Ask a Minimalist: A Minimalism FAQ Series

Inside: Here you’ll find the first in a Q & A series called “Ask a Minimalist.” I’ll be addressing frequently asked questions regarding minimalism, decluttering, and all things simplicity. 

Letting go and moving toward a more simplified life can be ironically complicated. Especially when you’re so used to running full steam ahead in the opposite direction. Slowing down and changing course takes effort. Sometimes more than it should. I receive a lot of questions on the topics of minimalism and decluttering. Honestly, it’s my favorite part of this whole blogging thing. Helping others get uncluttered fills me up.

This is the first of a series of monthly articles sharing my answers to many of those questions. I’ll often see the same questions over and over from different readers. Sometimes it’s nice to know you aren’t the only one struggling with a concept. 

If you have a question, share it in the comments or message me on Instagram.

Letting Go of Gifts and Sentimental Items:

Q: “Do you have any advice on getting rid of gifts? I am a sentimental person and am already having a hard time letting go of things that were given to us even though I don’t like them at all! Unfortunately, these gifts take up a lot of space in our house. I’m not sure how to avoid offending family and friends.” -Alyssa

A: That is a great question and one that can be tricky to navigate. I can tell you from experience that the more you let go of, the more confident you’ll grow in your decision to get rid of items no matter where they came from.

However, I’d suggest starting with non gift items first to help you grow in confidence. Unless you’re talking about decades old wedding gifts. Then it’s okay to let it go now! We had tupperware, salad bowls, fancy cutting boards and crystal bowls stacked up in our basement from our wedding in 2004! Stuff we had never, ever used.

When it comes to letting go of sentimental items, it helps to picture myself with my arms overflowing with stuff. If I insist on holding on to all of it, there is no room for anything new. To be present and receive what is good today, I have to make room. Which means I have to let go.

ask a minimalist

In order to do that we have to decide which items hold the most value to us. For example, I let go of some of my grandmother’s trivets. Not because I’m a horrible person, but because they weren’t practical and they weren’t doing anybody any good wrapped in tissue paper at the bottom of a box. I didn’t let them go on day number one. Instead I waited until I had experienced the benefits of letting go long enough to know that I didn’t need these in my life to keep my grandma close to my heart.

Now, I don’t let go of everything. But if we make everything sentimental than really, nothing is. Does that make sense?

Going forward I’d suggest you openly talk about your new minimalist journey with your friends and family. Share what your doing and why. Be careful not to make it sound like you’re only getting rid of the stuff you hate. Let them know you are mostly letting go of items that have served their purpose and you no longer need. I found that when you share your heart and your WHY, people rarely ask for a list of exactly what you’ve gotten rid of.

Even to this day we are gifted items we either don’t need or wouldn’t have chosen to add to our home. However, since we own fewer possessions I’m able to make a mental note of the gift and put a timeline on how long it’s allowed to stay. It varies from one month to six. We try to make sure we aren’t disrespectful or ungrateful to the gift giver, but receiving a gift does not obligate me to it for all of eternity. It’s a balance.
It’s also a good idea to make it an issue of your own mental capacity because it’s really hard for people to argue with that. I function better with fewer items in my care. Our family knows that by now. When my kids come home from grandmas with silly putty, a second pair of slippers or a robotic dog from Cracker Barrel (Lord help me, but she loves that thing), we say thank you and then look around to let go of something else in it’s place. My family knows that if they give us a tangible gift, something is likely getting donated in it’s place and that just may be the last gift they gave us.
But this way they still get to love on our family the way they want to, and I don’t pay the price with my sanity. I’m a better mom to their grandchildren with fewer items in my home.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, start gifting experiences instead of things to your family and friends. They just may catch on and return the favor❤

Sharing Minimalism With Our Friends & Family

Q: “I’d love to know more about how to bring others along on the minimalist journey.” – Sal

A: The most effective way to bring others along on the minimalist journey is to lead by example. I know that’s not really what we want to hear. It’s tempting to try and speed up the process by forcefully dragging them along with us. However, it just doesn’t work that way.

ask a minimalist

I think back to my own story of becoming a minimalist. There is no way someone could have forced me to slow down and let go. I had to come to the conclusion on my own. Let your minimalist lifestyle speak for itself. Let the way you live be a shining example of how living with less can lead to so much more.

That said, I do have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve that just may help speed up the process a bit. 

In these posts below I suggest things like incentivizing, providing positive reinforcement, boundaries and most of all, patience.

For more on this subject read:

8 Steps to Make Your Spouse a Minimalist

5 Important First Steps to Implementing Minimalism With Kids

The 3 Words That Helped My Kids Embrace Minimalism


The Environmental Impact of Letting Go

Q: “I’m slowly decluttering and didn’t realize how much stuff I had! The big thing I’m struggling with is the guilt. I try and give as much as I can to Goodwill, but there are still so many trash sacks going to the dump and it really makes me sad as I feel I’m contributing more to hurting the environment. Can you give me any tips or advice because I think it’s a big reason why I’m finding it hard to throw stuff away? I really do want minimalism, but I’m struggling.”
– Lorna

A: Oh I know exactly what you mean! This is how I rectify it in my mind…

The stuff in my home already exists. It will one day end up in a dump. Either now or when I’m dead. There is just no way around it. I choose now, so that I can go forward living more minimally.

I let the difficultly of letting go work for me rather than make me feel guilty by preventing me from accumulating like this ever again. From now on, I get to make better purchasing decisions and become more intentional with what I add to my life.

ask a minimalist

Letting go now also gives me the opportunity to raise my kids to live more minimally and make better purchasing decisions themselves. Therefore, raising more environmentally responsible kids!

It’s still hard work, but I’ve found this to help a lot. Becoming more conscious consumers going forward is our chance to make an even bigger impact on the environment for the better. Plus it’s the only way to maintain this lifestyle and not get stuck in the decluttering cycle.

For More Information on this topic read:

The Dark Side of Donating by The Life On Purpose Movement



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Declutter Your Life

3 years ago I was overwhelmed with my life, while growing more underwhelmed with it’s direction by the second. It felt as though all of my time and energy was going toward the accumulation and management of STUFF. What little time I had left over went toward overbooking and overcommitting my family to all.the.thing! 

When introduced to the concept of minimalism and everything changed!

Living with less will gift you the time, space and much needed perspective to put the things that truly matter most first. If you’d like some help getting started download my FREE Beginner’s Guidebook to: Declutter Like a Minimalist. It takes a deep dive into the 7 important steps to getting started as highlighted in my popular post, Declutter Like a Minimalist.

It’s time to stop managing our families and start leading them!

Declutter Like a Minimalist Guidebook

12 thoughts on “Ask a Minimalist: A Minimalism FAQ Series

  1. For the last few years I’ve inched my way toward minimalism. My husband & I are older and we refer to it as downsizing. I go through my house periodically & “separate” anything I want to let go of. Material things have become a real burden to us. We sell, donate to local charitable resale businesses who “employ” volunteers, sell metal to recycle businesses, and then finally dump what little is leftover & deemed completely useless to anyone. I wish we could go back to our early years & have a re-do but we tend to follow in the footsteps of those who influenced us . So I appreciate your passion for guiding your children & helping others. I really cannot find a downside to minimalism. I’m a Christain & who was a better example of minimalism than Jesus himself. God did not intend for us to love stuff but to love others. How can you do that if you spend quality time on “more than enough” material things of this earth?

    We want a comfy home but we also want freedom to live our older years with new experiences. We both now have health issues but I’m still excited to see what’s around the bend.

  2. Dear Rachelle, I’ve crawled my way through minimalism the past two-plus years. When I take a step back, the greatest impediment causing this pace is that purging our home of ‘stuff’ involves admitting that certain dreams and hopes never came to fruition.    Without telling you what my dreams and hopes have been, life held something different—a reality that many walk through. I don’t think I’m reactive to the circumstances that press upon my days—my greatest treasures in this life are found in my relationships and experiences. I say this as my understanding of gratefulness deepens.   Still, the rub to relinquish the remaining family pieces that I thought I would be entertaining from, just aren’t needed. They are wanted. They hold meaning…but that isn’t our life. The antiques collected with my mother at country auctions from my childhood are too dusty and have sat in our unfinished basement for too many years waiting for use.   Maybe it isn’t the stuff that’s hard to get rid of; perhaps it is the surrender of hope. One of my favorite quotes for decades has been, “There is a peace that comes, not from hope fulfilled but from hope surrendered.”  I think the next step I’m asked to take is one of faith.  Figuring it out…thanks for the space to ask and wonder, Alice

  3. HI Rachelle! After hurricane Michael last year, our stuff is still loaded in the pods right by my driveway. I have realized that if I did not use them for almost a year, then what is the point of opening it up and putting it inside my house again. (I have to return the pods soon though) Let’s see if I can do just that. Wishing for one step closer, one day at a time. Thank you for always enlightening me.

  4. Well said and well thought out. We need what we need to live the life we really live not the life we thought we’d live or the life we dreamed we would someday live…

  5. Awesome post, Rachelle! So thoughtful and well laid out. Thank you! And thanks for including my “dark side of donating” article, too!

  6. Beautiful said: ‘hope surrendered’. I see the same with my parents. They had so many plans and good intentions with all the stuff – then life (& health) took a bend. It’s painful to let go of the hope you will use it all someday. Praying for you and all of us that ‘surrendered hope’ will make space to find beauty, love and new hopes in your life as it is now!

  7. Good post, thanks again Rachelle! Really the biggest win will be the way we consume and purchase going forward. In the letting go we learn what really contributes to our life and what not.

  8. This is great! Yes, we can’t worry about yesterday, but rather focus on how we can move forward today. I love the Maya Angelou quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work!

  9. Wow Alice. This is just beautiful and thought provoking. I think you put words to why many people struggle to let go in certain areas. Thank you. If stuff was just “stuff” it would be so much easier to let go of right? Thank you again for sharing a part of your story with us.

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