Minimalist Shares 7 Ways to Live with Less
I have a personal question for you. Only you can answer, but you should ask: How much is enough? In a world of hoarders and minimalists, where do you fall on the continuum, and where would you like to fall?
I’ll tell you, if a hoarder is a 10 and a minimalist is a one, I’m a 3.5. I’d like to be a three. I don’t like clutter. I battle it daily. But I do like my stuff: my collections, my clothes, my books, my jewelry, my artwork, my travel memorabilia, my dishes, much of which, some could argue, is unnecessary.
Giving up much more feels like giving up coffee. Why? I don’t want to live an austere life. I do, however, want to live a well-edited life. And purging our excesses, my friends, like eating right and exercising, which are also good for you, takes discipline.
While I don’t strive to be a vegan ultra-triathlete monk, I do aim for self-improvement, so welcome tips and insights that lead toward better living.
Stuff — mine and yours — has been on my mind since I spoke last week with former “Hoarders” host Matt Paxton. He and I talked about what makes hoarders hoard, why they have such a deep need to accumulate and cling, and about the other extreme, minimalism, which he’s learned to embrace since merging households with minimalist Zoë Kim.
Curious about what drives minimalists to whittle their belongings to the essentials, I got Kim on the phone. An active Instagramer (@RaisingSimple) and author of “Minimalism for Families” (Althea Press), Kim kicked off our conversation with a disclaimer: “First,” she laughs, “I am not an organized person. Organizing is torture for me. I don’t want to make lists or fold clothes. I learned that the easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of it.”
Hard to argue with that.
Her journey toward minimalism began 12 years ago, she said. She was looking for ways to create less waste in her kitchen and saw photos of a minimalist’s home. “I felt jealous of all the freedom she had from stuff.”
She began embracing the lifestyle. As more kids came along — she’s a mother of four and, since blending families in November 2020 with Paxton, added his three to the household — she wanted to make sure her home and life didn’t get overwhelmed with stuff.
“I don’t necessarily love the task of decluttering, but I am highly attuned to the benefits,” she said. “I crave that outcome.” Her trigger is stuff on the floor, whether it’s the kids’ clothes or sofa pillows the dogs knock down.
“The reward mechanism comes from doing it,” she said. “Many people don’t realize how much what’s around them influences how they feel. I like letting people who feel overwhelmed know they don’t have to keep living like that.”
For those interested in sliding down the continuum toward living better with less, Kim offers these seven tips:
1. Take a risk-free trial. Pick one area you want to improve, like your bathroom. Put everything you haven’t used in a month in a box. Stash the box but don’t throw it away. See how it feels to live only with items you are actually using. That will give you the benefit without risking the loss. Then you can decide to let the box go.
2. Build a capsule wardrobe. Defined as a limited selection of interchangeable clothing, often classic pieces in neutral colors, a capsule wardrobe leads to having fewer clothes. “The goal is to have a curated number of items that you use and love, and that can be mixed and matched to create different outfits,” Kim said. That might be 15 tops and seven pairs of pants that you interchange plus essential athletic wear and pajamas. “Having fewer options makes deciding what to wear a lot easier.” For the record, I am not doing this.
3. Apply a filter. “What’s wrong with having 50 tops?” I wanted to know. “I don’t tell people how many tops they should own,” she said. “If they wear all 50, more power to them. But at some point, you have enough. Meanwhile, our culture encourages us to buy more, more, more. Minimalism is learning to put a filter on that.”
4. Designate a space. Stuff tends to expand to fill the amount of space we have. Make sure everything you own has a home. Dedicate one area to a category, say one shelf for coffee mugs, and don’t exceed it. Eventually, graduate to not filling the entire space. (Gasp!)
5. Practice one in one out. Get a new pair of shoes, get rid of a pair. If, after you purge, you don’t put a cinch on the flow of stuff coming into your home, you’ll be back where you started.
6. Donate seasonally. At the end of every winter and summer, pack up clothing that won’t go into the following year and donate it.
7. Lead by example. Getting Paxton and their seven kids to go with the less-is-more lifestyle took some psychology. “The key is to show the way,” she said. “I would never say you have to get rid of that. The individual has to decide to let go.” She trained her kids by narrating her own process and involving them. “I would ask them, how many spoons do we need? We’d come up with a number and give the rest away.” As for training Paxton, “He knew when we merged households that this was the way I lived. He came with a lot of stuff. I was careful not to say you can’t bring that. It worked out.”
CAPTION: Simple Living — Minimalist Zoë Kim and downsizing expert Matt Paxton share this farmhouse on the outskirts of Atlanta with their blended family of seven children ages nine to 17. Photo courtesy of Yardzen.