Now more than ever, we find ourselves in a new relationship with our homes and wondering how they can help us cultivate calm. For many of us, this is a stressful time, and the prospect of being cooped can be overwhelming. However, our homes can be wonderful sources of inspiration and comfort. How can our spaces provide inspiration and comfort? What are habits we can practice to help nurture that inner peace? In some ways, new distancing practices may be an opportunity to hit reset on our living spaces.
Whether this takes the form of decluttering, organizing, or simply finding balance in the day to day, Erin Boyle has wisdom to share. The Brooklyn-based lifestyle writer and photographer has been an expert on living simply for many years. Her popular blog Reading My Tea Leaves literally wrote the book on minimalism, and her 2016 book Simple Matters recognizes that living purposefully and simply is good for the environment — and for our own well-being, too. These days she’s a go-to internet source for finding the beauty in simplicity at home, and this week she just launched a brand-new Skillshare Original, Everyday Minimalism: Finding Calm, Creativity & Peace in Living Simply.
We sat down with Erin, whose blog has more recently chronicled the newest addition to her family, to discuss her favorite approaches to organization, the connection between minimalism and creativity, and how to sustain the momentum to live a more minimal life during times of transition.
Tell us about your philosophy. How do you define minimalism, and what defines your approach?
For me, minimalism is about achieving a sense of peace and calm by embracing a simple and sustainable lifestyle. Embracing minimalism at home allows me to maintain a sense of control over my physical space so that I’m surrounded by things that are useful, beautiful, and gentle on the planet. Minimalism is a guiding principle that allows me to deemphasize material accumulation and embrace instead the people, places, and experiences that enrich my life.
There’s a moment in your class when you say “ask yourself the verb that would make the difference.” This is such an interesting exercise! Can you tell us more about what it means, and how you came to develop the prompt?
By definition, verbs do something, and for me so much of minimalism is about taking a proactive approach to the things in my life and specifically in my home. Thinking about what I can do rather than what I can buy to solve a problem or reduce clutter is a really useful exercise for me.
So often, I’ve been able to shift my space and make it more useful to me by simply taking action, whether that’s hanging something up or moving a piece of furniture or reducing the number of things in a given spot.
What’s especially interesting is that taking this kind of active approach with the items in my home also has the added advantage of the items themselves becoming more active. When there are fewer things and more active organization, I’m able to better see, use, and enjoy the things in my space.
How do you know when to keep or let go of an object?
This is a big part of the process we explore in the class. Once you’ve embraced the power of opting out, it’s all about setting your priorities. The best way to identify objects that aren’t working is by sitting with discomfort and then making a proactive plan for mitigating any negative feelings. It’s all about self-awareness and elevating the objects that truly bring you value. And, when it comes to “deciding yes or no,” there are frameworks that can help make those decisions easier, like responsible decluttering. There’s a lot of empowerment that comes with becoming the gatekeeper of your own home.
This has also been a big spring for you! Congratulations on growing your family — everything you’ve shared on the blog is beautiful. What’s your approach to blending motherhood and a growing family with your minimalist approach?
I find that kids really thrive in pared down spaces and by extension, so do their parents. So many life milestones—and the birth of a new child, especially—become opportunities in our culture to buy more stuff and solve problems through consumption.
For me, taking a minimalist approach is such a freeing alternative. When I’m not caught up in conversations or searches for the latest and greatest baby item, I find I have more time to trust my instincts, enjoy my family, and feel confident in my parenting.
How do you sustain the momentum to live a more minimal life, especially during times of stress or transition?
I think one thing I like about minimalism is that it shouldn’t really require too much momentum. Once you free yourself from a constant quest to accumulate new things or strive for something bigger or better, I find there’s so much more time to just be. And it’s always about our progress, never perfection.
Skillshare is all about lifelong learning for creatives. What do you think is the connection between minimalism and creativity?
So much of consumer culture values accumulation over creativity, but I love the creative challenge of finding ways to make do with what I already have or what I can make myself. Creativity also helps bridge the gap between minimalism and sustainability. In repurposing found objects, finding new uses for things we have, and fixing things instead of buying new, I’m able to simultaneously live more sustainably and more minimally.
Beyond that, I find that I’m more calm, centered, and creative, when my space doesn’t feel physically encumbered by stuff. I’m much more apt to start a new project or dive into my work if the space I’m in feels pared down and free of clutter, like a blank canvas.
What’s your favorite organizational “trick”?
It’s not sexy, but it is crucial: I start any organization project by making sure that everything that I’m trying to organize is actually useful to me in the first place. Too often folks stash things away and cordon them off without really taking into account whether that item deserves a spot in our home to begin with. It’s a whole lot easier to organize fewer things, so the “trick” is to make sure you’re not trying to organize anything that you don’t really need in the first place.
We’re talking a lot about fewer things, but everyone has a few tools they need. Tell us about a tool you can’t live without.
A literal toolbox and an accompanying collection of basic household tools is essential. Having basic tools on hand means that I can tackle projects, make repairs, and find simple solutions in lieu of needing to accumulate still more. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from getting something done myself.
Anything else you’d like to share with Skillshare readers?
You can do this! At your own pace, in your own time — if the idea of paring down physical items and changing your relationship to accumulation sounds appealing to you, I have every confidence that you’ll get there.
Want to spend more time with Erin? Be sure to check out her new Skillshare Original Everyday Minimalism: Finding Calm, Creativity & Peace in Living Simply and discover how minimalism can you help you start each day focused, calm, and creative.