decluttering

3 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How To Get Over Each)

This article was originally posted on mindbodygreen.com

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image // via



As a minimalist and a professional declutterer, I've seen firsthand how changing your space can change your life. I've seen just how powerful the transformation from a cluttered and overwhelming home to one that is simple, beautiful, and streamlined can be.

The process of creating these spaces is actually quite simple: Step one is to go through your stuff. Then, you keep the very best of it—the items that are your favorite, that inspire and delight you, and that are useful to you right now—and donate the rest.

 But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. Our relationship with stuff can be complicated!

According to one new poll by Porch, a digital network of home professionals for hire, over 61 percent of us are ashamed of the extra stuff we hold onto. Let that sink in.

So why do we do it? Why do we hold onto stuff that makes us feel so bad? 

Imagine a baseball cap. An objective observer might note that the cap is worn out, ragged, and ill-fitting. But to the owner, this is the hat they got on their first date with their first love. It's the hat they were wearing when their team finally won. It's the hat they always grab when they go to the beach. Or it's a hat that works perfectly well and doesn't need to be replaced, thank you very much.

All of those reactions to the cap are actually about much larger forces: our relationships, our sense of self, our values. So maybe you know the hat is on the fritz, but it's still hard to let it go.

Porch also detailed three "reasons" or mental blocks that we most frequently use to convince ourselves to hold onto items. Their findings aligned completely with my experience and the archetypes I detailed in the book I co-authored with my business partner, New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living.

The good news is that these blocks can be fairly easily worked through. With self-awareness and self-kindness, you can release these shame-inducing items and create the home you've always dreamed of.

Here are the three main reasons people give for holding onto clutter, and how to overcome them:

Reason No. 1: "I might need it someday."

Archetype: Practical

Practical people are mind-driven, tend to be logical, strategic and pragmatic; they see potential use in all objects.

The key for the Practical personality is to reframe what exactly makes something useful and to elevate your standards accordingly.

So rather than asking yourself if a third box of paper clips is potentially useful, ask yourself if those items are useful to you right now. Consider not just the costs of perhaps needing to replace something someday but also the costs of keeping items that you don't need. How much space do all of these items take up? How much time do you waste hunting for things you do need or wondering what you have around?

Reason No. 2: "It was expensive."

Archetype: Frugal

Frugal types tend to be very self-aware and clear on their priorities. They are intentional about where they spend their precious resources. They don't like the idea of wasting, whether that be money, time, or energy. This gets tricky when Frugal folks come up against items that aren't useful or wanted but for which they've invested precious resources.

The most important lesson for the Frugal archetype is self-forgiveness.

It can be frustrating to have made a purchasing "mistake." While you can't go back in time and undo that action, you do get to choose how you feel about it moving forward. You can keep items you regret and feel a pang of guilt and shame each time you see them. Or you can acknowledge the sunk cost, internalize the bigger reason this investment didn't pan out, and let the item—and your negative feelings—go and vow to do better next time.

Reason No. 3: "It brings back good memories."

Archetype: Connected

Connected folks are heart-led; they value relationships and shared memories above all else. In general, if objects elicit positive feelings, this is a good thing. But homes oriented toward memories can quickly become museums of the past that don't allow space for new experiences and relationships.

Allow one to stand for many.

Don't feel like you need to part with everything from your beloved grandmother or treasured travels. Instead, select an item or two to represent the relationship or experiences you want to recall. Rather than sticking all of these items in a closet, choose to display and interact with those couple of items and then graciously let go of the rest.

How to declutter when someone you love has died

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There is a reason that the Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning made such a splash in American culture: a significant portion of us either receive or will leave a lifetime’s worth of possessions for someone else to sort out.

The main challenges of decluttering when someone you love has died are threefold. First, in the state of grief and loss, it’s really hard to untangle our desire to feel connection to that person with wanting to be surrounded by their stuff.

Second, it can be overwhelming for anyone to declutter their own lives. When you add another person’s stuff on top and it can feel impossible to know where to even begin.

Third, we know the stories of our own things and that can lead to us being attached. But with our loved one’s belongings sometimes we won’t know what things are or if our loved one valued them, so we will assign value and importance to everything.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with this now, please know we are sending you a big hug, that we are so sorry for your loss, and that we believe in your ability to both honor and cherish the memory of your loved one while living in a space that feels light, calm, and supportive to you.

I’ve been thinking over this subject a lot but it was a question that came in from a reader that inspired me to get this is all out. Below I’ve included a version of the question (removing any personal details for the sake of anonymity) we received and my letter in response.

The most important takeaways are these:

  1. Decide if you’re at a place in your mourning and grief where you are actually ready to begin decluttering. It’s ok if you aren’t. Be kind to yourself and take your time.

  2. Start with your own belongings. This really serves as a warm up. A chance to experience decluttering in a less emotionally challenging area.

  3. Choose a few of your favorite, most treasured items of your loved one. Give these items places of honor in your home and display them in a way that brings you joy and helps you feel connected to your loved one and their memory.

  4. Move into an easier category of your loved one’s belongings. This will ideally be quite small and not emotionally burdensome, like: athletic shoes, tupperware, or office supplies.

  5. Go at a pace and scale that feels right to you. It’s important to stay within the bounds of what feels safe and good to you, and to give yourself a break if you stumble upon something emotionally complicated when you’re not expecting it.

  6. Select an organization (or several) that were meaningful to your loved one or to you and donate their items there. Trying to sell belongings usually extends an already trying process and can feel invalidating when the financial value does not match our emotional experience of the object.

  7. Offer up a few belongings to any interested family members but don’t transfer the burden of decluttering to them or a future generation. This is one of the kindest things you can do for others.

 
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My aunt lived with me for 15 years and she passed away last year. I haven't been able to go through her closet and donate her things because it makes me cry. I also have china, crystal, and silver plate things that my aunt had and also inherited more from her mother and aunt. I also have a lot of craft items, fabric, and various other collections my parents bought me (they’re gone, too). My problem is I don't want to just give away some of these things because they are valuable, but in speaking with an antique dealer, those items aren't wanted. I have no other family so I can't give anything to relatives. I feel so overwhelmed with all my stuff I don't know what to do or where to start. I would follow your directions and start with wardrobe, but I can't do my aunt's clothes yet. Any advice? Thank you in advance for your time and expertise.

Hi there,

First of all, I am so sorry for loss. It makes so much sense that sorting through your aunt’s belongings would be hard. So I guess I would start there, and just encourage you to be kind and gentle with yourself. What you're going through is incredibly challenging and unfortunately very common. We've worked with a lot of clients who've lost parents, spouses, and other family members and it is hands down one of the most challenging projects to undertake.

I'd love to offer up a few pieces of advice or thoughts to mull over. The first would be: do you feel ready to tackle your aunt’s belongings now? It's ok to take your time and to process your grief and return to this later. If, however, you're feeling like you're really ready to make a change and just overwhelmed trying to determine where to begin, read on.

To begin, I'd encourage you to start with your own possessions in a category that will be easy for you. This will be a place where you can get a few big wins, start to make a dent in the amount of stuff you have, and familiarize yourself with the process of letting go. For some people, this could be books (which could then be donated to the local library), while for others it might be kitchenware (which could be donated to an organization that helps to resettle refugees, houses those experiencing homelessness, or helps domestic abuse survivors). Feel free to start really small, like just with athletic shoes or scarves. 

Once you're feeling confident and starting to experience some benefits of letting go you can then make moves into more emotionally complex zones. Before touching any of your aunt's goods, I'd go through and select a few really prized items that you love and remind you of aunt in a happy way. Maybe you'll display a small collection of her necklaces, or a frame a beautiful scarf of hers, or bring four of her best china teacups into your cabinets to use each morning. This will help ensure that your aunt's presence is felt in your home and will give you space to release more items.

You could then move to a tiny category of your aunt's, like bracelets or slacks. Depending on how she liked to dress, those items could be donated to Dress for Success or a local Senior Center or Salvation Army. From there, you can expand into larger or more complex categories, always going at a pace and scale that feels safe and good to you. Usually decluttering gets easier and easier as you go along, but know that grief comes in waves and that you might stumble upon a really tender item when you’re not expecting it. Take the time to process your feelings and honor yourself if and when you need to take a break.

In terms of the items that the antique dealer told you there wasn't a market for, I'm afraid my advice might not be what you are hoping for: let them go. It can be so hard when we've invested money into belongings to simply donate them, but the energy and time and emotional space we take up by trying to sell things at a fraction of their perceived value is ultimately far harder and less rewarding. Instead, I'd select an recipient organization that is important to you or to your aunt and know that these items will be utterly treasured and beloved by people who've not been fortunate enough to have such beautiful things in their life before. Again, I'd suggest one of several organizations that work on housing and helping to create stable, meaningful lives for the vulnerable among us. It might feel really hard as you prepare yourself to let these items go, but once they're gone I think you might be surprised by how much lighter (physically, emotionally, spiritually) you feel in your home. 

We’re here if you have any other questions or would like to work with us directly; many hands can indeed make light work.

Wishing you the best,

Cary

What is "Waste"?

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"I can't get rid of that! It's in perfectly good shape—I don't want to waste it."

I couldn't begin to count the number of times a lovely client has said some version of the line above. Kyle or I will be holding up an object and encouraging the client the consider donating it, but the powerful urge to "not be wasteful" prevents them from letting go.  

Mind you that most of the items in question are unused, often never-used. Sometimes the items  are still in their original boxes or still have their tags on. Frequently they're covered with dust, so far in the back of the pantry or the bottom of the closet that the very same client did not realize they still owned that item until we excavated it for them.  

These unneeded belongings take up precious physical and psychic space in our clients homes and yet they seem to hold some power over otherwise very astute and self-aware people.

Why would we rather keep items we never have and almost certainly never will use—things that are only in our way, clogging our homes and weighing on our minds—than let them go?  

Why is it viewed as wasteful to donate something that you don't need, but it's not wasteful to let that same item expire in the pantry, dry up in the cupboard, or go out of style in the closet?

The most thoughtful and comprehensive answer I've ever heard to that question was shared with me by a ZenDesk employee when Kyle and I spoke at their headquarters last month. 

This gentleman grew up in rural seaside Scandinavia where there simply wasn't opportunity to acquire many possessions. Items were hard to come by and expensive, therefore objects that were purchased were done so very mindfully and items owned were taken care of and mended exquisitely. 

Even as greater wealth and connection to commercial centers rose throughout his childhood and early adulthood, his culture's way of relating to objects did not change: things were to be acquired only with great intention and taken care of with great thought. There was no mindless online shopping, no shopping as hobby or habit, no President's Day Sales binges. He was taken aback when he moved to America; shocked by the constant high level of acquisition we seem to be in, even as our homes already overflow with stuff. 

Through his observations of his friends and co-workers he arrived at the following conclusion: in America it's viewed as wasteful to give up "perfectly good" items that you've already acquired, while in Scandinavia it's viewed as wasteful to acquire things beyond your needs to begin with.

In America it’s viewed as wasteful to give up “perfectly good” items that you’ve already acquired, while in Scandinavia it’s viewed as wasteful to acquire things beyond your needs to begin with.

We need to redefine "waste" and our relationship to it.

At New Minimalism we fully support our clients' noble desire not to waste. In fact, we want to strengthen and emphasize that no-waste muscle—we also want to apply it earlier in the consumption lifecycle as the Scandinavians do. 

By the time an item enters your home, most of the wastefulness has already occurred: money has been spent, resources have been used up, and an object we never needed gets added to the pile of underutilized items. 

Typical donations haul from a single day session with a client. 

So let's all go Scandinavian.

Americans are already in love with Scandinavian design and the cozy, candlelit hygge trend. What if the quickest way to live this lifestyle is not by buying more flannel blankets or wishbone chairs but by embracing the root cause of this elegant, refined way of life: greatly reduced, intentional, kind consumption?

Maybe is was embrace that Scandinavian definition of waste—instead of acquiring, storing, tending to, paying off so much stuff—we too will have time to light a dozen candles and have a relaxing weeknight meal with friends!

You Get To Choose

"You get to choose how you feel.  You get to choose how you feel about everything."

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time.  Danielle LaPorte in her sultry-voiced, slam poet wisdom said this in a recorded interview several years ago.*  I have relistened to it no less than a dozen times.

You get to choose how you feel about everything.

This wisdom can be applied to everyday shit-hitting-the-fan kind of moments (Bay Area traffic, I'm looking at you).  But on a deeper level, I think it's a powerful tool for reflecting on our stuff.  And specifically:

How your stuff makes you feel.

This past year I've been treading through the decluttering landmine of Childhood Memorabilia.  My parents decided to downsize and moved out of my childhood home this past August.  This meant that all my photos, art projects, writing, diaries, awards, etc. which had to-date lived in "my room" were suddenly mine to deal with.  

 

A daily, yet precious memory from childhood.  Around the dinner table with my siblings: Lauren, Robin, Zack and myself.  Yep, I know I had killer bangs. 

Arriving at my San Francisco apartment inside of a box and large suitcase were memories from every part of my life, from birth until I moved to California at 24 years old: every sports ribbon I'd earned, every photo I'd ever taken, even my first pair of shoes.

Where Do I Begin?

Opening these boxes up, it felt like everything inside them was a treasure: a marker of a time in my life that could never be recreated.  Each object or written page felt like a crucial piece in the puzzle of "who I am."

Not only that, everything had been kept for so long already.  They'd been stored for decades in Illinois and then lovingly boxed up and brought to California by my mom.  

Obviously, this would all have to stay.  Or would it?

There is a psychological principle called the Endowment Effect (look at me, mom and dad -- I'm using my college education!) which says that the longer we've had something in our possession, the more value it holds in our eyes.  Combine this with a healthy dose of nostalgia and suddenly it seems unfathomable to part with a single item from our personal history.

And yet, in my attempt to match my actions with my words (aka: trying not to be a total hypocrite), I decided to question everything and go through each item, one by one.

The Oriole cabin at Camp Lake Hubert circa 1993.  A brief but catalytic and deeply happy memory.  Also, this photo was mailed to me by my camp bestie, Annelyse, during our 3 year penpal spell.  Rad, right?

The Oriole cabin at Camp Lake Hubert circa 1993.  A brief but catalytic and deeply happy memory.  Also, this photo was mailed to me by my camp bestie, Annelyse, during our 3 year penpal spell.  Rad, right?

Question Everything

On the surface, each item was of somewhat equal merit: it was from my past and had, at some point, been deemed worthy of saving.  

So to help me through this process I called on Danielle LaPorte and decided to pay attention exclusively to how the item made me feel.  

While everything was tinged with a bit of nostalgia, some created a sense of real happiness and joy while others fell flat and others still called up for me strong feelings of sadness or isolation or embarrassment (ah, adolescence).  

The Criteria

The most joyful surprise of this entire process was noticing the threads of values and narratives which have remained constant throughout my life.  Nearly every item I kept spoke to the traits and values that I still love about myself: family, creativity, athletics, adventure, and writing.  

The things I kept: hysterical little notebooks that I've written creative stories and diary entries throughout my life, my songbook from camp, the journal from my NOLS trip in Wyoming, elementary school sports team photos (me and my tiny legs in huge shin guards with a soccer ball on my knee), elementary school class photos (some of those teachers shaped my life more than they could ever know -- Miss Badran, if for some crazy reason you happen to be reading this, thank you), a couple of my prized swimming awards, and nearly every family photo.  Just typing out this list makes me smile!

What I Let Go

1. Items that "fell flat".  This category mostly includes objects of achievement, ie: reports I got good grades on but could not care less about their content or don't even recall creating.  Also, objects from areas that aren't important to me: participation awards for mandatory science fairs and spelling bees, photos of people who I knew briefly and never kept up with, yearbooks in general.  

2. Things that made me feel negative emotions.  Photos from my surprise 16th birthday (all of that attention as a teenager still in braces felt mortifying), inappropriate notes from friends during my rebellious years (a shameful defiant, bratty period), a slew of generally ugly photos from said teenage/braces years (don't worry, there are still plenty in our family albums that my kids can tease me about).

On the shores of Lake Superior (my favorite place in the world) with my siblings (3 of my favorite people in the world). 

On the shores of Lake Superior (my favorite place in the world) with my siblings (3 of my favorite people in the world). 

What's Your Story?

I'm not encouraging a false sense of who we once were or a rewriting of history.  That time I snuck out in eighth grade and scared the crap out of my parents who then grounded me forever?  I will never forget that. But I also don't need to be continually faced with reminders of who I was, frozen in a particular time period during my personal evolution.  Of course, I still suffer, I still feel sad, but I choose not to have things that trigger those emotions in my home. 

As humans, we are given the gift of narrative.  We might think that we tell events exactly as they were, but we don't.  We tell things as we saw them, through our own eyes from our perspective based on our own values and stories.  And so I'm deciding to only surround myself with things that create and inspire a positive narrative in my life.  

 

*PS- This quote was from Ms. LaPorte's interview with Mastin Kipp on The Daily Love Extravaganza 2012.  I have this saved to my iTunes but unfortunately could not find a live link!

New Minimalism + Sunset Magazine

Hello dearest readers,

Kyle, here to share an exciting announcement with you!

New Minimalism has had the pleasure of working with Sunset Magazine in a variety of ways over the past year.  We realize that while we have Instagram'd these events, we never fully explained them to you, our faithful readers.  So here is a little background:

Last fall, we were hired by Sunset Magazine's Creative Director to declutter her home office and art space at her family's adorable bungalow in the East Bay.

A peek at our decluttering project with Sunset's Creative Director

A peek at our decluttering project with Sunset's Creative Director

Soon after, the team at Sunset was gearing up to relocate from their infamous, pastoral Menlo Park headquarters to a new, urban office in Oakland's vibrant Jack London Square.  Their offices in Menlo Park were spacious (think Mid-century modern California campus, surrounded by lush gardens, and towering Redwood trees); most of the employees had private offices with extensive built-in bookcases.  Naturally, over the 60 years that Sunset inhabited the space, items had, well, accumulated.  The future move to an open-concept, shared workspace in Oakland was daunting, to say the least.  

Enter New Minimalism!  During our 3 hour workshop with the editorial staff, we first visioned the future space together and then explained our 5 most-relevant philosophies as applied to Sunset's current situation.  The workshop went amazingly!  The Sunset team was so engaged, thoughtful and inquisitive (I mean, really, a bunch of first-class journalists are the best students anyone could ask for).

After the workshop, Sunset wrote a series of blog posts on the subject!  We were so honored that the content resonated and that Sunset was assimilating our ideas.  If you missed those posts, you can view them here:

Sunset's Great Clutter Challenge

10 Tips for Clutter Control

Overcoming Attachments

And finally, we were mentioned in the print, in the December 2015 issue!  Cary captured it perfectly on Instagram when she wrote,

"This little blurb represents a huge dream come true! Discovering Sunset was one of my favorite things about moving to San Francisco in 2008. It's been my favorite periodical, my ultimate guide, my top source for all dream images and phrases... To see our business mentioned on its pages is just magical."

THE BIG NEWS

Which leads me to the present day news that is oh, so exciting...

New Minimalism has been invited to speak at Sunset's annual Celebration Weekend on May 14th & 15th!  

Celebration Weekend is a HUGE event with hundreds of vendors, influential speakers and tastemakers.  The goal of the event is to essentially bring the magazine to life.  What's even more special is that this year marks the debut of Sunset's new Test Gardens in Sonoma, CA!  Historically, the event has been held at the Menlo Park campus.  And since relocating to Oakland, Sunset has opened their new Test Gardens and Test Kitchen in Sonoma.  It will be exciting and new for everyone!

Cary and I will be speaking at 12:15pm on Saturday and Sunday, at the Home Stage.  Our topic: 5 Tools to Create an Inspiring, Minimal Home.  You can view the entire Presentation Schedule here.  

If you live in the Bay Area, and would like to join, you can buy tickets here.  (Some of the tickets are already sold out, so don't delay!  Here is a link describing the different ticket packages.)

GIVEAWAY

And our final announcement - we want to share the love with you guys, and are giving away a complimentary pair of General Admission tickets for Saturday, May 14 to one lucky reader (General Admission tickets for Saturday are already sold out online).  

How to enter?  Simply comment below on this post, describing why you would like to attend!  We will announce the lucky winner on Friday, April 22.  GOOD LUCK ! ! !

Love is an Overused Word

When working with clients to declutter their homes, we ask a lot of questions.  We look at items through a variety of lenses to help our clients determine whether or not an item is adding value to their life (and should stay) or is no longer relevant or needed (and should be donated).  

Some of these questions include: 

  • Is this a duplicate?
  • If you needed it, could you use something else in its place?  
  • Would you buy it again if it cost twice as much? 
  • And the ever popular (yet not always effective for reasons I am about to explain) question, do you love it?

 

Let’s imagine we are helping a client declutter her handbags (feel free to insert "backpacks," "costumes," "electronics" or "sneakers" if those are a better fit for you).  After staging all handbags for easy decision-making, Cary holds up the first bag.  Our client responds, “I love that bag, I use it all the time.”  Ok, we put it in the keep pile.  Cary holds up a second bag and again the client says, “I love that bag, I use it all the time.”  Ok, keep pile.  Fast-forward to twelve handbags later, our client has said the same thing for all 12 bags.  

Ok, waaaait a minute.  Do you really love all 12 separate handbags?  And use them all the time?  First of all, it is physically impossible to use all 12 handbags all the time.  So let’s just remove that reasoning from the table.  

Secondly, what about the true meaning of love? It is a noun, defined as “an intense feeling of deep affection”.  Do you truly love even one handbag? Like actually love it, the way you love your grandmother?  Or your kids?  Or your pet? Would you do anything for this handbag?

When you start to use a word like “love” to describe all your handbags, how is it possible to differentiate between them?  What if it came down to having just 2 and only 2?  What if your house were on fire and you could only grab 2 handbags on the way out, which ones make the cut?  (Never mind that if your house were actually on fire I’m guessing you would ditch the handbags altogether and save the family photos!)

Marie Kondo uses the lens, “spark joy”.  If an item “sparks joy”, then it earns the right to stay in your life.  And while that lens may work for some people, others first need to define what joy means for themselves.  Doing so requires a grounded self-awareness that won’t work for the people who claim to love everything that they own.

So, let’s say you are decluttering on your own and you find yourself rationalizing that you love all your items.  What do you do then? 

At this point, you have to pivot and use a different lens to look at your things.  You have to be even more discerning. You start by slowing down, taking a deep breath, and stepping back. Reexamine your use of the word love. Give it back the power it was originally intended to have. Be selective when using it in your day-to-day life. 

Because here’s the thing - even if you love something, you can still donate it!  

I know - it’s shocking!  It is possible to concurrently appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of an item and let someone else own it.  The act of cherishing an item and donating it are not mutually exclusive, in fact, those two acts, at their heart, are probably positively correlated

Because things are made to be used, and when they are not being used you are not honoring the inherent usefulness, the time and energy it took to extract those resources, dye the fabric, product the zippers and assemble the materials. 

So if you actually, truly love your 12th favorite handbag, you'll understand that you are not using it with the frequency that this wonderful bag deserves, and you'll donate it, so that it becomes someone else’s No. 1, favorite handbag that they use all the time.

 

BTR: A Growing Family in Cole Valley (Part 2)

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Welcome to Part 2 of the Behind the Redesign for a wonderful family in the quaint San Francisco neighborhood of Cole Valley.  New Minimalism was called in to make room for the newest member of the family, and what was standing in the way of this goal was a lot of stuff.  

If you recall from Part 1, during our first session we tackled decluttering the garage to make space for the home office.    On the second session, which we are sharing today, we decluttered the contents of the home office to make room for the nursery.  These photos share the after after, once the nursery furniture had been thoughtfully acquired and decorations installed.  All after after photos are by the talented and all around wonderful Ryan Devisser.

Above you can see that the home-office before (left) had turned into a room not just to hold office items, but also to store things that didn't have a proper home elsewhere in the house.  As the papers started to pile up for these busy working parents, the task of clearing and sorting everything became overwhelming.  

As is so common, once the clutter became overwhelming our clients found it was easier to close the door than to sit down and sort it all.  In the after photo (right) you can see what a stunning transformation this room undertook.  Our client selected a fun teal color for the carpet tiles, and chose the brand FLOR for their commitment to using sustainable materials. The IKEA bookshelf turned on its side was purchased second-hand.

We find that all of our clients are experiencing some type of significant transition when we work with them.  In this case, a second child on the way was the perfect time to prioritize and make room for life's exciting next chapter.

Again, the before and after shots are quite remarkable!  Before the desks were crowded with papers and extraneous office supplies.  We culled a "capsule" version of the office supplies to relocate to the new office in the garage, utilizing the yellow lamp and San Francisco map. After, the room displays playful art and a kid-friendly color palette.

A point of discussion was whether to keep the classic white Parsons desks to possibly be used in the future.  We encouraged our clients to consider the hidden costs of keeping these items "just in case."  The desks would need to be stored in a hard-to-access, already-crowded attic.  They would require time to maintain, energy to keep from being damaged as their growing family's needs changed, and the mental space to remember that the desks are there in the first place in the case that your future self has a need for said desk.  In the end, our clients took our advice and sold the desks on Craigslist.  They reported that we were relieved to send the desks to a new home and used the money towards furnishing the new nursery.

Sometimes the cost of keeping an item outweighs the cost of potentially having to re-buy that same item in a hypothetical future date.  

The crib was purchased second hand from Golden Gate Mothers Group.  Our client describes this group as a "gold mine" for previously-used, but like-new baby items.  

TIP:  If you are expecting a child, research to see if there is local mother's group in your area.  Not only are Mother's Groups a wonderful community to connect with, they also provide a wealth of information, and hey, you can even furnish your nursery without buying new!

The closet was a big challenge because it was densely filled with many small objects.  We are amazed at the focus of these clients because we were able to sort all this on one day!   While uniform containers give the appearance of order, the contents of the boxes were no longer relevant for our clients' needs. 

By removing some unneeded items from the entry closet (not pictured), we were able to relocate the extra jackets (shown above) that had sneakily made their way into the office closet. After, the closet is 100% dedicated to the new baby.

The dresser was also found second-hand at Golden Gate Mother's Group.  We love that our clients took to heart our design suggestions.  How beautiful is this space?!  And hardly anything in terms of baby furniture was purchased from the store.  It takes a little effort on the back end to find your second-hand resources, but the reduced price tag and earth-friendly satisfaction is well worth it.  

This gorgeous and serene space is a testament to our clients' laser-focus during our sessions.  With the second baby on the way, they were 100% ready to let go of the items that were no longer serving them.  And they have the closets to prove 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.

Drastically Increase Your Standards

The average American home has 300,000 items inside it.  Three hundred thousand things.  

How many of those things do we use in an average day?  Month?  Year?

How many of those things do we love?  How many "spark joy"?  How many support us in becoming our best and fullest selves?

My guess: very, very few.  

Clutter builds up when we stop making decisions about our stuff.  

Rather than choose which wrapping paper we like most, we buy all 13 rolls in a jumbo package. Rather than donate clothing that no longer fits, we hang it back up "in case I need it." Rather than recycle back issues of a magazine, we stick it on the shelf to read "later."

It's those items -- the ones that we don't use or love or need -- which slowly fill our closets and drawers, our garages and attics.  

Those are the items that make it hard to see the painting on the wall that you do love, hard to find your one snuggliest pair of ski socks, hard to clear off the table to share a meal with the people you love.

When we work with our clients, the first thing we do is touch each and every item to decide what stays and what goes.  

The end result is a simple, easy to maintain, spacious and inspiring home.  

But make no mistake, it's real work to make a decade's worth of decisions about your wardrobe (or kitchen or living space) in one morning.   

And unfortunately, things don't stop trying to enter our homes after these purges.  Birthdays, holidays, malls, sales, heirloom items -- these occasions for clutter to re-enter your home will continue to occur.

The easiest way to ensure that you're not sorting another 300,000 items in 10 years?  

Nip the clutter in the bud by having extremely high standards for what you allow into your home.

 

3 ways to be radically more selective about what you allow into your space:

1) Say "Thank you, no."  

Gifts, hand-me-downs, goodie bags and freebies are among the most pernicious items that continually attempt to enter our homes.  Acknowledge the kindness of whoever is attempting to give you that corporate logo-filled mug or give your child a plastic bag full of small plastic things.  Then warmly say "Thank you, but I actually don't need any ____ today!" and continue on with your clutter-free day.

2) Shop mindfully.  

Stores are designed to make us pick up last minute items.  Brilliant folks with PhD's have spent decades learning about how to appeal to our senses and override our natural decision making process so that we leave the store with a dozen extra items never knew we "needed" until right now.  

Be prepared: have a list, know exactly what you are looking for, and create a budget for non-necessary items.

3) Always remember your big goals, hopes and dreams.  

When you are faced with having a new item brought into your space, determine right away if the object supports the greater lifestyle that you are creating for yourself.  If it's a no, immediately into the donation bin it goes!

 

NM Book Review: 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' by Marie Kondo

Only a few years ago the terms minimalism, tidying or decluttering were guaranteed conversation killers.  

In particular, this word "minimalism" seemed to jumble around in people's mouths like a pile of unpleasant tasting pebbles.

Now if I'm at a dinner party, merely the mention our business name sets off hour-long discussions.  People I've known for 5 minutes share with me the deepest pain points in their homes, talk about past attempts at decluttering, ask me about the craziest room I've worked in or if I've ever given something away and regretted it.  

And honestly?  It's awesome.  

Kyle and I started doing this work because we love it and believe in it.  So this larger cultural shift in awareness and interest in simplified living is of unending excitement for us.  Much of the attention is due to the higher visibility of some of the amazing innovators in our industry (Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Bea Johnson). 

The latest rising star on the scene is our Japanese spirit-sister, Marie Kondo, whose book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" has become a worldwide best-seller.  

This book has been a sensation in the general public, among our clients and for us -- making it the perfect inaugural //NM Book Review.  Below I've cherry-picked my favorite 10 principles from "Life-Changing" and organized them according to a few topics:

  • what we learned from Marie,
  • where we agree with her work, as well as
  • a few things that we do differently at NM.

What Marie clarified for us:

1.  Start with your wardrobe.  While clients call us in to work on a variety of rooms, every time we begin with that person's wardrobe the entire process is clearer, the results more impressive.  This is because our clothes are the foundation of our relationship to the material world: it's our second skin, protects us from the elements and offers a means of self-expression.  And this is why we have an amazing resource for your wardrobe coming out in April!

2.  Knowing what you don't have feels good.   For me, one of the ultimate highlights of the book was Marie's response to the most common fear our clients have: “I might need it some day.”  The truth is that we rarely "need" these things we haven't used in years (often never used at all). The problem with rarely used items is uncertainty: we never know where they are or if we even have them.  We must search our house for extended periods of time, frustration growing with each passing moment.   But when you've done a thoughtful and thorough decluttering of items that don't bring you joy (including, eh-hem, all the fear based "I might need it" items), you'll end up knowing exactly what you have and don't have in your home.  You save so much time by not looking for something that is not in your home and can instead start the process of making something else do or borrowing an item.  

Where we agree:

3. Highly impactful decluttering requires a commitment.  The process that Marie refers to as “putting your whole home in order” is to us synonymous with decluttering your space.  Whether you own a large home or rent a bedroom in a shared apartment, this process will take everyone at least 2 full days to complete -- 1 day for your wardrobe, 1 for the rest of the items in your bedroom, 1 for each room or category beyond.  Anything short of touching every single item in your space simply will not produce deep and long-lasting results.   

4.  The results of decluttering are life-changing and magical.  After we've worked with clients, they tell us how much lighter, happier, more free they feel.  They spend less time on errands, are far more selective about what new items they let in their home, and find that packing, hosting and cleaning is a breeze.  But even beyond those obvious benefits are the mystical and miraculous ones: clients clear out their closets and then get engaged; they sort their kitchen and lose 10 pounds or their skin clears up; they get their bedrooms in order and then quit their jobs to travel the world/start a new business/start a family.  By removing the heavy and stagnant items and their energy from your space, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities.

5.  Complicated storage systems are an excuse hoard.  By doing a thoughtful decluttering of every item in your home, a natural organization will emerge.  All of the bins and baskets and color-coded binders that supposedly create organization are just pretty ways of holding excess stuff, aka: clutter.  See if you have any of our top 7 biggest offenders in your home. 

6.  If you don't need it, your family doesn't either.   During about 50% of our sessions, a pile of unneeded items is created for the client's mom/brother/friend.  By "gifting" these items to other people in your life, you're simply deferring the decision of what to do with said item and passing the guilt onto the receiver.  Our rule: don't pass things on to others unless they have a specifically stated need or desire for the exact item.

7.  Do it once.  Do it right.  Then never do it again.  Like Marie, we have never come back to do the same space twice.  This is because we don't skimp or cut corners on the process.  We clear every single bobby pin from each junk drawer and touch every single item in your space.  It absolutely takes less time initially to buy a storage tray and pack your stuff in (the time you spend searching for things and organizing that drawer don't emerge until later...).  But by investing time into this process upfront you don't just get a clean room once, you finish with an understanding your relationship to your stuff, a clear sense of what is important to you, and with the habit of being far more selective about what you allow in.  If you do it right, once is enough. 

What //NM does differently:

8.  Donate, don't trash.  Among our top values at New Minimalism are: the environment (honoring it, treading lightly where possible) and our community (sharing, being compassionate, adding value to those around us).  While it's true that most people have too much stuff, just dumping everything in the trash is a short-term personal solution to a much larger problem.  Our clients are amazing people -- they have clutter because they don't want to be wasteful by trashing things that still have life and value left.  By donating these same items, not only does your space feel better, but you feel better knowing that the items will be used by people who need them. 

9.  Over the top cleaning. We never want to create a system too complicated or time-intensive for a client to actually use (ie: hanging your dish sponge to dry on an outdoors clothesline after each use, bringing all plates and dishes outside to dry in the sun, completely clearing out and drying off your toiletries after every shower).  Don't let yourself get bogged down by small processes; a thoughtful decluttering of your space is the bigger, more important work.  

10.  Good design makes a huge difference.  In addition to decluttering, we value and execute thoughtful design in every space we work on.  Without good design, a room can feel sparse and impersonal.  With good design, the same items feel calm, intentional and inspiring.  

 

What do you think?  Have you read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" yet?  Did it help you with your own decluttering process?  Please share below in the comments!