Real Life Minimalists: Adriana

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, Adriana checks in with us from Singapore, and tells us how she’s minimized her wardrobe, her finances, and other areas of her life. After you read her story, please visit her website to see her delightful drawings; they’re sure to make you smile.

Adriana writes:

Drawing by Adriana Tan

How wonderful it is to be a minimalist now! Now there is a community, and blogs such as Miss Minimalist to help us along!

In 2006, I decided that I had enough.

I was quite the avid shopper, and frittered away most of my pay buying things after things after things. I am staying in Singapore, an expensive consumer society, where we joke that the top 3 national pastimes are shopping, eating, and complaining. Singapore is filled with malls, and at that time (and sometimes even now) to buck the trend and be a “non-consumer” is a very lonely path.

I didn’t really know what to do, but I knew that my collection of about 80 pairs of shoes, a bursting 4-door wardrobe, my motley collection of 2 trunks of bags and various piles of just stuff was making me feel suffocated and helpless. Helpless? Yes. Helpless. I had so much and yet I had nothing to wear. It was truly the paradox of choice.

First I tried organizing my stuff. Then I realized I simply had too much. So, I started “using them up”. Cosmetics, skincare, toiletries – whatever that can be consumed I tried my best to. I implemented the “Year of No Shopping” – I just stopped buying. Slowly I wore out the shoes that I have been wearing. I didn’t buy anything new. Then I found that there were some clothes and shoes that I just would not wear, so I donated them or gave them away. Same with the clothes and the bags and everything else. I managed to simplify my wardrobe (though it is nowhere as minimal as yours!) and I felt a great sense of achievement.

It took some effort to tackle the sentimental mementos. I threw away whatever I could bear to, and boxed up the rest. Over the years, I do this annually as a spring cleaning exercise. Over time, it does get less, it must really mean something to me if I keep and clean it every year, and every year it “passes the test”!

I also simplified my banking to 3 key ones – 1 “Slush Account” where everything is paid out of, 1 separate Emergency Fund Account, and 1 account for investments only. The banking accounts category has made me a lot less worried about overspending.

Some friends laughed when I told them I was Not Going To Shop for a year. But after the year ended, they told me that they respected my willpower, and that it would be nice if they could, but “I don’t think I can”. But, thing is, you can! Even if you don’t do it all the way, and do anything to the extremes, you can make your life easier by simplifying to your comfort level. The average person is just too burdened with choice! We spend so much of our time just LOOKING for stuff!

When asked by those who know of my journey, and had asked me to summarize into 3 pieces of advice:

1. The path to happiness is in automatic bill payment. Better still if you have no bills and no debt!
2. One Year of absolutely no shopping is not going to kill you. Stop being so dramatic!
3. If you absolutely have to spend some money – buy an experience you won’t forget!

The minimalist momentum is wonderful, I feel like I have finally found people who understood!

How am I doing now? I am still in the process! But you can see that minimalism is now part of me from my drawings. They can be viewed at

Keep it simple
Keep it clean
Make it easy
Don’t be mean!

Happy life everyone!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

60 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Adriana

  • JBear

    Brilliant post, Adriana! Really inspiring and to the point- very funny, too. You are right, It won’t kill me not to shop for a year.

  • AussieGirl

    I loved your post! It was so easy to digest and left a very sweet impression. :)

    Best of luck on your adventures!

  • Sue

    I enjoyed your story, Adriana. I totally agree that the average person is just too burdened with choice. Good luck.

  • Great Story Adriana…

    simplifying life by reducing possession is sometime easy but simplifying finances is too tough. I really like your 3 key area approach. I will try to work out on similar lines.

    Good luck.

  • At my last job I shopped quite a bit as I had an “image” I had to keep up. I since have purged and donated many of those items. I have been reluctant to shop for anything new since. I have had to, for some very specific things, like a brown pair of sandals to wear everyday (I have to have supportive shoes & they wear out over time!)I also bought a few pieces of workout wear as I am trying to get into the habit of more regular exercise and I am more likely to do it if I am already dressed appropriately. I actually dislike shopping and detest the mall. Can’t even remember the last time I went to the mall! Maybe with my teenage daughter bathing suit shopping…
    Great simple advice! Thanks for sharing!
    How to finally do what you REALLY want to do

    • Oh yes… The image issue. I read somewhere that coco Chanel had only 3 suits when she died…. !!! Ether she gave them away or she was an early minimalist, and a fashionable one!

  • This Real Life Minimalist post really spoke to me! I am always encouraged when I read about minimalists who start with a TON of stuff and slowly pare down. I’m about halfway to my goals of minimizing and I couldn’t feel better about it!

    • I am in awe of those people who are hardcore minimalists, but unfortunately I am not one of them. I do aim for some level of simplicity though, and don’t think it should be a race to see who has the least possessions. I truly do think people have different levels of tolerance for possessions but the average person just didn’t think to cut back. I am very glad to find like indeed people!

  • Love your post and your story, Adriana! Like the slush fund idea. I might just rename my checking account. Like too the “buy an experience you won’t forget!”

    Great advice:

    Keep it simple
    Keep it clean
    Make it easy
    Don’t be mean!

    Thank you!

  • Gil

    Beautiful post and great advice. Thank you!

  • I tried “no shopping for June” and it was amazingly painless. It really made me more discriminating from then on. I dread going into a mall now… but when the boy’s toes are sticking out of his shoes it’s time to go she shopping whether I want to or not!

  • whisper

    Lovely post – the drawing and last poem (I think it is a poem” very nice!

  • Diana

    I loved this post…thank you Adriana! When my sister passed about 5 years ago, she had a similiar looking closet to yours and a compilation of way too much stuff. We shared her shoes, clothes, bags and toiletries far and wide over the scope of me, my daughter and our extended family. It was ridiculous the amount of stuff she had and reading this it makes me wonder if she felt suffocated. Never once did she talk about getting rid of things, but would buy more storage containers and build more closet space. When it comes down to it, we remember her in her jeans and white v-neck Hanes t-shirt.

    I have just completed a year of no shopping and have yet to begin again. I’ll never be the same. As you say, we are burdened with too many choices and it’s so time consuming to find that just right item. I’m looking for an easier way and keeping it simple is just what I intend to do!

    Great suggestions on your accounts and managing momentos. I have been doing that same thing and just paid off our only credit card and put it away for good. In every area of my life, I look to simplify and this post was so inspirational!

  • Lorna

    “The average person is just too burdened with choice! We spend so much of our time just LOOKING for stuff!”

    That is exactly what I’ve been talking about! We all spend too much time deciding which cereal to buy or which type of shoe we need. What happened to LESS choices?

  • Hello Adriana,
    Welcome to the Real Life Minimalists! :) Thank you for sharing your story.
    I had an experience this weekend that affirms what you shared: I went to Target to pick up a few items my husband and I had had on our list(s) for some time. Necessary, but dangerous!
    Though I did manage to stick to my list, I felt overwhelmed by all the choices (especially since I rarely shop anywhere but the grocery store!) I found myself wandering the aisles, considering items I knew I didn’t need. Fortunately, I snapped out of it and headed home. Without clear life goals and a minimalist philosophy, I would have spent my money and time on things that don’t matter.
    Again, thank you for sharing!

  • Henny

    I really enjoyed your post, Adriana. I love the idea of a year of no shopping (as a former avid shopper, I am definitely having a year of LESS shopping, so maybe I can work up to the next stage!) Thank you for your inspiring advice!

  • Love this post – you’re probably the Real Life Minimalist I’ve identified most with so far, I’ve started getting rid of a lot of my possessions lately, and mostly stopped shopping along with it, and I feel so much better already. I think those are Scotland’s 3 pastimes too btw! :)

  • Great story you have. It’s funny how our friends’ opinions change when their are looking in the rearview, isn’t it?

    Take care,

    Joshua & Ryan

  • I love your posting. You make a whole lot of sense. You have compacted all the info in a nutshell. Thanks for your words.

  • Tim

    Lovely post, Lovely person! Inspiring!

  • Congrats Adriana! As a fellow Singaporean, I feel the incessant consumer culture mentality here too. Sometimes it does seem that all the media wants us to do is go shopping. Just open the newspapers and we get inundated with ads about sales everywhere!

    But like all things, it’s still a choice. And I applaud you for taking charge of your spending and consumption habits. Btw, I also totally agree that the path to happiness lies in automatic bill payment :)

  • Adriana I can so relate to the, “My closet is full and I have nothing to wear”.Not anymore! Isn’t it amazing how having less can feel like having more? That’s the part that blows me away.

  • Wow, thank you all for your kind and sweet words! At some point I was even afraid you would make fun of me! Am happy to share my story!

  • Debbie M

    I enjoyed your joke on the national pastimes of Singapore.

    I also like your advice on the year of no shopping: “Even if you don’t do it all the way, and do anything to the extremes, you can make your life easier by simplifying to your comfort level.” I think if you think about why a goal like that seems impossible, you can make good personal rules that you can stick with.

    At least I did that when I decided to have no sugar for a week. I love, love, love sugar and have it at just about every meal. So to prepare, I did the following:
    1) Waited for a week when there wouldn’t be any parties at work or in my personal life. (I didn’t want to feel deprived!)
    2) Thought of something else to have for breakfast besides my usual chocolate milk.
    3) Allowed myself to eat the fructose in fruit and the lactose in milk (because I consider fruit and milk to be healthy for me), but no added sugars or fake sugars.
    4) Allowed myself two cheats (such as a cookie, not such as an entire evening of party food). (More than two opportunities for cheats came, but I talked myself out of all of them but one, thinking that a better opportunity might present itself later and I wouldn’t want to miss it!)

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      Debbie M you must be superwoman – I’ve been trying to give up sugar for soooo long but fail miserably… RESPECT!

    • Hi Debbie M,

      I’m a complete sugar ADDICT too!
      I’ve been toying with the idea of giving up sugar for a week but every time I think of it, it makes me want to eat more :(

      How is your sugar consumption now???

      • Ariel

        I tried to give up sugar once for Lent and I was SO bitchy, I gave up. I have at least reduced the amount of sugar I eat, but I know I should try again…

    • Wow, no sugar? How d you do it?

      • Debbie M

        Ha! I am no superwoman–I gave up sugar for a single week. My sugar consumption now is the same as it was before!

        I’d heard that people feel better when they don’t eat sugar, so I thought I’d try it for a week. On day 3 I got a headache which lasted for something like 3 days. This led me to do some research and learn that there is such a thing as sugar addiction and sugar withdrawal (which apparently is a lot like caffeine withdrawal). I am NOT a big fan of addictions–so much so that there are a lot of things I won’t even try (like video games). But it’s too late for me and sugar!

        Obviously I felt worse with no sugar than with sugar, so it was clear to me that for the experiment to be any good, I should probably go without sugar for a month (or a Lent). But I don’t want to! For one thing, there is never a whole month without parties! But maybe I’ll try it again when I retire (in 3.5 years) when at least there will be no work parties.

        The main two things that helped me go a week without sugar were to allow myself two cheats (so if something super yummy presented itself, I would be allowed to eat some of it) and to have plenty of other yummy food available. You don’t have to try very hard to think of lots and lots of delicious food without sugar in it. I especially love Tex-Mex, Italian, cheeseburgers (well, anything with cheese in it).

  • Wonderful story, Adriana! It really is about finding that “sweet spot” of simplicity for our own lives. I love the diversity of people and thought, who all strive for the same goal.

    I’m in the process of relocating to Israel from Colorado, and having to choose exactly what to keep in my closet. It’s a real challenge but a way of starting with a new beginning. I thought I was fairly simple, but this will take it to a new level for me :-)

    Another sugar junkie here. I stopped all sugar foods, other than in real fruit, a few months ago, and added light daily workouts. I cannot emphasis enough of how it is changing me physically and mentally. I’m losing weight, my skin looks great and my nails are stronger, I sleep better, I feel less stressed, and on and on! I’m in my early 50’s and feel like I gained years back!

    I have a piece of dark chocolate now and again or a SMALL piece of birthday cake at parties. I do not feel deprived at all. Get through the first few weeks and it’s easier after that. Consider substituting the junk food with real produce, whole grains, low-fat dairy and in my case, eggs and legumes instead of meat. I did read the whole food discussion here recently and I’m NOT suggesting anyone has to give up meat. :-)

    To your health! You deserve it!!

  • Anairda

    It’s about self-control and managing your life. Should there be self-control in the first place, there is no need to declutter and self-congratulate thereafter.

  • I love this! I’ve never read a post about this kind of declutter :)

    My new fantasy is to live in a simple, clean, studio apartment with hardwood floors, lots of light, lots of white, and not a lot of things.

  • Love the idea of Buy An Experience. It creates a memory or a shared time between friends or family. So much better than a thing.

  • Tina

    I just read this. I haven’t bought anything new except shoes and underwear in years. I read an article (in “Mary Jane’s Farm”) some years ago about reusing the yarn in sweaters and upcycling worn out T-shirts, etc. I take apart old necklaces and restring the beads into new necklaces, they are my accessories.
    I keep giving away a bag or two a week of things to the library, park district, preschool, Goodwill or Sal Army. I find things at rummage sales, look in the “free” boxes for art materials to pass on. I still have more to get rid of. I never had very much but now I have less. It is very freeing.
    I keep reading your older posts in case I’ve missed something.

  • Tina

    I have given away lots of books and magazines. Then I started on hobby stuff. I have passed on bags and bags of equipment and supplies I never used. And there is still more to look through. My goal is to get rid of a bookcase and give it to my son who moved out.

  • Tina

    I filled the extra bookcase with books for my mom at the nursing home. I spent $15 at the fill a bag sale at the library so I can leave Mom’s romances with her usually 2 or 3 at a time. I also have an empty dresser for her out of season clothes and the blankets and pillows for our futon in the spare room. My own closet is 1/2 empty because I didn’t have many clothes to begin with and then I started doing project 333 October 1. My husband has been finding shirts and sweaters to give away since he likes to buy new things.

  • Yew Choon

    Hi. Nice to see someone posted from Singapore.
    I live in Singapore too.
    I like your idea of not shopping for a year, though I don’t think I can do it.
    Beside that, I find it very hard to deal with photos and sentimental stuffs.
    I wish to visit your page, but the website seem to be down.

  • Years ago, I had a job with a dress code. I had black pants and brown pants and tan pants. I had light gray, dark gray, and a few black and tan tops. I had a black cardigan and a red cardigan. Nobody cared. I retired in 2002, worked part time for a while, and mostly wear the same few things over and over. My kids get free shirts with printing on them. I wear those and when they get ratty, I wear them under my sweatshirts in cold weather. I have a few plain T shirts and 2 pairs of jeans. I have a pair of black slacks and a pair of tan slacks. I could get by with less.

  • Tina

    I haven’t been in a discount store in months. My DH wanted something at Target so I walked around and looked at things. He bought the cereal and bananas he came for and we went home.

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