Tap “minimalism” into Youtube’s search bar and you’ll find hundreds of videos with serene apartments, stylish wardrobes, and shrewd life lessons. These videos often portray the result of a person’s minimalist cycle.
The result is tempting, but it doesn’t reveal the protagonist’s journey. It doesn’t explain the experiences that led to the white, spruced-up apartment.
Minimalism is a quest with lots of stops along the way. It usually starts with a realization.
I have too much stuff. These possessions do not add value to my life. How do I find my real priorities?
The minimalist life cycle continues with a whole lot of decluttering, shifts in mentality, and new habits before culminating in freedom and satisfaction.
Personal routes differ, but the stations often overlap. Consequently, most people go through similar stages in their minimalist cycle.
The 5 stages of minimalism
To give you an overview of the most common parts of the cycle, here are the 5 stages of minimalism.
The recognition phase
Most people start their minimalist odyssey with a couple of recognitions.
First and foremost, you become aware of the physical clutter that encumbers your living spaces.
Do I really need all these video games? Why do I have 5 chairs if I only use 2?
We’ve all been there. The standard response is to get rid of a few things and then move on. Fast forward a few weeks, and old consumption habits will resurface.
A handful of people, however, launch a mental investigation.
Aside from the untidiness, you trace other stress factors back to the physical clutter in your life. This inflames your curiosity.
Maybe a decluttered home will have a positive influence on other aspects of life.
This is where the philosophical part of the recognition stage unfolds.
You become aware that a reduction in material possessions only works in conjunction with intentionality.
This is comparable to a diet. People decide to quit junk food for a month, lose a couple of pounds, and then regain those pounds a few months later.
The diet will only have long-lasting effects if the person also develops an intellectual willingness to remain fit.
In that same vein, minimalism – as a practical way to declutter your space – only works in the long run if you maintain the psychological foundation.
In short, your new consumption rules need to be ingrained into your mindset.
The holistic decluttering phase
Once you’ve grasped the principles of minimalism as a mindset, the floodgates open.
You start to prioritize everywhere.
How can I use minimalist principles at work? How can I implement the Pareto rule in my business?
Your house cleaning spell turns into a fully-fledged life makeover. Your self-defined minimalist norms start to penetrate more and more areas of life.
In short, every aspect of your life will be subject to minimalist scrutiny.
Out of all the stages of minimalism, the decluttering phase will be the most radical. Call it the “great minimalist leap forward”.
Because you’re still new to essentialism – that is, identifying your priorities and directing your efforts accordingly – you declutter on steroids.
And there is nothing wrong with that. Everybody needs a bit of mania in their minimalist life cycle.
Just don’t empty your entire house. Even if you are in the “get rid of everything” phase, you still need a bed, a place to put your clothes, and more than one pair of socks. Your kids will probably need some toys as well.
In my minimalist cycle, this phase lasted for over 2 years.
I sold and donated more than half of my possessions and launched new business ventures.
My greatest win, however, was a surge in concentration.
Thanks to the reduction of material stuff and mental strains, I became a lot more focused at work, in my relationships, and in general.
As a result, I got more work done in less time and I could liberate hours to start personal projects.
The money I saved was just the icing on the cake.
The long-term plan
“The goal of minimalism is not just to own less stuff. The goal of minimalism is to unburden our lives to accomplish more.“ – Joshua Becker
Once your decluttering storm has passed, you start to design a long-term plan for your minimalist lifestyle.
After all, you can’t get rid of 5 things every day for the next 30 years.
You’ve internalized the ins and out of decluttering and set rules for your life. You now want to ensure the long-term success of these rules.
Your concern shifts from present gains toward future objectives.
Instead of focusing on reduction, you devise a plan to live intentionally for the foreseeable future.
In this context, your main goal is to find a way to sustain the benefits of your minimalism.
How can I use my newly-adopted consumption rules when I have kids? How can I invest all the money I’ve saved?
The plan usually requires a lot of patience and tinkering. Unsurprisingly, most of your minimalist actions will have to be adapted to retain their efficacy over time.
As an example, you might have decided to donate your old t-shirts. You naturally cannot donate forever. The long-term plan would include new fashion rules such as creating an inventory.
This works by making lists of different categories and keeping a fixed number of pieces in each category. Once you’ve accumulated more than 12 t-shirts, one has to go. You replace instead of increasing the number.
Out of the 5 stages of minimalism, this is the longest and most difficult.
Getting rid of things and learning about mindfulness is easy. Practicing those ideas over long periods is challenging.
The long-term organization of your minimalist lifestyle will contain hurdles and sacrifices, but if you persevere, you will reap the benefits. You will enter the automation phase.
Once your new lifestyle is well-organized and flexible, your minimalism will become self-evident.
Slowly but steadily, your minimalist rules automatize themselves.
In the early days, you needed to remind yourself of your priorities. In the automation phase, they are an integral part of your conscience.
When buying new stuff, you automatically evaluate its long-term purpose and the value it may add to your life.
In terms of work, your productivity hacks become intuitive. Mindfulness is not something you try to achieve, but an organic part of your identity.
A concrete example would be my alarm clock. More specifically, its redundancy.
After years of following my minimalist morning routine, getting up without an alarm clock became natural.
I still have an alarm on my phone, but I rarely need it. Throughout the different stages of minimalism, it became more and more useless. The automation phase was the last nail in its coffin.
The automation phase is hard to attain, but once entered, it will create long-lasting freedom and satisfaction.
The freedom phase
Depending on your personality and motivation, the first 4 stages of minimalism will take at least 2-3 years.
The fifth station is not a terminus but a base for satisfaction and personal growth.
You stop thinking about minimalism and your self-defined axioms. No more worrying about decluttering, money-saving hacks, and intentional consumption.
All of these concepts are now part of your being.
No life is 100% worry-free, but the fifth stage will minimize your worries when it comes to material stuff and finding your place in society.
If you succeed in reaching this point, you will have designed your priorities in a way that you are content with your job, your relationships, and your financial situation.
There are no universal aspirations here, it’s a matter of personal satisfaction.
Consequently, your freedom will allow you to pursue bigger things.
Maybe you want to climb a mountain. Or help millions of people in need. Or become fluent in a new language. You have the power and freedom to do so.
After going through the minimalist life cycle, you obtain the mental and organizational freedom to grow as a person for as long as possible.
Because the foundation for your mental and material satisfaction is built, you get a healthy understanding of your real goals.
And you can chase them. Or not. After all, you have become the master of your fate.
Useful links on The 5 Stages of Minimalism
- more in the section “Life”
- read The 10 Principles of Minimalism
- read Intentional Consumption Explained
- more under the topic “Personal Growth”
- read How to Adopt a Minimalist Mindset in 10 Practical Steps