A couple months ago, I was chatting with my friend Heather over coffee. We were talking about how my business was going and she shared some very touching words with me about how much the work we had done together in her home had such an impact for her. With Heather, it never felt like work - we were problem-solving the space and customizing it for her, from how she moves through the space to how to best organize so she can enjoy her hobbies, work on projects, you name it.
I wanted to hear more from her because she has been on an incredible journey of downsizing her stuff over time. I think this relates to so many people out there and illustrates how this is an ongoing process, it’s not just “one and done” with a space.
When did you begin simplifying?
I attempted right before grad school but things sort of spiraled out of control during that time. I had less and less time to take care of everything.
You came over to borrow something and I had mentioned the KonMari book. We started talking about how simplifying can look different for everyone. You were really enthusiastic about it and offered to help me.
I related organizing work to the body trust movement - what works for one person isn’t necessarily a fix for someone else. I think there’s been several areas of my life that I had these long-held beliefs that I should fit into a box that other people seem to fit into. Food, career, school - when I started looking at the body trust movement, I realized that it’s totally individual. What works for one body doesn’t work for another and this translates to so many other domains in life.
What was the first domain you explored in the body trust movement?
Emotional. There’s this sense of shame about certain things you are doing that don’t match what you see on TV and you don’t ask for help, you hide things from the people around you.
My anxiety and stress levels were increasing and it had control over me. I wasn’t having people over because I felt bad about my home. That was what really helped me allow you to help me - there was no judgment and you really wanted to help find the best vision for my home. It wasn’t something you just said to get buy-in. You were gracious when I wasn’t ready to get rid of things. It was really helpful, especially as a therapist, the respect you gave me of talking through something on whether to keep or toss something.
What were the key domains you were able to focus on through the simplifying process?
My kitchen! I love cooking and it is really a form of self-care for me, making good and healthy foods. Attacking the kitchen first was great. You helped me get to the places I couldn’t reach and pull everything out to review and assess.
This allowed me to start cooking again and it’s something I really enjoy and love doing.
Has paring down the physical stuff helped in other areas of your home?
Now when I come home from work, I don’t see 15 things that I have to take care of. It feels easier and the on-going projects I have are more manageable. Having assigned homes for things has made a huge difference.
Do you still struggle with household clutter?
There are still areas that I haven’t gotten to yet. I also struggle with empty, flat surfaces. When I get home and am in a hurry, it’s so ingrained in me to drop things on a surface before I run off. I have to intentionally go through each week and put things back. It’s definitely a form of self-care to make this time because I know that otherwise, it will stress me out when I have even less time to take care of it and it gets back into a vicious cycle that repeats itself.
What have been some of the biggest changes as a result paring down and reviewing all your things?
Being able to get a dog! I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that with the clutter I had before.
In grad school, I had ridiculously elevated stress and cortisol levels. My doctor suggested getting an animal to help with this. The last couple quarters of school were so crazy and this seemed like something I just couldn’t do … and I didn’t want to add on to my current stress load.
I started looking at foster sites, but I would look over my computer screen and notice all the clutter, even unsafe stuff that could fall on a dog. Once we started clearing things, I was able to take the next step of actually meeting dogs.
I met Jules who was an older dog at a shelter, rescued from a hoarder’s house, ironically. The shelter staff hadn’t seen him connect with an owner like this before. At the home inspection, I felt really comfortable because we had decluttered so much and I knew my home would pass.
My stress finally leveled out and having him as a companion was so wonderful. I had someone to come home to, to sit by my side when I studied.
What do you want others to know about the process/experience of simplifying?
In your work and in my work as a therapist, we are facilitating the change, and our mentality and techniques make all the difference.
With you coming into my home, which is very personal and vulnerable to someone, and feeling shameful about my space, you were not judgmental, you were gracious, you challenged things needed to be challenged and backed off when I wasn’t ready to go there.
You came to my house and offered the “how” - I didn’t have to think about that. We identified the kitchen as the most powerful place. Once we did one area, I saw that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, things moved faster than expected, and it was a lot easier to move on to another area.
What do you feel confident about doing on your own now?
I had done a lot of purging using the KonMari method but then needed help going through the things that I thought I wanted but didn’t really have a home for. Now there’s an assigned place for these things to go. Once I clear off a surface, I know where to put things and don’t have to reorganize a whole system of things.
I just remind myself when I put dishes in the sink and am getting ready to walk away that it only takes a minute to do - and I’ll be a lot happier about having done them.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start minimizing/paring down?
You have to make space for things you want in your life - time to tidy up your room, make healthy food during the week, go for a walk and not feel guilty you aren’t doing something else. This is key for designing the life you want.
It all boils down to a worthiness issue. This is especially true of people working in service-based jobs. We are quick and eager to make and hold space for other people, but we are pretty reluctant and resistant to doing this for ourselves. It feels almost selfish to do so. This is the shift - I’m worthy to do this important work for myself.
It truly was an honor to interview Heather and hear her perspective on how a kitchen clean-out could bring about so much positive change. I’ve seen Heather get excited about tidying (!) since we first began working together. She took all my tips to heart and was able to identify so much on her own as she began to clear other spaces over time.
If you want to get more insight into Heather’s work, check out this interview with her and follow along with her 365 grateful posts on Instagram. A few years ago, she realized she had been waiting for big things happen while all these “small moments” were going unrecognized. Seeing another friend’s posts about the little things in the everyday, happening all around us was a good reminder to be intentional, taking time to photograph it and be grateful.