Minimalism: My five-day experiment

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Kailey Cullen

The author's desk looks just about as clean as can be, thanks to minimalism.

Videos about tiny houses and minimalist apartment tours — white walls, super small wardrobes and only a few pieces of furniture — fill my YouTube recommendations. I catch myself watching hours of tiny home tours and listening to guys in their thirties tell me how they quit their jobs and now backpack around Europe full time. Ever since Marie Kondo, minimalism has become more far reaching than ever.

Minimalism is all about getting rid of the excess in your life to make room for the things and people you really love. The belief is that owning fewer things gives you more time, energy and money to fill your life with things that make you happy. 

The first time I heard about minimalism was through a documentary on Netflix called “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” The film follows two guys, Ryan and Joshua, as they talk to others about their minimalist journeys. The film came out in 2015, but the first time I saw it was in 2018. I stumbled upon it while mindlessly browsing Netflix one day. I’m quite a documentary connoisseur, so I pressed play.

The film had a profound impact on me. How could people only live with four versions of the same t-shirt? And, wow, we really are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us to buy the newest toy, phone, laptop, camera, coffee maker or whatever else companies are selling. And, I can’t believe how happy all of these people seem. 

I’ve tried to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle off and on, but I’ve never committed to it. For the past two years, minimalism has been sitting in the back of my mind, even though it’s really hard for me to let go of my belongings. I convince myself that I spent too much money to get rid of it, that I’ll use it “someday” or that the item in question has some sentimental value. 

So, I finally decided to give into the nagging voice in the back of my mind and get a short taste of what true minimalism is. 

Tuesday

To kick off my minimalist journey, I decided to rid my room of everything I consider to be non-essential for my typical week. This arduous task involved cleaning out my entire room and putting all of its contents into black trash bags, which I then set aside for the duration of my minimalist experiment. 

I started with my closet. Everything went into the trash bags except for the clothing items I wear most often: two purple and white t-shirts, my fleece Patagonia pullover, a pair of blue jeans and some sweatpants. I also kept two out of my 14 sweatshirts.

Then I moved onto my bookshelf. It was painful to put away the stacks of books I love. “The Outsiders,” a stack of Shel Silverstein poem books that I loved when I was little and the entire “Harry Potter” series were especially hard to throw in a trash bag. 

Next up was my dresser and desk. From my dresser, all I kept was some pajamas. As for my desk, I bagged everything except for some Post-it notes and two pencils.

I hauled the numerous trash bags of my stuff, much to my mom’s dismay, to the hallway outside my room. I didn’t have anywhere else to put them, and all I really cared about was getting the stuff out of my immediate space, so 10 feet away, just outside my door, was fine by me. 

Aside from being physically exhausting, clearing out my room was actually surprisingly easy. Usually, when I attempt to clean out my closet and donate things to Goodwill, I don’t want to give away a lot of my clothes, but bagging stuff up was easy to do when I knew I would just be setting things aside for a few days. The process forced me to be honest with myself about what I actually wear, not just what I wish I wore.

Seeing everything I have sitting out in my hallway put into perspective just how many things I own. It was so much more than I thought. 

My room felt very relaxing after all the cleaning out. I had never realized it before, but just the presence of so many things in my room weighed on me. Before, everything had its specific place, and if everything wasn’t exactly in its place, my room wasn’t clean. It seemed like there was always something to fix or put away. Now there was barely anything in my room. I didn’t have to worry about cleaning up, because there was nothing to clean. Going minimal helped clear my mind a bit, and I went to bed feeling accomplished. 

Wednesday

It was nice to not have to deal with general clutter in my room, but I did not feel a dramatic change like I thought I would.

Towards the later part of the day, when I was relaxing on my bed, I began to miss my posters and other room decorations. My room felt empty and uninviting instead of feeling cozy like usual.

At this point, I was still hopeful that I would get used to minimalism and enjoy it, but instead minimalism felt a bit lacking and ugly. Because of all the effort I put in on Tuesday, I didn’t even think about getting my things out of the trash bags. I knew I’d just have to deal with my drab room for the rest of my minimalist trial.

Aside from having a slight fear that I would run out of Post-it notes, my day was not that different from normal. I still had and used the items I usually did, so I did a pretty good job of deciding what was essential and non-essential for a day. 

Thursday

I began feeling very light and unburdened. My room was a lot cleaner than usual, and I was able to put away my laundry very quickly instead of just leaving it in a pile on my chair. Because I didn’t have so much stuff in my room, I felt less stressed.

Minimalism didn’t feel that hard, and I was really beginning to realize just how little I can live with. I have so much stuff that I don’t even use. I felt more intentional with my time, and there were less distractions around me. Because my space was cleaner and less cluttered, my mind felt less jumbled. I found myself doing homework sooner in the day, because that was all that was on my desk. None of my possessions could take up space in my head simply because I couldn’t see them.

Friday

I was exhausted from my school week and didn’t have time to meditate on what it is to be a true minimalist, so I watched Netflix and ate chips in my empty, white room. 

Saturday

On this day, I wanted to wear a tank top, because the sun was out. By the end of winter, I always have a great farmer’s tan. Sadly, my minimalist lifestyle didn’t allow for a tank top, so my farmer’s tan lived on.

Sunday

I felt like I was a bit extreme with what I got rid of. I don’t think the amount of things I lived with would be sustainable for more than a week, but I don’t need many more belongings than what I left out of the trash bags. 

At the end of my experiment, I seriously downsized my belongings and sent a few trash bags to Goodwill. I reorganized the remainder of my belongings into my now sparkly clean shelves. 

Clearing the clutter from my room helped me to feel less mentally cluttered. I had less distractions, and I think that my focus was better. I felt less overwhelmed by the stuff in my room, and I didn’t have to clean even once. I did miss a few of my belongings, but I honestly didn’t even think about most of the things I put into trash bags (except the tank top). 

This whole week has put into perspective what I really enjoy. My priorities have become clearer. My belongings seemed to be so important before, but after this week, I know that they really don’t bring me any happiness. All I really need are a few quality items and the people and activities that I love.