Meet the Minimalist: Stephanie Xenos

I love money. There, I said it! I love earning it, saving it, and spending it (on fun stuff, but on responsible stuff, too). When I help people get organized, we talk about their priorities and so much of what they have to streamline/pare down ties right back into what they spend money on.

I stumbled across Stephanie Xenos on Instagram, also known as @money_muse, and loved seeing how open she was about building her financial wealth and independence.  She shares everything from investing tips to her own spending over time, and everything in between.

As a self-employed person, saving for retirement was something I had been ignoring since starting my business. I was focused on finding the right clients, making money, and paying off credit card debt (had definitely leveraged my savings in order to give my business the time it needed to grow). I knew I pay off the debt and be able to throw money back into emergency savings and retirement … but I didn’t know exactly what to invest in or even how.

I reached out to Stephanie for a phone consult and felt like we clicked immediately. She outlined what she thought I needed through coaching based on my goals and where I was at with my finances. It was like being on the other side of a home organization consult where I was the client, showing her where all the money was going, talking through my goals and dreams of my financial future.

I knew I wanted to learn more about her background and what lead to the launch her work today as a financial coach, educating women on how to invest.

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You share in “My Story” on your site (edited here for brevity):

“I never liked my stepdad. After he moved in with us, I started having insomnia and seeing therapists for anxiety. As soon as I was old enough, I started staying away from home as much as possible. I decided that from that point forward, I would never be dependent on anyone. I told myself I would always choose the hardest path in order to prove myself. I would be superwoman.”

 
Photo credit:  Janette Casolary

Photo credit: Janette Casolary

 

At what point did you decide that you didn't need to strive for perfection?

It’s a constant battle for me to let go of that Superwoman thing. It’s ok to not be that person. The first time was maybe when I was 25 and I wrote on my wall “Goodbye, Superwoman.” It wasn’t over, that was just the first step to letting go by acknowledging it.

Friends were always aware of my independence and knew that I had a tough childhood. Good friends could make fun of me about being so hardcore and super Type A. It’s control. The exact order of how I shower is planned! I’m a total control freak. It did amazing things for my career and studies, it made me so responsible. I was driven to do everything. I had to be so sure of myself because otherwise my world would crumble. It ties back to not being a victim. I wasn’t in a place to acknowledge my vulnerability.

Did you ever feel like you were missing out on things or experiences because you were so focused on saving from a young age?

I don’t think I felt deprived. It was relatively easy for me to save. I was in a situation where my safety felt at risk and money was the only key to independence I could think of.  I just turned off my emotions and became a machine with a lot of things. No one knew I was hoarding money around my room as a teenager- I was still shopping at the mall with my friends.

My friends knew that my stepdad wasn’t a good guy and did everything they could to offer me a place to spend time. I worked a lot of jobs. I stockpiled a few thousand dollars while in high school and then I donated my eggs in college which helped jump-start saving and investing. At the time I felt I was doing my biological due diligence (ha!).

Deep down, I didn’t want to be a victim so I wasn’t looking for a role model or mentor to deal with this. I wasn’t able to see that poor 15-year-old until about a year ago! I’m still processing it.

What were some of the early resources that resonated with you when you first started learning/teaching yourself about money?

The early, early days it was Mr. Money Mustache. It was all about the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) community but they advocated for investing in low cost index funds and  I wanted to get into investing in individual stocks, in order to make more than the market return. That’s when it became all about podcasts - The Motley Fool podcasts taught me so much. Podcasts are a nice way to consume the content and let it percolate in your brain.

Any money missteps that you are willing to talk about that you have experienced?

I took out a personal loan to buy my first Spacex stock. I don’t think it was a mistake but it was very risky for me at the time. It was the biggest “purchase” I had ever made with the exception of the vehicle I relied on for transportation to and from work. I was lucky that it worked out; it was worth it in the long run because my SpaceX shares ended up growing and eventually being worth more than the loan. If my SpaceX stocks ended up being worth nothing, I would have been in the hole for the entirety of that loan.

What are the common mistakes you've seen others make when it comes to money?

I see the same common mistakes over and over again. People don’t know what to invest in and so they just don’t invest. Or they think they’re invested just because they have a brokerage account … but the money is just sitting in cash and it’s not invested in anything. This mistake would really make a big impact because you would lose out on all that compounding interest. People mostly feel embarrassed and then open to learning about how to invest and where.

 
Photo credit:  Janette Casolary

Photo credit: Janette Casolary

 

At one point, you sold everything and moved to Europe. What prompted the downsizing and what was it like to go minimal with your move?

I was born in Greece and had been visiting my dad once a year and decided to get to know him better.

When I was preparing to move there, I gave away everything I own. I had a party and said “if you see it, you can have it.” I had a party with girlfriends and let them go through all the clothes. I had quite the wardrobe from Burning Man! We got a 3x3 storage unit and my fiance put some paintings in there, I kept my kitchen aid, there was really nothing else I wanted to store. I now own one painting and my pets, everything else - no attachment to it!

Every time people come to my house now, they ask “are you moving?” and then they love to give me stuff. I tell them to stop! Sometimes I’ll put up knickknacks that I’m gifted but then it goes. I don’t want to offend them but I don’t want stuff!

When I moved to Greece, my dad and I had a dream of building a house together. I would invest in it monetarily and he would be the manager. It was a way to get to know him better, to have a project together, and also a potential investment. I would have been ok with it never making any money, just as a way to get to know my dad. Last year was the first year it was up and running and it makes half of the income I need for my yearly expenses.

Had early retirement always been part of your plan?

I had been working toward financial independence without really considering early retirement, or what that would be like. It was a bonus. By the time I realized that I had attained my goal of financial independence and could retire, I was ready for a change of scenery. I love the idea of financial independence regardless of whether you choose to work or not. You can be independent and still keep your job!

What is your money philosophy / getting money organized?

If you want to make authentic change, you need to be able to see the whole picture, the reality, and the truth. You need to know what you’re spending each month and what you’re spending it on. Mint is the easiest tool to use to lay it all out there. I see clients who question what they are spending.

We need that little shock value to make real change. We talk about priorities - what do you want to spend your money on, what are the bills you absolutely have to pay, what are your needs. We establish the needs, then the wants. Talking about it in terms of priorities, one of mine is having connection with friends, and that means going out to eat. As long as your priorities are in line and it’s not hurting you financially, it’s ok.

I cut my expenses into about half of what they used to be. I started with the big, obvious things (housing, car, food) and worked my way down to the smaller expenses. First we downsized where we lived from a 3-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment. That was a big win. Then I sold my car, invested the cash, and now take public transportation to get around. I’m more mindful of going out to eat, cook most of my meals during the week, and try to combine food out with other needs like socialization or business meetings. Finally, I got to all the small stuff like reviewing recurring monthly subscriptions. My fiance and I do not have exactly the same views on money, but it works out fine. He has picked up a lot of my habits (investing, budgeting) and I have chilled out on the money anxiety thanks to him.

What are your favorite investing/financial resources to share with people (from just starting out money novice to someone who's more savvy)?

There are a lot of great books like Broke Millennial, The Year of Less, Women and Money. I think it’s a very good book even though I’m not a big fan of hers. It covers an overview of money, credit reports, etc.

Amanda Holden from the Dumpster Dog Blog has great writing about investing. She’s the only person in this space that I really love what she’s doing. I haven’t found my role models yet which is weird to say mostly because I don’t love the work that a lot of people are doing.

In financial services, you’re paying 1% return for what they’re doing and it’s such a rip-off. Some are fee based but the percentage - this could be ⅓ of your money by the time you hit retirement. Not many people are calling this out.

Any key tips to share for different stages of life on saving/investing (college, between jobs, 30s/40s/50s)?

We live so much longer now so a lot of this advice is still very applicable to 50-year-olds. They may still want to retire at 65 but could live another 30 years!

I also try to stay away from generalizations with age because what my life looks like from a retirement perspective is very different than someone who is in poor health, for example.

Whatever you invested  last year, try to invest 1% more that that  this year. If you get a raise, put aside half of that for investments. I like the 1% goal better because it feels more gradual.

Retirement accounts come in different types. Generally, people who retire early have been able to stash away more than what they can contribute each year to those accounts. Sometimes this is passive income like rentals (live in half of a duplex and collecting the rent).

What should people know about the coaching you do?

I want people to know that I’m pretty easy to talk to. They always say “you’re not going to be judgmental, right?” There’s ALWAYS non-judgment.

Where do you see your next steps taking you?

I am serious about growing my coaching business and doing something that creatively grows my mind (Barre, ceramics). I’m working on determining my success metrics for Money Muse. Most number of people, where I can have the greatest impact. There are so many options. I’m in that period of “holy heck, what’s this going to be!”

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I highly recommend working with Stephanie when you are ready to take control of your finances and want to learn more or take your investing to the next level. She’s easy to talk to and comes from a place of educating as a tool to help you get your priorities in line.





Meet the Minimalist: Liz Ferris

Meet the Minimalist is back with Liz Ferris of Organized by Liz. We were volunteers on a human resources board together and both managed to find our way to the magical world of tidying and organization.

Not only have I worked alongside her on an organizing project, but I had the chance to have her come into my own home and help me address the corners that needed an overhaul that I just didn’t have the energy to tackle on my own.

I was thrilled when she accepted my request to chat about organizing, minimalism, and why she chose this work.

 
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Before we jump into questions, I want people to know a little bit more about you. Tell me more about your IG introduction - you eloped on your ten year anniversary!


Yes! It was a kickstart to a lot of things! Once we realized that we wanted to get married but not have a wedding where we were the center of attention and spending a ton of money, eloping seemed perfect. We had booked a trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm to celebrate our anniversary and then we thought "could we get married there?"

I had never thought about doing something like this. But it is indeed possible and there is even a website called Getting Married in Denmark that tells you how!

We decided not to tell anyone in advance, it felt like a very personal and special thing to keep to ourselves.  We got cute outfits and simple wedding bands in advance then I found a photographer on IG and booked that sight unseen. The day of, we had a beautiful Danish breakfast then walked in the rain (a good luck sign!) to the courthouse to get married in a quick but beautiful 15-minute ceremony. We took pictures in the courthouse and around Copenhagen; by the end of the photos we were drenched from the rain but so happy and in a bit of disbelief over it.

We were originally going to wait until we came home but we had to tell our families to make the moment feel real!  We called them over FaceTime and they were surprised, excited and really happy for us. My mom immediately said she loved it and was happy that we did this “for us”. When we returned home, friends and coworkers asked if we were having a reception but we were perfectly happy with our small ceremony and didn’t need to throw an expensive party in the name of getting gifts (also read above - we don’t like being the center of attention!) Overall, we have no regrets about it and highly recommend eloping!

 
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I love this minimalist approach - vacation + courthouse ceremony sounds awesome! Have you always had a minimalist viewpoint and how did you first get into decluttering?

I guess I always have! From what I remember, as a kid, I never thought it was a punishment to clean my room. I recall enjoying taking out my desk drawers and categorizing like with like, then putting things away. I would clean our Tupperware cabinet periodically, finding the matching lids and putting things back in a neater way. I loved turning items around in the supermarket so their labels would be aligned and I even dreamed of working at Home Depot so I could sort things! As I got older, I would help friends with their closets, finding the things they loved, making new outfits, and making it their closets more accessible for them.

My Junior year of college, I moved away for the first time and it was my opportunity to really assess my childhood bedroom and delve into editing my material items.  I knew at that time I didn't want to leave my room intact, so what I decided to keep, I boxed up accordingly (labeled of course) and snuck in a closet for my parents to store for me.

When I read Marie Kondo's book a few years ago, that was the lightbulb that went off. I realized the missing step from my years of organizing was that it was OK to get rid of things. Since then I've been reading a lot of books on organizing and minimalism like Soulful Simplicity and The Joy of Less. These have been great resources and I recommend them as a good place to start exploring these topics.


How do you practice this for yourself / how do you stay organized at home?

The first place I truly started was Konmari-ing my closet - it's an easy place for me because I'm not super attached to my clothes. With clothes, it's an immediate relief when the closet isn't so overstuffed.

I also pared down quite a bit in the bathroom (realizing how much waste there is I began finding more eco-friendly replacements). I used to buy pretty soaps on vacation and never use them until I realized I should relish in the lovely scents and memories of vacation. Now I love asking for and using eco-packaged bar soap instead of plastic body washes. When I first moved to Seattle and started a career, I was always buying new hair and beauty product; it's so easy as young women to amass all these products when you are bombarded with advertisements for them. It’s been such a relief to realize I don't need fifty products when I I only use and like five things, minimizing my beauty routine is very liberating.

For kitchens, having lived in tiny apartment ones, I just have to ask myself what I value more - do I want all the gadgets & gizmos to fit crammed in the cupboard or do I want to have more space / breathing room around and get creative? I donated many one-use knickknacks and now my friends and family laugh at how I prefer to squeeze my own lemons or mash potatoes with a fork, maybe I just like making things hard on myself, haha!

In general, everything should have a home when you are organized. It's not like my home is perfect all the time - life happens, you run out the door without putting things away sometimes but if you know where the thing goes, you can put it back quickly when you have a spare moment. Even when life feels hectic, it's so easy to put things away neatly in your bathroom cabinet and feel like something is in order, it will also de-stress your morning routine!


What's your advice to people who want to declutter or overhaul a space in their home? (where do you suggest they begin)

If somebody is interested in it, I try to suggest being in tune with what your goals are, like "when I come home, all my surfaces clear" or "I don't want to be stressed out searching for clothes."

If you want to start, just start, don’t wait for the perfect method. If you want inspiration, there are a lot of great Instagram accounts to follow for challenges or books to get some guidelines. If the thought of doing it on your own doesn’t excite you, hire someone to help guide you and cheer you on. That’s how I knew I should be an organizer, clutter doesn’t feel overwhelming to me, it’s makes me excited to tackle it!

Lastly, like everyone will tell you, don't start with the hard sentimental stuff first (like a high school memory box). You’ll go down a wormhole and get frustrated you aren’t making progress. You get better at decuttering as you practice and it's really a muscle that you build up. So start with something you don’t have much attachment to, whether it’s your kitchen, clothes, or books.


 
 

What's your advice to people who share a space with someone (kids / partners) that aren't as tidy?

Don't throw any of their things away! That’s a quick way to turn them off from decluttering. My dad to this day remembers when my well-intentioned teenage self tossing a jar opener he loved (still looking for one to replace that with, Dad!)

Also, practice what you preach. Don't harp on anybody until your own stuff is in order. You may inspire others with the work you are doing with your own stuff. Be patient. It will come with time. And try not to talk their ear off about minimalism! As exciting as it will feel when you get started others may not be ready to jump on the train, but trust me, when they get bit by the decluttering bug, you’ll have a great network!


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

Good question! I’d say when people are committed to a change. They’re fed up and ready to transform their life! Also having a big life change - switching careers, starting over after a relationship - these are the people that I’m really excited to work with because it’s like turning over a new leaf.

When people see the impact of their downsizing, you can see that they feel the weight off of their shoulders and that energizes me to continue.


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

Definitely that I’m not perfect,  no one is! I struggled with wanting to share only the pretty things on my social media but life isn’t always pretty. I have organizing challenges too! I also strongly believe anyone can be organized. You are not born “organized” or “disorganized”.  I personally think in a very organized way but have to buckle down to do the work sometimes, and it calms me down. Organizing can truly be a form of self-care.

I approach organizing from a minimalist mindset. The organizing community understands that editing is the first step. However, what I hear from minimalists often is that if you are thinking of organizing it means you have too much stuff. I try to strike a balance between the two. Yes, you need to edit, but I also sing the praises of the perfect bin or basket to keep you tidy. You don’t have to life in a square white apartment to be a minimalist.

Lastly, on the subject of organizing supplies, something I’m deeply considering is the impact on our environment. I struggle with encouraging people to get lighter and then introduce brand new products into their space. That’s why I’m exploring a more eco-friendly solution of sourcing organizing projects second-hand when possible. You won’t believe how many like-new products are donated (maybe even from a decluttering session!) that can be the missing piece to your organizing journey.  I’m excited to explore the principles of less waste and eco-friendly sustainability into my business.


What else do you want people to know about you - where they can follow you, how to get in touch?

My website is Organized by Liz and Seattle clients can reach me by email at hello@organizedbyliz.com to schedule a complimentary consult. This is a 20-30 minute walk through of your home or trouble spot where I’ll assess the space, determine what your goals are, and we’ll schedule your first session.

For the day-to-day, before and after pics of projects, and a glimpse into my own home, you can follow along on Instagram - I like to share challenges that I’m doing and tidying tips via stories and I love connecting with people through that platform, so please say hi!

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: Heather Fisher

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.

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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.

 
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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.

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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.

 

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


 

Meet the Minimalist: Kyle Henderson

I met Kyle Henderson, also known as Hondo, at my last office job. When I launched my business back in March, he immediately reached out. He was in a consulting role that allowed him to work from home more frequently and he wanted to get his home in order. While he didn’t have that much stuff, he wanted to find a better way to organize what he did have and make things more efficient.

He’s the kind of guy who has a lot going on from work, hobbies, socializing, and volunteering. He saw the value in outsourcing the organizing to me. Since that initial project, we’ve been working together on a monthly basis.

Over the last several months, he continued paring down physical clutter, started consolidating debt, and most recently took on a weight loss challenge. These are all lofty goals that can be tricky to navigate on their own, but of course, Kyle was tackling these all at once.

He’s a consultant by day, produces five podcasts in his free time, music fiend, wino, and now aspiring minimalist. Learn more about how he approached crushing some serious life goals, including (but not limited to) shedding 24 pounds in two months and saying goodbye to 10k in debt in three months.

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What’s up with all the goal-setting?

I have set goals like this the last couple years. I got way into it and have been building on it. I started this crazy “I’m going to tackle a bunch of stuff” back in 2014.

 

What does “social goals” entail?

Trying to meet up with friends from college every couple months or so, throwing events, planning trips with people. You actually have to plan out what you want to do otherwise you won’t end up seeing people. If I do something on my own, I can go months without having to talk to people.

I broke my goals up into these main categories:

  • Social
  • Diet/Exercise
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Cultural
  • Finance
  • Community


What are the types of things you are doing within each of these areas?

Diet/Exercise: I focused on cutting calories in the beginning to get started, then tried Slow Carb, then a ketogenic diet which is an extreme version of Slow Carb (and is really tough). The biggest changes I made in this area were eating breakfast every single day and using MyFitnessPal to track calories.

Intellectual: this is the content I ingest, from books I read to podcasts I listen to and being more aware of what and how much I’m consuming.

Emotional: relationship-based, faith-based. I started with attitude and trying to be more positive most of the time. When I use this approach, especially with all these activities related to my goals, it helps me avoid the cycles of negativity.

Cultural: travel, trying to learn about other people’s lives, learning about people outside of my own culture. I went to Greece and and hung out with people of all different nationalities. Bonding, sharing customs, history. Finding a way to connect with others.

Finance: trying to understand budget and what I was spending money on. Making better decisions, not necessarily Midwestern decisions. Midwestern Kyle is married with two kids, a house and a new car. That isn’t me. I have an apartment, no car payment, can go wherever, whenever I want.

As I’m cutting back, I’m also making more money than I was before. Meals out was what I spent the most money on - about $2,500 per month which is now down to $800 or so. I would go out for lunch and dinner almost every day. I also don’t have cable or Netflix so I’m saving some money there. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey model of saving $1,000 emergency savings fund and paying off my debts in order from lowest to highest.

Community: volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo. They do an annual fundraiser and I got behind it. It’s a well-run project that raises millions of dollars. I haven’t connected with other organizations yet, have thought about tutoring, maybe something entrepreneurship-related.

 
 

 

That’s a lot going on. Why do you think you’ve been able to be so successful with each of these areas?

I don’t get frazzled by the logistics. I get into it and embrace it. I can’t handle talkers, only doers.

I’m the guy that goes extreme. I could work 100 hours a week and everything else in my life goes to shit. It’s finding balance which is why I have goals spread out over those different categories.

 

Why did you want to outsource organizing?

First and foremost, it was about my time. Getting stuff organized right away, then it was getting more time back in my schedule, then moving toward a more minimalistic lifestyle which was easier to manage moving forward.

Now that I have time back, I don’t want to go back to doing those other things. I want to spend my free time on podcasting, music, wine, sports.

 

Would you call yourself a minimalist?

I’m an aspiring minimalist. To me, full-fledged minimalism is down to the bare essentials. At the moment, I can’t completely pick up and go but I could leave in a half hour. I can’t get rid of my books, just can’t go completely digital just yet. I’m close, but I have my podcasting equipment, some records, and a few books. If I wanted to sell my stuff and go, it would only be 5-6 ads on Craig’s List.

 

What’s your advice to someone who has a goal but doesn't know where to begin?

Don’t say you’re going to start tomorrow. Start today. Figure out something you can accomplish. Break it down into smaller goals that’s more manageable. Losing 70 pounds is a great idea but losing one pound is not so hard.

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Want to know what he's up to next? You can follow Kyle on Twitter and check out his podcasting network, VennCast Studios.  

 

Meet the Minimalist: Kelly Rodenhouse

I’ve mentioned before in my quest for organizing and simplifying my life, I signed up for Stitch Fix to build up my wardrobe with higher quality clothes.  I wanted to invest in a few pieces that made me feel good, items that were versatile so I would make fewer decisions about what to wear. Through one of the Stitch Fix Facebook groups, I connected with Kelly Rodenhouse.

She works from home as a medical transcriptionist by day, has an online health and fitness coaching gig, is a huge Dani Johnson enthusiast, and is very active on social media, sharing her struggles and successes through it all. I have been following her story the last several months of how she has simplified her finances and ultimately simplified a lot of her lifestyle. During her lowest earning year of her ten year career, she conquered an incredible goal when she made her final mortgage payment on her house (and she’s 34 years old, btw).

So here’s how she did it ...

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What prompted you to set the mortgage-free goal?

It was a step-by-step, toe-in-the-water type of goal because I didn’t think I could actually do it. About four years ago, I was at a conference and they were shredding mortgage paperwork on stage. I thought “that’s really cool, they paid off their mortgages through extra income and they are normal people.”

A year later, I attended another conference about personal finance and relationships. The speaker, Dani Johnson, was  formerly homeless, suicidal, with only a couple bucks to her name. She shared her story of how she completely turned her life around, and began helping people earn financial freedom. That’s when I decided I want to pay off my mortgage!

Being around like-minded people helped. I remember telling my mom and dad that I wanted to try. I kept putting myself back in front of those people at that conference doing these amazing things and helping others make a change. About a year ago I got very serious about it and became acutely aware of things I was spending money on. I was constantly asking myself the question “do you want this thing in front of you or do you want something you are working toward that will last a lot longer?” I went for it and I did it!

 

What were some of the compromises you made in order to achieve this goal?

One of the thing Dani Johnson teaches is to print off bank statements and highlight where the money is actually going (luxury vs. a necessity). She was homeless and knew what was needed to survive - water, food, shelter. Everything else really is a luxury. When I looked at my bank statement, I had to be honest myself. All those little splurges add up.

My friend’s husband is a pilot and talks about having to make all these millimeter adjustments to stay on course. I did the same to make progress toward my goal. All these little millimeter adjustments make a difference. I cut out little things like OJ, soda, wine. I keep my house at 62 degrees. I wore a coat when it was cold and avoided turning on my AC in the summer. It was miserable! I love antiquing but I would browse and refrain from buying unless I absolutely loved something, never purchasing more than one thing at a time; I would suggest walks instead of going out to dinner when catching up with friends. I made a point to eat everything in my cupboards before before I went to the grocery store.

My grandpa gave me money at Christmas which would have covered the cost for a conference I was interested in attending, but I ultimately decided to put that cash straight to the house. I also earned a free trip for a cruise through my side business, but the travel to get there wasn’t covered.

 

Were there any big milestones during this process?

I wanted to have it paid off by July 4th because I thought it would be a fun date to be mortgage-free (talk about Independence Day, right?). But I did it two months later! Once I picked the date, I reverse-engineered it from there.
 

 
Kelly paid off her mortgage! Best way to celebrate is with her Jimmy Fallon party hat.

Kelly paid off her mortgage! Best way to celebrate is with her Jimmy Fallon party hat.

 

Do you have any habits or rituals that you are going to continue after achieving your last goal?

I’m going to keep attending the Dani Johnson events and be around like-minded people.

I actually  want to reign back in spending - mostly that coffee habit! Just because I have the extra income, doesn’t mean I have to spend it. I really like a local place called Bigby for this drink called the Teddy Bear (it’s a white chocolate mocha). Or Starbucks - same thing, with skim, keep the whip! I love coffee shop atmospheres because I get so much done - it’s worth it to be productive outside of my home. I’m not gonna buy a coffee and just take it back home.

 

You simplified quite a bit to achieve this goal. Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

I have more than one pair of shoes … and I have more than two black shirts, but I do consider myself to live more minimalist than the average person. I think less stuff makes for easier decisions, less time cleaning and maintaining things. Plus less waste and more cash in my pocket. I do have stuff around me but only because I love it. I don’t have stuff just to have stuff.


What advice do you have for someone who has a wild idea or crazy goal but they don't know where to start?

You have to have a vision. I ran a half marathon and I was the girl that couldn’t finish the half mile in school. But I wanted to be the girl who could do hard things. Whenever “Hall of Fame” by The Script came up on Pandora, I would pause and imagine myself running across the finish line. This was the most impossible feat someone could imagine me doing. When I crossed the finish line, I had this song playing. It kept me going when I wanted to quit.

If someone has an idea or goal they want to pursue, I would want them to be clear on why they are doing it, what it would look like for them, journal about it, just know what they’re fighting for. There might be sacrifices, crap thrown at you, people laughing at you. If you have something placed on your heart, it’s there for a reason.

 

Where do you look to for inspiration when it feels like you aren't making progress?

I’m surrounded by amazing people. I put these people around me that are personal development gurus with different skills that I can learn from. I’m always inspired by my best friend who made a big move to NYC.

 

What's next for you?

I’m a city girl living in the country and have been looking at condos in Chicago on the river. I think about doing an Airbnb, traveling around, bringing my job with me. I’m going to NYC to visit my best friend and have thought about an extended stay.

Her move inspired me to think more about what I’m doing. I’d love to be a travel blogger, a job that’s portable, the ability to work from anywhere. I want to take advantage of the position I’m in to live this life as big and brave as I can.

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I had so much fun interviewing Kelly - after following along with her on social media, it was exciting to chat with her and get to know her better. If you want to read more about what she’s up to, check out her blog or follow along on Facebook and Instagram. Warning: she doesn’t punctuate or capitalize, but she’s super funny, honest, and offers up the pep talk you didn’t even know you needed!