Three Words for My Younger Self: Own Less Stuff

This week I wrote a post for the blog-publishing platform Medium:

Three Words for My Younger Self: Own Less Stuff

Why? It’s sort of an outreach effort to would-be minimalists who might not otherwise trip across my blog. I think we’ve all had that serendipitous moment when something we read, or something someone said, sparked our interest in a minimalist lifestyle. (For me, it was a book review of Your Money or Your Life—in a fashion magazine, of all places!)

Well, I’m hoping I can provide that same kind of spark to the casual browser—someone who may feel vaguely uncomfortable with clutter or consumerism but would never think to start googling “minimalism.” I’d love to invite them to our community, and let them know they can find plenty of kindred souls living with less (and loving it).

I’d be so grateful if you’d help me spread the word by sharing, recommending, or liking my Medium post. Here’s hoping we’ll inspire some new friends to join us on our minimalist journey!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or joining my email list.}

The Exquisite Lightness of Being

A few years ago, I was reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and came across the most beautiful phrase: “the traveler’s exquisite lightness of being.” It became a sort of personal mantra for me as I whittled down my possessions to a single bag, and traveled throughout Europe and Asia with nothing more than a large purse. I’d never felt so light, so liberated, so free. Read the entire post…


lagomI’ve always been a big fan of Swedish design and culture—I love their restrained décor, their use of light and natural materials, their respect for the environment, their healthy lifestyles, their strong sense of equality. So it comes as no surprise that Sweden is also the origin of one of my favorite concepts: lagom. The word has no direct English equivalent, but is perhaps best translated as “just the right amount.”

The lovely thing about lagom is that it’s a desirable state of appropriateness, or enoughness—and has nothing to do with scarcity or deprivation. It’s both the opposite of having too much and too little, and instead a celebration of moderation.

A popular story claims that the word is a contraction of the Viking phrase “laget om,” which specified how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around the table—presumably just enough, so that everyone received their fair share. It’s a wonderful example of the social and economic equality in Swedish society; the country has a remarkably egalitarian income distribution, and one of the world’s lowest levels of poverty.

So how can we incorporate a little lagom into our lives?

* Resist the “too much” of hoarding. As minimalists, we should all be doing this anyway—but even if you’ve found the “perfect” t-shirt or pair of black pants, don’t stock up on half a dozen when one or two will do.

* Resist the “too little” of extremism. Sure, the siren call of 100-item minimalism, or living out of a backpack, can be quite strong; but if it’s not appropriate for your lifestyle or family at this time, it’s not lagom.

* Embrace equality. Our planet’s population is growing, and its resources are limited. When we over-consume, we take more than our fair share—leaving less for other people, and future generations. By limiting our personal consumption (or donating some of our excess wealth or possessions) we can better ensure there’s enough to go around for others.

* Embrace enough. Whether it’s food, wine, hobbies, or material possessions, don’t overindulge. In fact, we tend to savor and appreciate things more when quantities are limited.

I’d love to hear from some of my Swedish readers regarding lagom…as well as other international readers, on whether this wonderful concept has an equivalent in your culture.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Happier Without

happier withoutThe consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things. -Elise Boulding

What a wonderful quote, and so true! We’re constantly bombarded with the message to buy, buy, and buy some more—it’s hardly ever suggested that we might find greater satisfaction in not owning something. Yes, you read it here, week in and week out; but I’m just one tiny voice questioning the status quo—hardly a match for the marketers and advertisers that command so much of our visual and auditory attention.

So after three years of blogging, I’ve been inspired to look back and celebrate the things I’ve learned I’d rather not have. I’ve included links, and hope you enjoy my walk down memory lane. Better yet, I’d love it if each of you would share one post (or more!) with someone else via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

My website stats say I had 93,971 unique visitors last month (!)—imagine if all 93K+ of you passed on the minimalist message to someone else? We might actually create a ripple effect to drown out some of the more-is-more rhetoric, and introduce a greater audience to “the happiness of not having things.”

So here they are: 15 Things I’m Happier Without (and you might be, too!)

1. Television. In Life Without a TV, I wrote about how my husband and I gave up our television when we moved overseas in 2009. See my No TV Update: Three Years and Counting to learn how we feel about pulling the plug.

2. Couch. During our time in England, we lived without a couch—for seating, we used two Ikea Poang chairs instead. Although we’ve now been reunited with our sofa-in-storage (and need the seating for frequent guests), I’d still prefer to do without.

3. Desk. Last year, I shared a photo of My Minimalist Workspace: a windowsill and floor cushion. From the time I was a child, I’ve never really been comfortable at a desk. I wrote my book, The Joy of Less, on the floor. :)

4. Bed frame. In My Tiny Apartment Tour, I gave readers a sneak peek into My Minimalist Bedroom. A mattress on the floor is my idea of a serene oasis!

5. Other furniture. While I thought we lived with The Bare Essentials in England, we downsized to just a coffee table and mattress in our Empty, White, and Beautiful summer sublet. If you want some instant decluttering gratification, I recommend ditching a piece or two of furniture—here are 15 Pieces of Furniture You May Not Really Need.

6. Curtains. Ah, how I love Naked Windows! Our current house has translucent fabric shades on the street side, but the back-facing windows are bare as can be.

7. Collectibles. In my post On Not Collecting, I wrote about dissolving a cocktail shaker collection, piece by piece, on eBay—and how I never again wanted to own 10, 20, or 30 of something. This holds particularly true for any kind of valuables; I’d much rather have Nothing to Steal.

8. Books. Physical books, that is. When I moved abroad and became separated from my favorite tomes (which were too heavy and expensive to ship), I became a huge fan of ebooks. I dream of someday having a completely digital library.

9. Hobby supplies. I’d rather not have a closetful of craft supplies, or garageful of hobby and/or sports equipment. Therefore, I try to focus on Minimalist Hobbies—leisure and creative pursuits that don’t involve the acquisition or storage of a lot of stuff.

10. Specialty kitchenware. I’ve pared my kitchen essentials down to a few versatile pieces (What’s in a Minimalist Kitchen?)—just enough to cook and eat our favorite foods, without relying on restaurants or takeout.

11. Heirlooms. I suspect I’m not the only one who could do without a relative’s “treasures.” See The Top Ten Ways to Declutter Heirlooms to learn how you can gracefully part ways with grandma’s china.

12. Large wardrobe. I began my minimalist journey with two closets full of clothing, and eventually pared down to a suitcase. Last year, I shared with you my 10-Item Wardrobe—the pieces that get me through the majority of my daily activities, in every season.

13. Mail. Stopping the postal deluge gives me far less paperwork to deal with; here’s my advice on creating a Minimalist Mailbox.

14. Perfume. When I learned about the health risks of perfume (and the environmental impacts of its production and distribution), I went fragrance-free. Perfume is One Less Thing I need in my life.

15. Gifts. I’m blessed with everything I need, and prefer my friends’ and family’s presence over presents. If you feel the same—and dread accumulating more stuff over the holidays—you may enjoy my Gift Avoidance Guide.

Again, I’d be delighted if you’d share a post or two with friends and family. I think the idea of minimalist living is just beginning to gain momentum, and would love to introduce some more people to the lifestyle.

So tell us in the Comments–what are you happier without? Or here’s an interesting question: what was the first thing you realized you were happier without, that started you down a minimalist path?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}


undoneA few weeks before I had Plumblossom, a wise friend told me: “In those first months, don’t worry about getting things done. Just be with your baby.”

Oh my goodness, what wonderful advice! Before then, I couldn’t imagine not writing weekly blog posts, answering emails within two days, or letting the dishes sit in the sink. But with a huge, new responsibility, I just couldn’t do everything anymore. And guess what? Life went on, and the world didn’t stop spinning. It took my life being turned upside down (in a good way) before I could come to terms with leaving things undone.

So let me shorten this advice so it applies to everyone: “Don’t worry about getting things done. Just be.”

It’s a great thing to practice as summer winds down, and we savor the remaining days of warm weather and daylight after dinner.

Recall those carefree, childhood summers—run barefoot in the grass, lounge on your porch, chase fireflies. Read a novel. Take an afternoon nap. Have a leisurely cup of tea.

Above all, give yourself permission to be, rather than do.

With a new house, my husband and I have a million things To Do: not just everyday chores, but improvements, repairs, and finishing touches. We’d intended to knock some of these off the list last weekend. But in the midst of a hot summer, we had some surprisingly mild weather. So what did we do? Both Saturday and Sunday, we took Plumblossom on a relaxing, five-mile walk through our local park. Everything else? We left it undone.

The trim that needed painting in the sunroom? Undone.

The roof that needed clearing of branches? Undone.

The shower curtain rod that needed to be installed? Undone.

The blog post that needed to be written? Undone.

The floors that needed to be mopped? Undone.

These things will get done eventually (and some, like the floors and post, already have). But we decided that that weekend we would be, not do. And it was beautiful.

So from now on, instead of stressing about the size of my To Do list, I’ve decided to take pride in the size of my Undone list. For it means I’ve minimized my “busyness” in favor of the more important stuff in life: spending time with my loved ones, enjoying nature, being in the moment.

What will you leave undone today?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Walls of Stuff

An observation from my minimalist life: when you don’t have a lot of stuff in your home, you tend to look outward for entertainment.

When my husband and I lived in our tiny flat in England, we rarely spent our leisure time indoors—other than reading or cooking, there simply wasn’t much to do. Instead, weekends and evenings would find us walking the streets of London, or the idyllic paths of the countryside.

The same holds true now: even though we live in a larger house, there’s still not much to keep us inside. During the day, I usually put Plumblossom in my Baby Bjorn carrier, wander through the neighborhood, and chat with anyone who happens to be out and about. On weekends, our little family goes for long walks and picnics in a local park. As far as I can tell, Plumblossom—budding minimalist that she is—much prefers an outdoor jaunt than staying inside and playing with toys. And my husband and I would certainly rather get some fresh air and exercise than sit around at home.

Along my minimalist journey, I’ve learned that too much stuff can build up into walls around us—keeping us isolated from everything and everyone out there. When we declutter, we dismantle those stacks and mounds and piles of clutter, and reconnect with the world at large. Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of pursuing our interests and activities on public ground rather than private.

Here’s a few examples:

* Instead of buying (and storing) a treadmill or rowing machine, go for walks/runs or join a recreational athletic league.

* Instead of outfitting a media room with the latest and greatest in viewing technology, take your family out to the movies.

* Instead of owning an ice cream maker, cappuccino machine, or specialty bakeware, go out for an indulgent treat.

* Instead of accumulating collectibles, visit a gallery or museum (or window shop) to satisfy your aesthetic interests.

* Instead of stashing away closetfuls of craft supplies, take a class or course in your hobby of choice. That way, you can use the studio’s equipment rather than invest in your own.

As I write in my book, The Joy of Less:

In our quest to become minimalists, we want to reduce the amount of things in our homes that require our care and attention. Fortunately, we have ample opportunity to do so—simply by shifting some of our pleasures and activities into the public realm. In fact, such action produces a pretty wonderful side effect. For when we hang out in parks, museums, movie houses, and coffee shops—instead of trying to create similar experiences in our own homes—we become significantly more socially active and civically engaged. By breaking down the walls of stuff around us, we’re able to get out into the world and enjoy fresher, more direct, and more rewarding experiences.

Do you have any walls of stuff you need to break down? Tell us about it in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}


A reporter once asked me, “What’s the best thing about being a minimalist”?

I answered with one word: freedom.

Really, that’s what it all boils down to for me. When my home, my schedule, and my mind are stripped free of excess, I feel completely unencumbered.

Too much stuff can enslave us in myriad ways. Physically, it can take over our homes, crowding us and our children out of precious living space. It can also drastically reduce our mobility, creating an inertia that discourages us from moving and embracing promising new opportunities.

It can also weigh on us psychologically, dragging on our spirits and energy until we feel too overwhelmed and lethargic to accomplish anything. Conversely, a decluttered room or streamlined desk does wonders for our motivation—we can think more clearly, and act more purposefully, without the visual distraction.

And finally, excess possessions can enslave us financially. Credit card debt chains us to the work-and-spend treadmill, and can impede our plans to make a career change, go back to school, or start our own business.

The good news: every time we toss (or choose not to acquire) an unnecessary item, we gain a little bit of freedom: from paying for it, storing it, cleaning it, repairing it, maintaining it, protecting it, insuring it, worrying about it, and schlepping it around.

Those little bits of freedom add up, and have a dramatic impact on our lives.

Personally, minimalism gave me the freedom to sell my house and possessions, and start a new life overseas as a digital nomad.

Minimalism has enabled me to travel the world with a tiny bag, immersing myself in the local culture instead of looking (and feeling) like a tourist.

Minimalism afforded me the financial freedom to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Minimalism freed my heart, my mind, and my time to welcome a little bundle of joy this past winter.

Minimalism makes me see each day as full of joy and potential, rather than chores and commitments.

I’d love to know: what kind of freedom has minimalism given you? Has it enabled you to make a cross-country move, start a new hobby, pursue a degree, start a family? Please share with us in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Wanting to Want

In my younger, more acquisitive years, I had a problem with “wanting to want.”

I subscribed to several magazines, and would page through them for ideas on new clothes to wear, new beauty treatments to try, and new things to decorate my home.

I received a mountain of catalogs each month, and would scour them for products I never knew I needed.

I would stop by the mall on my lunch hour and browse the racks, waiting for something to catch my eye.

The cycle went something like this: a particular gadget/outfit/book/decorative item/piece of jewelry would capture my imagination; I’d spend a few days or weeks wanting it; I’d acquire it; and then I’d look for something else to want.

Where did that leave me? With too much stuff and too little money. Not to mention a lot of time wasted that could have been spent on much more productive pursuits.

When I embraced a minimalist lifestyle, wanting to want was one of the first bad habits to go. I attribute this change in attitude to the decluttering process—after spending countless hours and much energy undoing my consumer decisions, I had no desire to start the cycle again. I canceled my magazine subscriptions, removed my name from all catalog mailing lists, and never set foot in a mall unless I absolutely had to.

When I stopped wanting to want, I experienced a wonderful feeling of lightness and freedom. The pressure to look for, research, desire, save for, and shop for new things was suddenly removed from my life. My stress decreased, my free time increased, and I became a happier person as a result.

In fact, after some time, I could once again look at magazines, catalogs, and stores—but with a completely different perspective:

“How many things are there which I do not want.” ~Socrates

I no longer saw a stuff-packed store as a treasure trove or minefield, but rather an unappealing (and sometimes overwhelming) place of excess and waste.

Such a change in thinking, of course, is easier said than done. Unfortunately, in our consumer-driven society, wanting to want is almost ingrained into our psyche—and reinforced every day by the countless ads, commercials, and marketing messages we see. It seems like everyone wants us to want something, and will go to great lengths to spark that desire.

How do you resist it?

Ignore it. In the beginning, it’s easiest to simply tune out the ads, commercials, and other temptations—which may mean turning off your TV, giving up magazines, avoiding retail websites, and not shopping for entertainment.

Analyze it. Recognize the techniques that marketers use to get you to buy—like making you feel inadequate or insecure, and positioning their product as the cure-all for your problems. Once you understand their tactics, you’re much less likely to fall victim to them.

Subvert it. Here’s where my love of consumer disobedience comes in! Do like Socrates, and take pleasure in discovering all those things you don’t want. Stick it to the man, and keep your hard-earned dollars out of the hands of big corporations.

If you’d like to reduce your clutter, save more money, and gain the time and energy to pursue your dreams, the solution is simple: stop wanting to want. It’s a tiny piece of advice that’ll transform your life!

Have you ever found yourself “wanting to want”? Do you consider retail environments a temptation or a turn-off? Please share your thoughts in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Historical Minimalist: Saint Francis of Assisi

When I was a young girl, I attended Catholic elementary school (yes, complete with plaid uniform, oxford shoes, and nuns). I remember in first grade, one of the first orders of business was assigning each of us students a patron saint. The selection was based entirely on our first names, and would stay with us as we progressed through each grade; our responsibility was to learn more about our saint through various projects, and share their life story with the class.

I was assigned St. Francis of Assisi (1181/1182 – October 3, 1226). After my 6-year-old self got over the initial irritation of not getting a “girl saint,” I realized how lucky I was. While other kids were dealing with heavy issues like persecution and martyrdom, my saint was known for wandering the forest and talking to animals. Score!

It was decades later before I realized the true fortuitousness of this assignment—and began to wonder how much it had actually influenced my life. For St. Francis of Assisi wasn’t just sitting around chatting with birds and chipmunks; he was one of the earliest and foremost proponents of voluntary simplicity.

Francis was born into a life of privilege, the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant. His early years were carefree, and full of the worldly pleasures consistent with the prosperous class of which he was part. As a young man, though, he became disillusioned with this life; and on a business trip to Rome, decided to exchange his sumptuous clothes with that of a beggar. From then on, much to his father’s ire, he embraced the poor and destitute, distributing his wealth freely to them. Eventually, he renounced his inheritance, and went out into the world to preach with only the clothes on his back.

Within a year, Francis had eleven followers and founded a new religious order: the Friars Minor, or Franciscan Order. They earned their food with manual labor, never touching money or accepting more than they needed. They had no possessions, and preached a simple doctrine of voluntary poverty, and love for all living creatures. (Francis felt it was man’s duty to protect all nature—thereby earning him the role as patron saint of the environment as well.) What’s truly remarkable: Francis lived this life of simplicity and spread his message with such joy that, after eleven years, his following numbered 50,000 men and women!

As a minimalist, I consider St. Francis to be a personal role model. Granted, I fall far short of his ideal—for example, I still feel compelled to have a financial cushion, and find it hard to trust that the universe would provide for me if I let everything go. However, I am eternally grateful for the lesson I learned from him early on: that true joy isn’t found in money or material goods, but in giving freely to others and living with less.

If you’re also inspired by Francis’s story, here’s five ways that following in his footsteps can help with your decluttering:

1. Be generous. Give your stuff away, realizing that someone else may need it more than you do. Why let something sit in your closet, unused and unloved, when it can make another person’s day? (Need ideas on where to send it? Here’s 101 places to donate your stuff.)

2. Embrace “just enough.” You don’t have to give up all your possessions and wander the world barefoot; but it’s very liberating to reject excess, and live with only what you truly need.

3. March to your own drummer. Francis took a lot of flack from his friends and family for giving up his material wealth. Similarly, don’t be afraid of what others may think of your minimalism—you don’t need to own a couch, TV, or houseful of tchotchkes just because your peers expect you to.

4. Celebrate nature. When you find pleasure in the natural world (taking a walk, going to the park, growing a garden), you’ll have much less need for commercial entertainment and its accessories.

5. Be an example. Francis inspired others not just by words, but by “walking the walk.” If you want to gently nudge your partner or kids onto a more minimalist path, lead by example; when they see the joy you find in a newly-decluttered space, they may very well follow suit and embrace the idea of paring down.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Exorcise Your Clutter Ghosts

We all have some clutter skeletons in our closets—purchases and behaviors that have junked up our homes, emptied our bank accounts, and perhaps even chained us to an unsatisfying work-spend treadmill.

And despite our best intentions, some of these demons continue to haunt us, sucking the space from our homes, the money from our wallets, and the joy from our lives.

In the spirit of Halloween, I propose an exorcism: let’s call out each of these clutter ghosts in turn, and banish them once and for all!

Novelty. If you find yourself idly browsing retail websites, paging through catalogs, stopping by the mall every weekend, or otherwise looking for things “to want,” the ghost of novelty may be haunting you. We all know, however, that the rush from acquiring a shiny new item is usually short-lived—and often followed by buyer’s remorse. Instead of shopping for entertainment, read a good book, go to the park, or have coffee with a friend.

Excess. Blame this demon for your overflowing closets, shelves, and kitchen drawers. Sometimes we go overboard in acquiring certain items—as if one more pair of shoes, or electronic gadget, will make our lives complete. The best way to exorcise this one is to consolidate and make an inventory of your “problem” categories; discovering just how many t-shirts or DVDs you own can be downright scary, and inspire a major decluttering session!

Sentiment. This ghost keeps us holding on to things we don’t want in the name of “memories.” We feel that if we let go of the object in question, the person, place, or occasion associated with it will vanish forever from our thoughts. We have to remember that our memories don’t reside in that thing, but in our minds—which is a much better place for them, as they can never be tarnished, stolen, or taken away.

Guilt. The ghost of guilt sure is a scary one! It keeps our attics stuffed with unloved heirlooms, our closets with unworn clothes, and our drawers with unwanted gifts. This monster can take several forms: guilt over failing to preserve our family history, wasting money on an impulse purchase, or getting rid of presents from loved ones. How to exorcise it? Realize that letting these things out into the world, where they’ll be loved and appreciated, can do more good than hoarding them away.

Laziness. Does the thought of your clutter keep you glued to the couch? Ignore this ghoul, and your problem will become all the more terrifying. The solution: don’t feel you have to tackle everything at once. Start small—a One-a-Day Declutter takes little effort, but can be incredibly effective.

Fear. Ah, the ghost of just-in-case and might-need-it! Think about all those things you’re squirreling away because you’re afraid they’ll be useful someday (even though you haven’t used, looked at, or even thought about them for years). Ponder what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t have that item on hand. You’ll likely conclude that it’s far from the end of the world, and hardly worth hoarding a hundred items in the slim chance you might need one of them.

Insecurity. If you’re buying stuff to show your “status,” or in an effort to keep up with the Joneses, you may be possessed by the ghost of insecurity. Always ask “why?” before you buy something—is it because you really need it? Or because you think it’s a symbol of your success, or similar to what your peers or neighbors have? Foil this demon, and free yourself of conspicuous consumption.

So while the kids are trick-or-treating this weekend, keep an eye out for ghouls and goblins of the clutter kind. The sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can dispel them—and the less frightening it’ll be to open your drawers, your closets, and your bank statement!

Is a particular clutter ghoul haunting you? Let’s do some ghost-busting in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}