Small Spaces

Welcome NYTimes Readers!

The New Minimalism Book, click to purchase.

The New Minimalism Book, click to purchase.

Wow, oh wow. Cary was interviewed by THE NEW YORK TIMES for an article on digital decluttering.

This was the top of our dream list (besides being interviewed in person by Oprah or meeting any member of the Obama family). It seemed impossible when we began this blog in 2011. It seemed like a million miles away, when our book was just one long Google doc. But here we are! We’re incredibly grateful to Brian Chen for the interview and to all of you who’ve been cheering us on.

If you’re new, welcome!

To learn more about creating a beautiful, simple, streamlined life, read our bookNew Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.” (Penguin Random-House 2018), or our read more here, on the blog.

To read an excerpt of the New York Times article, continue below.

With a new year and a new Netflix show that features the Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo on the art of “Tidying Up,” many of us are experimenting with how to simplify our lives by purging our homes of unwanted possessions.

But what about the stuff we don’t see?

Think about the digital junk we hoard, like the tens of thousands of photos bloating our smartphones or the backlog of files cluttering our computer drives, such as old work presentations, expense receipts and screenshots we have not opened in years.

In addition to the digital mess, tech hardware adds to the pile of junk that sparks no joy in our lives. Everyone has a drawer full of ancient cellphones, tangled-up wires and earphones that are never touched. And the things we do use every day, like charging cables strewn around the house, are an eyesore.

Why are people so terrible about tech hoarding? Cary Fortin, a professional organizer for the company New Minimalism, summed it up: “We don’t really think about the cost of holding on to things, but we think about the cost of needing it one day and not having it.”

BTR: A Tiny Bedroom in Alamo Square

Welcome to the bedroom of client, "N".  Located in San Francisco's NOPA neighborhood, N has been living in the space for over 10 years (ahem, rent control).  She called New Minimalism because she was tired of feeling cramped, unorganized and overwhelmed by the things that had collected over the years in her tiny bedroom. Not to mention that N was recently engaged and was inspired to turn over a new leaf and refresh her space. 

The closet was a major source of frustration for N.  You can see in the before image (left) that it was pretty much unusable.  After 10 years of living a busy city lifestyle items had, well, accumulated.    Once the closet started to go down hill, the thought of cleaning it was too daunting for N and it quickly turned into a catch-all space.  In addition, the back of this closet has a deeper nook that, if you don't plan for, ends up becoming a trap for items to disappear... never to be found again (until we show up and start pulling everything out!).

The biggest design improvement here was removing the sliding doors (after: right image).  By doing so, we increased accessibility and unapologetically displayed the bright and beautiful clothes within. N has great taste and enjoys expressing herself through her fun wardrobe.  Granted the closet is small, yet we were able to hone down the clothing so that all of N's hanging garments had space in the closet while still making space for her fiance's coats.

Much of the contents that were hiding on the floor of the closet were donated, thereby opening up space to store shoes.  We carefully measured the space and included a tall and narrow shoe rack in the rear of the closet to store seasonal shoes (plus a pair of badass roller skates) in the nook.  The upper shelf became storage for R's work-related materials, N's winter accessories and purses.

Tip:  We start all NM projects by decluttering the wardrobe.  We love it so much, that we even created an Essential Wardrobe Decluttering Guide to share our process.

Above is a detail shot of the closet (left: before; right: after).  The top of the table kept N's makeup (silver box) and was a landing zone for work jackets (fuzzy draped sweater).  The shoes, not having space in the closet, gathered below the table. 

During the session, we learned that N has a very specific work wardrobe that is separate from her "play" wardrobe.  She has been working at her current job for six years and yet never carved out a space for her work-only clothing.  As such, it was easy for the work wardrobe to simply float about the room, getting lost or damaged in the process.  By removing the clothes N no longer used, we created space in four drawers of the dresser to contain all work clothing.  Now N knows exactly where her work clothes are, and if something is out of place, she knows where it should be. 

As for that silver makeup box, we decluttered the cosmetics that had expired, threw away the silver box which had seen better days, and repurposed the small 3-drawer stand as the new make-up holder.

 When we first came to N's room, various surface-level piles were the result of existing storage being over-stuffed and under-optimized.  The items N no longer needed crowded out the items that she used regularly.  By setting aside the time to declutter her clothing, N examined and shed the items that no longer served her in her current life and reclaimed the existing storage of her room.  

After two full-day sessions of decluttering, and the installation of some strategic hooks and shoe racks, we were able to transform N and her fiance's bedroom into a peaceful space; a space where they can come home after a busy day to rest and rejuvenate.

340-Squared: 5 ways to personalize a rental (and still get your deposit back)

Many of us understand that while renting does have its benefits, one of the “cons” is that any demolition or major changes to the space are usually out of the question.  With this post I hope to embrace the rental and detail ways to add personality to your space without having to pay out of your deposit.

1. White walls are the perfect backdrop for colorful art.  Don’t be afraid to put some (small) holes in the wall to hang your art or shelving.  Fork up $3 for some spackle at your local hardware store.  This handy little white paste easily hides nail holes when it’s time to move out.

2. Make unexpected art from paper items.  Paper is inexpensive and easy to hang.  Check out the stores in areas like Chinatown or Latin American districts – stores in these areas usually sell an abundance of paper goods that can double as décor.   You could even check out your local party store for unexpected inspiration.  Because everyday is a party, right?  Suspend a flock of lanterns, or in the case of my home, paper puffs.  Monochromatic is extra powerful.  I also use postcards as a rotating mini gallery on my refrigerator. The nice thing about paper is that it is not so precious.  It opens up a lot of possibility and can even be recycled when you’re ready for the next thing.  

3. Select a few small walls to use for an accent color.  Be strategic here so that the wall has visual impact, but is small enough so that it is easy to paint white again at the time of move out.  The wall I chose to paint pink has a white piece of furniture in front of it.  This contrast helps the furniture pop against the background.  I also did the opposite to my kitchen island and painted the base a dark brown, so that it would recede from the eye.  I used the same pink to paint a third accent wall as you enter the bathroom.  Here, the small touch of the string of black (paper!) flags makes the act of entering the stark white bathroom almost ceremonious.

4. Do not underestimate the power of task lighting.  Task lighting is basically a fancy way of saying lamps.  I think it might be impossible to have too many lamps.  They add instant mood and ambiance in what might otherwise be a fluorescent-lit, crumbling apartment (I’ve lived in my fair share).  In my current, thankfully non-crumbling space, I use inexpensive rope lighting to create a backlit effect behind my console.  Since this sits against the pink wall, it has the unexpected benefit of creating dimension, fading from orange to pink when illuminated.  It’s like a sunset every night in here!

5. Plants make a big difference with air quality and all around hominess.  If you have the sunlight, by golly use it!  If you are afraid of your black thumb, start with just one easy-to-care for plant and slowly build your mini indoor jungle from there.

So while renting may have its woes, there are lots of ways you can get creative.  I hope that you can use these simple tips to have a big impact!   And please, don’t be afraid to send your decorating questions my way:

340-Squared: Life Without Internet

Hello New Minimalists, Kyle here!  

While you already know that we are big fans of reducing physical clutter, we also have a passion for removing "time clutter" from our own spaces.  Cary gave up TV a few months ago (and loves it).  Around the same time I stopped my internet service.  Read on to learn more about Live Without Internet!  

It started as an experiment.  

How long I could “last” without it?  I find it entertaining that the question was dramatically posed as if it was a matter of life and death.  But with semantics aside, I thought it would be interesting see how much of this “need” was perceived versus real.  My motivation was two-fold: save money AND keep my home as the sanctuary I intended it to be. 

Live without TV vs. Life without Internet

I have not had a television for the last six years, so that was nothing new.  But internet?  We all know that the internet can still satisfy the appetite for television.  And I have happily engaged in commercial-free entertainment on my laptop.  But a few years back I read this quote, “Television has all the fun so that you don’t have to,” and it stuck with me.  Moving into my own space seemed like a great time to try out internet-free life.  

And so far?  No one has died as a result.  In fact, the biggest impact I’ve seen is that I have plenty of time to cook, clean and read when I am at home.  I also enjoy all three of those activities (yes, even cleaning), so is a pleasure to engage in them. 

In case of emergencies...

I'm not completely off the grid when I'm at home.  I still have my phone with wireless capabilities.  The world wide web is accessible when, for example, I need to lookup an address or the hours of a store.  If I couldn’t do that on occassion, I would be calling 411 a lot (which would defeat the whole money-saving purpose).  

I can also check my email or go online in a pinch.  But looking at a teeny, tiny screen deters me from entering an internet black hole.  Oh, and my microphone is broken and we all know muted videos are simply no fun.

Scrabble anyone?

The best benefit of Life Without Internet?  When my boyfriend is over, we are present with each other.  We listen to records.  We play games, like Scrabble and chess.  And we talk and make dinner together.  I have a small collection of DVDs, so we can watch a movie if the mood strikes. Sometimes we cuddle up and scroll through Instagram, but it is a joint activity. 

Without the omnipresent glow of a screen my home retains its retreat qualities, my guests and I are fully present with one another, and I am happier as a result.  

What do you think?  


340-Squared: Taking Out the Trash - A Monthly Chore?

*This is the second in a new series of posts from NM's cooler half, Kyle.  She's sharing the details on living the good life in a 340-square foot studio apartment. - Cary

What if each and every person was responsible for their own waste?  And every household had a mini landfill and compost pile in their backyard or alley?  

If that were the case -- where we all had to live within sight of our own waste -- I can bet that our consumption habits would immediately and drastically change.  We would think twice about purchases with massive amounts of packaging and our online shopping habits.  Likely the entire packaging industry would be flipped on it's head...a girl can dream, right?

As a student of sustainable design, I’ve learned that one of our greatest opportunities to relieve our planet from the strain of consumerism is to reduce our personal waste output.  

The topic of waste is something I love to think and talk about often with Cary, friends and family.  So those who know me well weren't surprised that my favorite part about moving into my own little studio was that I could now accurately monitor my personal trash output (nerd!). 

When I first moved into my studio, it was my goal to generate only one bag of trash per month. 

Full disclosure: this does not include recycling (which I also try to keep to minimum) nor does it include compost.  

As my first weeks past, I was surprised by how easy it was.  The paper bag under my sink was not filling nearly as quickly as I feared.  I choose paper bags because I inevitably have one in the house from when the times I forget to bring a reusable shopping bag.  They decompose faster and easier than plastic bags and since they stand on their own, I don’t need a bin.

Eww, you keep your trash for an entire month?

As a New Minimalist I don’t really shop for material goods anymore, which means that 95% of the items which cross my threshold are of the food variety.  And since I eat a primarily vegan diet, the plastics that occasionally accompany my food and need to be trashed are not of the mold-inducing variety.  Anything else can go directly into the compost.  

For the bathroom trash bin, I found a cache of extra-large ziplock bags from past travels, so I use those as mini liners.  These provide a tidy way to zip up and throw into the larger bag anything that has collected. 

A painting project put me over one bag of trash during my first month of 460-Squared.

So what about compost?  Doesn’t that smell?  

Yes, yes, it does.  And I live on the 3rd floor of an oddly-designed building (two keys are required to exit the building…to exit!), so I’m not about to bring my compost down to the basement every few days.  

Enter ingenious idea via my boyfriend: why not store your compost in the freezer? 

So I grabbed a plastic bin that I bought bulk spinach in and used that to hold my compost in the freezer.  It was perfect!  That is until my freezer started to overflow with old frozen produce.  Rinsing and reusing the bins was turning into a pain, which meant that I wasn’t taking it out as often, leading to Freezer Overflow Syndrome.  

First compost receptacle = spinach box. A little too funky to rinse and reuse (image via

After some thought, I realized I needed something to hold the compost in that I could also compost.  So I cut the top off a paper bag and, ta-da!  A close-to-perfect compost solution!  Now when it gets full, I grab the entire bag (and hope that it doesn’t melt into compost puddles by the time I reach the basement) and toss it in the compost.  So far so good.

A-ha! Paper bag in the freezer makes for the perfect compost bin.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the norm.  I recently had friends over for a dinner where we cooked fish.  I kept the packaging from the fish separated from my normal trash and took it out the next day with the recycling of (a few too many) wine bottles. 

The 3 Secrets to Making 1 Bag of Trash Work for You:

  1. Don't buy tons of junk.  This first step is really the most important.  In order to not release trash into the world, you have to first decide to not bring trash into your home.
  2. Recycle whenever possible.  Taking the time to rinse and sort recyclables leaving your home can make a huge impact on your waste and take little to no time.  Unsure about what you can recycle?  Learn more from your local government or read this guide
  3. Compost.  This is the trick that really makes it all possible.  It keeps my trash dry and stink free.
  • As a San Francisco resident, I am so lucky to have a weekly municipal compost pick-up (gone are the days in Brooklyn when my roommate and I would carry the compost 7 blocks to a nearby church!).  If you live in SF or many parts of the Bay Area you can click here to learn more.
  • If you do not have municipal compost, search online for farms or organizations who gladly take the nutrient dense discards.  
  • If possible, look for a location that is already along one of your existing weekly routes.  That way drop offs become second nature.  
  • For those of you who live in homes, check with your local garbage service about reducing the size of your garbage bin as you compost more.  Frequently this makes you eligible for a cheaper trash pick-up rate!  

Could you make it a month with one bag of trash?  I'd love to hear about your journey to creating less trash -- tell us about it on Facebook!

My second month's worth of trash. Want to join the 1 Bag challenge?

I Live in Wait... How Many Square Feet?

Hello dearest New Minimalism Readers!  

Kyle, Redesign Specialist here to introduce the newest series on the NM blog, 340-Squared in which I will share my insights from life in the one-room studio I now call home.  

Prior to this apartment, I had been living in a magical situation in a friend’s storefront-turned-living-space near Alamo Square.  It was raw, creative, and we had the freedom to experiment with décor (How about a giant pink geometric mural? Hell yes!).  Having lived there for over two years, the space saw its fair share of events and parties, and even played host to one beautiful wedding. But eventually the master tenant, and my dear friend, decided he wanted to live alone. 

While the housing market in San Francisco is moderately insane at the moment, finding a new home could not have come at a better time for me personally.  I loved my unique space, fun roommates and absurdly affordable rent, but my partnership with Cary and New Minimalism was just gaining traction and I longed for a sanctuary to gather my thoughts.  Additionally, having a near obsession with clutter-free spaces and clean floors, living alone would allow me to truly practice what I preach at New Minimalism.  In some ways, this was basically an investment in my career.  

Meet Our Newest Member: Kyle Quilici

I am SO excited to introduce you all to the newest member of the New Minimalism team: Kyle Quilici.  She will be heading up the redesign portion of our services when she's not busy drinking cold-brewed coffee or hanging with her pup, Dolly.  

I hope you'll enjoy getting to know her and I highly recommend following her redesign and small-living adventures!


What 5 words would you use to describe your personal style?

Bold, playful, clean, simple & a little weird.

How would you design your "perfect space?"

That’s a tough one.  A perfect space depends on its functionality and the people who use it.  If it supports the functions of its users and reflects the values of those users, then it is darn near perfect.  Of course, there are some basic elements that help beautify a space, such as abundant lighting (natural, as well as artificial), tall ceilings, good ventilation, and sweeping views.

How did you come to learn you were passionate about design?

When I think back, I have actually been “planning” spaces since I was a young.  I used to draw layouts of my dream ____ (insert little girl fantasy here).  I recently came across a drawing I made in middle school of the perfect horse stables.  Ha! In high school I began to develop my eye in photography class.  I continued photography throughout university, and found I was attracted to the personalities of interior spaces.  

Fast-forward three years: after some serious goal coaching and soul searching I whittled my vast interests in design down to interiors.  Living in New York at the time, I enrolled in an Interior Design Intensive at Parsons.  Dissatisfied to learn that the traditional teachings of Interior Design did not speak to my values for sustainability, I re-routed and pursued my certificate in Sustainable Design.

What objects in your home do you feel like best showcase your values and personal aesthetic?

This is an important question that everyone should be able to answer with, “Everything!”  I am intentional about every object that enters and lives in my home with me.  If I do not love it, if it does not serve me well, then it does not stay.  Living with roommates means that compromises are made.  But as long as we communicate with each other, everything runs smoothly.

What are you in love with these days?

I try to avoid trends, especially in terms of interior spaces.  But I am naturally attracted to the bold statements of large graphics.  The intersection of digital media and design is a fun place to explore.  I love the wall coverings from Flavor Paper and the playful products from AREAWARE.  

What are your favorite design books/mentos/websites?

I intentionally keep my rolodex pretty simple, otherwise I find that I exacerbate the desire to accumulate more material things.  To keep abreast of the general conversation, I regularly reference DesignSponge and The Satorialist.  And of course, Béa from Zero Waste Home is also an inspiration.

How do you find inspiration in your daily life?

It’s everywhere!  I make an effort to always pay attention, try new things and meet new people.

What do you think is the greatest misunderstanding people have about space clearing?

I think that people assume it is a huge undertaking.  While simplified living is a way of life, it is not done in one fell swoop.  It is a muscle that you learn to use and you use it regularly.  I have a basket in my room for clothes to donate/sell, just like I have for laundry.

What is your favorite part of helping people clear their space?

Satisfied clients!  I love when they begin to understand the real energetic effects of their belongings and feel empowered to take control.  I also personally love the challenge of figuring out the best use of a space.  I always loved Tetris as a child.

Why do you feel space clearing is important?

When you feel at peace in your surroundings you can focus your energy on attaining greater goals in life.  I must acknowledge that having too much is a luxurious problem to have.  So, I see space clearing as my contribution to the reality of my immediate community.  I view the world as one large, dynamic ecosystem.  If some people have too much, and others have too little, why not help to redistribute some of those goods?  Of course, solid design plays a pivotal role as well – investing in durable goods that do not deplete the natural systems we depend on is also quite important.