How Minimalism Helped Me Pay Off $15K In Debt

How Minimalism Helped Me Pay Off $15K In Debt

If you know me at all, you know that I’ve been a minimalist in some shape or form since late 2016. As I’ve started sharing my 2019 goals (read more here!) I’ve actually been getting more and more questions about my minimalism journey as a whole. Knowing this, I thought I’d share with you my 5 steps to minimalism - as it’s actually been more of a journey, rather than waking up one day and suddenly having less. But before we get too far in - I need to throw up a disclaimer. I’m not quite a Marie Kondo and I’m not quite The Minimalists either. I’m somewhere in between.

The Backstory

In late 2016 as I was planning for the new year, I realized that I was going to be on the road more than I would be home in the coming 12 months. That meant that my apartment was going to become a glorified and rather overpriced storage unit. Knowing this, I somewhat spontaneously decided to downsize, sell things, and move out. I went from full-on hoarder to suitcase-toting minimalist in the span of about 24 days. 10/10 do not recommend this method, however trial by fire has always kind of worked for me.

Step 1: Figure out what’s important based on your current phase of life.

Figure out what’s important based on your current phase of life. So often we either hoard things from our past or hoard things for the future. Knowing that I was going to be hitting the road, I realized that I could only really afford space for the now - things I was truly going to use day to day. That became the foundation for my initial purge. What were the things I would truly need on the road?

I didn’t go 100% minimalist at this point. I kept a few furniture pieces (and by “kept” I meant “loaned to a friend who was going to be furnishing their basement under the premise that I’d someday come back to get the items”. Someday has not yet come). I also kept a box of mementos that are to this day stored at my mom’s house (think diplomas, trophies, etc).

Things I got rid of in this phase: clutter (think unnecessary collectibles, bulky or large items, etc), duplicates (did I really need four cutting boards? In fact, in my next stage of life, did I even need one?!), expensive but unused items (I had quite the purse collection - but I was too scared to use them for fear of damaging them).

Step 2: No really, what do you actually need?

After about six months of living with 75% less than I’d had in 2016, I reevaluated what I was hanging on to. I was wearing the same seven outfits every week because I was in a new place every week and so nobody ever caught me wearing the same outfit all the time. What I really did need was some packing cubes, a solid travel backpack, and a much longer phone charger, so I bought those items.

Things I got rid of in this phase: I was really only wearing this one pair of shoes, so I got rid of all the others (especially the heels I’d only ever worn…once). I was wearing way less makeup than I used to, so my little sister became the new owner of a rather expensive but largely unused collection of makeup (I did keep the bare essentials). I wasn’t really using the Nintendo DS that I’d packed for airplane rides, so I sold it. During this time there were a lot of moments where I discovered I wasn’t using something and found it a treasured new home.

Step 3: Change your mind…again.

After about 9 months on the road, things changed. Google came calling and so I got a full time job and put down some roots. Before this whole adventure, I would have gone out and rented an apartment, fully furnished it, and started collecting shit (um, I mean treasured possessions) again. Post-nomad Dannie instead chose to rent a bedroom from a stranger off Craigslist, snag the basics (a bed and a desk) secondhand, and call it good. (Please note: I don’t recommend renting from strangers off Craigslist, but in this particular case it’s worked out okay - a year and a half later we still live together.) For the first six months, the bedroom was bare as hell, because unpacking a suitcase of belongings into a 11 x 13 ft bedroom meant there was a lot of white space.

Things I got rid of in this phase: nothing.

Step 4: Refresh your priorities.

After a little over a year living in this apartment, I’d collected some stuff. I got comfy having a “home” again and so I started buying things. I decided to downsize my belongings again (even though I wasn’t going anywhere this time) and so I hired a professional organizer to help me purge. (If you’re following: Original belongings - 75% = New belongings. New belongings - 80% = new new belongings.)

I felt really good because I was back down to right around the number of belongings I’d had when I hit the road at the end of 2016 and I felt really free. There is nothing better than the feeling of freedom that comes from owning nearly nothing.

While I was at it, in this phase I also was a little bit more cutthroat. I was a lot more frank about the material things I was holding on to and why. All the mementos I’d been holding on to? I digitized all the papers. I used LegacyBox to digitize old photos. I cleaned out my Google Drive and Dropbox accounts, cleaned off my computer, and downsized my digital clutter.

Things I got rid of in this phase: clutter, excess clothes, excess books, excess everything.

Step 5: Financial minimalism.

All this time I’d been reducing my physical and digital belongings, but I hadn’t been reducing my financial burdens. At the end of 2017, I was facing an ominous amount of debt - student loans, a car loan, old credit card debt, etc. I also was looking at this cycle of “buy and purge” with a bit of frustration. In 2018 I discovered Dave Ramsey and Alyssa Nicole Budgets. First, I got my spending under control by following the cash diet / cash envelope method. Next, I itemized and understood what all my debts where and what needed to be tackled. In late 2018, I started tackling my debts with a goal of being debt free as soon as possible. (As of this blog post, I’ve paid off $15,341.88.) Now I’m doing a No-Buy year in 2019 (read my rules here) and focusing on eliminating that debt while also keeping my expenses low (and still having fun and traveling!).

My thoughts:

I never intended to become a minimalist or a Dave Ramsey fan when I first decided to downsize a bit at the end of 2016. Having said that, here we are nearly three years later and I’m both. I think that becoming a minimalist in one part of your life leaks over to other parts of your life too. Minimalism isn’t easy either. There are still days when I have “hoarding blackouts” - things get purchased that I don’t need or things get kept that I don’t use. I’ve also seen how things are different when I’m single vs. when I’m in a relationship. Minimalism isn’t a perfect science - it’s what works for you.

I’ve also had to stave off the temptation of consumerism a bit, with Facebook and Instagram being two of the biggest culprits.

For Facebook: I added an ad blocker to Chrome to block Facebook ads and uninstalled Facebook on my phone. I then followed this Medium article to unlike every Facebook page I've ever liked (to reduce additional temptations to buy things). I also left every Facebook group I haven't been active inside of in over a year.

For Instagram: I really really love Instagram, so I knew I couldn’t do what I did on Facebook. However, I unfollowed accounts that made me always want to buy things, I skip ads in Instagram Stories, and I minimize my main feed scrolling.

How does minimalism work in your life?