Sarah Anne Hayes

let's keep it simple

Decluttering vs. Minimalism: What's the Difference?

Simple LivingSarah Anne HayesComment

Decluttering. Simplifying. Minimalism.

For a movement that's focused on removing excess from our lives, we certainly seem to have a lot of words to describe ourselves, don't we? The thing, though, is though we often use words like "decluttering" and "minimalism" interchangeably, they're not exactly the same thing.

I spent a good chunk of time decluttering my home and my life before I officially called myself a minimalist. I also know a lot of people who have decluttered their homes in recent months — many as a direct result of Marie Kondo — but would not consider themselves a minimalist and have no intention of becoming one.

It seems that one can declutter their home or life without becoming a minimalist, but one can rarely be a minimalist — and certainly not become one — without first going through the process of decluttering. 

So what, exactly, is the difference between decluttering and minimalism?

To be honest, it's pretty simple: decluttering is an action, while minimalism is a lifestyle.


Let's start with decluttering. After all, that's where most people's minimalism journey begins.

There are a variety of different reasons you might begin to declutter your home. Perhaps it's because of a life change — you're preparing to move to a new city, you're getting married and need to consolidate belongings, or you find yourself no longer needing items you once considered necessary.

Your desire to declutter might also come as a result of a feeling or shift in perspective. Perhaps a parent or relative has recently died and, in the midst of sorting through all of their belongings, you realize that isn't the kind of legacy you want to leave for your own children. Or maybe, like myself, you simply find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of unnecessary stuff in your life and you feel a little bit like you're drowning.

Regardless of the personal tipping point, decluttering is an action you take as a result. You might declutter a certain aspect of your life, like your closet, your home, or your schedule, or you might declutter all of the above.

A lot of people assume that decluttering is a one-time thing, that once you rid your home or your closet or whatever from the unnecessary extras, you'll never have to do the same thing again. And it's true you might never go through a major declutter or purge again, but only if you maintain.

It's in the maintenance that I believe many people transition from simply decluttering to becoming a minimalist.


Like I've mentioned before, I decluttered a lot of areas of my life before I considered myself a true minimalist. And there are even days where I look around my home, still feel a little bit overwhelmed by the excess, and wonder if or when I'll  a "real" minimalist (whatever that means).

I don't know if anyone who begins to remove clutter from their life specifically starts with the goal of becoming a minimalist. It's possible that is the case for some, but I think it's probably rare.

Rather, what happens most often, and what happened for myself is that, as you travel down the path of decluttering and removing excess from your life, a shift in perspective happens.

You begin to see how much calmer your home feels without clutter and mess all over the place. You notice how much easier it is to choose an outfit in the morning and how much more confident you feel when you purge and curate your wardrobe. You see how your heart and soul can breathe a bit easier when you narrow your commitments down to only the essentials. You recognize how much better your body feels and looks when you nourish it with simple, whole things. You find you can hear yourself think again when you choose to consciously consume by unsubscribing, unfriending, and unfollowing.

Sooner or later, these moments of clarity and revelation add up and you begin to see that the old adage "less is more" has some serious weight behind it. You begin to see the possibilities open to you when your life isn't always filled to overflowing. You begin to see just how much you were missing when life was packed full of unnecessary things, commitments, information, and ideas that added no real value to your life.

It's in these moments that I believe minimalists are born. As we remove the excess from our lives — no matter what area — we begin to see that a simpler, slower, quieter life offers far more lasting value than a life that never stops.

No one wants to live a mediocre life. Even if we all aren't destined to change the world on a global scale, I believe, deep down, we all want to know that we didn't waste the time we've spent on this earth. We want to know that we've focused on the things that have lasting value — family, friends, memories — instead of things that will fade away.

Sometimes I still feel a little bit weird when I tell people I'm a minimalist. If they're in my home, they usually raise their eyebrows and not so subtly glance over at my bookshelf, which, admittedly, has a not-so-minimal number of books on it. If we're somewhere else, I can almost see the images of what they think minimalism means floating through their head and all the ways I don't match up to it.

But here's the thing, minimalism isn't prescriptive. There isn't a formula and a right or a wrong way to do it. My minimalism, as a single, 20-something bibliophile, looks different than the minimalism of a married couple without children which looks different than the minimalism of a family with young children.

The important thing isn't how you do it, what you keep, or the number of things you ultimately wind up with. The important thing is allowing that shift in perspective — fighting against the cultural message that the things you own represent your success, that you must be busy in order to be productive, that who you are and what you have will never be enough — and recognizing that the most important things in life were never things.

What do you think about distinction between decluttering and minimalism? Do you feel the desire to declutter but shrink away from the idea of minimalism? Why do you think that is? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

The Beginning

MinimizeSarah Anne Hayes12 Comments

Hello, friends. Welcome.

This is a new space and a new endeavor and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure where to begin. In theory the beginning is a very good place to start, but the beginning of this journey is a bit more fluid than you might think. There was a tipping point, certainly, but that's not the beginning. So I guess we'll just start with a story  my story.



I grew up as a military brat, the daughter of a naval submariner. Until the age of 12, we moved every 2-3 years, which meant we took stock of our lives and our possessions and rid ourselves of the excess as we prepared for our newest destination. If I'm honest, I hated it. I hated moving. I hated packing up our life and having to let go of people and places and things.

Perhaps because of growing up in that environment, I rebelled against the idea that I had to let go of things. Instead, I was an advocate for more  more things, more activities, more time, more people, more books, more adventures. More of anything and everything you could throw at me. As a people-pleaser, I didn't know how to say no, but I didn't really want to either. 

Simultaneously blessed and cursed with an interest in and aptitude for a variety of different things, I was always trying new activities and filling my calendar as full as my parents would allow. When I was finally old enough to control my calendar for myself, it meant one thing  I didn't really know how to control it. I simply filled it up, never stopping to think about how detrimental saying "yes" to so many things could be.

I spent most of my college and early post-grad life insanely busy. I prided myself on my ability to function on only four hours of sleep. There was no greater compliment than being told how amazing it was that I got so much done, that I could "do it all." 

This desire for more eventually produced a restlessness that came to a head at the start of 2014. I was frustrated with so many areas of my life  my job, my living situation, my relationships  but I didn't know what to do or how to change them. I spent January 1 on the couch, still recovering from a cold that had killed my New Year's Eve plans, surrounded by books, my Bible, my journal, and an endless supply of hot tea.

I prayed the smallest and biggest prayer of my life that day: "Lord, teach me to trust You."

Within a month, I'd accepted a new job in a small town in northeast Georgia and by May I had packed up my entire life and moved from the Washington D.C. metro area down south. I settled into my job, my apartment, my routine, not yet noticing how different life was in Georgia.

Four months after arriving, I found myself packing up my belongings again and moving across town to a new place with new roommates. Right around that time, I began reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker. That was the tipping point.

The book punched me in the gut. Surrounded by boxes of stuff, overwhelmed by the excess in my life, I started making steps toward change. I began reading and researching and in the spring of 2015, I took the first tangible step  purging my closet. In one afternoon, I more than halved my wardrobe. And in that one afternoon, I felt so much lighter.


In the months that followed, I continued to declutter my home and purge it of excess. I went through my office, my bookshelves, my bedroom, my living room, and my closet twice more.

The more I decluttered my home, the more I felt an increasing lightness in my physical space that transformed into a desire for lightness in the rest of my life. I began decluttering my digital spaces  deleting files I no longer needed, unfollowing hundreds of people on Instagram and Twitter, unsubscribing from numerous emails and blogs.

Again, the more I decluttered, the more the desire for simplicity in every aspect of my life grew. I simplified my schedule by saying no to things that didn't make my heart sing. I researched fast fashion, ethical fashion, and simplified beauty products. I donated and sold over 1000 items.

I kept saying I was on a "minimalist kick," but after two years, it's no longer a kick. It's a lifestyle change I intend to keep forever.


Somewhere along the way, people started asking me questions. How did I curate my wardrobe? How did I decide what was the right number of things to keep? How did I declutter my home while still keeping a sense of style and coziness? How did I keep my life organized and myself sane even during seasons of busyness?

I have always loved helping people. As an Enneagram Type 2, also known as "The Helper," my primary need is to be needed.

As I continued to see how an increase in simplicity only added positive things to my life, and how so many of my friends and family seemed to have an increasing desire to simplicity, I wanted to do whatever I could to help. It is out of that desire — to encourage, inspire, and help others on their journey toward simplicity in whatever way I can — that this space was born.


Honestly, I'm still figuring out the logistics of how this whole thing is gonna roll. But here's what I do know:

  • You can expect two formats of content — blog posts like this one along with videos. Blog posts will be more frequent, starting with once a week and increasing in frequency, while the videos will be used for specific topics that would be better shown visually. Those will probably only come around once or twice a month to start.
  • You can expect different kinds of content — there will be practical posts, where I share tips and tricks I've learned for decluttering various aspects of your life, curating a wardrobe or home, or reducing stress. There will be encouragement posts, where I share things on my heart about living simply and intentionally that I hope will encourage you along your journey. And there will be documentary posts, where I share the progress I've made and lessons I've learned on my journey toward simplicity.
  • You can expect lots of personality — I'm a pretty eclectic person and often describe myself as an enigma because I truly don't fit well into any one type or category. I have a sweet side and a sassy one. I will be honest about my thoughts and opinions and the lessons I'm learning on this journey, even when things are wonky or a little bit harder than I might like.

As I settle into a routine, I hope this place will grow. It's my intention to build a library of resources — things created by me and by others — that will help you simplify whatever aspect of your life that's troubling you.

I know simplicity isn't the answer to everything and I also know there are times in our lives when things look or feel like simplicity is an impossibility. But I do believe we're living life at a faster pace than we were ever meant to and I believe it's negatively impacting us far more than we realize.

I hope this can be a place where you find the encouragement you need to slow down, to say no to the unnecessary, and to build a life that's intentionally crafted for you to give your best to the world and the people in your life.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I'm excited to see how it unfolds.