Meet the Minimalist: Rachel Corwin

A year has flown by since I joined the world of self-employment and I couldn’t be happier! It has been an incredible experience, learning so much about myself, this work, my clients, being equal parts terrified and thrilled to be running my own business.

So much has changed over the past year and I wanted to acknowledge that in this “interview." Seems cheesy but I also thought it was a good time to reflect on the questions I have asked others for this minimalism series and decide how I would answer them today.

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What sparked your interest in simplifying and decluttering?

I used to have one great response to this but now I have three! So here goes:

When I returned from an Australian vacation, my boss asked why I hadn’t responded to a particular email they sent. I was immediately alarmed that they would even ask this question and thought they must be joking. But they kept talking about it! Then I became frustrated and decided it was time for a change, to dial down the long hours I had been working up to my trip.

I started making small changes like scheduling a lunch break. It sounds so simple yet if it didn’t go on my calendar, it didn’t happen. I made a point to eat lunch with my colleagues outside (it was an incredible summer!) and take real breaks where I would walk around, get away from my desk, look away from my screen.

During this time, I started to realize that I wanted and needed to make a change in my career path. I had worked in human resources for ten years and the thought of changing jobs, let alone a career, was pretty stressful. I had to reflect and take my own advice that I would give to others. Think about my transferable skills, what companies would I want to work for, if I wasn’t in HR, what field would I be in? Would I need to go back to school?

I continued asking myself these questions for the next couple months when I discovered The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This book really spoke to me because I realized that I felt out of control in the work area of my life, not knowing what to do next, and decided to take control of my stuff, the physical things around me that were cluttering up my life.

 

So that sounds like two things … wasn’t there a third?

Yes! Let me tell my long story long, self! When I was creating my last capsule wardrobe, I realized that I’ve always had capsule wardrobes and been into simplifying. When I was five years old, my parents divorced. I would pack a bag every Wednesday and every other weekend to take to my dad’s house. I had to be really thoughtful about what was going on that weekend - was there a birthday party, were we traveling anywhere, what was the weather going to be like, and pack accordingly.

It was devastating to forget something at my mom’s when I really wanted to wear a particular shirt for an event during a weekend with dad or misplaced a book that I needed to read for school. From a very young age, I had to get into planner mode and be resourceful with what I had and make it work.

 
The first picture I posted on my blog of myself in the midst of organizing! So nice to enjoy an empty space.

The first picture I posted on my blog of myself in the midst of organizing! So nice to enjoy an empty space.

 


What’s your philosophy on stuff?

As a child, I think like a lot of kids, I wanted things - books, dolls, crafts, games, clothes, etc. I was very good at sharing, growing up with three other siblings. I loved my things and had great respect for them.

Moving back to Seattle after college, I had accumulated a lot of random crap. I think during high school, we keep so many weird knickknacks, notes, pictures, mementos and we don’t really go through it until we start moving our things, whether it’s moving for school or for a job. I just kept all that stuff in a box and didn’t really think about it until I settled in my current home, which I’ve been in for nearly ten years.

We need stuff to do stuff. I need some mugs to drink my tea, I need some clothes to wear to work, etc. It’s the excess that drives me crazy! All the deals/bargains/coupons out there are telling us that we need multiples of all the things and we just don’t.

Recently, I treated myself to a Stitch Fix box, mainly because I had a referral credit and gift card on my account, so I could probably get one or two items. I have a history of buying the entire box because 1) I have an awesome stylist (shout out to Natalia!) and 2) there’s a 25% discount when purchasing all five items.

At a glance, I loved all the items she sent me. Two tops, a lightweight sweater, a dress, and a statement necklace. I tried everything on and didn’t love the dress or the striped shirt. I mean, I liked them enough that I was willing to spend about $100 to keep the whole box. Then I thought I could sell the two items I didn’t plan to wear on one of the Stitch Fix Facebook groups. And then I took my own advice that I’m always giving to clients (when they ask!): choose only what you truly love, forget the rest.

I really didn’t need another statement necklace and the two items weren’t a great fit/I wasn’t thrilled with the material. I knew I didn’t really want to spend time posting the items and waiting around for someone to buy so I dropped them in the return bag and sent off right away.

 

Do you consider a minimalist?

I do now! Minimalism for me is about having a few choices and making the best one that works for me and the lifestyle I want. It’s also about investing in things that I want to last so that I’m not constantly shopping for the perfect sofa/dress/skillet whatever … I don’t want to use all my brain power on these decisions and I want to channel that energy into doing things I love like being with my friends, traveling internationally with my partner, that kind of thing.

A friend’s mantra is if you have less stuff, you have less to take care of. To me, this means I don’t have to move things around to sweep the floor, it’s not a chore to find something because it’s not buried at the bottom of a closet.

 

What has been the most beneficial to having a minimalist mindset?

I don’t impulse shop like I used to! I’m much better about taking a list with me and sticking to it. I can easily window shop and not feel like I’m missing out when I don’t buy something.

I also try to focus on using up what I have. I’ve wasted so much food over the years because I didn’t pay attention to expiration dates on things and would overbuy (and not always clean out the fridge or pantry in a timely fashion). This has helped me get more creative with meal planning because I need to make do with what I have.

 

Will you ever be done organizing your own home?

I don’t think I will ever be completely done because life is happening all around me! I’ll have an especially busy week with clients and I can tell by looking at my entry way - there may be a pile of laundry, stacks of mail, the random to do items that creep up.

Each season, I create a new capsule wardrobe and it’s a good reminder to pull things out of the closet, dust them off, decide what to keep, what I’m ready to let go of.

 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as an organizer?

That it can take time to let go of things. I noticed this for myself when I was doing another round of editing my clothes and knickknacks in my bedroom. I have a drawer where I store some jewelry and random things. I finally let go of these pins that I had since I was 14! Never took them out of the package and I wasn’t saving them to give to someone in particular.

Also realizing that it’s ok to not like something that you used to, whether it’s a book, article of clothing, a gift from someone. You have permission to not enjoy it anymore and that means it can be enjoyed by someone else, it does not need to take up space in your home or space in your mind.

We hang on to these ideas of “I should love this {insert name of thing} because {insert reason}.” Guess what? These ideas can go out the window and it doesn’t make you any less grateful for having given the thing a home because it was a gift, or you used to love that jacket but it’s just not your style anymore. If you can keep these things to a minimum, putting them into a box or having them in a space in your home where you are reminded of them, but don’t need to make a decision about right away, can be really helpful. Then, when you’re ready, it feels so effortless to give it away.


 

What’s your advice to someone who’s ready to start simplifying?

I know I love a good transformation and can be tempted to do things in one fell swoop, but that isn’t always practical. That method itself can be too overwhelming and dramatic.

Each person needs to figure out what works for them and I really do believe starting small is a great way to go. This starts with the question of why do they want to simplify - are they feeling overwhelmed by stuff, work, relationships?

This was something that my friend Alex talked about when she starting simplifying - she started saying no to the never-ending obligations, requests, and invites.

Talk about it with people that are important to you - your partner, kids, friends, parents, colleagues, neighbors. This might spark ideas on how you can help each other create that positive change together and build in accountability.

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So that’s my interview - thanks for playing along!  I would love to hear any questions you have for me after reading this - let me know in the comments.