Oftentimes traumatic life events can cause an awakening to minimalist lifestyle. Here are 5 examples that just might inspire you to declutter.

5 Shocking Life Events That Lead People to Practice Minimalism

I have always felt like a bit of an oddball in the minimalist community because while everyone else was sharing decluttering and folding tips, I was sharing deep, traumatic life stories. Let me explain. Throughout my life there were a variety of events that took place that slowly began making me realize that I was putting way too much emphasis and importance on the things I owned rather than I person I wanted to be. My dad passing away was one of the biggest factors for leading me to minimalism later in life. Then one day I wondered, Do other people start minimalism after traumatic events too? Naturally, I took to social media to find the answer. I logged into a Minimalist Facebook group I was a part of and asked the thousands of members what it was that inspired them to begin practicing minimalism. The answers were pretty eye opening.

What is a minimalist?

Before we dive into what causes a minimalist to become a minimalist, I suppose we should first address what a minimalist is. The definitions from the dictionary are outdated and not helpful since they focus on minimalist as being a term to describe art and politics. I guess it’s up to me to make my own definition.

For me being a minimalist has meant being intentional about how many possessions I have. Some people opt for extreme minimalism where they live with the bare essentials, like Mother Theresa. This was the original model of minimalism I believed I had to live up to when I first started wanting a more minimalist lifestyle. With time, however, I found that my version of minimalism simply looks like an intentional lifestyle where I don’t live with little possessions, but I also don’t live in excess either.

What is considered trauma?

While I may refer to the following life events as traumatic, the truth is, not everyone would view all of these things as trauma. I would agree with you if you said you think that word is being overused in today’s culture. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that trauma can take many forms and doesn’t have to be as destructive as we originally thought. That being said, it’s safe to say that several of the following life events that caused people to start minimalism could be considered traumatic. Keep in mind that each person experiences these things differently which can mean that not every person would experience them the same way.

5 Life events that triggered minimalism

Minimalism and the loss of a loved one

Much like myself, one of the common themes I saw amongst the friends in my minimalist Facebook group was that they had started minimalism after the loss of a loved one. Perhaps saying goodbye to a grandparent made them remember to cherish the little things in life, and value our possessions less.

In some cases it was parents losing a child and realizing they wanted to be fully present for their lives and any remaining children. They no longer saw the value in buying their kids all the stuff they wanted, instead they would rather experience life alongside their kids through intentional time together.

No matter how many times we hear the phrase, You only live once, sometimes it doesn’t really sink in until we experience it first hand. This can be one of the best and most difficult realizations to have in a lifetime. Seeing life with renewed visions helps us focus only on the things that truly matter and we instinctively begin to embrace more experiences rather than things and redefine our version of what it means to live a successful life.

Hoarding vs. Minimalism as a coping mechanism

That being said, while some people may experience the loss of a loved one and use it as a reason to begin practicing minimalism, others are known to turn to hoarding as a way to cope. Either of these methods for coping could be seen as a desperate attempt to control what we can in a situation we are otherwise powerless over. However, I would still maintain that opting for minimalism over hoarding is still the healthier option as a clutter free space has proven time and time again to be better for mental health.

Minimalism and the loss of a parent

In some ways the loss of a parent could be seen as the same thing as the loss of a loved one. While these two categories may definitely overlap, there was one unique difference that came with the loss of a parent: having to clean out the house.

Many children were already working to cope with the loss of a parent and on top of it were faced with the overwhelming task of clearing out and selling their parents homes. In some cases this may have meant clearing out their own childhood possessions.

During the process of decluttering their parent’s homes after death, a lot of people came to the realization that they didn’t want to leave the same type of clean up for their children to deal with. This is, of course, where the practice of Swedish Death Cleaning came from. It was a practice for preparing your home to be easily manageable in the event of your death.

It can be so easy for many of us to go through our day to day life without realizing just how much stuff we are gathering until we are confronted with what it really looks like. As someone who went through the process of hosting my grandparent’s estate sale, I can relate to how this would spur someone to begin decluttering their home and practicing a more minimalist way of life.

Minimalism and natural disasters

One thing I did not expect to hear from my minimalist group was that natural disasters like a fire, tornado or hurricane were the life experience that lead the to minimalism. In fact, I would say these people became minimalist against their will. Because it’s not something all of us will face in our lives (like the loss of a loved one), the idea of beginning minimalism after a natural disaster hadn’t occurred to me.

Just because this is a less common form of traumatic life experience, that doesn’t mean that there are entire communities of people who have been forced to flee their homes without a moment to spare. This reminds me of that timeless question, “What would you grab if your house was on fire?” We might consider all of the things we value you that we would try to grab on our way out. However, I think the truth of the matter is, you wouldn’t have much desire to grab anything.

People who experienced the loss of their homes and all their possessions found that they had little desire to fill their new homes up with stuff. Whether it was out of fear of losing it all again, or a realization that re-purchasing all of their items was not how they wanted to spend their time or money, the pattern of loss after natural disaster was a common theme.

Oftentimes traumatic life events can cause an awakening to minimalist lifestyle. Here are 5 examples that just might inspire you to declutter.

Toxic relationships

Unfortunately, another realization many people had was after having to leave an abusive relationship (or working to let go in preparation to leave).

When you just want to get out with your life, you don’t really care what comes with you. Could you imagine being a mother with several children trying to pack one backpack as fast as you can. What would you take to start a new life with them?

In the case of one minimalist mother, she grabbed clothing, the children’s hand-made Christmas ornaments and an antique side table she was given. With only these possessions she re-built a safe home. That’s really all that is ever required isn’t it?

It can be so easy to get bogged down by the things the TV or advertisements convince us that we need, but when we get down to the nitty gritty of it all, they are usually never the things that bring lasting contentment and security.


While all of these events can spark depression and anxiety, the final common theme was from people who struggled with mental health and used minimalism as a way to control what they could.

Not only have there been numerous studies to show that minimalism helps with depression and anxiety, but for many, just being able to be in control of one thing outside of themselves when everything inside feels chaotic and crazy can be exactly what is required to help them recover.

Does anyone just start minimalism?

So you might be asking yourself are minimalists only born out of traumatic events? Answer: No.

Some people just have an epiphany or realization that their stuff is taking a lot of time and energy to maintain. They recognize there is an issue and they begin to declutter. Pretty uneventful.

These people generally begin starting with basic forms of decluttering and continue to practice minimalism or no spend time periods in order to pause their consumption.

In short, yes, there are people who just decide to start minimalism without experiencing any particular trauma or trigger. However, if you are feeling particularly inspired to try minimalism after a major life event, chances are, you will find a similar story in this list.

Take what resonates

If minimalism or decluttering has been lingering in the back of your mind, take a moment to read through these situations (if you haven’t experienced them yourself) and try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has.

Does it spark any deeper desire to eliminate that you previously had?

Did you have a similar journey to minimalism? If so, feel free to share in the comments.

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Oftentimes traumatic life events can cause an awakening to minimalist lifestyle. Here are 5 examples that just might inspire you to declutter.

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