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Minimalist Living in College How to Practice Minimalism as a Student

Meet the Experts

Janet Schiesl Owner, Basic Organization
Lee Fisher Interior Design Manager, Roman Blinds Direct

Written By

The Minimalism Allure

While there is no single definition of modern living minimalism, the words most often used synonymously include simplicity, intentionality and focus.

By choosing to live as a minimalist, individuals look at all the things currently in their life and decide from which ones they derive the most value and which ones often act as distractors to joy, calm and clarity.

Minimalist living in college can be a great way for students to rid themselves of physical or mental clutter, thereby allowing them to move about freely and not be bogged down by clothes they haven’t worn in years, items given as gifts they don’t use but feel guilty about discarding or mental anxieties passively or actively taking up valuable space that could be used for studying.

For the cost-conscious student, minimalism is a highly effective way of saving money and resisting impulse buys. It’s no secret that America is often seen as a country where accumulation of possessions is a way of life, and minimalism can help provide freedom from the belief that you must be surrounded by things to be happy or fulfilled.

In the guide that follows, students looking to pare down the clutter in their lives can find actionable tips and resources to go about embracing minimalism, alongside expert advice.

Benefits of Choosing Minimalism

Minimalism may seem abstract on the surface, and many people considering this way of life question how the practice actually benefits them daily. Consider the following advantages of a minimalist lifestyle:

  • Less time spent making decisions

    Instead of waking up 20 minutes earlier to dig through your closet and find the perfect outfit, a minimalist’s closet only has things that they feel comfortable and confident wearing.

  • Less worry over cleaning clutter

    Rather than running your finger over that old computer you never use and finding a layer of dust, just get rid of it.

  • More money in your bank account.

    When you aren’t concerned about buying the latest iPhone or a cool, new pair of shoes you saw online, you’ll soon find that your bank account has a much higher balance.

  • More time for you

    Newly converted minimalists soon find they have tons of extra time on their hands when they aren’t shopping online or fighting their way through long lines at stores.

  • More time to focus on what matters

    Once all the extra stuff is out of your life, the things that are most important (such as relationships, sleep and good mental health) are much easier to manage.

  • Less time spent searching for misplaced items

    It’s much harder to lose a term paper, textbook or pair of shoes from last winter when your apartment isn’t packed to the gills with items you don’t use.

  • Happier mental state

    Believe it or not, clutter can weigh you down. By eliminating anything that doesn’t bring joy to you, happiness naturally surrounds you.

  • Freedom to go

    The thought of moving abroad instills panic in the minds of those who have accumulated many possessions, but minimalists realize they don’t have to be tied down to one place because they don’t have tons of stuff to pack, move, sell or store.

Embracing Minimalism as a College Student

College is typically seen as a transitory time, often requiring students to share small spaces that must be packed up at the end of each school year. When considering minimalism during these years, think about the things you temporarily need in college and how you can use those things without spending lots of money:

If purchasing a laptop is too expensive, look for ways to use free technology, such as library, student center or classroom computers. It’s also possible that your school has a laptop rental program.

Clothing is a necessity, but does your wardrobe need to be straight off this season’s rack? If the answer is no, consider checking out local thrift stores and charity shops for gently used clothing, or organize a clothing swap on your dorm floor.

When multiple people live together as roommates, the good news is that each of you don’t need to have one of each common item. “Things like printers, vacuum cleaners, food preparation items (e.g. popcorn maker, coffee machine) can often be shared,” says minimalism expert Janet Schiesl. She recommends connecting with your roommates to avoid multiples in your new home. “There’s no need for two refrigerators, two fans, multiple coat racks, etc. when these items can be shared.”

Even if your roommates don’t have items that you need, consider whether those items might be available elsewhere. “If something can’t be shared, you may find that you don’t need it because there is another option,” Schiesl says. “Urban campuses often have tons of coffee shops around, as well as laundromats and other essential services.”

If you’re studying at a college located in a sizeable city, relying on public transportation, walking and bicycling can be an effective solution rather than having a car – provided safe options are available.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Minimalism

Now that you know the benefits of minimalism and how it can enhance daily living, the next question you likely have is how to get started. Check out the tips below for a beginner’s guide to minimalism.

  • Change your mindset

    Minimalism expert Lee Fisher notes that it’s important to understand why you want to go minimalist, or it likely won’t stick. “With constant bombardments from ads, social media and friends telling you to buy as much as possible, it’s easy to believe that the accumulation of things is your ultimate goal in life.”

  • Be ruthless yet realistic

    When doing an initial purge of items, the three categories to keep in mind are sentimental, legal or essential everyday items. If something doesn’t fit in this category, it probably needs to go.

  • Find a place for everything

    After the initial paring-down, assign a place for all the items that you decided to keep. This makes it easier to access those items, but is also a great visual reminder if you start accumulating again and don’t have a place to put things.

  • Enjoy the benefits

    Minimalism is about freeing up your time to enjoy the things that really matter, so don’t forget to reap the benefits of spending more time with people you love and doing the things that fill you with happiness.

  • Stay vigilant

    It’s easy to get excited about the process of becoming a minimalist, but more difficult to maintain those principals as time goes on. Consider using the changing of each season as a time to reassess your closet and desk to see if anything has snuck into your life that doesn’t belong.

  • Decide if it’s right for you

    “Minimalism is not for everyone; some people need distractions and others love the latest gadgets,” says Fisher. “As a student, now is the perfect time to understand whether minimalism is for you. Student life is busy and full of constant distractions, and dorms are often cluttered; this is the perfect environment to test what works best for you.”

Q&A with a Minimalist

Janet Schiesl is a minimalism expert, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently.

What makes college a good time to embrace a minimalist lifestyle?

College should be all about the experiences: the learning experiences, the social experiences, the growth experiences, so it’s not surprising that aware students are choosing to embrace the minimalist lifestyle when they go to college.

If students are starting from scratch, what steps should they take to begin eliminating unnecessary possessions?

When planning what to take to college, consider where you are going to store each item. Dorm rooms are small, and most are shared so you need a home for everything. If you can’t come up with a storage solution you maybe don’t need that item. You’ll always find a place for items that are important.

How can students decide what to get rid of?

This is the hardest part for everyone who is looking for a more minimal life. Throughout the years we all accumulate things and give them value based on how long we’ve owned them. The fallacy of “I can’t throw out this out; I’ve had it for years” is your greatest enemy here. Be brutal and critically evaluate everything you own. Ask yourself questions like, “Why do I have this? Does it hold a genuine sentimental value to me? Does it serve a real purpose?” If you cannot find concrete answers to these questions, then you don’t need it.

How can students best maintain a minimalist lifestyle?

Consider that everything you own must serve you at this time. Don’t hang on to anything just in case or for the future. To maintain this lifestyle don’t bring anything into your life without considering whether it is necessary and if it is, then take something else out of your life to keep the minimalist idea.

What are the pros and cons of minimalism?

Pros of minimalism are that you will look outside your space for things to do and you’ll meet more people and experience different things. The cons of minimalism are that you’ll have to stretch your thinking and live outside your box.

What about dorm living makes minimalism harder/easier?

Sharing a room means that your roommates may not feel the same way you do about this lifestyle. You must respect their feelings and consider how you will deal with the differences. Sharing a small space can be a challenge even if you have the same focus as your roommates. On the other hand, living on a college campus means there is always something to do right outside your door: places to eat, socialize, learn, explore. You don’t need much stuff to do any of that.