Applying minimalism to the student lifestyle

How I used the tenets of simplicity to be happier and more productive

Jasnit found what's truly important to her through minimalism.

In September 2016, I came to school with a truck full of boxes and a mind cluttered by expectations.

It would be a few months before I sought help and turned to a minimalist lifestyle—a way of life that seeks value in non-material things and declutters more than your personal space.

Minimalism focuses on devoting more time to personal tasks, growth and the people around you, but is often perceived as the product of white-on-white room design, multi-functioning furniture, and capsule wardrobes. 

For me, minimalism wasn’t just about my space, but rather my values, future aspirations, and personal identity.

At the beginning of my first year at Queen’s, my residence Don passed around key-shaped cutouts to everyone on the floor asking each student what their goal was during their first year of university. Mine was simply, “Figure s—t out.” 

At the beginning of my first year at Queen’s, my residence Don passed around key-shaped cutouts to everyone on the floor asking each student what their goal was during their first year of university. Mine was simply, “Figure s—t out.”

While it was therapeutic to unpack my familiar belongings into my small West Campus room, something felt wrong. No amount of posters, books, or fuzzy blankets prepared me for that new journey.  

As my first weeks went on, I couldn’t focus on my course work. I felt pressured to integrate myself into the student culture around me and chase non-academic goals. I began to distance myself from my high school habits, abandoning TV series I'd once loved, maturing in my style, and never touching any of the books I lugged to Kingston. 

The posters on my walls and the books I’d once adored lost their worth, but instead of taking them down, I made space for more. New posters, new books, and new clothes began to find their space in my small room.

At the time, I thought my room could hold everything. I didn’t need to get rid of past belongings and I could keep my old self close. Little did I know this space couldn’t keep itself together for much longer—and neither could my sanity. 

During my first exam season, I realized things needed to change. I couldn’t focus on studying and devoted increasing sums of time towards cleaning my space. 

My problem wasn’t that I was a messy person. It was that I’d filled my room to the brim with things stealing my attention. Even with a standard first-year Arts course timetable, I felt overwhelmed. 

By January, I still hadn’t figured out anything—except how to strategically pack an overweight suitcase and casually hoist it onto a VIA train bound for Toronto. I had a lot of things, but was nowhere near as happy and organized as I wanted to be. I needed help. 

I found guides to minimalism in two forms: literature and YouTube. The former, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, taught me how to declutter my space and life, and vloggers on YouTube provided me with a guide for the spiritual journey needed to approach the lifestyle.   

My journey also required me to set aside time—not to clean, but to throw things out. This proved extremely difficult for someone who identified with what she owned, what she wore, and her social media presence. 

Adopting minimalism forced me to ask myself whether all the material goods I had were really making me happy. The short answer was no. 

I hadn’t let go of the past, which I kept in worn books, sports shirts, and gifts from old friends. This process was forcing me to release it all. 

In a small memory box, I began to keep the tiny, compact things that reminded me of the important milestones in my pre-university days. Today, it’s filled with small knick-knacks, photographs, and seashells that remind me of the places I’ve been and people I’ve met. 

That small box makes me happier than any designer piece of clothing. 

Another aspect of the minimalistic lifestyle I adopted near the end of the school year was cutting down the time I spent online. I slowly deleted all my social media accounts—a venture that took me two years, frustrating some of my friends. I began to devote more time to self-improvement rather than comparing myself to others, something I regularly used Facebook and Instagram for.  

By the end of this process, my walls were bare and my bookshelf held only 10 of my favorite books. I was relieved my space was decluttered, and I was happier and more focused than ever. 

I turned away from identifying with possessions and purchases, and towards achieving my academic and non-academic goals. I spent more time engaging in face-to-face conversations with the people I met and sought out new hobbies away from my computer screen, like yoga. 

The process wasn’t an overnight ordeal, nor did it take me a mere 30 days like some YouTube vloggers advertise. Learning minimalism took me two years and is still ongoing. 

Decluttering also looks different for different people. I may have gotten rid of more than three quarters of my wardrobe, but I still keep three fuzzy blankets on hand because they make me happy. Minimalism is about finding what’s important for you, and only you. 

I no longer feel bound to the things that I buy and I don’t hesitate to get rid of the things that no longer bring a positive influence to my life—including more than just physical items. 

Minimalism applies to all aspects of life, even relationships. It forces you to confront what no longer brings you joy and may even be toxic to your wellbeing. 

That can translate to friendships that were once built on mutual interests but are no longer supportive.  It can even mean letting go of negative feelings towards someone who’s hurt you in the past. 

Minimalism is a way of life that promotes growth and can do so for anyone who needs a fresh start—no matter where you are in your university career. It can also work if you just need to be reminded of who you are and how you want to spend your time.

Minimalism is a way of life that promotes growth and can do so for anyone who needs a fresh start—no matter where you are in your university career.

For someone with a full course schedule, a job, and various personal goals and projects I wish to accomplish on regular deadlines, minimalism has granted me the ability to do all that and keep my focus where it matters most. 

I’ve come to a place now where I feel confident and prepared enough to think ahead in life, know exactly what I want, and spend my money responsibly—my bank account is a lot better than it was near the end of that first exam season in 2016. 

Minimalism starts with clearing your space, but results in decluttering your life. By putting aside the things that hold you back, and finding value in people, hobbies, and personal growth, minimalism helps you zero in on what fulfills you.

Whether that fulfillment goes towards a stress-free exam season, or developing a future plan, minimalism can play a major part in post-secondary growth for university students—growth that really helps you “figure  s—t out.” 

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