Over the years I have come up with some rules that I use as guiding principles to keep me on track with the minimalist lifestyle. These are rules that I use when I am deciding to make a purchase or struggling with getting rid of clutter and unwanted possessions.
The idea of creating rules is to reduce the friction involved with decision-making when deciding what to keep, what to purge, and everything in-between. These are my 12 rules for minimalism.
The One-In-One-Out Rule
This is one is straightforward. For every new thing you bring into your life, remove something else. This helps to keep things from building up by effectively keeping the number of possessions you own the same.
I break this rule from time to time but it’s still nice to keep it in mind.
The Good Knife Rule
“Where is the good knife?” If you’re looking for your good X, you have bad Xs. Throw those out.
— Conor Barnes
Whenever I am looking for my favorite something I instantly know I have other things I can probably get rid of. The best part about this rule is you get to keep the things you absolutely love while exiling the things you don't essentially curating your possessions.
The No Upgrade Rule
I have a rule about upgrading electronics, If a device is working properly I refuse to upgrade to one with newer features. The cost is rarely worth it.
In most cases, I’ll use my devices until they are unusable, unproductive, or simply broken.
The Sunk Cost Rule
It can be difficult to let go of things you’ve spent a lot of money on. But the fact is, if you no longer find value in these things they are subject to the sunk cost fallacy. The money you spent can never be recovered and if they aren’t adding value to your life, they are bringing you down.
It’s okay to get rid of things that were costly at one point in time. If anything, you could try to sell these types of items. And if they don’t sell in 30 days — toss them.
The Pay For It Rule
Whenever I’m getting ready to make a purchase that I’m feeling a little guilty about I figure out a way to pay for it. What this consists of is finding an item or two from around the house that I no longer need/want and selling it.
This helps to remove the guilt of purchasing things I consider of questionable need, and because it takes a few days, I am able to use my next rule.
The 24-Hour Rule
Whenever I am getting ready to buy a big ticket item or an item I don’t truly need I use the 24-hour rule. Wait 24 hours before buying something new to make sure you genuinely want the item. The higher the price, the longer I typically wait.
The Neil McCauley Rule
Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.
— Neil McCauley from the 1995 movie Heat
In the movie Heat, Neil McCauley portrayed by actor Robert DeNiro plays a career criminal willing to walk away from everything in his life in lieu of going back to prison.
I use this rule as a not-so-gentle reminder that you need to be able to let go. Nimble living, minimalism, and a streamlined life aren’t possible without this ability. Letting go is how we move on to a brighter future instead of being trapped in a familiar past.
The 90/90 Rule
This isn’t my rule. I borrowed it from The Minimalists. The 90/90 rule states that if you haven’t used an item in the past 90 days and you don’t foresee yourself using it in the next 90 days it’s okay to toss it.
The best part about this rule is that it covers 6 months of the year so you’re not purging seasonal items that you may need.
The Full Measure Rule
Storage lockers, boxes of crapola in the garage, and ‘just in case’ items are a half measure. What we need to take is a full measure.
Whenever I think about tucking something away in storage or hanging on to something because — ‘just in case’ — I know I am taking a half measure.
This rule is a handy reminder to rip the bandaid off and let go of the things you don’t use. Storage is simply purgatory for transitory trash that should be thrown in the trash. And just in case, rarely happens.
The One-a-Day Rule
Get rid of one thing a day. That’s it. That’s the rule. This helps to keep things clutter-free and helps to keep a lid on things that inevitably come into your life.
It could be something small like a sticky note, or a few pieces of paper. Just be intentional about removing one thing per day.
The Life-Edit Rule
A couple of times per year I like to do a complete edit of my life. Not only do I go through my physical and digital possessions but I also edit my commitments, habits, hobbies, etc.
The idea is to make it a point to think about the areas of my life where I am too busy, too cluttered, or unsatisfied. By editing these areas I am able to add in things that I love. Reduce to refine.
The Must-Love Rule
Whenever I am buying something new I use the must-love rule. This rule forces me to buy things that are high quality, things that will last a long time, and things that I absolutely love.
The must-love rule is about being intentional about what you allow into your life. I painstakingly read product reviews when shopping, think long and hard about most purchases, and thoroughly vet products after I buy them in case they need to be returned. Most of the things that pass the test are things I plan to own for a very long time.
These are my rules for a minimalist lifestyle. Your rules may be different. And although I call them rules, they are more like guidelines. Like most rules, it’s okay to break one from time to time.
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