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The Joy of Less

Over the last few months, I’ve been interviewing amazing bloggers about simple living, location independence, financial freedom, and more. Today the feature interview is with Francine Jay, from Miss Minimalist. We talked about minimalism, living lightly in small spaces, and her new book, The Joy of Less.



Tammy: Can you tell us about your new book The Joy of Less and why you decided to write it?

Francine: The Joy of Less is a celebration of minimalist living – it’s part philosophy, part pep talk, and an arsenal of practical techniques for purging the clutter from our lives. In it, I outline the STREAMLINE method (ten sure-fire steps to a decluttered home), and guide readers on a room-by-room minimalist makeover. I also talk about how we can trim our to-do lists and reclaim our time. And finally, I discuss the far-reaching benefits of living lightly on the Earth – because I think it’s very cool that saving space in our closets goes hand in hand with saving the planet!

Why did I write it? Well, when I started blogging about minimalist living last year, I expected to have just a handful of followers. The response, however, blew me away – I couldn’t believe how many people were interested in paring down their lives, and were hungry for information on how to do so. I quickly became the “Dear Abby” of decluttering, and realized people wanted (and needed!) a how-to guide on the topic.

I’ve been giving this advice to friends and family for years, and it feels wonderful to share it with a wider audience. The book is very upbeat and supportive; I wanted my readers to have fun with their decluttering, and feel like I’m right beside them, helping and encouraging them, each step of the way.

Tammy: In The Joy of Less, you liken minimalist living to being a butterfly. What’s that about?

Francine: When we overconsume, we’re like bulls running through a china shop – trampling the Earth’s resources, and leaving waste and destruction in our wake. When we live minimally, on the other hand, we’re like butterflies: we flit through life with little baggage, and live lightly and gracefully on the Earth. We preserve our planet’s resources, as if we alighted momentarily and barely touched them. I think it’s a beautiful way to live.

Tammy: How do you define minimalism and/or simple living?

Francine: To me, minimalism means finding the point of “just enough” – where you own the right amount of stuff to meet your needs and make you happy, but nothing extraneous.

It’s also about choosing experiences over stuff. I think that happiness comes from what we do, not what we have – and the less stuff we have cluttering our lives, the more time, space, and energy we have to do things. Therefore, I truly believe that having less stuff can make us happier people.

Tammy: What prompted you to start your downsizing journey?

Francine: I became interested in minimalist living by traveling lightly. I realized how wonderful it was to travel with a small carry-on bag, with only the essentials, instead of lugging around a heavy suitcase. When I was on vacation, I found it absolutely exhilarating that I could get by with so little – I felt like I could go anywhere, and do anything, because I wasn’t loaded down with stuff. And I thought, wow, if it feels this great to travel lightly, how amazing would it be to live this way?

I slowly decluttered for many years, until I was presented with a fabulous opportunity for a clean slate: last year, my husband and I sold our house, and almost all our possessions, and moved to the UK with one duffel bag each. Instead of “setting up home” over here, we’ve acquired things only as we needed them; it’s been a great experiment in discovering what’s necessary, and what we can live without.

Tammy: Can you give our readers three tips to live creatively and lightly in a small space?

Francine: Sure! First, acquire only the furniture that you truly need. Don’t buy a nightstand, a dining table, or a couch just because everyone else has one. Think about which pieces are necessary for your lifestyle, and which ones you could just as well do without.

Second, think versatility. In a small space, items that can do double (or triple) duty are worth their weight in gold. Whether it’s a table, a kitchen gadget, or a handbag, choose multi-functional items over single-task ones – the more needs an object fulfills, the better!

Third, embrace technology. The fact that we can reduce so many things (CDs, DVDs, books, paperwork) to intangible bits and bytes makes it a wonderful time to be a minimalist. Scanning your documents, and purchasing music, movies, and books in digital form, can free up a significant amount of space.

Tammy: Living in a small space can be challenging, especially if you’re into crafts and do-it-yourself projects. How do you address storage needs in your small space?

Francine: I advocate storing like items in “modules” (which I explain in great detail in my book). The idea is to devote a single container to a particular hobby, task, or category – like scrapbooking or office supplies, for example – and limit the contents to what fits. In other words, when a particular module is full, you’ll have to use up (or get rid of) some of your old stuff before purchasing more. It’s a great way to keep craft supplies (and other items) from multiplying and taking over the house.

If you’re short on storage space, look high (like above wardrobes) and low (like under beds) for storage opportunities. One trick I used was to make my storage containers blend in with their surroundings: I have white walls, and a white wardrobe, so the white nylon storage cube on top of my wardrobe seems to “disappear.”

Of course, as a minimalist, I think the best way to address storage needs is to reduce the amount of stuff you need to store. Purge, purge, and purge some more before you put anything in pretty containers; otherwise, you’re just organizing your clutter!

Tammy: Your blog is very thoughtful and I think everyone should head over and take a look at your content. Which of your posts should folks read first?

Francine: Thanks so much! I’d recommend starting with the following three:

My Minimalist Story, Part 2: The Great Unraveling
explains how my husband and I narrowed down our possessions to one bag each before moving overseas.

400 Square Feet is the New Black is a peek at our new tiny apartment, and a good introduction to how we’re living now.

The Minsumer Movement: A Quiet Revolution is one of my all-time favorite posts. It’s a manifesto on how buying less, and living lightly, can make us pioneers of social and economic change.

Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpower?

Francine: Fun question! I think my superpower is adaptability. I love change, and adjusting to new circumstances on the fly. I think that’s why I enjoy travel (and moving) so much! I’ve always wanted to be like a Bond girl – not the ditzy ones, but the nuclear-physicist-by-day, karate-black-belt-by-night ones. They always adapt to any circumstance – outrunning assassins on skis, trekking across a desert, or scuba diving in shark-infested waters – without so much as a hair out of place. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it. 😉


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Darci September 8, 2010, 9:20 am

    I’m so excited that you chatted with Francine! I’m going to Italy (in a week!) and found her when I was researching packing ideas a few months ago . She’s inspired me to travel abroad with a teeny-tiny (smaller than carry-on size standards) duffel bag.

  • Quinn September 8, 2010, 10:58 am

    I adore the last answer about being a Bond girl…adapting on a whim to whatever circumstances come at you. I feel ya girl!

  • Miss Minimalist September 8, 2010, 1:22 pm

    Thank you, Tammy — I’m a huge fan of your blog, and I loved the opportunity to chat with you!

  • David September 8, 2010, 10:01 pm

    Thanks for introducing me to Francine and her great blog. I really relate to the need for change and the desire to travel – though she was almost starting to sound like a bit of a maximizer.


  • Cheryl Breuer September 9, 2010, 5:23 am

    Great interview! I’ve also found another blog to follow. Thanks, Tammy.

  • Brendan September 9, 2010, 6:15 am

    Great post Tammy! After reading this I had some thoughts that I wanted to share. First, let me say that I am in the beginning stages of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. So I am very much enjoying your blog.

    This post in particular made me think about my personal tendencies toward being perfectionistic. And the way my need to be “perfect” sometimes drives me to escalate into non-minimalist habits including spending more money, buying useless stuff and perhaps most detrimental: cluttering up my mind with anxiety about not being perfect. Is perfectionism the enemy minimalism? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.

    Thank you again and keep up the great work!

  • Brenda September 10, 2010, 12:30 pm

    Hey Tammy and Francine.
    Thank you both for all your insights on living a simpler life. Tammy I’ve been reading your blog for weeks and I’m a huge fan. My question to you or Francine is in regards to expanding your family. Do you either of you have a post on how to live simply or in tiny spaces with kids. My husband and I would eventually like to have 2 kids, but I hate big houses. Ideas, thoughts?

  • Nina | Castles in the Air September 17, 2010, 9:05 am

    Two of my favorite female minimalist bloggers – you go girls!

    (Karate black belt here … so what’s my “daytime” power I wonder?) 😛

    Keep up the great work, ladies! Love both of your blogs — so inspirational!

  • Tiffanie September 19, 2010, 12:28 pm

    Thanks for this interview! I bought the kindle version of the book and have been motivated while packing/minimizing for our upcoming move!
    Also was inspired to pack extra-light for an upcoming trip to Hawaii!!
    Rowdy Kittens has been a huge breath of fresh air in my brain lately!
    Thank you!! 🙂

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