On Eating Less (aka The Minimalist Diet)

Happy fall, everyone! We’re having the most gorgeous weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m soaking in every last ray of sunshine before it starts raining (and raining and raining). I’m enjoying a few more weeks of wearing my One Shoe before I have to switch over to the rain boots…

So I’m writing a new book, and experimenting with minimalism on all kinds of levels. I posted last about my Unplugged Summer, a lovely exercise in dialing back my digital commitments. Basically, I faced my fear of being unproductive, and was rewarded in spades with a mother/daughter summer I’ll always treasure.

But that’s not the only minimalist thing I did this summer. I also experimented with eating—or to be more specific, eating less.

To be honest, I didn’t do it for weight loss reasons. I’d read a study on how consuming fewer calories might lead to a longer life—and I was curious what it would feel like to consume fewer calories.

But being rather lazy about such things, I had no interest in actually counting calories or changing the foods I ate. Therefore, I went about it in a very unscientific way: I simply ate less. For each meal, I put roughly 2/3 of my normal portion on my plate (no measurements—just eyeballing it) and didn’t have seconds.

In addition, I stopped snacking, and never, ever ate anything after dinner. If I felt hungry, I’d drink a glass or two of water instead. I also limited alcohol to special occasions and Saturday nights. If I had dessert, I’d have one-half of my usual allotment (half of a cookie instead of a whole one, one scoop of ice cream instead of two).

By not giving up anything, I never felt deprived. Instead, I appreciated what I did eat all the more. When my quantities were limited, I actually savored every bite—each meal became an event, instead of another task to rush through in my daily routine.

I still got to taste all that delicious food, just in a slightly smaller volume. And it’s not really the volume that brings us joy, is it? To compensate for the smaller portion, I ate more slowly and mindfully, and felt a new gratitude for what was on my plate. And I can’t tell you how much I looked forward (and still do) to that weekly glass of wine!

In the process, I faced my fear of feeling hungry. (I never knew I had such a fear, but why else did I snack or “fill up” at meals?) This summer, when my stomach growled, I didn’t panic and reach for food—I sat with the feeling and experienced it without judgment. In other words, I didn’t associate hunger with “bad” and rush to get rid of it; I thanked my body for its feedback, and vowed to enjoy every morsel of my next meal.

Since beginning this experiment, I’ve lost 12 pounds—they came off slowly and steadily over the last four months, without eating or avoiding any particular foods. (I’m still in the healthy BMI range for my height, albeit at the low end.) Will I live any longer? Who knows—but I’m continuing the practice, because I like the lightness and mindfulness that’s come with eating less.

Now it must be said that I know how absolutely privileged I am to do this by choice. Sadly, too many people experience hunger by circumstances beyond their control; food insecurity is a devastating problem, afflicting 1 in 8 people in the United States alone (here’s one way to help). I can’t imagine the terror of being hungry when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.

But just because we have the means to eat as much as we want, should we? Or would our bodies (and planet) be healthier if we learned to feel satisfied with a little less? It would certainly reduce our risk of obesity-related illnesses; but could it also bring us more gratitude for our abundance, and more empathy for those without?

I don’t have the answer to this. It’s just something I’ve been pondering, and would love to know your thoughts. As with my Joy of One series, I can’t really give a compelling reason for the things I do (and I’m certainly not suggesting that you do them, too). I simply like to experiment with living, and figure out how we can maximize our well-being and live harmoniously in the world.

So tell me in the Comments—is eating less something you would try? Could it replace all those fad diets? How do you feel about feeling hungry? Would you do it for reasons other than weight loss (philosophical, spiritual, environmental)? Has your minimalist practice influenced your feelings about food? Here’s hoping for a lively discussion that’ll take us where we haven’t gone before… :)

[And no, my new book isn’t about food or dieting; this “diet” is so simple, the book would only be one page! I’ll be keeping much of it under wraps until publication, but will share some early tidbits with my email subscribers—so be sure to sign up for my email list to get a first look.]

Unplugged Summer

Hi everyone! Many of you have reached out this summer to say hello and ask where I’ve been (you’re so sweet!). I’ve been right here, I’ve just been unplugged. Let me explain…

Remember my little Plumblossom?

Well, she’s five years old now and starting kindergarten this fall. Time has flown by, and it’s given this mama a wake-up call.

Last summer was a whirlwind of activity following the release of my book. I dropped my daughter off at camp each morning, then rushed home to do interviews and radio shows and answer countless emails. When she came home in the afternoon, I’d often set her up with an activity so I could squeeze in another phone call or two.

With these precious years slipping by so quickly, I wanted this summer to be different. I wanted us to have the kind of summer I had as a child—a summer before the Internet existed, before screens commanded our attention 24/7. So I dialed back my digital commitments, and woke up each day with no plan other than to spend it with my daughter.

Modern life seems to be all about “getting things done,” so I’ll tell you what Plumblossom and I have gotten done in the last few months.

We’ve made flower crowns and danced around our backyard. We’ve written stories about unicorns and dressed up as fairies. We’ve blown bubbles, played hopscotch, and decorated our sidewalk in rainbows of chalk. We’ve wandered our neighborhood, frequented our local park, and met many a new friend. We’ve made and consumed significant amounts of popsicles and lemonade, and eaten as many Oregon marionberries as humanly possible. We’ve put in long hours laying on the grass and looking at clouds. We’ve even, on occasion, been bored.

I’m having the most unproductive summer of my adulthood and it’s been glorious.

So that’s why I haven’t updated my blog or Tweeted or Instagrammed in what seems like ages. Do I feel guilty? A smidge. But the memories of this summer are far more precious to me than gaining a few more followers on social media.

This summer, I gave myself permission to do less—and I encourage you to do the same.

As this season draws to a close, give yourself a little time off—if not from work, then from all those digital distractions that consume the rest of your day. For the next few weeks, turn off the TV, ignore Facebook, forget Twitter. Don’t feel pressured to answer every email or keep up with the news.

Decluttering isn’t just for cabinets and countertops; it’s for all those minutes in your life that can be spent in a more meaningful way.

Remember those unplugged summers of your own childhood and relive some of those memories. And if you’re so inclined, share them with us in the Comments!

Giveaway: 3 copies of The Joy of Less Journal!

I’m thrilled to announce that The Joy of Less Journal: Clear Your Inner Clutter is being released today—and I’m giving away 3 copies to celebrate!

Decluttering often makes you ask questions that go beyond possessions—you have to confront your past, let go of emotions or expectations, and decide what you want for your future. That’s why it feels so liberating: decluttering frees you of psychological baggage as well as physical baggage.

Sure, clearing out the inner clutter can be a little more challenging: we can’t just put our guilt or anxieties or fears out on the curb. However, we can give these little buggers the same inquisition we did our stuff, and decide once and for all to let them go.

In this journal, I help you do three things: Reduce Stress, Release Worries, and Restore Clarity. As I explain in the Introduction:

Over the course of this journal, we’ll ponder various ways to Reduce Stress. Commitments, expectations, and responsibilities pile up over the months and years, and rarely do we take the time (we don’t have any!) to purge them. The result: lots of less meaningful activities crowd out the more meaningful ones, leaving us weary and unfulfilled. Worse yet, our busyness can take a toll on our mental health, making us feel frustrated, helpless, and overwhelmed by our daily lives. As we write, we’ll strive to identify and eliminate our excess stressors and the pressures that go along with them. In so doing, we’ll regain a sense of empowerment and control over our lives, making for more-rewarding days and more-restful nights.

We’ll also write to Release Worries. (You may be surprised how powerful and life-changing this can be!) When we squirrel away negative feelings the way we do our stuff, they weigh on us and steal our joy. But now their days are numbered: one by one, we’re going to shake them out, see them for what they are, and send them on their way. When we do a clean sweep of our hearts, that old grudge, nagging guilt, or buried anger will no longer have a place to hide. Writing helps us identify our emotions in a detached, objective way—Hello, anxiety. What are you doing here?—and say good-bye to those that aren’t serving us well.

As we clear out the mental clutter, we Restore Clarity. This is the ultimate goal of our minimalist journey: to eliminate the extraneous, so as to focus on what’s truly special to us. We’ll explore various techniques to calm our muddy waters, filter out the detritus, and see what emerges from the clear and sparkling depths. We’ll contemplate what nourishes our souls and gives us a higher sense of purpose—whether it’s pursuing a passion, contributing to our community, or spending more time with our kids—and commit our time, attention, and resources to that end. The point of emptying our cups is that they stand ready to be filled with our hopes, dreams, and joy.

I’ve filled this journal with prompts and inspirational quotes designed to make your inner decluttering as effective and enjoyable as possible:

That quote in the middle (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) is one of my favorites:

She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom!

I invite you to come along this new journey with me—let’s get rid of those hangups that make us feel heavy, and bring a new lightness into our souls.

I’m giving away 3 copies of the journal to get us started. (Even if you’ve never journaled before, I encourage you to try it; I personally was amazed how transformative it can be!)

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a Comment below. If you’d like, let us know what inner clutter you’d like to get rid of.

I’ll keep the giveaway open until the end of Friday, October 28 and use the number generator at Random.org to choose the winners. Please be sure to use a legitimate email address, so that I can contact you to obtain your mailing information.

{The journal is available for purchase through Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, Book Depository, Amazon UK, Waterstones, Readings, and QBD.}

The Joy of Less Journal: Clear Your Inner Clutter

I often hear from readers who have decluttered and decluttered and decluttered some more. They’ve streamlined their surfaces, ditched their duplicates, and pared down to the essentials. They’re thrilled with their newfound space, but they want to know…. What’s next?

And that’s really the question, isn’t it? What’s the point of clearing out all the physical clutter?

I’ll tell you: it’s to give us the time and space and focus to clear out our INNER clutter.

Once we’ve cleaned out our closets and cabinets, it’s time to clean out our hearts and minds. It’s time to get rid of those negative emotions, unwarranted anxieties, and other hangups that drag us down and make us feel heavy. It’s time to bring a new lightness into our souls.

Unfortunately, inner decluttering is a bit more complicated—we can’t just box up our anger or insecurity and stick it out on the curb. But it can be done (and at much less expense than therapy!).

The most effective method I’ve found: journaling.

I was a reluctant journaler myself (who needs one more thing to do, right?)—until I gave it a try and realized how transformative it can be. When you feel weighed down with worries, fears, or other negative emotions, letting them out on paper is a wonderful way to release them for good.

But sometimes when you sit down with a pen, it’s hard to know where to start. As I journaled, I kept wishing I had a program to follow—something specifically-tailored to the kind of psychological purging I wanted to do.

So after I worked through it myself, you know what I did? I wrote a guide for you! I want to share with you the prompts and inspirational quotes I use in my own journaling practice. And I’m just super-excited to take your hand and lead you down a new decluttering road with me.

Just like with my STREAMLINE method, I take an ultra-practical approach. Personally, I don’t want to waste time writing ad infinitum about a regret or disappointment; I want to dust it off, hold it up to the light, and decide once and for all to let it go. And that’s what I do in this journal: guide you step by step through your inner decluttering so you can do it with maximum ease and efficiency.

And why do this on paper, you might ask? Well I don’t know about you, but I’m terrified to put my innermost thoughts on my laptop. I feel like one wrong move or computer virus, and my most secret musings will be emailed to my contacts or posted on the internet (!).

The journal will be released on October 25, but is available now for pre-order through Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Book Depository, Amazon UK, Waterstones, Readings, and QBD. I’ll be sharing more from it in the next few weeks, but just wanted to give you a heads-up that it’s coming soon!

Do you journal? Is it something you’d like to try? Do you have some inner clutter you’d like to clear? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments!

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.}