I worked with Sunny about a year and a half ago and would gush about the latest KonMari adventures in my home with him (and make the occasional request that he create some kind of tidying emoji for me). I didn’t realize how tidy and truly minimalist he really was until I visited his home in Beacon Hill. There was a lot of open space and everything had a purpose or meaning for him. I wanted to learn more about his minimalistic approach not just with his home, but work and life in general.
When he’s not at his day job as a systems support tech, he’s obsessing over his new Botanicum book, creating all kinds of ceramic pieces, and taking Spanish lessons with plans to travel to Cuba someday.
Do you consider yourself a minimalist?
No, to be honest, it’s just a lifestyle I’ve lived since I was a kid. I’ve grown up all across Washington from Monroe, Kent, Tukwila, to Bellevue. My dad was a business owner and we moved around a lot. Every where I lived, it didn’t feel like I was there for very long.
Even now I can look around at a room and break down how I would move my stuff. Not having an extraordinary amount of stuff, it’s second nature to me.
Was that hard as a kid to move around like that?
This was normal for me. We had family photos up and that kind of thing in my house, but not the excess stuff you usually see in homes.
I like to have meaning behind my stuff. The tapestry I have hanging up is from a street market in Delhi. I was shopping with a friend, saw it, and had to have it. The framed art in my kitchen are illustrations by friends. If there’s no meaning in it, it eats up space.
Going to Ikea or Target and buying stuff for the sake of hanging it up, I don’t connect with that.
Literally everything around me has meaning … well, except for my plants … well, my nursery. I keep rescuing all these plants!
Have you ever had challenges with roommates when they don’t share the same minimalist mindset?
My current roommate is also pretty minimalist, but yes, it’s been a source of frustration in the past living with people who aren’t as organized as I would like to be. But some things you just have to let go of.
How has minimalism helped you in a positive manner?
It’s helped immensely at work. A coworker of mine left my company and they were hoarding all this stuff! I stripped it down and got rid of ⅞ of the stuff. It’s now streamlined and you can find what you need.
I’m always about keeping organized space. I don’t need extras of anything. It also looks really nice. It’s just a professional way to be.
I find that I have a less cluttered mindset when I have less stuff around me. It definitely transfers over to work for me. It kind of becomes part of you.
Has anyone ever given you grief for being so organized?
Sure, especially because it’s seen as a more feminine characteristic. But I benefit from being so organized. You can tell what someone’s mindset is by looking at their desk and their home.
What’s your philosophy on stuff?
I know that people hate getting rid of things because of the amount of money they spent on it. What’s the use of it, though, if it’s not getting used? It’s filling up space. You should connect to your stuff and find the meaning in it.
How does minimalism inform giving gifts to others?
Instead of giving teddy bears or chocolate or some garbage, I focus on things that are functional. Like a candle holder that can also be used as a cup. I have always given things that help people in some way that can be used like socks, a raincoat, something that can be useful.
Someone gifted me some Lego holiday pieces and I just recycled it. I didn’t know what to do with it!
What’s your most prized possession?
That mirror! It opens up the room, it extends light, and I just love having this gigantic mirror. It’s funny because it’s my second one, [my cat] Miso broke the first one. The second day we had it, it wasn’t bolted to the wall, she got curious and knocked it over. An $800 mirror turned into a $1,600 mirror (from West Elm). This one IS bolted to the wall.
What’s been the most ridiculous thing you’ve gotten as a gift?
Actually, the stuff from my mom! Which is funny because she doesn’t like having clutter around so she’s always trying to give me kitchen appliances, mugs, plates. I’m always refusing this stuff! It comes from a loving place because she knows I love cooking but I have what I need.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a result of growing up minimalist?
It’s hard for me to answer this question, to be honest. I never get too comfortable with my surroundings. I think that helps. I like to move things around.
The art and tapestries have moved around. Having more space helps. One thing that causes clutter is that people get too comfortable in their space - not paying attention to what’s around them.
What do you want people to know about this lifestyle?
This is a reflection of my mind, really. I have an organized mind and don’t feel overwhelmed taking on chores, tasks, projects. Minimalism isn’t something you turn on and off, it becomes part of your disposition.
It’s a step-by-step situation, not something that happens overnight. Think of exercising a muscle in your body, over time it becomes stronger and more prominent. The more you practice it, the better you become at it.
Has this helped reduce stress around travel, moves, etc?
Definitely. Some people take multiple suitcases to India and I only take a small suitcase, not even full. Packing light makes travel easier, especially international travel.
Some people are buying these expensive things that are designer with labels. Most of what I wear don’t have labels (Nudi jeans, Everlane shirt, labeless hat).
What’s your best organizing hack or tip to share?
If I don’t use something for about a week, I’ll put it away or get rid of it. I bought this set of mugs thinking I would use them with guests over, and they come over, I found that I was only using half of them.
I do a lot of bulk spices - I don’t want to use a whole thing of vanilla bean powder. I buy what I need and work it into my meal plans. I focus on what I’m going to make then go out and buy it. Maybe it takes a little more time to plan, but it saves time, money, and space.
You don’t have to Craig’s List it. You can recycle it! People always want to make an extra dollar but how much time do they spend trying to make a few bucks?
What’s your advice to someone who is ready to simplify?
You don’t have to go at it and be overwhelmed with everything around you. Take one drawer at a time or make one small change at a time.
With my lawn, I made one change at a time and now it looks gorgeous! It can be overwhelming trying to do it all at once. You don’t have to do a huge spring cleaning event to get there.
If you want to see more of what Sunny’s up to, you can follow him on Instagram