Over the last month, I’ve been interviewing amazing bloggers about simple living, location independence, financial freedom and more. Every Thursday, a feature interview is posted on RowdyKittens. Last week, I spoke with Adam Baker of Man versus Debt. This week the feature interview is with the awesome Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living.
Tammy: Can you tell us about your blog, Simpler Living?
Naomi: I actually started getting rid of clutter before I started blogging, but reading Time’s article about Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge is what got me to kick it into high gear. I was fascinated by the idea of being that mindful about possessions, and I wanted to see how much I could shed of my own stuff. I decided to write about it both as a way to document my own downsizing process and to give away whatever I didn’t want.
“Living well with less” became the theme of my blog because I want people to know that simplifying isn’t about deprivation — at all! Getting rid of my clutter has made my life richer in so many ways. I still have stuff, but by editing my possessions, I weeded out the stuff I didn’t use, need or value.
Having enough is important, and a lot of people in this world clearly don’t have enough. But for those who do, simplifying is a way to reduce stress and debt, become more mindful about what you buy, and regain control over how you use your money and your time. Our economy hinges to a large extent on persuading people to buy things they really don’t need. When you get rid of clutter, you become more aware of how much you already have.
Tammy: What prompted you to start your downsizing journey?
Naomi: I’ve lived pretty lightly for most of my adult life, and I’ve actually lived more minimally than I do now. I paid for college completely through student loans, and I hate having debt, so I lived simply to save money while I was paying off my debt. I didn’t get a car until my late twenties, and my wardrobe came from thrift stores.
I accumulated things gradually as I got older, though, and at some point, I felt disorganized and knew that I had too many things I didn’t need or had outgrown. I also knew I’d have to move again, and I didn’t want to lug stuff like books I was never going to read (or re-read) to my next place. I like traveling light.
Three people I loved very much also died within a few years, including my father. Looking back, I think tackling my clutter was a way to regain some control over my life. I was helpless to do anything about my dad’s cancer, but I was completely capable of making my home a more peaceful, organized place. Taking control of what I could made me feel stronger overall.
Tammy: How do you define simple living?
Naomi: I see simple living as choosing to live a life that values experiences over stuff. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” is a saying I first read on Katy Wolk-Stanley’s blog (The Non-Consumer Advocate), and I think it expresses the concept really well.
I don’t see myself as the best role model for simple living because I’m very aware of the ways my life choices fall short. But I’m closer to embracing those values than I was a couple of years ago. It’s impossible to take inventory and get rid of clutter without becoming more mindful about what you use and buy.
Tammy: A number of my readers want to start decluttering their homes, but don’t know where to start. How can folks start the decluttering process and avoid feeling so overwhelmed by the challenge?
Naomi: I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of clutter is in your life for a good reason. People don’t typically intentionally fill their lives with junk. At some point, you really intended to learn how to knit, and you really did use those college textbooks. But to get rid of clutter, you also have to recognize that you don’t need the same things in your life that you did 5 or 10 years ago. Let them go.
Here are three ways to start getting rid of clutter fast:
1. If your bedroom has anything in it that doesn’t help you sleep, get it out, even if you just move it to another room. It’s important to create a sanctuary for yourself, a place where you can shut the door and see what a space without clutter actually looks like. Your bedroom should be a peaceful place to sleep, not a place to store stuff.
2. Dedicate an hour or so a week to going through stuff, box by box and drawer by drawer. Put it on your calendar and treat it like any other appointment you need to keep. If you do it regularly, you’ll make getting rid of clutter a habit. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get at discerning between clutter and useful and valuable stuff. You’ll also make progress, even if it feels like you’re just chipping away at the start.
3. Go for the low-hanging fruit first. That’s the non-sentimental stuff, like the random stuff in your junk drawer or broken jewelry — things that are easy to toss. Dealing with that just tends to be easier than dealing with the stuff you’re emotionally attached to. I had an easier time recycling copy-editing handouts and shredding outdated pay stubs than I did getting rid of some things that belonged to my dad.
Tammy: Books have changed my life for the better and I’m a big book geek. I’m always curious about what other folks are currently reading. What books have you read recently and do you have any recommendations? And do you have any favorite books that focus on downsizing?
Naomi: There are a lot of great books out there about how to deal with clutter, so it’s hard to go wrong, but two of my personal favorites are “It’s All Too Much,” by Peter Walsh, and “Unclutter Your Life in One Week,” by Erin Rooney Doland. Decluttering isn’t rocket science. It’s basically common sense, so most books tend to have the same kind of advice. But these two books are easy-to-read, sensible, practical guides, and I like the way they’re written.
My not-so-guilty pleasure is a graphic novel series called “The Walking Dead.” Because really, who couldn’t use some post-apocalyptic zombie literature in their life?
I’m also reading “Food Rules,” by Michael Pollan, and re-reading “Eight Weeks To Optimum Health,” by Dr. Andrew Weil. If you’re interested in taking control of your health and learning about nutrition, check them out.
Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpower(s)?
Naomi: I’m good at bringing out the best in other people. I’m an editor, so my job is really about taking good writers and making them look even better. And I love to encourage other people to reach for their goals, whatever they are.
My biggest superpower came from my greatest weakness, strangely enough. When I was 23, I experienced depression that was so severe I ended up leaving the Peace Corps. It’s very hard to describe that kind of pain if you haven’t experienced it, but it was hard.
I experienced major depression for very good reasons, but I blamed myself for being weak and flawed. Leaving the Peace Corps was awful because Kazakhstan was an amazing place, a place most people will never go to, and I went because I wanted to do something good with my life. My timing just turned out to be really bad. But after I got home and got help, I tapped into some internal strength I didn’t know I had to move on. I needed a job with health insurance, and I pulled myself together and got one. I moved on and accomplished things I never thought I would. I also realized (gradually) how much strength it takes to live for as long as I have with that kind of pain.
Tammy: Do you regret getting rid of anything?
Naomi: I’ve gotten rid of hundreds of things over the past couple of years, and I regret giving away only two of them: my LL Bean duck boots, and a cardigan that would have been perfect to wear over my wedding dress if it gets cold. I didn’t need either of them when I gave them away, which is why I gave them away. On the plus side, both of them are easy to replace.
The other 99.9 percent of the time, I only regret not doing this sooner. I can live with that!
- John Carl D’Annibale/Times Union took the photo of Naomi in the hat.
- Lori Van Buren/Times Union took the photo of Naomi and the llama.