By Jiji Lee

Minimalist Living Ideas from the French


Mindful, luxurious living for everyday life.

White desks. Scandinavian furniture. Clothes that spark joy.

These are just some of the trends associated with minimalist living.

Minimalist living is supposed to lower our stress levels and make us more productive, but like any lifestyle trend, it has also taken some extreme turns. People are spending money on redecorating their homes, trying to meet the minimalist aesthetic, and stressing about clearing as much clutter as humanly possible. Or on the other end of the spectrum: devout minimalists are squeezing themselves into tiny homes and living frugally to promote a zero waste life.

All this work and pressure to be minimalist almost seems like it’s adding up to zero pleasure!

So is there a way to achieve balance in minimalist living? How we can embrace the positive aspects of minimalism without living like a pauper, or worse, going into debt buying Scandinavian furniture?

When it comes to living minimally but also mindfully, perhaps we can turn to the French for guidance.

When we think of France, we think cheese, wine, Versailles –  not exactly the stark images that we associate with minimalism. But upon closer inspection, the French lifestyle can actually offer us some helpful guidance on enjoying the simple things in life.

Here are some ways we can take cues from the French and enjoy minimalist living, without sacrificing our pleasure (or bank accounts) in order to have a good life.

Minimalist living tip #1: Make time for meals 

It’s no secret that the French love a good meal. (There’s a reason that Julia Child discovered her love of food while she was living in France!)

The stereotype of French people at a cafe, lingering over their meals or a cup of coffee, with a newspaper or a friend, is true. I remember visiting Paris for the first time, my mouth agape at all the cafes and bakeries on every corner. I was also astonished that I didn’t see anyone drinking their coffee on-the-go. No matter what time of day, you would see people sitting down at a cafe, drinking their cup of coffee out of an actual cup or bowl.

As for enjoying a good meal, it doesn’t have to be an elaborate dish with lots of expensive ingredients. It could be a hunk of cheese with some crusty bread. Or a piece of fresh fruit mixed in with cereal or yogurt. Or even just a good cup of coffee!

Here are some practical ways we can increase our mindful enjoyment of meals in our daily lives:

  • Make breakfast in the morning and read the newspaper or your favorite magazine – no email allowed.
  • Or head to a coffee shop near your office and enjoy your coffee before work. Sit by a window and watch the world go by.
  • Eat lunch outside the office. Use that time to write in your journal.
  • Choose one day out of the week or month to prepare a meal and enjoy it with people you love.
  • Have some cut up lemon/lime wedges on hand and squeeze them into your sodas or water throughout the day. Or buy some mint leaves and garnish your drinks. You’ll feel like you’re at a bistro!

You don’t have to deprive yourself in order to slow down and be less materialistic. You can add simple touches to make a meal or moment feel extra special. An extra 15 minutes in the morning can completely reset the tone for your day.

Minimalist living tip #2: Make time for self care

Another thing you’ll see on every corner in Paris is a French pharmacy. Step inside and you’ll see tons of affordable beauty products: face masks, creams, fragrant hair oils – the French love to pamper themselves! And what you’ll learn from visiting these pharmacies, is that you don’t need to go to an expensive spa to take care of yourself.

Here are some easy ways we can also incorporate self care into our lives:

  • Put on a face mask and lie down for 15 minutes. During this time, you can listen to some music or your favorite podcast or just zen out.  (A simple face mask from your drugstore is great. Or buy a name brand face mask but in travel size – a little goes a long way!)
  • Buy body lotion or hand wash in your favorite fragrance. This is an item you’ll use everyday and it will feel like a treat every time you use it.
  • Place some eucalyptus branches in your bathroom. The steam from a hot shower will release the fragrance and transform your bathroom into a spa.
  • Wear your favorite item of clothing around the house, just because it makes you feel good.
  • Play some music that transports you to a favorite memory or a vacation.

Already feeling more relaxed? Here are even more self-care ideas.

Minimalist living tip #3: Disconnect from email

in an effort to help promote work/life balance and prevent work-related stress and burnout, France introduced a law that allowed employees to disconnect from email after work hours.

While the U.S. has yet to pass a formal law on email restrictions, we can still try to incorporate boundaries on screen time. This Quartz article has helpful suggestions for those trying to balance screen time with family time. These tips are also applicable for those of us without kids. Learning how to reduce screen time is always a good thing! Especially this particularly tip:

“Put up an away message indicating when you’ll be back in touch at all these times, and whenever possible while attending after school games, on vacation, or any time that’s family time.”

So maybe you have a project deadline or you’re going away for the weekend. Try setting an away message for your email and mention you’ll be slower to respond to messages. You’ll feel less pressure to react to emails and you can focus on having a good time.

Minimalist living is a good way to be more conscientious of your consumption habits as well as be more mindful of your time.

But just because you are living minimally, doesn’t mean that you have to deprive yourself. While we may not be able to move to France any time soon, we can still use the French lifestyle as a compass on how to find and enjoy the simple things in life. A long walk. A sunset. A cup of coffee. Before you know it, these small pleasures will add up and help re-invigorate your joie de vivre.