Minimalism has grown in popularity over the last decade, with people aiming to declutter their lives and own fewer material possessions. But some take it to the extreme, becoming “extreme minimalists” and limiting themselves to less than 100 personal items. This approach may sound shocking, but it taught me valuable lessons about intentional living, gratitude, and focusing on experiences rather than physical things.
In this blog post, I’ll share the lessons I’ve learned from living as an extreme minimalist: realizing how few possessions we need, living more intentionally, and prioritizing experiences over material items.
Lesson 1: Realizing How Little We Need
When I first embarked on extreme minimalism, I was astounded by how many of my belongings I didn’t truly need or regularly use. Like most people living in consumer cultures, I unconsciously accumulated more and more stuff over the years without evaluating each purchase. My closets, bookshelves, and drawers were bursting with items that, while pleasant to have, weren’t essential.
Becoming an extreme minimalist forced me to assess my belongings through a lens of necessity and utility. I asked myself tough questions like, “Have I used this in the last year? Does it serve a vital function or bring me joy? Could I easily get by without it?” Items that didn’t meet a high bar for keeping went to donation or the garbage.
At first, it was hard to part with belongings I might use someday or that had sentimental value. But the freedom of living with so few possessions outweighed the sacrifices. I realized that I had been holding onto many unnecessary things out of fear – fear that I might regret losing it or need it later. But in reality, I felt unburdened and relieved to clear the clutter.
For example, I used to have an extensive collection of books that I loved and found comforting. But in five years, I had only read a handful. So, I digitized my must-keep books and donated the rest to my local library. Initially, my bookshelf looked bare and strange. But soon, I embraced the lightness. I could find titles easily in my e-reader and got back into reading more regularly without visual clutter.
Lesson 2: Live More Intentionally
When you remove excess items and distractions from your environment, you naturally become more deliberate and thoughtful about spending your time and resources. Extreme minimalism forced me to focus on what matters most and make careful choices aligned with my values.
I no longer make impulse purchases. Since I own so little, bringing any new object into my home is a big decision. I’ve learned to sit with a potential investment for days or weeks before committing and often realize I don’t need it after all. For example, when my phone started slowing down, my first thought was to replace it. But instead, I researched methods to extend its life. With a new battery, it’s still going strong 18 months later!
I’m also more selective and intentional about how I spend my time. When you aren’t focused on shopping, cleaning, and organizing stuff, you gain mental clarity and energy. I started evaluating how each activity contributes to my well-being or brings meaning. Now, I say no to many social obligations or events that don’t spark joy. The resulting free time allows me to invest in what matters, like connecting with loved ones, learning new skills, and enjoying nature.
For instance, I recently turned down a promotional opportunity at work that would have required many extra hours for little reward. Instead, I was able to volunteer with a local animal rescue on weekends—something that brings me far more happiness. The minimalist lifestyle has empowered me to put my time and energy where it truly counts.
Lesson 3: Value Experiences over Material Items
Perhaps the most transformational lesson from extreme minimalism was learning to prefer investing in experiences over physical possessions. When you have so few items, you realize that true joy comes from living life, not accumulating stuff.
I started spending more of my discretionary income on meaningful experiences like trips, hobbies, and classes instead of furniture, gadgets, and clothes. I discovered how travel can expand your perspective. Simple outdoor adventures made me feel more alive than any purchase ever did. Investing in personal growth through courses ignited more passion than material rewards like raises or bonuses.
Letting go of sentimental items was difficult at first. But I replaced attachment to objects with appreciation for moments shared with loved ones. Now, I cherish memories over physical mementos. The tiny related entities I kept, like ticket stubs and photos, gained even more meaning.
Over the past year, I’ve created incredible memories, including hiking through the wilderness, learning new skills, and volunteering. These experiences felt more rewarding than any possession to me. Studies show that people get more lasting happiness from experiences than material goods.
I also have more money to spend on experiences now that unnecessary purchases are out of the picture. By thoughtfully buying only essentials and minimizing expenses, I can invest in everyday adventures. My weekends are filled with inexpensive but uplifting activities like camping, kayaking, museums, and potlucks with friends. Decluttering opened up space, time, and money for extraordinary daily joys.
The lessons I learned may inspire you to evaluate your possessions and habits. Start by assessing how many items you need and use. Could you manage comfortably with far less? Consider which obligations and activities genuinely bring you joy versus drain energy. Then, shift focus to low-cost but high-value experiences that generate meaning.
You don’t have to become an extreme minimalist to gain these benefits. Even small steps to minimize clutter and purchases can make a difference. A “less is more” approach allows room for what matters most.
The lessons from my journey with extreme minimalism will stay with me long after any possessions. Simple joys and deep connections outweigh material comforts. Living in the moment is more rewarding than acquiring physical objects. Hard work building skills and memories bring lasting happiness, versus effort spent collecting ephemeral things.