Everyday Minimalism: Find Calm & Creativity in Living Simply | Erin Boyle | Skillshare

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Everyday Minimalism: Find Calm & Creativity in Living Simply

teacher avatar Erin Boyle, Minimalism & Writing

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Why Less is More


    • 3.

      Easing Stressful Areas


    • 4.

      Deciding What to Let Go


    • 5.

      Deciding What to Let In


    • 6.

      Navigating Pressure


    • 7.

      Creating Simple Solutions


    • 8.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Learn how living with less can unlock a life of more—more energy, more savings, and more time to do the things you love!

As a recent grad on a tight budget, Erin Boyle furnished her first apartment through a mix of ingenuity, crafting, and making do without. She soon discovered that living simply was not only more affordable, but also more sustainable for her happiness and the environment. Since then, she’s developed an approach to minimalism that’s accessible and beneficial to everyone—whether you’re feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or ready for a change you can’t quite pinpoint.

Now, Erin shares her flexible approach to minimalism, with steps designed to help you build a peaceful, fulfilling life at any stage. You’ll learn how to:

  • Be inventive and resourceful in any space
  • Shift your habits to eliminate daily stress
  • Cherish what’s beautiful and meaningful—and let go of what’s not
  • Get purposeful about your time, energy, and money

Plus, Erin shares her favorite tips and tricks to get you started right away, from opting out of consumer pressure to coming up with your own crafty DIY solutions.

Life isn’t always simple, but by the end of this 35-minute class you’ll have a personalized action plan that is. Tap into your creativity, unlock your confidence, and discover the power of doing more with less—for yourself, your loved ones, and the planet!

This class is open to all levels, no experience or tools necessary. Though not required, taking this class at home is helpful for following along with the exercises in real time.

Meet Your Teacher

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Erin Boyle

Minimalism & Writing


Erin Boyle is the writer and photographer behind Reading My Tea Leaves. She’s a minimalist with a penchant for a good story and a soft spot for an aged patina. Her approach to living simply is one that acknowledges that life isn’t always simple, but the curtains can be.

Past work in historic and cultural preservation informs her desire to cherish what is beautiful, useful, and meaningful. Time spent living in an apartment with a footprint of just 173 square feet taught her to reevaluate everything else. Erin’s first book, Simple Matters, came out in January, 2016. It’s a nod to the growing consensus that living simply and purposefully is more sustainable not only for the environment, but for our own happiness and well-being, too.

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1. Introduction: For me using minimalism as a framework is a way to feel empowered. It's a way to feel self-reliance. It's a way to regain control in a world that increasingly feels not so much in my control. Hi, my name is Erin Boyle, I write about simplicity and sustainability on my blog, "Reading My Tea Leaves," and in a book called "Simple Matters." Today's class is about minimalism, which for me is finding peace by living simply. My approach to minimalism is not about taking everything that you own and putting it into a black garbage bag and starting fresh. It's really about finding what works for you, what makes you feel happy, yes, most peaceful, and what makes your life function most simply. The great thing about this minimalism is that you'll see a ripple effect on your broader life. So whether that's the environment, your relationships, all of those things can be impacted for the better. We'll be talking about finding value in the things that you have and then making decisions about what you might want to let go off and what you might want to believe in. Much of the goal of minimalism is being able to walk into my home at the end of the day and breathe a sigh of relief, and if that's something that you're also looking for, I have some ideas. I'm so excited to have you here. Let's get started. 2. Why Less is More: You're here because you recognize the power of opting out. I think that we're living in this moment that's particularly fraught. We've all kinds of access to all kinds of things. We also have a pretty serious climate crisis on our hands. In a moment of such excess, all of us can feel overwhelmed. But there's so much to gain from taking a personal look at our spaces in our homes to figure out what's overwhelming us and what we can do about it, and to understand that we have the power to do something about it. While we can all recognize that what we need is broad systemic change to combat climate change and environmental woes that so many of us are worried about, this provides another way to bring some of the agency back to your own life in your own home. For the sake of simplicity, we'll talk about minimalism today as being an entry point to getting a sense of peace and calm within our own homes. The exciting thing is that there's almost always going to be a ripple effect. A ripple effect in our families, in our careers, in our social lives, in our impact on the environment, that achieving this sense of peace and calm at home will ultimately impact the world around us. I am every bit a work in progress. There's no such thing as perfection. The goal is not to perfectly optimize everything in our lives, but rather to pare down, to simplify, to come back to the essential things in our home and also feelings within our home that make us feel good, that bring us a sense of peace and comfort. Today, I'm going to be sharing things that work for me and hope that that inspires you to find what works for you. There's no right or wrong. There are no real strict rules or regulations. Rather, we're hoping to get going in the right direction. We're going to start by setting priorities and focusing our attention on what isn't making you feel good so that ultimately you can feel better. We'll discuss some of the techniques that I have for finding value in the things you already have. This isn't about getting rid of everything and starting fresh as much as it is about embracing what you love. Next, we'll talk about establishing a parameter for what you say yes to and what you say no to. So how do you move forward once you've established the things that you love? What's the kind of framework that you build and develop for determining what the future looks like. Once we've established priorities, deciding what we say yes or no to, it's important to think about navigating challenges that we may have less control over. So things like celebrations, birthdays, milestones. Finally, the most exciting part for me is tapping into your own creativity, finding solutions that work for you. Again, this is not a cookie cutter approach. There's not one perfect thing you can buy that will solve all of your problems, but you can craft your own place to suit your needs. We'll talk you through some of the ways that you can do that. As we go through the class, each lesson will have an exercise to follow, and there's a project gallery where students can share their findings, their questions, anything they want. Next up, we'll talk about setting our priorities. 3. Easing Stressful Areas: This session is about setting your priorities, and the way that we're going to find those priorities is actually by tapping into our discomfort. So we'll start by identifying the things in your life that are making you feel uncomfortable, the things that are triggering a feeling of discomfort, really lean into that discomfort. So my philosophy is that if you can identify it, then you can fix it. Once you've identified a trigger point, let's say for example, it's a chair that becomes this kind of mess of backpacks, and coats, and gloves, and that kind of thing. Why does that happen? It might be because you need a spot to put those things and it might need be that you need a hook or a bag or a basket. It might be that you have three coats too many, and having just one would mean that that gets hung up. Whatever it is try to identify the actual attainable action that you can take to shift that trigger points from being a point of discomfort to something that goes away. This isn't about needing to go out and buy a state of the art closet system. It's really much more simply about identifying your particular habits that create a closet or a coat rack, or a bookshelf that becomes out of control or that makes you feel stressed. I find it to be helpful to identify the verb that might make a difference. So maybe it's hanging or sorting or cleaning or reducing, whatever it is that will get you to the action point, that will help you to really make a difference. I think one important thing to remember is that failure is actually a good feedback loop. It means that it's something that you're really having trouble with. But that also, once you get through it, will let you achieve that peace and simplicity that we're going after here. So if the first time you try to tackle a trigger spot, you don't succeed, think of it as part of an evolution, return to it, try a new action step to manage it and go from there. Like lots of parents of young kids, a trigger point for me is definitely the place where my kids deposit all of their stuff at the end of the school day. They are little, they're five and three and I needed to find a way that I could help them to clean up that mess, that was achievable. So I put two hooks in the wall. I found an old picnic basket and put it underneath the hook. So in the basket their backpacks go, on the hooks, their coats go and it's been able to solve a whole host of problems for us. Another example for a lot of families is a mail pile that gets out of control. If that's the case for you, I would start by sorting. So one solution could be that you take things that are junk mail, get yourself off the list by writing to the company and then recycling those pieces so they're just out of the picture. That just eliminates that something right away. Then the next step is taking things like maybe you have a magazine subscription and having a spot where that goes. So like in my house, I have a small tote bag on the hook and I can put my New Yorker magazines in there and I know where they are, but they're not out and about and causing a mess. Then there's the stuff you don't want to deal with, like bills or any kind of mail that need your attention and maybe you don't have a chance to give it to it right now. For me, that stuff goes in a very specific spot on the dresser and because it's there by itself and not in a pile of other clutter, I know that I have to do something about it. So I'm more apt to do that, than I am to go through in sorting the pile. So for this exercise, you're literally going to situate yourself in the middle of a particular place in your home. Maybe it's a bedroom, maybe it's an entrance way. Maybe you live in a tiny apartment like me and you can sit in the middle and see everything. Sit yourself there and look around the room, identifying anything that brings you discomfort. Maybe start by identifying the top three things. Three things that when you look at them, you feel the opposite of feasible. These are your trigger points and that's what we're going to tackle. Once you've identified your triggers and your solutions, share them in the project gallery. Seeing other people's triggers and other people solutions can be really helpful for identifying your own. Next, we'll talk about embracing what you already have and making sure it works for you. 4. Deciding What to Let Go: This lesson is all about finding value in the things in your home, and it's more about creating a space that you enjoy than getting rid of a lot of things. One really happy result of finding value in your stuff is realizing that you actually need less of it. So I like to use the example of kids and toys. The common understanding is that kids coming into your life means explosion of stuff, so stuff they need, stuff they want, stuff they get as gifts. But what I've found to be so true, and so many people have found to be true, is that kids really understand and value their things when there's less of them. I found that when there's one or two items on a shelf, then my kids really play with them and they have access to them, they're accessible, they can find them when they come home from school easily, and really concentrate on one particular thing rather than being overwhelmed by just an avalanche of things. I have a general philosophy that there's no reason to keep anything in your house for a negative reason. So if you're keeping something out of a sense of obligation or duty, a sentimental attachment that isn't positive, I encourage you in this lesson to let those things go. Of course, there might be things in your home that you can't get rid of, medical equipment that doesn't necessarily make you feel good but that's necessary, equipment you need for work. It goes without saying that we all have to find a balance. Still, I think, for too many people, trigger spots and things that are actively making them feel not good in their houses are these objects that we keep out of a sense of obligation. Maybe you received something as a gift that isn't particularly to your taste or it's not particularly useful in your home. I understand the impulse to hold on to that anyway, but if it's something that's triggering you as you sit around the room and take everything in, then it's definitely a reason to let it go. One hang-up that I've noticed that people have when identifying value in there things is differentiating between something that's really useful and something that might potentially hold, one day, some kind of use. A lot of this has to do with the scarcity mindset. So in your home, having things that you don't really need, but maybe one day you will, or things that you don't really love, but maybe you'll learn to love them. I think, for me, identifying those things and retraining yourself to let go of that scarcity mindset can be really helpful. For instance, things like a medicine cabinet that's overflowing with things that you once bought that you don't really use that maybe you think you might one day use, that can be a really good starting point. Like really going through bottled-by-bottle, step-by-step and establishing for herself. Like, "Is that something that I like?" Or, "Is its presence here actually bothering me?" Tapping into those things as a way of wiggling away the excess can be really helpful. Of course, we're also talking about sustainability here. So I'm not advocating filling up big garbage bags and throwing things away. I'd love to chat a little bit about how we can all donate our things thoughtfully. The truth is that, with the rise of mass production and fast fashion, and all of the ways that we have to produce more and more things, there's really an overload of objects. So sometimes, just passing along a big bag full of things to a thrift store, those things might not really be able to either help the store and they might also end up in the landfill. For me, my go-to is finding a particular person to give an item rather than rounding up a lot of things and giving them to a thrift store or an op shop. I'm really interested in finding people for whom a particular item will be helpful, will bring a sense of purpose or joy to their lives, even if it doesn't do that in mine. There are also other kinds communities that have formed specifically for the purpose of sharing a wealth of resources without exchanging any money. So one of these projects is the Buy Nothing Project, and I'm part of my own local community group. So if I have something that I don't need, I can find someone else in the group who does. Likewise, I'm able to receive things from the group that I do need. So right now, I'm anticipating the birth of a baby, and my husband and I had previously gotten rid of all of our baby items, and so I was able to tap into this group and find a crib, and a car seat, and a bouncy chair all through the generosity of others. I think an important practice is to really take the time to take in your accomplishments once you've gotten through a particular trigger spot. So let's say, your medicine cabinet is something that's causing you anxiety or stress, or it's crowded or cluttered, or whatever. Once you've gone through it and cleared things out and established what you really use and what's really working for you, take a moment to really take it in and appreciate what you've done, what you've accomplished, and just remember that sense of calm the next time you encounter something that might be pushing you beyond your threshold. It might sound a little bit cheesy, but all of this really is about really regaining a sense of control and really owning it. So once you've taken all these steps to pare things down and get back to basics to find your essentials, that feeling is really powerful because exercise in this lesson is all about marking your progress. So snap a picture to your phone or a camera, or paint something if you want to. But just remember how it felt and then how it looked to go through a trigger spot and change it for the better. This is something you can post to the project gallery to share with other people in the class, but it's also something you can keep for yourself just as a reminder of how good it felt to take that control, to pare things down, to tackle something that was previously negative and you get a positive. Now you've made space and we're going to talk about how to decide in the future what you let in, what you let out. This is all about gate-keeping. 5. Deciding What to Let In: After all the hard work of the previous lessons, this lesson is really about focusing on the future and deciding what our relationship to consumerism will be going forward. In general, I find this setting really hard and fast rules can feel restrictive. That said, establishing some limiting factors, some guidelines, some rules for gate-keeping can be really helpful. For me, a lot of this gate-keeping comes down to sustainability. That's a framework that I use to limit what I let into my house. So being able to go to the local grocery store, a local clothing shop, whatever it is in my own community isn't just one way I have of curbing the amount of things that I welcome into my life. Other people might find other limiting factors to be really helpful. Things like taking a month off of buying something new, or shopping only in thrift stores, deciding that they'll make one monthly purchase on an online shop rather than buying something each time they feel like they need it. All of these things are ways to keep our consumerism in check, and you'll find what works best for you. I also found it's really helpful in these situations to remember that scarcity mindset. Just because something's a deal, just because there's a two for one or a special offer doesn't mean you need to take advantage of it. If it's not something that's going to be helpful in your own life, let it go. I think some of this is really about going against the grain. So in a typical American experience of going to the dentist office, you are given a small goody bag to go home with filled with yet another two of toothpaste, and toothbrush, and dental floss. Over the years these things accumulate. For my part, I have realized that having 10 extra toothbrushes in my small apartment makes me feel crowded and cluttered, so I refuse them at the dentist's office. I just say, "No thanks, I have all I need," and move along. This sounds mundane, but it actually is counter cultural. We're trained to accept these gifts, to embrace them, to keep them, to hold value in them. I think that for a lot of people, these are the very items that end up down the line creating trigger spots for people. So refusing the freebie gifts, refusing a swag bag, and all the little tiny waves that you establish for yourself, a threshold that you say, "Okay, actually that goes beyond what I need and so I'm not going to take it." Embracing being a little bit weird. In a moment of so much abundance, consumer choices can be really overwhelming. One other thing that I found to be particularly helpful is identifying allies and friends that can help me make this choices. So sometimes that might bee a store and letting them vet the products, and let them make the choices, and trusting them as I do my shopping. It might also be a local farmer at the farmer's market. Actually, there's one particular farm stand at my farmer's market that I always go to. The farmer has become a friend. We have a really nice relationship, and I don't even look anywhere else because I know that I have this relationship established. It may be joining a local food call up or it might be establishing a clothing swap sharing system with a sister. Whatever it is, being creative and thoughtful about your relationship to consumerism is one really hopeful way of curbing mindless consumption. Well, there are systems at play that are far bigger than any of our personal individual consumer choices. Having an understanding of how our consumer choices impacts the environment is really helpful. For me for instance, becoming really aware of fast fashion and its impacts on people and the planet mainly really shift how I shop. Again, this isn't about overwhelming yourself or taking a deep dive. I don't expect anyone to become an expert in sustainability yet. There are a lot of different ways, some of them very simple, to educate yourself about the health of the planet and the impact of your consumer choices. We'll put all of that in the class resources. I think in a lot of ways, even starting to think about this stuff can be helpful. So you might not be ready to tackle a no-buy month where you don't buy anything new at all. But having even considered it, you might think twice about what you bought in a given month. One interesting and really easy way to assess your relationship to consumerism is to look at what you bring home at the end of the day. Just one day, what's in your bag? Take it all out, put it on a kitchen table, and assess what you have. It might be mail, it might be coffee cups, it might be a plastic bag from a grocery store, it might be any number of things. Looking at those things and assessing them, figuring out what you could have done without, what you could have said no to, what you now have to deal with, whether it's recycling or putting it in the garbage, being mindful of what happens in just the course of one day or even one afternoon is a really interesting way to think about what we consume. Then the next step is trying to figure out what are sustainable alternatives. Whether it's simply saying no, whether it's bringing a reusable coffee cup, whether that's getting a book from the library that you can return and pass along to someone else, whatever it is, this exercise will really help you to understand in really concrete ways how our choices impact our own lives and the world around us. Next, we'll talk about navigating life milestones. 6. Navigating Pressure: This lesson is all about navigating life milestones, in other words, to eliminate the pressure to accumulate certain things at certain occasions, and instead, to rewrite the narrative. I'm defining life milestones as things like birthdays, celebrations, graduations, weddings, the birth of a child. All of these tend to be things that, in our culture, are opportunities to accumulate stuff. As a result, they can be stressful for people who are embracing minimalism. For me, a lot of this comes down to reframing celebrations away from stuff and toward more immaterial things, friendships, celebrations, relationships, but not so much gifts. One thing to consider when thinking about these milestones is that, for a lot of people, gift giving is a central way to express their love, their affection to celebrate a milestone. Being able to offer clear alternatives to that can be really helpful for you and for them. For my part, I try to set really clear guidelines, especially for things like kids' birthday parties. When I've thrown them in the past, we've really just simply had a no-gift rule. If that's too challenging, we've done things like everyone bring a picture or bringing a dollar so that your child can make a donation to a local pet shelter or food bank. These are the kinds of things that help really reframe the more traditional gift giving experience. This isn't really about micromanaging everyone in your life and telling them exactly what to give you, but it's establishing boundaries and the threshold for the things that you bring into your home. One helpful development in the past 10 years or so has been really flexible gift registries, for instance, where you can really make up your own mind about what you're asking for, where you're asking for it to come from. What can often be overwhelming from a consumer perspective can actually be an opportunity to celebrate your values. So creating a registry that's filled with small independent shops, handmade items, you're living at your values and helping other folks in your life to understand what those are. This is also an opportunity to have really honest conversations with the people who you love. You might decide you really don't need or want anything new for a baby registry, for instance, that you're going to accumulate what you do need through secondhand shops or Buy Nothing groups or friends or family. Again, that's another opportunity to share your perspective. I've also found it's really helpful to lead by example. So give things to other people that you would want to receive. So instead of an elaborate gift, I might get something super simple or handmade or encourage my kids to do the same. My kids may bring a drawing of theirs to a birthday party in lieu of a gift, or they might pick a posy of flowers. A lot of this again comes back to being willing to be a little weird, to be a little bit unconventional, to go against the grain a little bit. Gift giving and gift accepting can be fraught, but I think keeping in mind gratitude and expressing gratitude is the most important thing. Once you've done that, what you do with the gift is really up to you. You get to make a choice about what you keep in your home and what you don't. A little bit of advanced planning can be really helpful here. So for the class exercise, I'm going have you brainstorm a game plan for the next milestone that you'd have to navigate. Whether that's a birthday, a wedding, an anniversary, what are things that you might suggest to family or friends to give as an alternative to a physical gift? What are activities you can have people participate in? How can you reframe the celebration so that it's less about stuff and more about celebrating? Anything that's not material that you would find helpful, this is the opportunity to write it down, and then you can share it in the project gallery. Next up is my personal favorite lesson about creating your own simple solutions. 7. Creating Simple Solutions: This lesson is all about creating simple solutions using your own ingenuity and creativity to gain control of your space, whether that's through repurposing things you already have, creating DIY solutions, finding organizational tools to help you maintain what you've accomplished so far. This is all about finding solutions to deal with those trigger spots that we talked about in the first lesson. I always suggest thinking outside of the box rather than going to a store to try to buy a solution. So one example I have of this is organizing my flatware. In my 20's, I moved from apartment to apartment and in every different place, there's different configuration in the kitchen. Sometimes there were drawers, sometimes there were no drawers, sometimes there was a cabinet, sometimes there wasn't, but there was no one-size-fits-all solution for how to wrangle all of these loose knives and forks. So in different apartments, I found different solutions. Right now, my flatware is kept in a tin can. It's kept on a low shelf that my kids can get access to so they can help set the table. It cost me nothing, but it really works. This is the solution that I'm talking about. Super inexpensive, super sustainable, easy things you already have. One solution that I often fall back on is a plain old simple wooden crate. These crates I found on the street, I have got my local wine shop, I've bought at free markets, whatever it is, a simple wooden crate can be reused in a million different ways in your home that can help you to maintain a sense of order. So in my house, we have one on each side of my bed. One for me, one for my husband, we store our books in there, a glass of water, they function as a nightstand. I have other wine crates that live under our couch, under my children's beds. I attached a simple handle to a few of them that are under the bunk beds so my kids can pull out their toys really easily. All of this costs me really nothing to make. All of it's provided a way to cut down on clutter, to maintain a sense of order, and to empower everyone in the family to participate in maintaining that sense of calm and peace at our home. This isn't necessarily about high-tech crafty projects. Something as simple as a hammer and nail can make a world difference. So maybe you're having under the sink cabinet that gets messy all the time. Nailing a few things to the side of the cabinet and hanging them up, could totally eliminate that problem. By introducing these super simple DIY elements, you can customize your space so that it works for you and so that you're able to maintain a sense of order you've created. I'm going to be showing you one of my favorite projects to make with a clean cotton cord. But you can also checked out the class resources for a list of other super-simple hardware store supplies that can be really useful in creating your space. This is a technique that uses finger knitting, and these chords can be put to work in all sorts of ways. This project is super simple. You just need some cotton clothes line, a basic cotton cord. Anything you can find at the hardware store that's quiable enough will work. Scissors for cutting, and then any hooks or hangers that you might have at home already or use. This project depending on the length of your cord, can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 40 minutes, but it's really simple technique that you'll find is meditative. So you may want to continue doing it. So I'm going to start with a length of cord, and I'm going to use just my two fingers as my guide. I'll stick the cord between my pointer finger and my middle finger and I'm just going to wrap two figure eights like this. So I've got two figure eights around my two fingers. Then I'll start by lifting the bottom loop over the top, first on one side and then on the other. Then I'm going to continue that until a cord forms. This is where people get a little nervous because they think that they're just making a big blob. But I promise a chord develops. So again, now I have two more figure eights. I'm going to bring the bottom loop over, the bottom loop over. I can continue pulling this cord just to keep things a little bit tight, and I'm just going to keep going until a longer and longer cord develops. So I'll just show you that, you can see it looks like a mess right now, but the more length you build into it, you will see this beautiful cord starting to emerge. I actually have these hanging in a lot of different places in my house. But one thing I use it for is to hang out my kids jackets. So they have their hooks on the wall, but they don't always need their rain jackets out or their snow pants out. So I actually just put hangers right through this cord. I'll show you how that works. It just creates this pretty loose weave. I can put a hanger right through it and then another hanger below it, and it creates like a multi hanger thing without needing to buy anything special, just a cotton chord and the hanger you already have at home. It can also be a spot where you might put a hook. So for instance, these are two little grass S hooks that I have and you can stick those in. Also, I use one of these in my closet to hang a bag where I put. Recycling, I use another one with no hooks at all, I just tie the cord which I made straps for my kids yoga mats. This is just a really simple technique that ends up creating a beautiful object in your home that can be used in lots of different ways. I'll includes the specific instructions for this in the class resources. Then I want to see how you guys might be able to put this to work in your own homes or any other project, whether it's re-purposing a wooden crate, whether it's hanging something up with hammer and nails, whether it's tying things together with rope, whatever it is that you create that makes an easy solution and gives you an added sense of peace. Whatever you make, snap a photo, share it in the Project Gallery. I'd love to see your creative solutions you come up with in your own spaces. 8. Final Thoughts: So we've reached the end of the class. We've gone over a lot of things, and I hope that the class has given you the tools and the confidence to go forward as you embrace whatever form of minimalism it is that helps you in your home to achieve a sense of peace and calm. If you have anything else to share, please feel free to add it to the project gallery, and thank you so much for being here.