Minimalism has become a bit of a phenomenon over the past few years. There are podcasts, Netflix shows, Instagram accounts and more Pinterest boards than you can count, all focused on living the minimalist life. In essence, a minimalist life is about living a life where you intentionally own less and only own what you need. Once you start on that path it usually leads to a less cluttered, simpler and more environmentally friendly life.

Minimalist lifestyle
Keep it simple!

A minimalist life couldn’t be a more perfect fit for the expat life. You only have to move countries once to realize you have way too much stuff! Too much stuff you are carting around and cluttering up your life with that you simply do not need. Not only that but you are paying a lot of money to cart it around the world for no apparent use! When each move comes along we all say to ourselves “its time for a big clean out” but to be honest, it doesn’t seem to matter how much stuff we get rid of we still seem to have too much. Starting a clean out a few months before you move is not enough to truly get rid of all the clutter.

Whether you have a pending international move or not, embracing minimalism will make your life easier, freer and simpler. Without a doubt it will make your next move, international or local, smoother and less stressful. So how do you transition to a minimalist lifestyle? It seems simple enough – you just get rid of stuff! Unfortunately its not as simple as it seems. There are definite steps you can take but it really is a work in progress – a little bit like moving in ever decreasing circles until you get to a circle size that is right for your family.


1. Get rid of stuff

This can be a long slow process. Don’t think you can do it overnight. Give yourself a good few months. Start by doing a whip around the house one Sunday morning. Get every member of the family to find 10 things they are happy to part with. It is amazing how quickly people can do this and it is a great way to get them on board with the idea of minimizing their things! Get rid of it then and there. List it for sale, put it in bags for the op shop, or bin it.

Follow up by going through your children’s bedrooms and getting rid of what you can. This usually requires you doing it while they are not home and making two piles – one to get rid of before they see it and start begging to keep it and one to run by them and let them decide on what goes and what stays. Then move onto your stuff. Go through it all several times and slowly whittle it down.

Books are a tricky one. Some people find it incredibly hard to part with books but in this day and age where they are all at your fingertips, it is no longer necessary to keep shelves and shelves of them. Some people will need to go through their collection a number of times to scale it down to their ‘can’t live without’ selection. Take your time and do it in stages. Perhaps start by ditching the boxes of books that were not opened from your last move!

You will always come to one lot of stuff that is harder to minimize than others. For me it is the kitchen. I can be ruthless when it comes to my clothes and the kids toys but I find it much harder to be ruthless with my kitchen stuff. I have become a lot better at getting rid of things I have not used in a while and am unlikely to use any time soon but I still have too much of it! Don’t be too hard on yourself – remember it is a work in progress and slowly chip away at it.

For the low down on how to downsize and create the perfect minimalist wardrobe for you check out our ‘How to build the perfect minimalist wardrobe’ article by fellow expat and womenswear designer Madeline Neufeld. 


2. Pack lighter

Next time you are traveling, try packing just a bit less than you normally do. The idea of traveling lightly will serve you well. Heavy bags weigh you down both physically and mentally. Once you have traveled with less you will realize it is no great sacrifice and that you can survive without all those things ‘you just might need’. In fact it can be quite liberating. Hopefully this will help you once you get home to realize you can live a simpler less cluttered life. There is another whole article on minimalist packing here.

minimalist packing
Travelling light can be very liberating!

3. Streamline your finances

Keeping it simple isn’t that hard. Deal with less financial institutions, have less bank accounts, less credit cards and best of all less passwords. It is amazing how streamlining your finances can feel like a load lifted off your shoulders. Less things to check and keep tabs on with the same end result. It also makes it so much simpler when it comes to doing your taxes. Even if you live in a tax free area most people usually have to do some kind of tax paperwork in your home country.

4. Digitally downsize

You know that printer, tv, lap top or PC that you have been carting from country to country but not actually taking out of the box, well its time to get rid of it. If it still works donate it and get rid of all the old devices, cameras and do-dads that no longer work. Sort through all your cords and match them up with the right gadgets and then bin all the left overs.

5. Sort your paperwork

Go through it all and sort it into files. This keeps it organized and if you ever had to leave somewhere in a hurry this makes it easy to grab what you need. Keep the stuff you know would be difficult to replace even if you think it’s unlikely you will need it in the future. My son was born very preterm at Al Wasl Hospital in Dubai. He is a healthy pre-teen now and he has never had any issues but I keep all his paperwork anyway because I know that if further down the line it was needed it would be impossible to get it without my head exploding. Shred all the stuff you no longer need (like bank statements from bank accounts you no longer have).

6. Simplify your beauty routine

You don’t need 15 different hair products. Or 6 different shades of red nail polish. Figure out what you really do need and simplify down to it. It may take some time and self reflection to find a balance. Make a plan of what you want to use up and never replace and what is worthy of a replacement. We all have stuff we think we ‘need’ because of the four times a year we use it. Ditching some of those things will not cause you any suffering, I promise! Ultimately it will simplify both travel and relocation.

7. Don’t buy for the sake of it

Going forward this is probably the single most important thing you can do in an effort to live a more minimalist (and greener) lifestyle. You need to make a conscious decision to question everything you buy. Do you really need it? Are you just buying it because it is cheap? Will it really bring you long term joy? Be intentional about every single thing you buy. It is amazing how when you intentionally question everything you buy all of a sudden you start buying less. Work on trying not to compare what you have to what others have. Just because Jane has the latest handbag doesn’t mean you need it too. So what if it is on sale, you didn’t need it when it wasn’t on sale and you don’t need it now.

The path to a more minimalist life is unfortunately not as simple as just following through a few steps. It can actually be quite a difficult process. It can take a lot of thought, contemplation, and reflection to even begin moving towards being more minimalist. Once you get yourself and your family on the minimalist path just remember it is not a race but more an ongoing process where you are working towards living in a simpler, more streamlined, and thoughtful way. Just start. Don’t worry about where it will take you. You might be surprised how liberating it can be once you become intentional about your possessions and I can promise you it will make your next move so much easier!

Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.