When my husband and I first got married, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment packed full of wedding gifts, my law school textbooks, and too many clothes. We decided the apartment was too cramped, so we purchased a 1,400-square-foot condo. Next came our first house, with three bedrooms and 2,250 square feet.
Two kids later, we moved into a four-bedroom, 3,100-square-foot home that we quickly filled up with more stuff. We eventually decided it was too much, so we purged half of everything we owned, including the house. We downsized and moved into a 2,600-square-foot home, but within a few years were again suffocating under the weight of all of our stuff. The paper, the clothes, the books, the toys – everything. Why did we keep doing this?
As it turns out, having too much stuff is a problem that affects a lot of people. So I started reading blogs on minimalist living, including Miss Minimalist, in order to figure out how to fix our situation once and for all. The author of Miss Minimalist, Francine Jay, wrote a book called “The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide,” which has vastly helped my family develop habits that deter clutter and cultivate a calm and productive environment, as well as a happier lifestyle.
The book is broken into four parts: Philosophy, Streamline, Room by Room, and Lifestyle.
When deciding whether to keep something, Jay says, “We have to remember that our memories, dreams, and ambitions aren’t contained in these objects; they’re contained in ourselves. We are not what we own; we are what we do, what we think, and who we love.”
It’s important to look at your stuff with a critical eye. Keep only those items that are useful or you believe to be beautiful and you love. Jay suggests that in order to put this into practice, we must “become good gatekeepers” of the items we allow into our homes.
Jay suggests asking the following questions of each potential purchase:
- Do you deserve a place in my home?
- What value will you add to my household?
- Will you make my life easier, or are you going to be more trouble than you’re worth?
- Do I have a place to put you?
- Do I already have something that could accomplish the same task?
- Will I want to keep you forever (or at least a very long time)? If not, how hard will it be to get rid of you?
Before I read this book, I never approached a purchase with these questions in mind, but now that I do, my home is becoming less cluttered and I’m saving money.
Part two focuses on decluttering. Jay has created the STREAMLINE method: Each letter of the word represents a step in the decluttering process.
- S – Start Over. Take everything out of the space you are decluttering and lay it out.
- T – Trash, Treasure, or Transfer. Sort everything according to what you’re going to do with it: trash it (or recycle it), keep it, or give it away (or sell it).
- R – Reason for Each Item. Analyze each item for the reason you want to keep it. Eliminate duplicates and ask yourself what it’s used for and how often you use it. Only keep items that you use frequently. Then decide which you want more – the item or the space it takes up.
- E – Everything in Its Place. When you look at the items you are keeping, decide how often you use them. Then assign each item a place in the inner circle (close to where you use it), the outer circle (perhaps a higher shelf), or deep storage (in another room, for example, or in the garage). Finally, return everything to its assigned place when you are finished using it.
- A – All Surfaces Clear. Horizontal surfaces are not for storage and should remain clear. A few intentional items are fine – for example, a coffee pot on the kitchen counter – but this is not the place for a stack of receipts.
- M – Modules. Your household should be organized into modules, which requires putting items used for a single purpose together in one spot. For example, all things related to bill paying should be organized into one module: checkbook, incoming bills, stamps, and pens.
- L – Limits. Set space limits for your stuff. For example, all of your books must fit in one bookcase.
- I – If One Comes in, One Goes Out. You’ve got to stop the flow of stuff into your home. If one item comes into your home, such as a t-shirt, then you must donate a similar item. This will keep the volume of stuff in check.
- N – Narrow It Down. The next step is to narrow down what remains in your home to that which you really need. You can also “miniaturize” what is left in your home – use electronic storage instead of using paper printouts, for instance.
- E – Everyday. You can’t purge and think you’re done. Otherwise, you’ll be back in the same spot where you started before you know it. You must be vigilant every day about what enters your home to make sure you are not suffocating again in a few months or years.
3. Room by Room
In part three, Jay applies the STREAMLINE method to each room in the house, taking into account special issues that may arise in each. This is where you really see how this decluttering method works in practice.
Look around your family room or living room. Do you use each piece of furniture? Keep what you use and get rid of what you don’t. This represents the “R – Reason for Each Item” step of the process.
Part four turns to streamlining your schedule so you can take control of your time. Say no to those obligations that don’t bring you joy. Do you enjoy volunteering for a cause, or do you do it because you feel like you should and it ends up making you resentful and cranky? Just say no if it’s the latter.
This section of the book also includes a discussion of how a minimalist lifestyle benefits our planet and future generations. However, this section simply provides food for thought without preaching.
If any of my friends were to be asked to describe me (or my family) in one word, I assure you that “minimalist” would never be one of them. When I take a step back and think about it, we’ve been teaching our children to accumulate as many material possessions as possible, regardless of need. I don’t want them to think that their worth is measured by what they can buy.
Jay writes in an open, easily relatable way. She is never condescending, but is more like a friend, nudging you in the right direction. After reading “The Joy of Less,” I have become inspired to make serious changes – not just for my own sanity, but for my children. It starts with me, and it starts now.
What are your thoughts on “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay?
Anja Press, 296 pages, paperback
(photo credit: Bigstock)