Minimalism Challenge:  5 weeks to a simpler, well-balanced life

“Minimalism is about creating space to live simply and meaningfully; it’s about living intentionally.”
Laurie Buchanan, PhD

In preparing for sabbatical, I started to think about all of the things I would need to give up in order to live more simply and on a much smaller budget.  So I decided to do a 30-day minimalism challenge.  There are several minimalism challenges out there, but I chose one that seemed easy and had a lot of variety.


Another popular minimalism challenge is focused on decluttering your life by throwing out 1 item on day 1, 2 items on day 2, and so on until you are throwing out 30 items on the 30th and final day.  That seemed a bit overwhelming, and I also wanted to focus on more than just getting rid of stuff because I’m really good at replacing it.  I once had an addiction to buying vintage ottomans.  Seriously, I couldn’t stop buying ottomans on e-bay until I had one just the right height.  They were always smaller than I thought they would be…

I finished most of the 30-day challenge, swapping out daily challenges here and there to make it more convenient.  However, I felt like I was just dabbling with change.  What I really needed to do was commit to change because sabbatical would require long-term maintenance of a simpler life.  

I wanted easy, interestingsustainable change that was directed my ME.

Below is what I learned from that dabbling with minimalism, followed by my own 5-week Minimalism Challenge. The challenge is designed to be repeated over and over, focusing on the things that you need to work on each time.

Week 1: Eliminate Non-Essentials

“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”
Nathan W. Morris

Choose 6 things from this list that make you smile and 1 thing that makes you grimace.

Getting rid of stuff can be fun and cathartic, and it makes you feel like you accomplished a lot in your very first week of minimalism!  Do one thing from this list every day in week 1. And please donate items to those in need through a church, community center, school or organization like Goodwill.

  • Pick a drawer any drawer. Throw out anything in it that you don’t need or haven’t used in the last year.  Repeat as many times as you can.
  • Donate duplicate kitchen items.  You probably don’t need four cookie sheets or three can openers.  If you ever need more than 12 wine glasses, you can borrow them.
  • Donate all your non-perishable pantry food to charity and start over with a short shopping list of just what you really need from week to week.
  • Throw out your spices that are over 4 years old.  Now you can buy a lot of spices in little packets, or consider using a meal delivery option like Blue Apron (my favorite) or Green Chef (all organic), which gives you exactly how much you need of all the ingredients for one meal, including spices.
  • Empty your fridge of any duplicates (am I the only one that has four jars of pickles???).
  • Round up all the boxes of stuff in your house, and get rid of as many as you can.  If it’s in a box, chances are you don’t really need it.
  • Donate your books and switch to an e-reader (I love my Kindle Paperwhite).  You can check out books from the library on your e-reader using the Overdrive app.
  • Downsize your make-up, lotion and beauty supply collection.  Only keep what you really like and use regularly.
  • Clean out your closet. Anything that hasn’t been on your body in a year needs to be donated.  And anything with a hole or that’s too small or ill-fitting to wear goes first.
  • Shred stuff.  It’s fun.  Bills, taxes, income statements.  Check out Suze Orman’s guide on how long to keep different financial documents.
  • Organize your digital photos. Delete the bad pictures and the duplicates.
  • Get rid of unmatched socks. Just toss them.  Don’t think about it too hard, or you will doubt yourself.  Be resolved!  Do this again next month and you’ll have gotten rid of the ones left behind too.
  • Delete friends from your social media that you don’t really know or want to know. And don’t feel guilty!  You won’t miss them and they won’t miss you.  If you just can’t delete, at least unfollow.
  • Organize under your sinks.  Put a small or medium sized plastic bin under each sink.  Anything that won’t fit in the bin, you don’t need.  I love the organizational options at the Container Store.
  • Throw out any food storage containers that don’t have lids or vice versa.
  • Clean out your car.  Leave nothing in it except for possibly grocery bags, emergency items, and the essentials in your glove box (car insurance, car manual, a pen, and some wet wipes).
  • Delete apps from your phone that you don’t use. I got rid of 46!
  • Throw out any pairs of shoes that aren’t comfortable.  Life is too short.
  • Ladies, pair down your jewelry to the essentials that you actually wear.  Men, how many ties do you actually need?
  • Unsubscribe from email subscriptions that overwhelm your inbox.  I use, which automatically unsubscribes you and/or rolls your subscriptions up into a daily digest. I love it, and it’s free!

Week 2:  Get focused

  • Day 1:   Identify your values and articulate them to someone close to you.  See my post on how to embrace your values.
  • Day 2:  Define your goals for the next year.
  • Day 3:  Make a list of your commitments, and prioritize them based on your goals and values.
  • Day 4:  Write down your priorities and think about how they correspond to your goals, commitments, and values.  Consider making changes if there is not alignment.
  • Day 5:  Make a list of the people in your life who can help you reach your goals, and ask at least two of them to support you.  I enlisted friends and family to help hold me accountable for healthy eating.
  • Day 6:  Meditate for 15 minutes (or 5 or 2 if you need to start small).
  • Day 7:  Pat yourself on the back.  This was a big week!  Reflect on what was hardest for you and why.  You should probably come back to the hard ones again soon.

Week 3:  Introduce some changes

  • Day 1:  Revisit your goals, and decide which one you can live without.  We usually set ourselves up for failure by trying to do too much.  It’s okay to start small with life change and really focus.
  • Day 2:  Identify 5 things that really stress you out, and make a plan to eliminate at least one of them.
  • Day 3:  Cut out TV for at least one day this week, and plan not to watch TV on that day of the week moving forward.  Do ANYTHING ELSE instead.
  • Day 4:  Look back at your list of commitments from Week 2.  Try to eliminate at least a few big commitments that are not priorities.  When I did this exercise, I decided to drop off of several nonprofit boards on which I was serving even though I strongly believe in the missions. I still support those organizations in other ways, but I could not continue to serve on the boards and maintain my sanity.
  • Day 5: Go for a long walk with someone you love.  Ask them about their day from a place of really caring.  Don’t comment and don’t judge.  Just listen.  Ask them what you can do to make their day better.  Ask them about their goals for the next year, and share your own.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

  • Day 6: Say no to new commitments or obligations today.  It’s your day.
  • Day 7:  Volunteer your time.  There is nothing like giving of your time to someone else or a great cause to remind you that you already have enough and you are enough.

Week 4:  Tackle the hard stuff

  • Minimize what you spend this week.  Before every purchase from lunch to groceries to a new pair of shoes, really think about it.  Do you need it?  Is buying it going to add to your life or add to what weighs you down?  If it it won’t add to your life, consider not buying it and see if you can live without.  You can always buy it later if it still nags at you.  Try not to spend any money unnecessarily for a whole week.

“Own less stuff. Enjoy more freedom. It really is that simple.”
Joshua Becker

  • Be more thoughtful before you speak, and don’t complain.  Before you say something, really think it through.  Does your comment hurt someone else or bring joy to someone else?  Will your words tear someone or something down (including yourself) or will they build someone up?  Try holding it in or re-framing it if it isn’t going to serve a valuable purpose from a place of positivity.
  • Choose one or two days, and meditate with a partner for a few minutes (2 to 15), and then check in.  This is a powerful exercise to sit in silence with a loved one (I like to do it in the morning), clearing your mind and heart for openness, and then sharing out.  The prompting question that I like to use for this exercise, after the few minutes of meditation is: Checking in–What are you bringing with you into this day?  It allows space to feel whatever you are feeling and share it with no fear of judgment with your partner.  You don’t respond to the other’s statements.  Only listen.  Hard.
  • Spend time on one of your priorities every day, at the expense of other things.  Which priorities rise to the top?  Probably want to keep spending time on those.
  • Identify something that you want to learn that will help you reach your goals, and take a step toward learning it.

Week 5:  Prioritize and maintain

  • Reflect on the changes you are making every day by writing about your feelings and experiences.  Reflection is an important part of change, and writing about your thoughts and experiences helps to clarify them and then solidify the changes necessary to maintain them.
  • What activities did you gain the most enjoyment from over the last four weeks? Choose three or four to continue to focus on over the coming months, working toward making those things a habit.
  • Continue to spend intentional time on your priorities.  Make a plan for how you will do that.
  • Come back and do this challenge again in a few months!

Minimalism is a state of mind more than anything, and once you make that paradigm shift from I want more to I want enough, you will begin to find some of the balance you seek in your life.  Good luck!

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
Henry David Thoreau


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