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Why these Malaysians embrace a minimalist lifestyle

Minimalist living involves letting go of an attachment to things. Photo: 123rf.com

When Shirin Aziha Shahidan’s parents moved in with her a few years ago, it was only natural that she had to clear up some space in her home to accommodate them.

However, that process made her realise how much stuff she had accumulated over time, throwing her a challenging task.

“That was when reality struck – that clutter is a crime! I needed to ensure that my parents live comfortably so I strived to create more space. I started getting rid of stuff that was still usable, but that I no longer needed, by donating them to charity homes and through giveaways to the public, ” she says.

It was like a breath of fresh air when the decluttering process ended. But more importantly, it inspired her to start on a minimalist living journey.


American author Joshua Becker describes minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it”. Photo: 123rf.com

“When I started learning about minimalism, I thought it was all about getting rid of old clothes, books, bags and so on by donating them to charity and to those in need. But over the years, I learnt that it is so much more than that, ” she says.

Shirin explains that minimalist living isn’t just about having less material possessions but also embracing the mindset and practice of thriving with less.

“By consistently giving away my stuff, I have met new friends and learnt more about community outreach. It has helped me understand that experience sparks more joy than material items.

“Minimalist living to me is a journey of letting go of that attachment to things. It is about keeping life simple and drama-free, and ensuring that I spend quality time with my loved ones and am able to do things I love like travelling and motorsports, ” she adds.


Cancelling gym subscriptions and working out at home is something many minimalist practitioners do. Photo: ArthurHidden/Freepik

For the 33-year-old project management specialist, practising this lifestyle in a mindful way has made a world of difference in her life.

She has cut back on shopping, for instance, and buys less furniture and clothes. But she still enjoys window shopping and when purchases are made, she prefers that receipts are sent to her email instead of being printed out.

She also makes it a point to maintain a clean desk at work and strives to have everything digitised. Gym subscriptions have been cancelled; she simply works out at the park or at home with YouTube videos.

She finds time for hobbies such as running superbike events (prior to the movement control order) and together with her mother, bakes and sells homemade cookies.

Her approach to living mindfully has become a large part of her personal growth and aspirations.

To Shirin, living a minimalist lifestyle also means embracing the mindset of thriving with less. Photo: Shirin Aziha ShahidanTo Shirin, living a minimalist lifestyle also means embracing the mindset of thriving with less. Photo: Shirin Aziha Shahidan

“This minimalist journey has taught me to appreciate time and experience more than I used to. When we are completely focused on the moment, it makes a significant difference in the lives of people around us. When we are fully present, our love manifests. There is this statement that I really love: ‘Minimalism is not just a well-curated home, but it is a well-curated life’, ” she shares.

This year, Shirin resolves to help her close friends declutter their space, give more to charity and meet more like-minded people with the same interest.

“I am taking it a step at a time in my minimalist journey as I want to ensure that what I do is sustainable. I always believe that we must not let other people’s expectations dictate our decisions. It has not been an easy journey but it sure is a fulfilling one, ” she concludes.

Being organised, inside and out

Minimalist living is an increasingly popular lifestyle. When you live with only the things you absolutely need, it allows you to do more with your time and life.

In American author Joshua Becker’s book Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles To Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life, he describes minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it”.Lee uses only one natural, homemade cleaning solution for his house and also does composting. Photos: Gedeon LeeLee uses only one natural, homemade cleaning solution for his house and also does composting. Photos: Gedeon Lee

“It is about spending less time thinking about stuff and more time loving people. It is about living in the present and not being caught up in the past or waiting for the future. It is about seeing everything I have as a huge blessing, ” he says.

Project manager Gedeon Lee’s minimalist practices mainly revolve around household products and digitisation.

You won’t find stacks of receipts, warranty cards or other documents piled sky-high in his home. Also, forget the numerous “specialised” cleaning products for the kitchen, toilet, bathtub, floor or window – he makes do with just one multipurpose product which is homemade.

“Growing up, I was told to purchase different cleaning products for various surfaces and purposes. But I have now switched to a homemade multipurpose cleaning solution made of citrus peels, vinegar and water. This wonderful solution can be used for countertops, toilet bowl, mirrors and almost any surface at home. The ingredients are not toxic, it saves money and I get to repurpose the citrus peels before throwing them into my compost bin, ” he says.Lee's multi-purpose cleaning solution made of citrus peel infused in vinegar.Lee's multi-purpose cleaning solution made of citrus peel infused in vinegar.

As for his document-digitising effort, he calls it a work-in-progress.

“I dispose off warranty cards or receipts when the validity period is over. Another common clutter I find are vouchers or gift cards, ” he says.

Most of his paper documents are already digitally stored and he makes sure to allocate some time each month to clean up his documents, files and folders.

He also limits his digital consumption, so as to focus his energy on more productive tasks.

“I check my email only two to three times a day. This may not be applicable to all jobs, but I find that emails can be distracting and attention-seeking. I also do the same with social media. While such platforms help us to connect with our loved ones, spending an excessive amount of time on them does not add value or bring us happiness, ” says the 27-year-old.

Lee was inspired to start adopting minimalist practices by the quote ‘Love People, Use Things’ that was made famous by Americans Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, also known as The Minimalists. Love People Use Things: Because The Opposite Never Works is also the title of a book on minimalism written by the duo.

“Minimalist living, to me, simply means not building my happiness on consumption or spending. Minimalist living does not mean you live poorly. In fact, it is the opposite. By taking care of less items in life, you have a wealth of time to experience things and to love people. The minimalist lifestyle also aligns with my personal value of living sustainably, ” he says.


A clean desk gives you more room to work and space to gather your thoughts. Photo: FreepikA clean desk gives you more room to work and space to gather your thoughts. Photo: Freepik

No doubt, Lee is reaping the benefits of this lifestyle; he shares that he finds himself more relaxed and calm.

“This fits my expectations and I would definitely work to simplify other areas of my life. I am still learning and improving, and in the phase of cultivating minimalism as a habit,” he says.

His next plan is to go through his collection of books and decide what to do with them. He has two big boxes set aside filled with fiction, self-help titles and some training materials.

“I can sell them online, donate them to charities or post them on Beli Nothing Project (on Facebook). Hopefully these treasures will soon have a new home, ” he says. This is See's entire wardrobe during her No-Buy year in 2020, and she plans to do the same this year. Photos: Sherrene SeeThis is See's entire wardrobe during her No-Buy year in 2020, and she plans to do the same this year. Photos: Sherrene See

The right mindset

Sherrene See, 28, can fit all her clothes, makeup and skincare products into one backpack, a feat not many people can achieve.

“Minimalism has been a crucial part of my life for the last eight years. To me, minimalist living means getting rid of things that are unnecessary, living with less stuff and only spending on things that actually add value to my life, ” says See.

Her determination to achieve financial independence was what set her on the path to minimalist living.

“I was 20 and amazed by the idea of financial freedom. And one of the ways for me to kickstart my journey was to spend less and save more. Thankfully, minimalist living was my answer to how I could save more, ” she says.

Once she decided that she wanted to live this lifestyle, the first thing she did was to “declutter” her mind.

“I really believe that minimalist living starts with having the right state of mind. I asked myself what were the things that were important to me and what were those that were just adding clutter to my life. I realised that I actually didn’t need a lot of things to feel happy and fulfilled. Once I set my mind straight, it was easy to take practical actions and start getting rid of unnecessary things, ” she says.See can fit all her clothes, makeup and skincare products into one backpack.See can fit all her clothes, makeup and skincare products into one backpack.

So last year, she decided to quit shopping for an entire year. She made the goal at the end of 2019, expecting that she would be tempted the next time she went to a mall or came across something she liked online.

“It was quite challenging at the start of my no-buy year. But as I continued training myself to handle temptations better, like going into stores, browsing and then leaving empty-handed, the feeling of wanting to shop slowly went away. Today, I no longer feel the need to browse online stores or even walk into shops to buy anything, ” she says.

She confesses that she used to have a weak spot for shopping but as it turned out, she had a weaker spot for financial independence.

“By not shopping unnecessarily, I could save more money for investment. Instead of wasting time browsing things online, I could spend more time focusing on my business, ” says See, who is self-employed.

For her no-buy year, she drew up a “No-Buy” rule list and stuck with it. That list comprised five categories of items she was allowed to spend money on – food (essential groceries, no snacks or drinks), vitamin B12 (to supplement her vegan diet), basic toiletries and makeup products (like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, eyeliner and eyebrow pencil), books and gifts for others.

“No new clothes, shoes, unnecessary skincare or makeup products, home decorations, gadgets, phone apps, gym memberships, coffee or gifts for myself. I don’t buy snacks or drinks and I eat out only once each week, ” she says.


Declutter your home and decide what to keep and what to give away. Photo: 123rf.comDeclutter your home and decide what to keep and what to give away. Photo: 123rf.com

By practising all that, not only was she able to save more money, she could also focus on other aspects of her life and free up time and space for other experiences.

See plans to do another no-buy year this year.

“Adopting a minimalist lifestyle has honestly been enlightening for me. I am not exaggerating when I say that it has changed my life for the better. I learned to be more resourceful, grateful for what I have, and have better self-control, ” she says.

After eight years of incorporating minimalist habits, she considers them a part of her life now.

She follows a “90/90 rule” to decide if she should keep something, or let it go. If she has not used an item for the past 90 days and doesn’t see herself using it for the next 90, it is time to get rid of it.

Despite minimalist living not being a new concept, there are still many people who confuse it with deprivation, she says.

But she would be the first to disagree with this and notes that minimalist living doesn’t mean that you compromise your quality of life.

“On the contrary, you are actually improving your life by focusing on the things you love and need, and this changes your life for the better. I embrace things that actually add value and quality to my life and avoid all the things that are just temporary dopamine kicks.

“I am very comfortable living with less and focusing my mind, time and effort only on things that are important to me, so this is something that I would continue to embrace, ” she concludes.


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