Psychological Development of a Minimalist

by Kelvin Belfon


Almost 3 years ago I became an accidental minimalist. I had a major life changing event that resulted in a move from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains. It was one of the most frightening times of my life.

I arrived in Colorado in the middle of a blizzard with very limited social contacts, a small townhouse rental, one car, a wife, two children, and a moving truck loaded with stuff and no job. Having to move into a very downsized home, we tried hard to accept what seemed life failure. Our estate was supposed to grow, not minimize, right? Yet, frustrated with the chaos that quickly accumulated in our basement, we decided to purge. I sold, gifted, donated, and discarded many of my attachments.

It was during the first 48 months of purging that my thoughts about material possessions (and the past I was trying to hold on to) somehow changed…one car-load of stuff at a time. The process was an emotional one.  It challenged and forced me to reprioritize certain ideals. But in the long run, the ability to say goodbye and to set free those things that represented parts of my history — my move to America, various international travels, rite of passages, expired friendships, family — in the long run, made my life better.

The following is an attempt to chronicle aspects of my minimalist evolution. I hope it helps to explain certain nuances of my journey that I have only hinted in previous posts. Oftentimes, people say that a thing is “life-changing” but without further definition, that phrase simply falls to the ground with no effect.

I hope what I’m about to share doesn’t do that. I am aware that everyone’s experience is unique and may not follow the sequence I’ve outlined here. You’re welcome to join in the conversation below and share your take on any part of this that hits home.


Psychological Development of a Minimalist

The crisis stage – “I have a problem.” There are several reasons why people embrace minimalism. For some, it starts with an innocent home de-cluttering project. For others, economic, medical or dietary issues create the impetus. For me, it was a job change and family matters. My conscious response to those two big issues is what resulted in my search  for a clearer sense of purpose and happiness. At the time, the whole episode was extremely painful. But what I didn’t realize was that my “discomfort” with life opened the door to the realization that I didn’t have to continue with things “as is.” I sensed there was much more to lose if I didn’t make a bold change. The desire and courage to make the second part of my life count was what resulted in my move towards minimalism. key concept: infancy, dilemma, enlightenment

 The curiosity stage“I’m not sure what to do?” Most people want simplicity but don’t know where to begin. I needed information, so I Googled “minimizing” and “de-cluttering.” In the process, one night I landed on by Leo Babauta. Soon after, I discovered Becoming Minimalist, Courtney Carver, and Tammy Strobel. What these writers were saying was so spot on that I would stay up late nights just reading through all their stuff. They were hitting buttons inside of me and before long, I was all-in with the minimalist world. What’s more, I felt empowered to find a community of like-minded people. I wanted to share thoughts with others out there walking away from challenging pasts, and determined to go into their next phase of life as uncomplicated as possible. One thing led to another, and was started.  key concept: hopelessness, exposure, learning

 The apprehension stage “I’m afraid to start.” Then a reality hit. How will I function without my stuff? What if I needed them later? What will people think about me? What will my family say when they visit? “Would my change stick?” These were all legitimate questions. The process of letting go can be a traumatic, and that’s the case even after you’ve done all the research and signed on to the idea. This is because our possessions are deeply personal.  Many of our belongings have stories that define how we understand ourselves: our first major purchase, a wedding gift, family heirloom, a business we’ve built. key concept: worry, fear, doubt, self-definition

The releasing stage – “I’m losing control!” De-cluttering can be an empowering experience. But before that happens, a death occurs. If much of what you are is tied to a social network that you belong to, a town you’ve grown up in, an occupation or a relationship, you might feel like the world is closing in when change happens. Your situation can get even more intense if you’re faced with the real possibility of getting rid of keepsakes connected to those things, events, and people. Here’s a good approach. Start purging the stuff that’s easier to deal with in each of the following categories: clothing, books, furniture, toys, appliances, and paper. Then tackle the more sentimental pieces once you gain courage, as recommended in the KondoMarie Method. This stage can take a day or weeks, months and even years. key concepts: action, surrender, separation anxiety, grief

 The disappointment stage – “What’s wrong with me?” I was happy about my de-cluttering progress. And then one day, I found myself sad and even angry about all that I seemed to have had to give up in order to carve out a path toward a better future. The overwhelming feeling of separation and loss can leave a person wondering, “When did I accumulate all this stuff?” “If only I hadn’t gone down that path, I’d be much better off than I am now.” “If I’d been a better custodian of my financial resources, things wouldn’t have ended up this way.” Or, “If I had done things differently or listened to certain people, that relationship wouldn’t be what it is today.” All these and so many other “what-ifs” have the potential of making us an emotional wreck. But we have to know that while this self-guilt is one of the worst parts of the process, it doesn’t have to have a lasting hold. You can move past it. key concept: confusion, guilt, shame, anger

 The gratitude stage“I’m thankful” There is no shame in owning material possessions. If you have them, this means that you are fortunate. So many people are “minimalist” not because they want to be but because of financial limitations and unfortunate circumstances. It’s a sobering reality. So as I decluttered my life, I had to give myself enough emotional separation from things to be able to tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t.  This stage is key. If it’s not handled well, this is where people can experience defeat and regress. Thankfully, I pushed through the overwhelming feeling that I was somehow giving up more than I had bargained for. In the end, what remained — my wife and children plus surprise twins, a new job, a new house, and many other unplanned blessings along the way — gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for the time tested possessions and obligations in my life. The “disappointment stage,” more quickly than you’d expect, can and does turn into opportunity for gratitude. key concept: appreciation, contentment, obligation

 The empowerment stage“I can live without ______” Clutter does come back. But the more I de-clutter, the easier it becomes to live life without certain accessories. I now know what it feels like to enjoy freedom from holding onto attachments that in the end aren’t worth as much as I’d thought. I’ve also noticed that my consumption habits have changed. I often find myself asking the critical questions before I commit a new purchase. I’ve also become very interested in finding creative uses for what I already have and experimenting with how to make them serve multiple functions. It’s all about being creative and repurposing. key concept: detachment, freedom, independence

The wholistic stage – “It’s a lifestyle” In my infancy as a minimalist, I was mainly focused on de-cluttering my physical world. Overtime, the simplicity ideology started spilling over into other areas of my life — finances, relationships, time management, diet and even the environment. I must admit, I am far from mastering these areas, but at least I’m on my way. Life just feels so much more in-control. key concept: mindfulness, wholeness, experiences

How about you? What emotional or cognitive changes have you experienced in your simplicity journey?

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22 thoughts on “Psychological Development of a Minimalist

  1. Calla says:

    What a thoughtful & provoking journey that you’ve shared with us over the years. Thank you for that. I’ve never thought of the journey towards minimalism as having a psychology reasoning behind the process, thanks for the new insights.
    You continue to expand my thoughts about the minimalism process.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Calla,
      I’m glad the post was thoughtful and provoking. I always appreciate your support and kind words.
      Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Yolanda says:

    You nailed it Kelvin. The physical stuff is just the surface. There is so much emotional and spiritual stuff happening below the surface and we definitely need to pay more attention to that. Thank you.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Thank you Yolanda.
      In minimalism we all begin de-cluttering our physical possession. But it never ends there…we are forced to deal with our inner issues. In the end, minimalism becomes a lifestyle as all areas of our lives are affected.

  3. Barbra says:

    Good article. You caught my attention with the first paragraph, and I enjoyed the break-down points of the process which can apply to many different “life-changing moments.”

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Barbra,
      You understand the human pysche very well. It’s what you do. So I appreciate the kind words.
      And you are right… many of the stages are applicable to other areas of life.

  4. Kimberly says:

    This is such a great article Kelvin – I love the way you break down the process into these stages. I found myself nodding along at each stage you talked about – and I find that I cycle through several of these on a fairly regular basis as I move deeper into the process.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hello Kimberly!
      Thank you for your kind words.
      I’m glad you were able to relate with the different stages. Many times the emotional process felt like riding on a roller coaster.
      And yes, we tend to cycle through the stages on a regular basis.
      Thanks again for visiting!

  5. Ms. 2016 says:

    Really enjoyed this! I can see myself moving back and forth through there stages, and sometimes I’m in more than one stage at the same time! I think I’m in disappointment, gratitude, and empowerment right now. It was such a sense of freedom to realize I was allowed to let go of my old journals.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hello Ms. 2016!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, you and Kimberly are right…we do cycle through the stages in our minimalism journey. One lesson I’ve learned to to be patient with myself in the process. Thank you for your comment.

  6. Laura Beth says:

    Hi Kelvin,

    Your story is similar to mine in some ways, maybe not specifically, but in the sense of the stages you spoke about. Spot on…what an awesome post, and clearly something that came from your heart.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Laura:
      So good to have you here. Your story have inspired me as well.
      I consider you to be an expert. So thank you for your kind words my friend. They are an encouragement to me on my journey.

  7. Terri says:

    One of your best posts, ever!! I agree, it really is a cycle – I definitely remember the crisis mode, and I think right now I’m in that lifestyle mode, or at least I’m trying to be. It helps to live in a small space (I know how i live is not an option for you, having a family), and to know that when I moved cross country, I made some choices and it really stressed to me what was needed and what wasn’t.

    Btw, I love your use of “key words” throughout this post.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      It’s always good hearing from you Terri.
      You’ve made lots of tough decisions over the years and in the most recently months with your move across the country. I believe you are in the lifestyle cycle. I’m inspired by jour journey Terri. Keep moving forward. Enjoy the ride!
      Thank you also for the compliment my friend.

  8. […] night I read an article about the Psychological Development of a Minimalist. It’s a great read for anyone who is striving to simplify their life. I left a comment about […]

  9. Chloelle says:

    When you began blogging your journey I thought minimalism was an interesting concept. Then, I looked into it and realized it was a brilliant ideal to take on. I still have so much more to do and I’m thankful for this post because it’s answered some questions that I’ve had concerning the process. I remember when I made the decision to take this journey I talked to my husband and was supportive. I didn’t know where to start or if I was sure this lifestyle would be a perfect fit so I chose to pick one room in our apartment to minimize. I chose our living room and didn’t decorate it minus an end table, a tv, and our cozy sectional. I discovered it was my favorite place in the house because of how decluttered it was! My husband felt weird not having a lot of decor everywhere but now we find ourselves searching for multi-purpose functions before we purchase an item which has been extremely helpful with shopping for our baby. It also allowed us to save more money than we did when we first got started. Bravo to you and others sharing tips to help people like me find our way through the process and no it won’t happen in a day!

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Minimalism has been a big blessing to me and my family. First, it helped lighten our home from all the clutter. In doing so we made room for our twins (we had no idea they coming). Now there’s 4 little Belfons. That means more clothes, toys, etc. Yet our home remains manageable on most days thanks to our minimalism practice. But even more important is our freedom and intentional lifestyle. We love it!

      I’m glad you’ve made the decision to begin your journey as well. Your family will benefit from it, especially your little one when he comes into this world. Keep us posted. Wishing well sis!

  10. Liz Smith says:

    Lots of wisdom in this post Kelvin! Minimalism and simplicity in my view, is an ongoing process of letting go and the layers (physically,emotionally and mentally) just keep peeling off. You explored this so eloquently here.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Thank you Liz!
      It’s been a learning process. There’s been many highs and lows. And it continues…as you say, “an ongoing process of letting go.”
      Thank you for visiting Liz.

  11. Christine Li says:

    Awesome post Kelvin. You hit it.

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