Declutter. Many adults — particularly mothers — attest that clutter creates anxiety, and evolutionary biology supports this experience. Order and symmetry gave our ancestors an advantage over predators, and humans therefore evolved to prefer tidy spaces. And while you likely feel scattered and anxious when your living spaces are untidy, decluttering ensures that you are living in a calmer state, where it’s easier to focus on what’s important.
As part of my series on the “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Seferian.
Stephanie Seferian believes incremental minimalism reduces stress and increases happiness. She is also the author of the nonfiction book Sustainable Minimalism, the host of The Sustainable Minimalists podcast, and a regular bloggers at https://MamaMinimalist.com. She’s also an avid distance runner, a lover of fiction, and an aspiring plant-based chef. Stephanie lives just outside of Boston with her two daughters, yellow Labrador Retriever, 10,000-ish bees, and husband who loves to compost almost as much as she.
Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was inspired to live a more minimal lifestyle shortly after becoming a mother. My husband, dog, two cats and I lived happily in a small apartment, but then my daughter came along. She had more clothes than I had; she had hundreds of toys, too. Although I didn’t have much free time, I found myself wasting whatever free time I had organizing, cleaning, and finding places for her possessions.
One day, I decided to work smarter, not harder, by paring down my daughter’s belongings to just the necessities. Shortly after, I began looking critically at my own possessions: What had I been unintentionally keeping? What could I declutter in efforts of both decreasing stress and increasing free time? Thus, a minimalist was born.
Minimalism has proven to be a powerful way to decrease my stress and anxiety. Because there is less visual clutter in my house, I no longer feel constantly pulled in the direction of messes to clean up. Minimalism has also given me the precious gift of extra free time: I’m no longer spending my free moments cleaning and organizing; I therefore have more time to do what I truly love. I do believe that you can buy more free time by decluttering.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I used to be a teacher, and it was incredibly fear-inducing to take what was essentially a leap of faith into the world of podcasting. (Even though I knew I wasn’t living my passion as an educator, I’ve never been particularly fond of risks, particularly financial ones!)
The most interesting aspect of my entrepreneurial journey is that passion is contagious, and doors continue to open when you follow your dreams. I never believed that my humble little podcast — which essentially was a passion project — would balloon into a worldwide movement and, later, into a book. I’m in awe of its growth every single day; I’m also in awe of the masses of people I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with who, like me, believe that less is better.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started podcasting, I knew less than nothing, and my earliest episodes are cringe-worthy as a result. There are awkward pauses, heavy breathing, mediocre content, and countless other mistakes that embarrass me to this day.
The lesson I learned from those early months of podcasting is to embrace the learning curve when trying something new. The goal isn’t perfection; instead, the goal is progress. It’s cliche but it’s true: you have to start somewhere!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My book, Sustainable Minimalism, was just released in January and it is a true labor of love. It discusses common struggles such as how to create (and maintain!) a serene home as well as how to become a more conscious consumer so that your home stays tidy and decluttered for the long haul. I tailored its topics based on what my podcast listeners tell me are their biggest struggles and I’m excited that the book is finally out into the world because I truly believe it address the real-life concerns of aspiring minimalists just like me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My household operates under the belief that unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. We strive to live minimally and sustainably by purchasing less and — when we do need to purchase something — by purchasing intentionally. This means we do our research. We read reviews. We make 100% certain that we can’t repurpose, reuse or borrow from someone else first.
It’s a running joke in our home that we can’t keep up with the Joneses because they’re too busy. It’s easy to get caught up in both the rat race as well as the possessions race with our neighbors; instead of trying, we constantly remind each other that we simply aren’t playing the comparison game.
There’s immense freedom in choosing not to play.
Thank you for that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Many adults — particularly mothers — attest that clutter creates anxiety, and evolutionary biology supports this experience. Order and symmetry gave our ancestors an advantage over predators, and humans therefore evolved to prefer tidy spaces. And while you likely feel scattered and anxious when your living spaces are untidy, decluttering ensures that you are living in a calmer state, where it’s easier to focus on what’s important.
A minimalist home also reduces family tension. Maintaining tidiness maintains family harmony because it sets the foundation for an overall calmer internal baseline in adults. Many adults attest that they despise being home because of the countless messes that demand their attention. Arguing with your less-than-tidy spouse or snapping at your child for not picking up their toys unintentionally creates interpersonal stress. Paring down your belongings will likely encourage you to view your home as the antidote to stress instead of its cause. Decluttering may enable your partner and children to enjoy your best self, too, rather than your worst.
I consider decluttering to be a transformative event in the evolution of a sustainable minimalist. The purging process can be jarring — I myself felt profound shame as I stood over the piles of cheap junk I had mindlessly purchased. But that shame awakened me to an uncomfortable reality: I had bought many items I didn’t need, and for no good reason. And while decluttering can absolutely be uncomfortable, it is an essential foundation for “sparking joy” in your home. Clutter has a way of hiding what truly matters in plain sight, and clearing out the nonessentials ushers in clarity. When the job is done, you will likely realize you need much less than you thought to be happy.
2. Zero in on these 5 oft-overlooked areas.
Too Much Furniture
When professional stagers prepare a home for sale, they first remove 80 percent of the homeowner’s furniture. Next, they replace select pieces with smaller versions.
Home stagers understand that using fewer, smaller pieces makes homes feel bigger. If you find yourself constantly side-stepping end tables, floor lamps, and arm chairs, you may have too much furniture. Consider donating or selling the excess.
Refrigerator door clutter creates unnecessary visual overstimulation. Experiment with a clutter-free fridge for one week by removing absolutely every item from its face. Place your child’s notable school papers in their baby book. Extract the important information from party invitations, too, then recycle the physical invitation. And photographs? Place them in a photo album.
Over the course of seven days, you may come to appreciate the blank space that a clutter-free refrigerator offers. If, however, it feels too bare for your liking, be intentional about which items you choose to display. Remember the cardinal rule of minimalism: less is always more.
Cramped bookshelves beg to be organized. Combat book-related clutter by arranging books in ascending order. Push books to the front of shelves and line them up evenly to create a smooth face. To break up the visual monotony of book spine after book spine, intersperse a trinket here or there, or turn a few books horizontally.
Excessive Wall Art
Although many assume that bare walls demand artwork, excessive wall art detracts from the clean lines and visual simplicity that tend to “spark joy”. Challenge the assumption that your walls need art: if the art serves no purpose other than filling empty space, remove a few wall hangings.
When you exhibit too many of something, each item competes for attention. You never actually see any of the individual items in the collection, either; you tend to only view the collection as a whole. This problem can easily be solved by displaying less. Consider rotating the pieces in your collection every few months, as doing so will empower the items on display to rise to the forefront and garner the attention they deserve.
3. Declutter the kitchen, responsibly.
The kitchen is the heart of the home, and for good reason: despite the frenetic quality of daily life, we gather with our families to break bread in this singular space multiple times each day. But while the kitchen is the heart of the home, it also happens to be the hub. Because the kitchen is heavily trafficked, it also becomes the holding cell for dropped mail, unsigned school papers, car keys, and handbags.
A decluttered kitchen saves time, ensures cleanliness, offers peace of mind., and sparks joy. Although the average American kitchen holds a whopping 1,019 items, professional chefs argue that a fully functioning kitchen needs significantly less, as having more items does not necessarily correlate with better tasting food.
4. Be discerning with toys.
As you declutter your child’s toys, choose quality by keeping ones made of wood, cotton, metal, and natural rubber; donate lower-quality toys made of plastic. For toys your child has outgrown, you can donate them or pass them along to younger friends in your community. Remember that smart decluttering is anchored in quality, not quantity, so spend significant time analyzing duplicates. How many sets of blocks does your child need? How many shape-sorting activities are indeed essential?
After you’ve determined which toys will stay, involve your child in the organizing process (if they’re old enough to understand). Encourage them to command ownership of the space, as doing so increases the chances that toys will be in their correct spots. Have your child give a “tour” of their play space and show everyone where everything goes. This practice will reinforce their knowledge of where items belong.
5. Incorporate decluttering into your daily routine.
The work is not complete after you’ve decluttered, and your home will not magically remain tidy without consistent, daily maintenance. Use the following strategies to ensure that your newly decluttered home stays that way for the long haul.
When decluttering becomes a habit, you naturally find yourself on the lookout for things you can responsibly unload as you move about your day. Make decluttering less of a big to-do and more of a quiet household chore that is best performed daily. As you wash dishes or fold clothes, keep an eye out for items you don’t use or need. I keep a donation box in my garage and I slowly fill it with these kinds of items. When the box is full, I donate its contents.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to somehow change public perception towards “stuff.” So often, we try to “keep up with the Joneses”, but participating in a never-ending competition leaves us broke.
Instead, I believe a movement into educating consumers about their enormous purchasing power could do immense good. Conscious consumerism isn’t all that difficult in practice: it comes down to supporting local businesses, trusting reputable certifications, avoiding greenwashed products, and doing your research before clicking ‘Buy Now’.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to have lunch with Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, as they have spurred the recent resurgence in interest for minimalist lifestyles.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The Sustainable Minimalists podcast can be found in the following places: