How to Embrace the Minimalist Lifestyle in College

February 27, 2020
White desk and chair in white room

Accumulating possessions is a part of life, but you might be asking yourself, how much stuff is too much? A smaller living space in college (such as a dorm room or apartment) can leave you feeling crowded and overwhelmed with all of your possessions. It’s not an ideal feeling to have when you’re trying to focus on excelling in school and preparing for the real world. If you find yourself feeling this way, it might be time to embrace the trend of minimalism. 

What is the Minimalist Lifestyle?

People tend to think of minimalism as an extremist lifestyle: think stark white walls and nothing out of place. While some do live by this strict set of rules, it’s definitely not the only way to live with less. The minimalist lifestyle varies from person-to-person, so a one-size-fits-all definition doesn’t cut it. However, those who adopt minimalism generally choose simplicity and intentionality in their lives over clutter and excess. Minimalists evaluate their possessions and decide which derive value and which are distractions. 

The Benefits of Minimalism

The minimalist lifestyle may sound like an abstract idea. However, the benefits of minimalism in action are quite vast. College students in particular should have no problem finding a reason to adopt the lifestyle.

Improved Mental State

By eliminating anything that doesn’t spark joy (think Marie Kondo), happiness will naturally surround you. Embracing minimalism in college can help busy students clear both mental and physical clutter. 

Additionally, with less stuff, students can become more efficient. For example, minimalists tend to spend less time digging through clothes for the perfect outfit or setting up a clutter-free study space. Overall, minimalists find more time for the important things in their lives like relationships, sleep and mental health.

Money Saved

Minimalism is a highly effective way to save money for the budget-conscious student. We live in a culture constantly encouraged to buy the next latest and greatest item. With a minimalist mindset, you are freed from the belief that possessions will fulfill you. Without the concern of purchasing the newest MacBook or pair of shoes, you’ll likely find your bank account (and yourself!) much happier.

Easier Cleaning and Moving

Student housing can be difficult to maintain since small, shared spaces tend to get dirty quickly and may have to be packed up at the end of each school year. However, as you reduce the number of possessions in your space, your cleaning time is also reduced. Owning fewer items makes regular cleaning less overwhelming and possibly even enjoyable. Additionally, when it comes time to move, minimalists have far fewer items to pack and transport.

Putting Minimalism into Action as a College Student

With a brief overview of minimalism and it’s benefits, the next question is how to get started. Here are a few actionable steps to help you embrace the minimalist lifestyle in college.

Alter Your Mindset and Stick to It

Learn all about minimalism and set your purpose. Without understanding why you want to embrace this lifestyle, the changes likely won’t stick. Today’s culture will easily draw you back to thinking that accumulating more things will improve your life. Additionally, the process of becoming a minimalist may be exciting at first, but don’t lose steam! Make a point to maintain minimalist principles long-term. Take time each season to reassess your space and eliminate anything unnecessary that has snuck its way in.

The Purge: Be Rigid Yet Realistic

Arguably the biggest and most difficult step in minimalism is initially purging any possessions that no longer add value to your life. Prioritize items you can’t live without and lose those that are less important. Rather than becoming overwhelmed with tackling everything in a day, set goals for clearing your space: consider organizing one room (or box) each day over a week’s time.

How Do I Decide What to Keep?

Obviously, you can’t purge all of your things! So how do you decide what stays and what goes? Categorize items into basic groups. For example: essential everyday items, legal and sentimental. If an item doesn’t fit into a category, you probably won’t miss it. Also consider asking yourself questions like “does this serve a real purpose?” or “when was the last time I used this?”.

As to be expected, some items will be harder to make a decision compared to others. Decorations, furniture, kitchenware and clothes are a few categories where you may need additional guidance.

Decorative Items

Artwork and ornamental objects can add personality to your space, but they are not necessities. Instead, they can create clutter and are therefore a great place to begin your minimalist efforts. Keep only items that have sentimental value– sell or donate the rest.


Many people, particularly college students, may not have a lot of furniture. As a result, they cling to what they have. However, extra furniture can easily crowd a space (and it’s tough to move!). Consider getting rid of pieces that are outdated or that aren’t essential for your everyday comfort or convenience.

Kitchen Tools

Kitchen gadgets and utensils tend to accumulate quickly (everyone needs three different-sized spatulas, right?) Unfortunately, an array of utensils and small appliances can quickly take over your counter and cabinet space. Don’t think twice about getting rid of kitchen items you don’t use frequently or that you have multiples of.


If your closet and dresser are overflowing with clothes, you’re overstocked. Pinpoint items that you wear most frequently and donate the rest. Avoid keeping items “just in case.” (i.e. just in case you have the perfect place to wear it or just in case you lose the 5 pounds needed for it to fit perfectly). As a rule of thumb, at the end of each season, anything you didn’t wear at least once– donate!

Assign a Place for Everything

With smaller spaces and less storage in student housing, finding a spot for all of your stuff can be difficult. After the initial purge, find a place for all of the items you decided to keep. Those items will be easier to access and a reminder that you can’t afford to accumulate more. If you can’t find a spot for an item, maybe you don’t need to keep it after all. Of course, be sure to return items to their assigned spots after use.

College Minimalism: Begin Living More Efficiently

Balancing academics and a social life is never ending for most college students. However, having a clean, organized space can help ease daily stressors. Embracing the minimalist lifestyle may seem like a bit of work up front, but don’t forget about the benefits on the other side! Take time to establish a new, more efficient lifestyle while you’re young. Then, use your new free time and mental energy to do the things you love with the people you love most.