5 Questions: Q&A with an “Expert” Minimalist

A high school speech kid reached out to me yesterday; she’s writing an informative speech on minimalism and wanted to speak with “an expert.” If only she knew how little I know!

But seriously, she asked some really thoughtful questions about my minimalist journey—questions I get all the time. I know she’s not alone in wanting to know more about this kind of life, so here’s a snapshot of what we discussed.

1. When were you interested in living this lifestyle?

Minimalism first piqued my interest in 2012. I was living in a small apartment in a big city, with lots of stuff and not much space. At the time I was teaching in a Montessori environment; in the Montessori classroom there is a designated spot for each and every thing, and the space is beautifully free of clutter. (Montessori itself isn’t “minimalism” per se, but they have a lot in common.) Letting things breathe, making room for my head and heart, made a lot of sense that dreary, cramped winter—I’d seen that even toddlers could learn how to do it! Since then I’ve started to think about minimalism as more of a worldview (although it certainly still does play a major role in my physical space). But now it plays a part in what I eat, how I conduct business, what I say, and what I commit to, too.

2. By living a minimalist way, have you saved money?

Yes and no. Every time I don’t buy something I want and would have just gone ahead and gotten before I started thinking and living this way, I save money. But in some ways, minimalism costs more: you buy less, but better, which can be expensive up front. And if you purge things you don’t use, or want, or need—or things that don’t “bring you joy”—you sort of feel like you’re throwing money out the window. And if you end up replacing those things because you actually do need them, that’s exactly what you’re doing!

3. How did you start minimizing items, clothes, etc?

Reading blogs like Miss Minimalist and The Daily Connoisseur helped me design my first capsule closet, which is where I began. I started by asking, “What can I live without? What am I willing to get rid of?” As I gained confidence, I moved from my closet to the rest of the house. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Joy of Less, and L’art de la Simplicité, which are more about keeping only the things you can’t do without.

In terms of logistics, I just started dropping clothes off at consignment stores and recycling centers; household items went mostly to thrift stores or loved ones. I’ve sold some things, but that takes time and energy I don’t always have to give. A lot of minimalists recommend moving quickly so you’re not tempted to keep things you’ve decided to let go. You get less of your money back, but that money is already gone.

4. Do you think living this lifestyle has made you feel better about the clutter in your household?

Yes and no. My personal things have a place, and that gives me a sense of calm and balance. But minimalism is easy to do on your own. It’s harder to implement in a shared household, especially if you don’t discover the philosophy together. Navigating the “stuff” conversations and decluttering with your partner or children can be tricky. Sometimes I have to stop myself from throwing away stuff that’s not mine, and we as a group have more stuff than I’d like, but I’m not the only one who has to live comfortably in our home. We have to find our “right amount” together.

5. How was your family when you transitioned to living this lifestyle?

You’d have to ask my husband! 🙂 Our son was born into minimalism, so he doesn’t really know the difference. But he does love going to daycare and friends’ homes to play with what must feel like mountains of toys!

My extended family members and work wives, for the most part, think I’m ridiculous, but maybe they’ll come around some day. I like to remind them that there’s a “right amount” for everyone. For some it’s more, and others less. All that matters is that we honor the amount that’s right for us.

So that’s what the Minnesota speech community can look forward to learning this season. Let’s wish our student-friend luck as she shares our story all around the state!


What about you, friends? What questions do you still have? What would you like to see in a future post? Comment below to let me know!

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Christmas Wish, 2017

May you be blessed with the gift of time, with presence,

May you be wrapped up in a warm embrace,

And may the wonder of the season surround you each and every day.

From my family to yours,

Merry Christmas!

–j

PC: Peter Ray and Kari Adams

Minimalism, Now More than Ever

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Somewhere between the fall and spring I lost my center. Between the national election (and the divides it created in my organizations and families), the anniversary of our unexpected birth experience, and the allure of more (always more!) to be busy with, I lost sight of my goals and priorities. I lost myself. Fortunately, I won’t be that hard to find.

Why? Minimalism.

Minimalism is the answer when we feel this way. When we’re unsure of ourselves or our futures. When we find ourselves asking,

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What am I doing?”
  • Where am I going?”
  • “What do I want?”
  • “Why?”

Minimalism helps us answer these questions and silence the wondering. Here’s how:

  1. Minimalism helps us remember what’s important. Rather than an absence or an abstinence, minimalism is simply the thoughtful cultivation of a life worth living. It helps us identify our core values, priorities, and beliefs. When we do that, we see more clearly what gives our lives real meaning.
  2. Minimalism removes the unnecessary. When we commit to minimalism, we make room for the things that matter most, and we clear out the rest. By doing so, we start to realize how many of the things that tie us down or cause us anxiety have little to no bearing on our priorities. And if we don’t really need them, we can look at removing.
  3. Minimalism creates headspace and heartspace. We create space by eliminating the unnecessary. Once we eliminate noise and distractions and give ourselves room to think, we’re able to hear our own voices more clearly.
  4. Minimalism allows us to honor our values. If we remove the things that don’t honor our values, all that’s left are the things that do. If we’re diligent in this (in keeping our spaces free and clear), we can’t help but live authentically.
  5. Minimalism teaches us to let go of things. If we practice minimalism, we’re likely to purge things: physical items, calendar appointments, commitments, thoughts, and worries. Over time, we learn to let go. And each time we do it, the act of losing becomes a little less painful. We learn to hold tightly to what matters, but to loosen our grip on everything else. We see that all things serve a purpose in our lives and that it’s okay to say goodbye once that purpose is achieved. We learn to let go: either to enjoy it, or to let it hurt just a little bit less.

I don’t mean to make light of serious questions; finding and honoring ourselves takes work, and a lot of it. But we can make that work a little easier if we practice minimalism and choose the pursuit of a meaningful life.

Breathe: My Best Marriage and Life Advice

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My little brother got married this past weekend, and I spent a good long time trying to think of some good advice to give him. Having been married for five years myself, I knew he’d be looking to me as something of an expert, but to be honest, most days I feel like I still have a lot to learn. Add to that the fact that I’m a writer by trade and an actor at heart, and I was looking at a lot of pressure to get this advice and delivery bit right.
My now sister-in-law(!) asked me to write my brother a letter to be read the morning of the ceremony, a letter speaking to our life together and my wishes for the next phase of his. I spent weeks wracking my brain for good advice and putting it off. As I was driving to the hotel the morning before, I knew I finally had to come up with something. And quickly.
So I stopped overthinking. I looked out the window at the sublime beauty of central Minnesota— the gilded horizon, the bluest of blue skies dotted with billowy white clouds—and I took a deep breath. I looked down at my son sleeping in his car seat next to me—a tangible reminder of pure and unconditional love—and I took a deep breath. I looked up at my loving husband, the only person with whom I have ever imagined sharing this life—patience, understanding, and good humor personified—and I took a deep breath. And just like that, I knew what to say.

Here is my best advice for a beautiful life, married or otherwise: breathe.

Breathe to slow down the days you want to remember. Breathe in moments when you need to hold your tongue. Breathe to center yourself or to remind yourself of little blessings. Whenever you need it: breathe.
Sometimes life can be messy and complicated. Sometimes it requires careful planning, clever problem-solving, or something in between. Often it’s simple, and all it takes is a clear mind and a deep breath. So breathe.

Sick and Tired (Literally) from Too Much

I am sick and tired—literally—from too much stuff. Seriously. Between a busy stretch at work, the beginning of the school year, and our little one starting daycare, we’ve just had too much to do, and we tried really hard to get it all done. Then we all ended up sick.
Which got us behind. So we worked harder, which wore us out. Which got us further behind. And the cycle continued. For two months!

We’re just coming out of it now, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but  it’s clear some things need to change.

We’ve been minimalists for a while now, but I believe there’s always room for improvement. After spending four years focused primarily on simplifying our things, we’re ready to start simplifying other areas of our lives, so here’s what we’re working on these days:

There will, if the universe is willing, be more  regular content coming your way shortly. Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience!
In the meantime, how do you reset when your stuff and schedules get the best of you?

Minimalism Update: Two Things I’ve Learned in the Last Four Years

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After four years on my minimalist journey, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. I’m pretty good at purging.
  2. I’m also pretty good at bringing in new things to fill the empty space.

Until recently I’ve approached minimalism with a feast-or-famine mentality: I’ve done really well at resisting “stuff” for a while, but then I’ve felt the need to reward myself for resisting said stuff, so I’ve treated myself to more stuff. And then I’ve felt guilty for bringing in more things, so I’ve purged, and replaced, and purged, and replaced. It’s an expensive, exhausting, and unnecessary cycle. But it’s just felt like the thing to do.

It wasn’t until I came to terms with wanting more out of life that I understood and really, truly, started to want less. My son’s arrival has made me want more of everything that makes life worth living:

  • Time
    Love
    Health
    Security
    Adventure
    Generosity

And in order to make room for these things that matter so much to me, I have to learn to (and want to) let go of the things that don’t:

  • Debt
    Worry
    Possessions
    Perfection

I’ve got a long way to go in the next four years. I’ve got a mind, home, and schedule to clear. I’ve got more concrete priorities to set. But the good news is I can let go. Now I just need to learn to keep that space free.


What have you learned on your minimalist journeys?

1 Simple Way to Spend More Time with Your Kids

I’m always looking for ways to spend more time with my son. As a full-time working parent, I always feel like there just isn’t enough of it. So I volunteer to be the sole weekend naptime rocker, or I offer to be the late-night diaper changer. Now I’ve found an even simpler way to squeeze in a few extra seconds every day.

Whenever I’m doing something with my son, whether it’s reading, rocking, or playing, and I feel the urge to move on to the next activity (or, let’s be honest, to check my phone), I give us both an extra minute: no matter what, I stop what I’m doing, take a long look at my beautiful boy, and count to 60. If my mind wanders, I gently ask it to return. If he squirms or fusses, I respond with love. Otherwise, we’re there for the next 60 seconds. Barring an emergency, there are no exceptions.

A minute may not feel like much, and it’s not, which is the best part of this strategy: it’s pretty easy to give up one minute. There are few, if any, things in life that can’t wait that long. And sometimes that minute extends to 2 or 3, but what really gets me is imagining what those minutes will amount to—if I added my minute at playtime, then 2 from his bath, and 3 during bedtime, how much extra time would that be?

  • In a week?
  • In a month?
  • In 1 year?
  • In 18?

How about you: how do you find time for a few extra minutes with your loved ones?