on five acres of forest before. We like our outdoor time.

When we went to look at the units I fell in love with one out of the three we saw. It faced out on the field and the view from both my living room windows would be like some fantasy farmland vignette with four happy horses in a beautiful field of grass. Living in town is always tough for me, and I got to have a little green around me. We both place green space near the top of our list of requirements. It’s a priority and the beautiful field connecting to the city trail was spot on.

We had brought up some sheer white curtains with us, so we put those on the windows right away. Then we bought a bed and a couch and two plastic lawn chairs. We hung our tv on the wall (it had made the trip up with us in the hatchback) and put my vintage footstool underneath it and called it home. Then we spent a few months sitting in an almost empty apartment.

With time we added. We felt the space was too cold, especially the living room. We had white walls, white sheers, and an orange couch. It was too stark and the orange was overpowering all by itself in the space.

We added an end table that a neighbor was getting rid of, then we finally decided on a vintage dining table. We imported a trunk (bad move, Patrick new best), upgraded to two dining chairs, pulled in two patio chairs and threw up a new set of curtains. Decorations were a couple rocks, a couple plants, and a few throw pillows.

All good, but in the meantime, our tiny apartment was starting to feel a little full. I even, ahem, lost the scissors for a few days.

Time to stop.

And that’s the ultimate lesson I’ve learned with my journey through minimalism. I now have a safety trigger that goes off when my space starts feeling too full. I’ve worked hard and developed the “habit” of having a nicer space. It really is like Leo Babauta’s always talking about. It’s through the creation of habits that we can create change in our lives. We simply must choose to do it, and make a plan for doing it. Whatever the action is. In my case the action is choosing to maintain my home.

Three techniques I’ve been using to maintain my home are:

1) Doing frequent ten minute challenges: Some people appear to be wired for neatness. Others, like me, need to work at it. I call it Clutter Maintenance Mode and it’s a place we all want to arrive at someday. It’s the blessed land of “just keeping it up”. If you do a little bit every day, like ten minutes, or twenty minutes, it’s enough. The importance is frequency, not length of time. The more times a day you stop and pick up, the better off you are. They will be short little sessions that you hardly notice. I love doing ten minute pickup challenges and ten minute decluttering challenges. They really help me.

2) Contemplating any decision that brings a permanent thing into my space: I still don’t go out shopping recreationally, but I frequently let myself buy something small and disposable when I get a craving. Requiring thoughtful contemplation of the “things” I bring in has greatly reduced the influx of stuff into my life. Less shopping= less decluttering.

3) Doing a regular evaluation of my space: This last one is essential. I don’t have a scheduled habit, I’ve turned it into part of my lifestyle, but I regularly assess how my home is making me feel. Recently I’ve found some packrat clutter culprits rearing their ugly heads. I call them warning signs. Here are four warning signs that I’ve recently noticed:

* I came to Arkansas with a tube of face scrub and I still have that same tube of face scrub six months later.

* My kitchen feels disorganized and I can’t quite get the organization system right.

* I’ve been having a hard time letting go of some clothing donation bags I put together over a month ago.

* My shoe count has gone up and I still crave new shoes.

All of these items are early warning signals for me. They say  I need to be careful. Because of my regular evaluation of my space, I’m able to notice that the closets feel too full for comfort. I’ve noticed before I’ve run out of space while the problem is still manageable.

As a result, my ten minute challenges have been combined with a concerted effort to use up supplies that have been lingering around. I am using all my personal care products like lotions, scrubs, masks, and salts more than usual, to clear down to a baseline again. Patrick and I are both making an conscious effort to use up some food items that have been sitting in the pantry for a few months. I’m also working with him to get a small load of items decluttered and taken to Goodwill.

These techniques are working for me. My level of stuff is fluctuating, as all of ours does, but I’ve found a fluctuation range and that’s the magic. It’s a habit. You create the habit of maintaining your space better, and it gets easier with time. Your stuff might fluctuate a little, but you have your high range and your low range. When you hit your high range, it’s a trigger that says, “Time to purge.”


In the meantime, Adios from Arkansas. Minimalist Packrat is signing off. Cheers!

uncluttered bedroom

…. and, as always, feel free to have a conversation down in the comments below. You know I like that a lot. It inspires me to write again. ;)


the minimalist packrat clutter bootcamp


50 Responses to “Reflections on Less, How Living as a Minimalist Has Affected Me”

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  1. So glad you’ve caught us all up! I’ve missed you in the Blogosphere!

    And I can COMPLETELY relate. I have a very low tolerance for clutter, so I have to find a level to maintain. Just like you, I have flows of stuff- times when there is more and times when there is less. 10 (or so) minute challenges are fantastic for getting me to do the day-to-day stuff. For me, the problem has never been keeping few items, but in maintaining what we do have. The short bursts of cleaning really help with that as I don’t have the attention span to clean for long periods of time. Thanks for sharing what works for you :)

  2. Karen says:

    It is so good to hear from you! I am so happy things have worked out so well for you in AR! I have a low tolerance for clutter, also. I need to do some work right now. Won’t be much of a problem, though, since everything has its place!:)

  3. Jill Foley says:

    Good to hear from you Tanja….you’ve been missed.
    Jill Foley recently posted..My Favorite Day

  4. Marcy says:

    Long time lurker, don’t even remember if I’ve ever commented!! When you mentioned Arkansas before, I thought it would be funny if you meant somewhere nearby….feels like I live down the road from a celebrity!!!! I’m in Fort Smith!!!! I’ve loved your blog for a long time and was sad you took a break for a while, though I completely understand.

  5. Looks like a right fine new home for you and the gang. Hope you will be very happy. I’m a bit envious of the view of the horses. beautiful creatures and quite entertaining when you get a chance to watch them. I’m glad to see you “back in the saddle” so to speak, on the blogging front.
    Allan Douglas recently posted..Dolly Settles In

  6. Karma says:

    So glad to see you back! I’ve been obsessively searching the web for de-cluttering blogs and happened across yours about a month back. Love to read your posts!

  7. creative me says:

    Oh how I missed your minamalist travel journal entries!
    Your new place sounds great. I moved too. The space is the same square footage, but the layout is drastically different. That with extrememly slow renovations and I am finding out that a lot of what I packed away in boxes and dragged over here isn’t going to fit this home. Much more green about me (but farther from horses). Change can be good. I wish I knew my “too full” limit like you before I over extended it so far!
    creative me recently posted..One Month Anniversary

  8. Brian says:

    Welcome back (even though this is my first visit! :-) )

    I really like your take on the so called 10 min challenge. I, like you have to constantly having to work to keep things clean. Although I have a ways to go, I am getting better at it. (The dishes are the worst!)

    The bringing things in is a new one for me. I am working on forming the habit for every new item I bring in, one goes out. I hope it grows with time as I am still in the parsing phase of getting rid of my excess.

    Anywho, enjoyed the post and I am now a subscriber! Keep em coming!

  9. Absolutely loved hearing about how you and Patrick are doing in Arkansas Tanja.

    I’m in a similar place as you as far as slipping up, purging and maintenance. Keeping the clutter out is a forever process, which makes it tricker than it seems when riding the initial high of that first big decluttering.

    Your new apartment sounds fantastic. Especially the view and the trails. We have bike trails in our neighborhood and they are one of my favorite parts about living here!
    Jenny @ Ex-Consumer recently posted..Scattered

  10. Annie says:

    Glad to see you have settled in!

    I know the feeling about limits. I am getting close to ours here and am debating on the best way to handle them. I’ve decided that I like sleeping off of the floor but the current solution isn’t “quite” working out. We’ll ace it though!

    Hope you post some more pics soon!

    Annie recently posted..Clarity

  11. Abi says:

    So please to see you are still blogging. I only recently found your blog when I for the first time in my packrat existence found the complete urge to declutter and used google to try and get some advice. This blog is a fantastic inspiration, although I have a long way to go, I already feel so much better for having made a start.

    Keep the post coming please :-)

  12. Amy says:

    I too am an expert at making “clutter bombs”….great post, i’m only starting out, in a phase of extreme culling, love your posts, keep them coming :D

  13. I am so glad for you for finally settling in at your new place in Arkansas. I hope you have fun on your stay there. Your posts are amazing!
    Mary Campbell recently posted..Max Workouts

  14. AlexM says:

    I agree with so much of your philosopy — and also have a serious “shoe jones.” One way I am managing to curb by desire to gather “things,” is to concentrate on gathering food — if I stay out of JC Penney’s at lunch but to to Price Rite and buy a funky new pasta, I get something new and novel that I can bring home and it’s gone by the end of the day!

    The less stuff you have, the less you have to clean!
    AlexM recently posted..Coming up on 24

  15. marie says:

    I was gonna go down the super minimalist road when I started, only to realize that a few things aren’t forbidden as long as you find a balance between what you want to have and what clutters your life. So I don’t think you should worry too much about how many pairs of shoes you own, unless it is making you stress out.
    marie recently posted..milestones

  16. Kory Lamont says:

    Thanks for these fantastic pictures and also i hope you’ll write the blog regularly.
    Kory Lamont recently posted..Victor Ortiz

  17. Congratulations ! for welcome back. and also thanks for your three excellent techniques of maintain your home.
    Angel Remington recently posted..Kim Kardashian Ranks High on the Forbes List

  18. Glad to see you’re blogging again and nice to hear you found an awesome apartment and are settling nicely into your new home.

    What became of the cool Tiny House you built in Florida? You guys put so much work and so much of your own personality into it.

  19. madeleine says:

    I just looved your ebook..I have decluttered my house and just love the new way my life is today..
    I have a question. Are you going to release the ebook you mentioned before..the emotion behind the clutter ..
    would love to buy that one..
    Hugs from Madeleine /Sweden

  20. Lorie says:

    I love the idea of a 10 minute challenge. I will definetly try it out. Thanks for the tips.

  21. Ava says:

    Certainly minimalism has its place in modern living room styles, but many decoration trends feature an eclectic mix of designer furnishings, flea-market finds, do-it-yourself projects, family heirlooms and mass-produced items.
    Ava recently posted..Business Opportunities in the UK

  22. Lureen says:

    Hi there,
    I’ve just found your blog, and it’s amazing. Sure thing I’ll keep on reading it. I just wish I could do that via rss with Google Reader, but apparently its feed does not exist. Is that right? Or is it just me? :-(

  23. Evan Brooks says:

    What a beautiful article of yours about “Reflections on Less, How Living as a Minimalist Has Affected Me”! Also your picture says you are a polite person and your choice so fantastic. I like your post very much because your nice sharing. Thanks a lot.
    Evan Brooks recently posted..Kim Kardashian Scandal

  24. Jerry Talmus says:

    What a amazing article of yours with nice pictures ! I like your post very much because your ultra modern thinking. I think you are so calculated person also. Thanks a lot for your nice article.
    Jerry Talmus recently posted..

  25. Pam says:

    I also moved from my old house to a new one last June and I kind of learned how to let go of the unnecessary things that we sometimes can’t let go because of some sentimental value. It came to a point that I became a hoarder. Good thing I was with all my will power to let of these these burdens. Nice experiences here. I learned a lot!

    Pam recently posted..How To Get A Girl To Like You

  26. Andrea says:

    I’ve also been a hoarder ever since childhood. It seems that it’s hard to let go of things with very sentimental value. But I realized along the way that I could not take all of them with me so got rid of some of my most treasured things.

    Andrea recently

  27. Jaime says:

    I can relate to the need to be careful. I have gotten carried away in the last few months and have realized that I definitely need to watch myself. We are about to engage in another boot camp (mini this time) and I got to thinking about you. I miss your posts, they were so inspiring. I loved reading your thoughts on these issues. Of course, I certainly understand the need to cut back on blogging – I did that myself this past year. Simplicity is all about recognizing what you can and can’t reasonably do given the season of life you are in. I am going to reread the archives here to help be recenter and get back to basics. I hope you are doing well.

  28. Dana says:

    This is my first time visiting your site and I LOVED reading this post. My husband and I moved into our apartment 6 months ago and it was definitely a process to put it together in a way that made it feel like home, but was still in line with our minimalist mission. I too find myself needing to keep myself in check with certain clutter, mainly paper clutter and always the kitchen! I do my best to do those 10 minute challenges, but some weeks get so crazy that I Friday rolls around and I feel like my home is out of control (even if it’s actually just fine). I really look forward to checking out your other posts and seeing how your journey unfolds! By the way, I’m totally jealous of your horse field view!!
    Dana recently posted..Living Car-Free

  29. I’m envious of your house being right behind a horse field how cool!!! and they are not even your horses so you dont have to worry with taking care of them haha! Also, good tips about de cluttering. I’ve had to put my entire life in my car more than once…back then I had a Scion XD which was prob even smaller than your car believe it or not. I can’t believe my windows did not explode out. There are a few things I refuse to declutter like books…i love books and having them around me so parting with them is something I rarely do. However, when it comes to clothes there are just some things I have to realize that I buy to look at hang in my closet but would never wear for one reason or another. These things need to head down to the local good will so that I can see what I actually own that I like haha! Love the website. congrats on the Inspirational Blog award :)

  30. edith goodwin says:

    I live in Nova Scotia and have been looking for the bootcamp book ..cannot find it can you tell me a place I can get it your blog

  31. LaTonya says:

    Name of your blog drew me in. I’m a packrat. New to minimalism. Your title alone lowered my doubt that I can actually live a minimalist life and no, I’m a weird for thinking this is a lifestyle for me. I’m enjoying the early stages and I’m encouraged by reading your blog. Thanks especially on the mini clean/decluttering idea. You’ve given me doable action that matches my personality.

  32. Kristin says:

    Love your ideas! You are always aware of how you are living and I am challenged by that. Very encouraging!

  33. I’m definately not one that is wired for neatness. I could easily become a hoarder if I didn’t consistantly check myself :)
    Craig Grimm (@craiggrimm) recently posted..Slow Down or Life Will Pass You By

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  35. Minimal Girl says:

    I am currently living in “rolling stone” mode, which is a constant motivation to pare down my things. But I’d like to have a home someday, and I was wondering if my minimalist ideals would start slipping once I settle down. So reading this post was very interesting, and useful too. It’s reassuring that everyone’s levels of stuff fluctuates, even minimalists. :)

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    I am happy to have stumbled upon your blog. Please update again soon, it is very inspirational. I also have been minimizing to help me through lifes obstacles from the past few years.

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  49. Kelli says:

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