My 3 Minimalist Essentials (And How to Find Yours)

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notebook, pen, headphones, and branches scattered on desk

It feels weird to talk about minimalist essentials when I don’t even call myself a minimalist. See, I feel like labeling people as minimalists or non-minimalists creates box-like thinking. Which, in turn, can spiral into a destructive “us vs. them” mentality.

But here’s the thing:

I do like to make this distinction — minimalist vs. non-minimalist — with the things I own. Why? Well, firstly, labeling things (rather than people) doesn’t drive society apart. That’s a plus. But more importantly, this classification prompts you to be intentional.

These days, we’re bombarded with unnecessary clutter. As a result, we stop appreciating the things we have simply because of the sheer mass of stuff. However, when you can clearly pinpoint the most important items in your life, you gain clarity and gratitude. Peace, space, and time.

Now, before I share some of my minimalist essentials, I want to clarify how to identify them in the first place.

3 Signs of Minimalist Essentials

Note that these are personal. The factors that make items feel essential to me needn’t trigger the same in you. That said, here are the three signs of minimalist essentials I’ve marked down for me:

  1. Daily usage. When you use something daily (or very frequently), that speaks volumes about an item. It’s an integral part of your life. It’s stood the test of time. And chances are, you enjoy using that item.
  2. Multi-purpose. Minimalist essentials should have more than one application. The reason is simple: the more purposes one item can meet, the fewer things you need in total. This, in turn, helps you invest in one high-quality item instead of ten pieces of scrap.
  3. Fuel for flourishing. Ideally, a minimalist essential should help you maximize your life’s potential. It’s like fuel for your soul. You need it to move forward. To grow. Whether that’s in relationships, hobbies, or work — the best items help you do good. Reach your goals. Flourish.

Let’s dive into the items!

Essential #1: A Simple Journal

This has got to be the most minimalist item I own — and probably ever will.

My journal is the swiss-army knife of my mind. It’s my therapist. Diary. Calendar. Idea generator. Sketchbook. Memory crutch. All in one! A journal literally gives you a blank page you can construct however you want to.

Blank page. Endless possibilities.

If I had to abandon all my habits and start from scratch, I’d know exactly what to do: start journaling. From my experience, almost everything else will fall into place like neatly aligned dominos. 

Here’s how I currently use my journal.

Once a week, I reflect on what happened in my life. Am I heading in the right direction? What are the changes I want to make? Is there anything that could help me I’m not considering? This is a rather strict format. But the housekeeping pays off whenever I need to resurface something from the past.

As a counterweight, I also fill my journal from the back. This is my “brain dump” section. If I need to sketch or note anything, it goes there. Without format. Without restrictions. No wrong, just write.

Brain dump.

This way, my journal helps me unleash my creativity and tame my mind. (Multi-purpose, remember?) 

A nice bonus of keeping a physical journal is that it doesn’t come with distressing notifications, addictive apps, or access to endless entertainment. The operating system is clean. Blank. And completely clutter-free.

Essential #2: Wireless Earbuds

Quick anecdote about this item:

When I bought the earbuds, I was really undecided. Yeah, I love listening to music and podcasts, I told myself. But they’re too expensive. I’ll lose them. Step on them by accident. They’ll run out of battery. Maybe wired headphones are better. Or not buying headphones at all.

But then I did something that’s a deadly sin in the rulebook of many minimalists: I purchased the earbuds on impulse. *Gasp!*

And I never looked back. They turned out to be durable, sturdy, and extremely reliable. Whether I’m running or traveling — they’re always in my pocket. Or rather, in my ears.

I don’t just love my earbuds because they’re handy. But also because they taught me a vital lesson about minimalism:

Rules can be helpful. But sometimes, the best rule is to ignore all other rules. Unpredictability is what makes life interesting. And minimalism should add to that, rather than take it away.

Essential #3: An E-reader

I know a lot of passionate readers who swear by physical books. They want to hear the flick of a page, inhale those woody scents like petrichor, and proudly display something on their shelves.

And I get that. I was like that once.

But honestly, the longer I’ve used an e-reader the more my reading experience has improved. I read more books than ever. Get more out of them. Take more notes. Look up more things. And all of these features bundle up in one device that I can take wherever I go.

Currently reading about loneliness.

The greatest benefit of e-readers I’ve found is that they remove the friction from reading. They provide instant access to any book. This often gives me the crucial nudge to keep myself from falling into a YouTube rabbit hole — and instead, digest a few thought-provoking pages.

But there’s a far more crucial reason why an e-reader has become a minimalist essential for me. So here’s a (slightly embarrassing) story.

Some time ago, I developed this weird fantasy of owning a massive library one day. It would have the height of a cathedral. Books would spill from the shelves. And it’d have a bunch of these cool slidable ladders.

All my friends would visit the library, dropping their jaws as soon as they’d enter the door. “Wow,” they’d tell me in awe, “you’re so well-read. You’re a real writer. I wish I could be as smart as you.”

And that was all fun and games… until I realized my library didn’t reflect my longing for insight or personal growth. Instead, it reflected something I was too embarrassed to admit: my desperate need for approval.

I’d started treating books as a status symbol.

The bottom line is that I don’t want to read books to boost my ego. I want to read them to explore my existence. And that’s why I’ll never build my dream library out of wooden shelves. But rather, between the ones and zeros of my sturdy e-reader.

Why I Didn’t Include These Items

Obviously, these aren’t the most essential items in my life per se. Things like clothes, kitchen appliances, or a roof are way more crucial from a sheer survival perspective.

But as I’ve said many times: To me, minimalism isn’t about living a brutally frugal life. It’s about living an intentional life. So yes, while I could technically live without these three minimalist essentials, they simply add a ton of value to my life.

Also, I didn’t include my phone or laptop in this list. Let me explain.

Sure, they’re like a magical toolbox. Everything is at your fingertips: watching the newest movie, finding work opportunities, connecting with friends on the other side of the globe — the list goes on.

But that’s exactly the problem.

Devices drown you in an ocean of choices. There are simply too many hazards and temptations. And I’m even in the privileged situation to say that my devices have enabled my livelihood. But on the flip side, that has caused attachment, burnout, brain fog, and limitless distractions.

I hate them. I love them.

Real minimalist essentials are the ones that generate remarkable joy with the tiniest effort. They are the things you never regret bringing into your life. They spark simplicity, not complexity. 

So — take stock of your possessions. What are your minimalist essentials?