Real Life Minimalists: Sarah

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.

This week, we hear from 16-year-old Sarah. How wonderful that she’s embracing minimalism so early in life (don’t we all wish we’d done the same)! Be sure to check out her blog.

Sarah writes:

I’ve always been a compulsive organizer, but I didn’t hear about Minimalism until two years ago. I ended up on Zen Habits one day by accident, and I was hooked. I couldn’t stop reading! The idea of having less stuff was extremely appealing. Being the over-researcher (I prefer the term “ninja googler”) that I am, I started reading every blog on minimalism and simplicity I could find.

It didn’t take long before I was sold. I had no clue where to start though. So much stuff. What do I get rid of first and how do I figure out what to keep? I thought about it and decided to make a list of everything. I’ve never been a packrat (although I live with six, bless their hearts!), but the number was still high enough to inspire a serious tossing session. I gave away about 2/3 of my personal things. While I won’t say it was easy, it was definitely worth it!

Afterwards, I moved on to my digital clutter. Deleting, unsubscribing, and uninstalling everything I didn’t need. I kept what meant the most to me, but I still found it hard to delete old emails and pictures. I guess parting is rarely easy. It always makes me happier in the long run though. So I continued to simplify a little each day. Taking it one thing at a time.

Then someone suggested I start a blog. Partly because there are very few minimalist teen bloggers, but also to keep track of my simplification/decluttering progress. So I did, and haven’t regretted it once! Besides helping me improve my writing, it has also given me a new way to meet people. I don’t have hundreds of subscribers, but that doesn’t matter. The main thing is encouraging other teens (and adults) to live a simpler life. I’m perfectly happy with 5 readers if they are helped by anything I write.

Later that year, I realized something. Although I had gotten rid of most of my personal stuff, I still had a lot of clothes. I had been putting it off because it seemed more intimidating. After all, what’s a girl without her clothes? I was missing the point though. Being a minimalist doesn’t mean getting rid of what you love, it’s just the opposite. Once I realized that, I went through my clothes and donated 29 of my 50 pieces. Very freeing! I expected to feel like half a person or something. Which wasn’t the case at all. Silly me, huh? Live and learn!

This has all been taking place over the last year, and I’ve never been happier! Before becoming a minimalist, I had no idea how much my stuff weighed me down. I feel so much lighter now, and have more time to do what I love. I’ve found it tough to resist buying some of the latest things (especially when they are broadcasted on nearly every site on the internet!), but I like to remind myself of this quote:

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” -Socrates

It helps me realize that having what other people have doesn’t make you happier. True happiness is found in contentment, and you can’t buy that anywhere.

{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.}

26 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Sarah

  • Wow Sarah, took me ten years longer than you to realise the same things and sounds like I could learn a lot from you! Well done and thanks for sharing :)

  • Sarah

    Thanks for this, Sarah, your story is an inspiration! It took me 15 more years to start becoming a minimalist; it’s great to hear you’ve begun this young :)

    I checked out your blog and found interesting and useful stuff there, since I’m also a Gmail/Chrome user who finds that keeping my digital life as simple as possible is such a relief. Good tips which will be useful for me. Also, I find your attitude in dealing with packrats wonderful.

  • Karen (Scotland)

    Sarah, this was great to read. I’m especially interested that you sorted out your digital clutter.
    My husband and I communicate for half the year with email (he’s at sea). I recently emptied my email and deleted so, so many old emails but I can’t face deleting his emails yet.
    It’s daft because half of them are just short notes of the domestic type (the type you’d stick to the fridge then crumple that evening if they were paper).
    But the other half? Well, those are the equivalent of the love letters he used to send me back before email existed. And I just can’t bring myself to delete those yet!
    The problem is sorting the dross from the quality when it comes to email. It takes up so little space that it’s tempting to keep it all. But that leads to the HUGE problem of having to store it in a way that allows you to find the good stuff. Over 1000 emails for my husband for one year alone? How do I find the good stuff now? Do I go through them all, deleting the fridge-type notes? Some task… :-(

    So, well done you on tackling the e-stuff so young, before it becomes the digital equivalent of a huge pile of papers, photos and letters.

    Karen (Scotland)

    • Kido

      Why on eart think you have deleting his emails? It is nothing to do with minimalisme. Forcing yourself against yourself. Be happy with his nice emails and relax. You can keep it and still call yourself a minimalist. Dont worry, one day you have to left all behind! After death everybody becoming a superminimalist!

      • Karen (Scotland)

        No, it’s so I can find the “good” emails among the many. I don’t need to keep the ones that say “Babe, tap’s a bit wonky in the en suite. Add it to your mental To Do list”. But I do want to keep (and find) the few that declare undying love (or words to that effect).

        I never reread them at the moment because there are too many (of the boring type). Minimalising the amount of them will bring me down to the quality ones worth keeping.

        • laura

          Just an idea and I’m not sure if it’ll work as I use Yahoo, not Google, but if you can create folders in Google you could make a folder that is only for those super-sweet emails that you’d want to keep – the love letters you mentioned. I’m still a struggling minimalist but if you start out moving the new letters over immediately it’ll hopefully prevent you from having to sort through 2000 emails in another year! :-)

          • Karen (Scotland)

            Yep, that’s the plan. I just moved from Entourage to Mail so I plan to immediately file/delete new emails from now on and just leave the old emails sitting in Entourage for now. I can deal with them when life is a bit quieter…

        • visitor

          Karen. I sincerely hope you don’t delete those ‘everyday’ notes from your husband. What might seem boring today may some day be a precious memory jog of where you were and what you and he were doing at that time. It’s these little personal tid bits that ‘flesh out’ our lives. Even minimalism may one day come to seem like a temporary fad and you will regret not being able to retrieve his messages.

          • Karen (Scotland)

            I know – it is nice to look at but I have to think about the normal domestic situation where spouses leave notes to each other (or, more likely these days, text each other) or just tell each other something over the table at dinner.
            Most of the emails are the equivalent of those and most couples wouldn’t keep records of those “communications”.

            I think the solution is to find a balance – enough to represent us at this time but not so many that we can’t find our way through the dross.


            PS My tendency to file and categorise comes from me being a librarian by trade and doesn’t come from minimalism. My deliberate intention to remove the excess to enjoy the stuff that’s left comes from the minimalism. :-)

  • Kido

    Jeeeej, How old are You – 16-18? Are You skipping your young ages? Go get messy, discover materie, get drunk once, make love, throw your dirty clothes on the floor, taste the crasyness of things, get dirty sometimes, go travel with a backpack – just LIVE! Dont get steril – minimalisme is not the therapy of compulsive everything! Keep it simple, make no fass about and try dont attache on things too much. But if it happening, so what, be a happy packrat!

    • Mims

      Jeeeej Kido! Being a minimalsit doesn’t equal not living or going steril! You can (in your own words) “Go get messy, discover materie, get drunk once, make love, throw your dirty clothes on the floor, taste the crasyness of things, get dirty sometimes, go travel with a backpack” even as a minimalist. Some of the things you mentioned, like “go travel with a backpack”, are actually even easier if you are a minimalist than if you are a packrat. Discovering materie, getting drunk, making love, tasting the craziness of things and getting dirty are activities that can be enjoyed by minimalists and packrats alike, without any extra belongings, and you really only need one set of clothes to throw them on the floor when they get dirty! Just sayin’!

  • Jackie sheridan

    I think this was my favorite “real life minimalist” yet!

  • Wow, fantastic story, Sarah!

    It’s good to know that you’re not putting so much emphasis on material possessions anymore. I hope from now on you’ll make the time to start doing the things that you love or have always wanted to do. Once I started minimising my possessions it really made me question a lot of other beliefs I previously had, so you may go on a bit of an emotional journey, just make sure you’re enjoying life to the fullest!

    It’s nice to see more young people ditchin’ the crazy life.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  • Wow Sarah! You’re awesome! To already “get it” and only be 16! You’ll be able to have experiences that others won’t because you’re not weighed down. I know that when I first started getting rid of my stuff, that it was the things that I had collected as a teenager and university student that took up the most space – and you’ve already stopped that in its tracks! Yes, it’s not easy. But it’s always, ALWAYS worth it. Have a beautiful life!

  • laura

    Great, great writing Sarah! I haven’t had the chance to check out your blog yet but I was very impressed not only by your embracing this lifestyle so young but also in the ability you had to express it so well. Are you sure you’re 16, not 26? :-)

    I wish you the best of luck as you move forward with this adventure. As long as you’re able to enjoy your life and feel that you’re living life to the fullest I think embracing a life of simplicity so early will do nothing but enrich your life – and hopefully save you from making some of the financial mistakes I made when first getting out on my own. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Wow, I’m impressed! There is so much pressure for young people to be materialistic, and you’re completely resisting that.

    Just ignore the trolls, by the way. While getting started with minimalism might look compulsive or restrictive, you’re going to find that, without the clutter, you’ll have room to follow your passions. It’s more freeing than anything else. Being young doesn’t have to mean being materialistic.

    And I love your blog. You have some great, practical ideas from such a unique perspective!

  • Wonderful, Sarah! Excellent article, and you already know I love your blog! You’re a great writer!

    Minimalism isn’t easy, but it certainly makes a person happier! =)

  • Well done Sarah – you are setting yourself for real success in later life – well done! :)

  • DawnW

    I just subscribed to your blog,Sarah! So cool that you get it-that less is more-at such a young age. I’m 32,and at 16 I thought I needed lots of stuff to “express myself”.Well,it is possible to express yourself without tons of stuff,in fact I think minimalism is a form of self expression.Good for you for figuring it out before most people!

  • Vicki

    Terrific post Sarah – very inspiring as I have a 16 year old son and I know that thinking beyond whatever the latest fad happens to be can be challenging. Best wishes to you for a bright and beautiful future.

  • Angie Hall

    Thanks so much for this post. As the mother of a soon-to-be 16-year-old daughter, I’m thrilled to be able to pass this on to her. She is, on her own, becoming a minimalist, and her mother couldn’t be more proud. You, Sarah, are an inspiration!

  • Sarah, how wonderful to have figured all this out at the age of 16. I am looking forward to reading your blog in more detail. I’m inspired by your digital downsizing too. I’ve been pretty good with downsizing the physical items, but emails and digital music etc can be hard to let go of since they don’t take up much physical space. I’m also planning to take Miss Minimalist’s advice and invest in a scanner so I can digitize some of my important documents and store them in the “cloud.” Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Thanks for all the kind words, everyone!!

  • Tina

    It gives me great hope for the future when I read all the posts from the young people who aren’t shopping like mad. I haven’t ever been a shopper and never had a lot of clothes. We are going on a cruise, taking old clothes and I’m taking some cheap earrings. Seeing a lot of places is fun and having to worry about possessions isn’t fun.

  • Tina

    On our cruise, we took small suitcases, I took a carry- on. Noticed people took smaller suitcases than before. Only a few people took 29″ suitcases and only a few people took more than one suitcase. We took the smallest, cheapest cabin, and stored our suitcases under the bed. Watched some people eat tremendous amounts of food. We saw Barcelona, Pisa, Pompeii, and the ship was beautiful with many activities. No souvenirs, the small maps in each port and the pictures are enough.

  • Tina

    Still giving away bags of shoes and clothing every week. Since we are both short, there is nothing in our high cabinets. I am getting too old to climb up for things. I have some pretty bowls I am saving for gifts for next year. I also have some metal boxes for gifts for my grandsons. When wrapping gifts, I found more wrapping paper I had put away years ago. There is always more and I am not a hoarder.

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