It’s time for this month’s “Ask the Expert” feature, an interview series that connects you with dynamic industry thought leaders. This year we’ve spoken with author Todd Henry about next steps, psychologist, Dr. Debbie Grove about change, and author Joshua Becker about fresh starts. For April, I’m thrilled to have with us author and minimalist, Francine Jay to share her insights about letting go.
Francine’s book, The Joy of Less, was my introduction to the concept of minimalist living. In it, she wrote that when we let go of all the excess, “we uncover our true selves.” Francine writes about the minimalist philosophy along with practical ways of applying it to your life. My gratitude goes to Francine for taking time away from her active toddler to join us. I know you’re going to love her down-to-earth ideas about letting go. Before we begin, here’s more about her.
Francine Jay pioneered the minimalist living movement with her blog, MissMinimalist.com, and her bestselling book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life. In 2009, she and her husband sold their house, and all their possessions, and moved overseas with one suitcase each. After three years as a world-traveling digital nomad, she’s now applying her minimalist philosophy to life as a homeowner and mother. Her techniques for living a beautiful life with less stuff have gained her recognition in both national and international media. You can connect with Francine on Twitter, Pinterest, blog or website.
Linda Samuels: As an author, blogger and parent, you inspire others to consider the joys of minimalist living. How do you describe minimalism?
Francine Jay: Minimalism is eliminating the excess—unused items, unnecessary purchases, unfulfilling tasks—from your life. Everyone I know complains that they don’t have enough space in their homes, or time in their schedules. When you have fewer possessions, you have more space. When you have fewer commitments, you have more time. Minimalism is making room for what matters most.
Linda: You said, “Sometimes we fear that getting rid of certain items is equivalent to getting rid of part of ourselves.” What are some effective letting go strategies?
Francine: If you’re having trouble letting go of certain items, I recommend the following techniques:
- Digitize it. Taking digital photographs is a great way to save the sentiment, without saving the stuff. A photo of your great aunt’s phonograph, or your high school swimming trophies, will bring back the same memories as the item itself—without taking up an inch of space.
- Miniaturize it. This technique is particularly effective for hard-to-part-with heirlooms. If you never use it, save just a piece of an item or collection: like one plate of your grandmother’s china, a swatch from your wedding dress, or the pulls from an antique dresser.
- Hide it (temporarily). Box up items you’re having difficulty letting go of. Mark the box with a date, and donate whatever you don’t retrieve after a specific period of time (say six months). If you haven’t used it (or missed it) in that time, it’s not very crucial to your identity or well-being.
Linda: In your book, The Joy of Less, you describe that things can become anchors, which prevent us from growing and moving forward. What are some of the benefits of letting go?
Francine: Clutter can weigh on our spirits, making us feel too distressed and distracted to accomplish much of anything. Letting go lightens our load, giving us the freedom—physically, mentally, and often financially—to explore new interests and develop new talents. When we’re not tied down by excess stuff and commitments, we’re able to embrace opportunities as they arise. Each extraneous thing we eliminate from our lives feels like a weight lifted from our shoulders—it’s positively exhilarating!
Linda: Do you have a letting go philosophy?
Francine: To me, letting go is like traveling lightly. I realized how wonderful it was to travel with a small backpack, with only the essentials, instead of lugging around a heavy suitcase. When I was on vacation, I felt like I could go anywhere, and do anything, because I wasn’t loaded down with stuff. I wanted to have that same feeling of freedom in my everyday life, so I decided to let go of all my excess possessions. I wanted to spend my time and energy on experiences, rather than things. I believe that the less baggage we’re dragging around, the more living we can do.
Linda: What has been your biggest personal challenge around letting go?
Francine: Since I became a mother, my biggest personal challenge has been letting go of productivity. Once upon a time, I wrote regular blog posts, answered emails within a day, and had a sink free of dishes—and couldn’t imagine life any other way. Having a child has taught me that it’s okay to let some things go undone—I’d rather read my daughter an extra bedtime story than race to clear out my inbox. Now, my goal is no longer to get more done, but to have less to do.
Francine, I love the clarity you have around your ideas, which are especially compelling because you’re living them. While there are so many words of wisdom here, one of the ideas that particularly resonates with me is, “I believe that the less baggage we’re dragging around, the more living we can do.” The focus on less stuff to gain more living is at the core of minimalism, and very much in line with the work we do as organizers.
Please join Francine and me as we continue the conversation. We’d love to hear your ideas about letting go, minimalism, and traveling lightly. What are your thoughts?