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« A Pattern: Live, Acquire, Release | 10 Ways to Let Go & Move On »

Ask the Expert: Francine Jay

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,, 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 SamuelsAs 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?

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Reader Comments (20)

I love that Francine has created a life that resonates around the phrase "less is more". Her phrase
"Minimalism is making room for what matters most" empowers us to seek out what matters most first to gain clarity and then move forward. Thanks for sharing her book!

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

Due to the recent baggage restrictions on air travel, I've taken to traveling with one small bag. Yes, I have fewer options for what to wear, but I have found I spent less time worrying about it and more time enjoying the vacation. I couldn't agree more than letting go is exhilarating... freeing!

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

i love that she mentions that living with less is not only about your "stuff" but also about your time. I am finding more and more of my clients and friends are having a harder time grappling with "decluttering" of their commitments and time robbers than with their physical stuff. Such an important concept to highlight and she does it so perfectly!

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Josel

So great to "hear" your wonderful voices!

@Ellen- So true. Having less to worry about and manage gives us more time to focus on what's most important. Francine's book is terrific with lots of great, practical ideas to support minimalist living.

@Seana- I've been traveling more lately and definitely understand the "light" part. I could stand to go even lighter. It's amazing how much we DON'T need. Makes decision-making much easier too. Less choices, more living.

@Leslie- Yes! Time can be harder to "declutter," especially with increased access to life in this era of 24/7 connectivity. But as Francine so honestly shares, it's always a give and take. What are you willing to say "no" to? What are you willing to let go of from your schedule? And recognizing that choice IS an option.

April 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love the way Francine defines minimalism as eliminating the excess: unused items, unnecessary purchases, unfulfilling tasks from your life. I am in the habit of advising my clients to eliminate the unused items and unnecessary purchases and will now council my clients to think about the tasks that are meaningless or unfulfilling and work to eliminate them as well. Thank you for this great interview, Linda!

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

I loved this post. My favorite phrase: "my goal is no longer to get more done, but to have less to do." Who wouldn't want that? :)

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

I agree 100% with Janet Barclay; same exact phrase caught my attention. Unfortunately, with toddlers and aging parents, having less to do is nearly impossible since you don't have much control over their ever changing needs.

Lovely post and I'm very interested in reading the book.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGeralin Thomas

Living in a small house like me challenges you in a direction to have only the things you need and the things you love. Because we don't have big closets or storage room or anything like that, is important to make the most with the space, minimalism is a great way to have only those things you really use and enjoy.
The example of traveling light to me is the key about living with the essential; yes, probably let us with reduced options but in the other hand we can be more inventive and at the time we pack being wiser about what could work. If we apply the same philosophy to our place, we'll realize that only 20-30% of the stuff we own, is really useful, the other part is like styrofoam beans, surrounding the real content of the box.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

I moved as a child in the military, and we knew how to live with just the essentials. You only had so much space to back up your belongings in especially when we headed overseas. I have always seen less as more. Love Francine's approach.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

Amen to minimalism and simplifying life! We downsized last year from a 3,500-square-foot home to a 350-square-foot motorhome and we don't miss a thing. That's because we took everything that really mattered to us including our musical instruments (a full-size piano keyboard, two guitars and amps), plus bicycles (I'm training for the Senior Olympics which is something I probably never would have done), Vitamix and other kitchen appliances (I'm a gourmet cook), and small pieces of art I've collected over the years (I sold or donated the larger stuff). Believe it or not, we've already donated and sold stuff since hitting the road. Anyway, when we were going through the process of downsizing, we got through it with the knowledge that we had a choice: we could keep everything or we could head out on this free-wheeling adventure. But we couldn't have both. Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Freedom awaits!

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Smallin Kuper

So fun having all of you here to share and play!

@Diane- Nice council addition to your offerings!

@Janet- Oh, yes! Deliberately not doing more.

@Geralin- I guess we exert control where we can and let go when we can't. Good point that all time and stuff doesn't always come with complete flexibility.

@Nacho- Love your analogy with the "styrofoam beans, surrounding the real content of the box." Wonderful!

@Jill- With all your moves, I'm guessing that not only are you great at thing and space management, but that you're also very flexible. Is that so?

@Donna- What an inspiring story… and I appreciate the last part of what you said. It wasn't easy to make such dramatic changes, but it was worth it. What a wonderful life change!

April 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I traveled around Europe for two months with one backpack so I can completely relate. We need so little. I sort and edit on a regular basis, and ask my boys (now teens) to do the same.

They're is always someone else in need: clothes, board games, outgrown toys are passed on. I'm not a minimalist to this extent, but I work hard keeping the superfluous at bay.

Great interview. Thanks to you both.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlys Milner

Alys- What an awesome thing to do…traveling around Europe with just a backpack for two months. Talk about traveling light! Wonderful. Sounds like you've been able to keep that thread of "light" as an ongoing way of being….and you've passed on that way of being to your sons too. Just beautiful.

April 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda, thank you for sharing Francine Jay with us! The more minimalistic advocates I read about, the more I aspire to emulate even but a small piece of this liberating process.

Her perspective is so appealing and refreshing, it seems so obvious of a concept at first thought. Truly, although this is a 'choice,' it is far from an easy one. Like Francine, some can take the courageous leap and unshackle the majority of their possessions more easily than others. They are committed to a lifestyle transformation. For others, this would be impossible.

While I fantasize about the possibility, I have a mindful acceptance about what I require to live a fulfilling life, and who I am. Now. I actually see this process on a continuum; it seems that the older we get, the less we need or want. For me, as an empty nester, I know that I require and want to accumulate less things.

I am fascinated and I admire that Francine, as a young mom with a toddler, was able to disencumber her 'things' at this juncture of her life. I'm imagining myself as a young mom and recalling how I 'schlepped' the endless parade of toy clutter, change of clothing, and excess paraphanalia everywhere I went. If I knew then what I know now, perhaps life could have been simpler.
The most powerful impression I'm struck with is creating the space for our priorities. I LOVE that Francine shares how she willfully abandons the sinkful of dishes and her inbox commitment for more quality time with her daughter. Letting go of time robbers is just as crucial as letting go of excess things. Like so many other influencers have concurred 'owning less is living more.' I know this to be true now.

My personal minimalist approach to my life is an ongoing one, and with baby steps. I'm open to simplifying my life along with my clients. Traveling light is still challenging, lol, and I've already experienced the benefits of having less options. less decisions. It is super liberating; less to pack means less to unpack! Also like Francine, I've recently minimized my 'on-line' presence to be more present in my personal life. Dialing it back it a little and reaping the rewards :)

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments! I'm thrilled to hear everyone's enthusiasm for letting go and eliminating the excess, in all different aspects of life. My deepest appreciation to Linda for introducing me to this lovely community, and I hope I'm able to connect with some of you again in the future!

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFrancine Jay

This post was particularly capturing. I love the clarity of certain words and phrases that Francine used to describe minimalism as I found them incredibly validating. Phrases such as, unnecessary purchases; fewer posessions=more space; fewer committments=more time; making room for what matters; clutter weighs our spirits, and her very last thought that less baggage=more living. These thoughts are the core motivations for the work we do as Professional Organizers. I too cannot wait to order and read her book. Great post...thank you Linda!!

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Delson

Love the continuing conversation! Great to "hear" from all of you.

@Nancy- What a great concept you bring with the "continuum" approach. Perhaps we're works in progress. Maybe some of us aren't quite ready to adopt minimalist living full on, but we can grow towards lightening the load in order to live a less encumbered life. Interesting to hear about your journey with the physical stuff and also time. Glad you opted to spend some of it here with us.

@Sheila- Ahh yes! So many ideas to connect with. Reducing to create space for our priorities. Bottom line of less equaling more in all arenas.

@Francine- You've got a lot of new fans here. As you can see, a wonderful conversation has ensued because of your ideas. Thank you for being here with us to start and continue this dialogue about minimalism, letting go, having less, and living more. Inspired!

April 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love the feel of this conversation. It's obvious to me that Francine "walks her talk." Francine's philosophy comes across clearly and loudly. It's who she is and how she lives.

Two points resonated with me the most:

"Letting go lightens our load, giving us the freedom—physically, mentally, and often financially—to explore new interests and develop new talent," and

"Since I became a mother, my biggest personal challenge has been letting go of productivity."

As a mother of twins I can identify with the challenge of letting go of my productivity mindset. In the early years I was painfully aware of the "male" standard I held myself to. Letting go allowed me to get in touch with the soft, accepting, and forgiving side of me.

Thank you Francine and Linda for sharing your wisdom and life experience. xoxo

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYota Schneider

Yota- It's wonderful to have you with us! It always is. Oh yes…the letting go lessons of parenting. That perhaps is one of the biggest lessons I've learned in the past 24 years. From the moment we give birth, the letting go begins. Thank goodness we get a lot of practice along the way. Letting go makes way for freedom, exploration and growth. And as you said, it can make us more forgiving and kinder to ourselves.

April 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I would love to read your book "The Joy Of Less", however, it is very very difficult, almost impossible, to read such small light print and really impossible to read the yellow print.
More and more Baby Boomers like myself are trying to scale down in our possessions
as we are moving into smaller spaces and at our age our once great eyesight is not what
it used to be. You might want to talk to your publisher to come out with LARGE PRINT
versions of your book and change the yellow printing to a darker color so that Baby Boomers
would be able to read your words of wisdom.

October 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMary Delaney

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