Transformation Tuesday: The Minimalist Game!

After doing a major household purge and KonMari-ing my things over two years ago, I didn't think that I had too much left to let go of.

Think again! While I am much more conscientious about what I bring into my home, there were still little things I held on to without realizing it.

I decided it would be fun to play the minimalism game to kick off the new year. You can follow the adventures of purging on my Instagram and play along!

The quick run-down on how to play:

  1. Get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second, and so on
  2. Anything can go! (this is helpful when you are purging over ten items a day and need to clear out paper/receipts)
  3. Whoever keeps it up the longest, wins

While I don't feel like I have big, bulky items taking up space, the small things really add up:

  • Baking accessories - frosting tips that were duplicates (or triplicates!), extra pans that I don't use (and I have a fabulous neighbor I can always borrow one from)
  • Tools - so many duplicates and random items that still need to be sorted (need to go through a bin with my partner in case he wants to keep any items)
  • Fridge - right after the holidays, it was great to feel like there's a fresh start and really think about using up what I have (and doing a clean sweep of expired stuff)
  • Office supplies - again, so much excess!
 
 

This challenge has also helped me get rid of a couple items I let linger in the garage, namely some shelving and a water filter that I was recycling for a client. I felt accountable to getting as much out same-day as I could so I made a point to schedule time to recycle the wire shelves at the transfer station and make my way to Whole Foods for their filter recycling program.

These were nagging tasks that were taunting me because they were staring at me every time I used the car! I'm also thinking more about my gut reaction toward things I'm keeping - do I really love it? How useful is it? If I need it again, can I borrow from a friend?

253 items have exited the house so far! If I keep this up through the 31st, the house will be 496 things lighter - WOW! 

Are you playing the Mins Game this year or have you played before? How long did you last? Let me know in the comments!

Meet the Minimalist: Laura Alger-Barkley

I’m so excited to share this month’s minimalist interview! I started following Laura Alger-Barkley, the organizer also known as the Domestic Unicorn, several months ago. I love her aesthetic and how she incorporates a lot of the KonMari practice into her own organizing yet maintains a realistic perspective on organizing real households, especially with kids.

We sat down to chat about how organizing has given her structure as someone who tends to be a bit on the messy side plus some great tips for maintaining your space.

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How did you first get into home design and decluttering?

My mom is my role model in that department. She was a home ec teacher and had a background in interior design and fashion.

I went to art school in Brooklyn and my background is in fine arts. I’ve always been helping people rearrange their apartment, pick things out, go shopping with them.

After I read Marie Kondo’s book, that was when it kind of clicked for me. I started incorporating her practices. I’m more of a messy person, I need these systems to keep the order.

 


I want to hear more about tending toward messy as an organizer!

As a kid, I was a collector and loved to organize them but definitely had way too much stuff. My life was trying to tame the mass amounts of things. I still have things I love, I just don’t have that same volume.

I would feel scatterbrained and just move on to the next project with some things left undone. Decluttering has changed my life - it’s given me structure, I can think more clearly, and it makes more sense to help others with their homes.

 
Photo by  Charity Barkley
 

 

What was it that resonated for you when reading the Marie Kondo book?

I was feeling burdened by the sense of keeping things.

When I read that book, I was pregnant. I was really surprised and it was a big shock to find out I was pregnant with twins. After having my girls, my body was very different.

That’s when I dove into KonMari’s practices with clearing out my clothes. I felt guilty for holding onto clothes that I just couldn’t get back into. Then I started going through the rest of the house and paring down. I don’t need 104 ladles, I really need just a big one and a small one. It was very liberating! I also felt more in control.

 

What did your partner think of the KonMari paring down process?

My husband grew up in a family of six boys and his parents were like the original minimalist parents.

He was taught early on how to do his laundry and keep things organized. He doesn’t have a lot of stuff in general and maybe thought in the beginning that I was going a bit overboard as I started purging!

 

What's your advice to parents as they try to keep areas tidy with kids in the home?

I would see homes and think “this is really out of control, how did it get this way?” Now that I have kids, I totally get it!

The number one thing is that it’s easy for everybody to clean up, whether it’s parents, siblings, cousins, whoever is coming over. Kids can also easily clean up the messes with you.

I’ve heard a lot of things about rotating toys out for children. I don’t have a ton of stuff for my kids plus I have two of them so there’s generally more toys out in our home.

If you have a kid that’s 12 months and younger, I recommend having one bin to throw things into before nap time or at the end of the night ( keep one in the living room, the nursery). Make it simple. Then you can control more of what they are playing with and they can help put away.

I started to sort things out so my kids don’t get so overwhelmed, like activities sorted out - books, blocks, crayons and paper - these all sorted into different baskets which they can help with putting away.

 

What do you do with the influx of toys coming in from the holidays?

For little kids, let them open and play with the toys one at a time, keep some of the gifts hidden away and bring into the rotation when they are ready for a new one (especially when some of the toys might not yet be age appropriate).

That way you aren’t overwhelming them with all these new toys and you can also swap out old toys that are past their prime or that they’ve outgrown as you bring new ones in.

You don’t have to return all the toys to become a minimalist.

 
Photo by  Charity Barkley
 

 

What kind of systems do you have in place at home to help your family stay organized?

Our house is always evolving with our kids!

I cook and clean the living room and my husband cleans up the kitchen after we put the kids to bed. I’m not sorting a million activities out - blocks to the blocks bin, puzzles into that bin.

We get the toys cleared up, wipe down the highchairs, run the dishwasher, and chill out. It’s really about maintenance every day. It feels like you’re always cleaning but those little things everyday keep your home much more in order.

My girls want to dump out their laundry bins if they are on the floor so I hang a reusable grocery bag in their closet for their laundry.

We go through and clear out anything damaged or that’s missing a lot of pieces, ripped items (the kids went through a recent “ripping book phase” which was stressful and totally weird because they do love books). It’s hard to do it as we go so once a month, I dump out the baskets and go through it.

Then I go through what’s age appropriate. I remind people that children get overwhelmed with all the choices. Paring down will help them play with the things they really want. Also think about other kids in your life that would like a game or toy, someone who comes over to play from the neighborhood, a cousin. I try to frame it like that as a way to re-gift some of the toys that can be passed along.

 

Who are your favorite type of clients to work with and why?

I like doing everything! What really excites me the most is creating personalized systems for people. Getting everyone involved and creating the plan together - diagnose the situation, help people create a specific system for their family. It’s all problem-solving.

Even in our own homes, it’s hard to “see” our own spaces and having someone come in with a fresh eye to look at the space makes a difference. A lot of what I do, someone is in a new space and old systems don’t quite work in their new homes, I help them find new solutions, or they have outgrown the system that they are using right now in their home.

 

What else do you want people to know about organizing / decluttering / design - the process, the work you do?

Once we declutter, figure out a good system for their home, I’m help them rearrange the space. I then reuse and repurpose the things they already own in different ways and then if there is a need talk about possibilities for new furniture and items for their home. I’ll also help them take measurements if they are looking to bring things into their home. We create a little game plan and I consult with them about designs.

I recently worked on an unpacking project and determined how to fit things in the new home. I create more of a game plan, revamp the space, and focus on using what you have.

Most people have something in mind or vision for their dream space and I consult with them to narrow down options and make that space a reality!

 

What’s your advice to people who want to start decluttering?

First, start really small with like a spice rack or a pantry to clear out old stuff, putting back in new and fresh items to see how much space there is. If you exceed the space limitations, that tells you that you need to pare down.

Next do a bathroom cabinet or a silverware drawer. You’ll feel good because you can easily work your way through a shelf or drawer and be successful.

For longer term and bigger projects, it’s not always easy to do in one fell swoop. There might be parts of your life that were not easy to do at the time. It’s all about maintenance and when you are ready, tackle that part of your life or home.

Remember that it’s all about maintaining. Go through things a couple times a year.

 
Photo by  Charity Barkley
 

 

What does minimalism look like for you?

It’s very different. It’s the minimal amount of stuff that I can feel comfortable with. There are areas of my life that I don’t want to have a ton of stuff like I don’t have a lot of clothes but I have so many books right now! You can be extreme in some areas then still have collections. Those practices have helped keep things under control.

 

Any other tips you want to share - how do you stay organized yourself?

I keep a printed calendar on my fridge and I update it! I don’t do as well using apps (although the MinimaList is a fun one to try), and tried to do a family calendar but it just didn’t work out well. Every month we do our budget and talk about what we have going on and add it to the calendar.

I do meal planning and grocery lists which I keep all in the same notebook. It’s easy to have a million little things everywhere. Writing things done in one place works and the notebook fits in my bag.

I also keep a running list of things I want to do around the house (my dream list) to keep track of everything. I don’t ever write down the house maintenance tasks and incorporate those into my day so I never feel like they are a burden.

Maintaining your home is not a “to do” it’s just what you should do! Find the shortcuts that work for you.

If you come home to a messy home, you want it to be easily cleaned. Our master bath isn’t ventilated and I use the Method shower spray daily to keep it clean. This saves me time because I’m not spending an hour on my hands and knees scrubbing away.

Make it more enjoyable. I suggested to a friend who doesn’t have a dishwasher to spend more on a nice smelling dish soap, good gloves, and a really nice scrub brush. She said it doesn’t feel like such a chore because she’s using nice things to clean her dishes now.

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I could have easily chatted with Laura for a few hours! She had so many great tips to share that I’m going to incorporate into my everyday (like that Method shower spray!).

You can follow along on her organizing adventures on Instagram or get in touch with her through via her website.

Meet the Minimalist: Sunny Gill

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.

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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.

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If you want to see more of what Sunny’s up to, you can follow him on Instagram