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Living Well With Less: An Interview with Naomi Seldin

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.

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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!

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Photo Credits:

  • 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.

For more interview awesomeness read:

Spread the love! If this post helped you, please share it with your tribe! Thanks for reading.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Naomi May 13, 2010, 7:33 am

    Tammy: Thanks so much for including me in your series. You ask great questions. The “superpowers” one was the hardest to answer because it’s so personal, but I decided to answer it honestly.

    p.s. The llama’s name is Miss Chip. She belongs to a friend who holds “llama hikes” regularly on her farm near Albany.

  • Lisa May 13, 2010, 9:32 am

    Thanks for this post that featured two of my favorite writers!

  • Danby May 13, 2010, 11:28 am

    Tammy and Naomi, thanks so much for this post. My husband and I are moving in early July, so we’re both trying to downsize before the big day. There’s nothing like lugging junk destined for the thrift store in and out of a moving van to motivate a person! I love Naomi’s ideas about where to start — every inch of my house begs for decluttering, so it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. I’m hoping for at least a few profoundly unsentimental days. As Naomi discusses above and in her blog, it’s the items attached to memory that are most difficult to let go of. I’m glad you were honest about your superpowers, Naomi — for most people, clutter is an emotional issue and deserves to be contextualized as such. If clutter didn’t have an important impact on how we feel, it wouldn’t be a problem — either to keep it or give it away.

  • soultravelers3 May 13, 2010, 3:09 pm

    I just stumbled upon this post from twitter because “Living well with less” is a very big theme in our open ended, non-stop family world tour ( since 2006 on just 23 dollars a day), so it caught my eye! So glad I did!

    Great post, with great links and all of it right up my alley! Thanks Tammy and Naomi!!

  • Katy Wolk-Stanley May 13, 2010, 7:56 pm

    Great interview, I just LOVE Naomi Seldin.

    I have written a number of posts about decluttering, and although I’ve supposedly been decluttering for years, I feel like I’m only just now figuring it out.

    Key for me is that I’m hardly bringing any more stuff into the house, and I’ve become a lot less sentimental about objects. My house is really big, so it’s possible to have thousands of extra objects before it looks like too much. My goal is to have it easier to keep clean. And to have the house cute enough to do a home swap vacation. I’m almost there!

    -Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

  • Tom May 13, 2010, 9:27 pm

    What a great interview! It’s always inspiring to hear how people are succeeding in their personal goals. Well done and keep up the good work.

  • Jeffrey Tang May 14, 2010, 5:29 am

    A great, great interview. Naomi, thanks for sharing so much of your journey and your personal interpretation of simpler living. I especially loved what you said about simplification having nothing to do with deprivation. I think many people associate simple living with living like a miser or a monk – but it’s not about that at all. It’s about creating room in your life for all the great experiences, instead of filling your life with every piece of junk that you come across.

    Oh, and this little poem: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Wonderful.

    Thanks for doing this interview, Naomi, and a huge thanks to Tammy for making it possible!

  • Eric Normand May 14, 2010, 9:45 am

    What a great interview.

    I was evacuated from my Peace Corps service, so I know what it’s like to have to leave early.

    These are some great, practical tips for getting rid of all of the crap that enters our lives. I really appreciate the “tackle one box at a time” idea. I am often overwhelmed with the years and years worth of stuff I have. I have moved several times, and each time it’s always a rush at the end to pack and move everything. There are some boxes that I never opened again. They are full of stuff that I don’t need (and probably a few things I’ve been looking for). I think I’ll go through them right now. Thanks

    Eric

  • Tammy May 14, 2010, 4:15 pm

    Thanks everyone for such leaving such thoughtful comments. And thank you Naomi! It was a pleasure interviewing you. 🙂

  • Naomi Seldin May 17, 2010, 7:10 am

    Tammy, it was my pleasure! I love your series of interviews and was honored to be included.

    Thank you, all, for your positive feedback. Jeffrey, I like your interpretation of simple living, too!

    “One box at a time” really does work — I’m proof of that. One other thing I’d suggest: Take a picture of your stuff before you start getting rid of clutter, and take a look at it a few months down the road. It’s easy to forget how much progress you make when you do it gradually, but having a “before” photo will make you aware of how far you’ve come.

    Eric, I have so much admiration for Peace Corps volunteers. I’m sorry you had to leave early, but I think it’s fantastic that you went at all. Not everyone is willing to give up two years of their life. I met the most fantastic people in Kazakhstan and will never forget what I learned there.

    If anyone else has specific questions, please let me know! (You can also e-mail me via my blog).

    Best,
    Naomi

    • elin June 2, 2010, 12:15 pm

      Just a quick comment on “Not everone is willing to give up two years of their life”. Having worked as a volunteer overseas for 8 years, those years were not “given up” – Quite the opposite. SO much was given TO us.
      Thanks for your blog, interviews – they are great.

  • finallygettingtoeven.com May 19, 2010, 3:53 pm

    another great interview…(i’ve been lurking for a few months now and thought it was time to grace you with my presence…lucky you…lol)

    Naomi is the type of person you wish you were best friends with. Her down to earth attitude is refreshing and her lifestyle fits right in there with mine. I myself have just completed a 2 year journey of ‘de-cluttering’ and i have to say that the benefits of the removal of all the stuff is much greater than just nice clean lines. My brain has had a renewal of spirit also. One doesn’t realize that physical clutter is directly tied to mental clutter until they begin this journey. I have never felt more alive, free and able to breath. Suddenly when life’s little tragedies come my way i am better able to cope with them because my stress level is at an all time low. I only wish that i had come to this realization about 10 years ago, but i guess i need to look at the bright side. I am finally there now.

  • Naomi August 11, 2010, 9:48 am

    >Just a quick comment on “Not everyone is willing to give up two years of their life”. Having worked as a volunteer overseas for 8 years, those years were not “given up” – Quite the opposite. SO much was given TO us.

    That’s a really good point, Elin. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

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