Too much stuff? We asked a local organizing expert how to start purging

A shot of a messy desk in a home office, the room is small and cluttered, on the desk is three computer monitors and office supplies.
A shot of a messy desk in a home office, the room is small and cluttered, on the desk is three computer monitors and office supplies.

Credit: DGLimages

Credit: DGLimages

After decades of consumerism, many Americans are finding themselves living with some level of clutter. Although minimalism is now trending, actually finding the time and energy to deal with all our stuff continues to be a challenge.

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Since the coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to spend more time at home, some folks are starting to take stock of their belongings and begin the great de-cluttering. With spring in the air, it’s a natural time to clean up the house.

How to get started? That's what we ask Dayton native Rose Lounsbury, a minimalism and simplicity coach, speaker, and author of the Amazon bestselling "Less: Minimalism for Real." She's also the mother of triplets! After blogging about her personal journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Lounsbury was inspired to leave her teaching job and help others simplify their lives by owning less stuff.

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Q: What inspired you to be a minimalism coach?

A: Having triplets was a catalyst to a simpler lifestyle. Any parent knows that adding children to the mix, craziness can ensue. Adding three children at once makes things much more crazy. After having them and going back to work full time, I realized that my only hope of sanity was was to simplify my life.

For me, that meant simplifying the amount of physical stuff. I found myself working three jobs: the job that pays the bills, the second job of being a parent, and then there's the third job, which was serving my stuff. I would serve my stuff for one to two hours, or until I was so exhausted I had to go to bed.

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I realized if I wanted any time to myself, I had to eliminate that third job as much as I could. So I started slashing and burning through my house and letting go of pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down. I looked at all of that stuff and I asked very seriously: “Is this useful or beautiful to me?”

I did not have any margin in my life to give my time to anything that didn't absolutely need it. So those were the parameters that I looked at when I was sorting everything from coffee mugs and sweaters, to tools in the garage and paperwork.

Q: How long did it take you to get organized? What kept you motivated?

A: It took about eight months to minimize about 70% of the things that we owned. I did not have much free time in my life at all, so I just picked away at it every single little spare moment that I could. After the kids were in bed and I would do a little here or there. These were not huge projects. I would organize the junk drawer or deal with my towels.

If you're brushing your teeth, you can glance at the beauty products and throw five of them in the trash that you no longer use. That takes no extra time. I think sometimes people think that they need to dedicate a set time period to do this, and you really don't. You can de-clutter as you're walking through your normal day.

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I kept motivated because of how much freedom was opening up in my life as a result. Every time I would get rid of more stuff, I realized I had more time. The house looked neater and the kids fought less because there were less toys. Things in my life were getting easier. I was not motivated by having a picture-perfect house, I was motivated by time freedom.

Q: How do we approach minimizing while living with others?

A: A lot of times we think "oh this could never happen because my spouse will never be on board," but I tell people not to worry about your spouse or your children, just deal with your own stuff. Not only will you make a significant difference in your home and in the way you feel, but you also set an example for your family to follow. I have yet to work with someone who this has not worked for.

A garage organized by The Home Edit. (The Home Edit)
A garage organized by The Home Edit. (The Home Edit)

Gandhi told us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I say: “Be the change you wish to see in your home.” If you desire more simplicity in your home, just be that change, and you’ll surprised at how the other people in your life will just start to get on board. It's almost like magic.

Q: What about the people who are totally overwhelmed? Where do they get started? 

A: Often, what's holding us back  is our feelings and emotions about our stuff, and those are difficult. Maybe we spent money on that item and never used it, so we feel bad. Or maybe someone gave it as a gift, but we never use it, so we feel guilty letting go of it. Maybe we inherited it from someone who's passed on, so it reminds us of the person even though we never use the thing.

There are a lot of emotions tied up with our physical stuff, so when we let go, we’re facing difficult feelings we've attached to our physical things. I say start somewhere easy because you probably don't want to start with memorabilia or pictures.

The bathroom is a great place to start because most of us don't have strong emotional connections to toothpaste or old makeup. It’s an easy place to start because it’s under your jurisdiction and it's not emotional for most people.

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Homeowners Anja and Jumbe Sebunya love their master bathroom. "It's very sleek, not fussy, clean lines. I just like it," Anja said. "The lighting is great." Text by Shannon Dominy. Photo by Reynolds Rogers.
Homeowners Anja and Jumbe Sebunya love their master bathroom. "It's very sleek, not fussy, clean lines. I just like it," Anja said. "The lighting is great." Text by Shannon Dominy. Photo by Reynolds Rogers.

Q: What was your biggest insight that came from purging your belongings?

A: When you create physical space, you create mental space, and when you have more mental space, you're able to spend time on the things you daydream about. You can move past the drudgery. Wouldn't you like to write a book? Wouldn't you like to have your own business? Or have freedom to see your kids off to school in the morning?

The physical possessions in your life are keeping you from doing those things because you're expanding your mental energy your time, energy, your financial energy on maintaining those things, thus those resources are not freed up to do the things you really want to do.

I’ve seen this happen in my clients’ lives. People get out of really toxic relationships, go back to school, or lose weight. It's a very tangible way to start improving your wellness, social life, relationships, and finances.

A After: The "after" shot of Atlanta garage, which used Garage Solutions Atlanta to plan out and install racks and shelving to de-clutter the space. Credit: Garage Solutions Atlanta. Provided photo
A After: The "after" shot of Atlanta garage, which used Garage Solutions Atlanta to plan out and install racks and shelving to de-clutter the space. Credit: Garage Solutions Atlanta. Provided photo

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Q: Do you find that as a society, we’re shifting from a less consumer driven society? 

A: Yes, I think millennials want a lifestyle that allows them to pursue their passions and their individual interests. They want flexibility. We don't have to be like our parents and work the same job for 30 years, and then get your pension and that's your life.

Now because of technology, I could be working with a client in India or Australia or Seattle from the power of my computer. I’m not tied to a location. So I think millennials and younger generations find that their security is found in their mobility...

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The sobering truth is that everything ends up in the trash someday. The jacket that I'm wearing right now, when I'm done with it, maybe I will donate it, and maybe five more people after me will donate it…That’s awesome, but at the end of the day, this jacket is not made out of a compostable material, meaning it will be trash someday.

I accept the reality that the moment something becomes trash is not the moment you throw it in the trash. It became trash the moment it was purchased. That's the truth. It's not fun, but it makes you check yourself at the cash register. That's where you stop overconsumption is at the source … the point when you purchase it. A natural byproduct of going through this process is you become a more conscious consumer as a result.

To get more advice from Lounsbury, visit roselounsbury.com.

To watch her TEDx talk, "How Many Towels Do You Need?" click here.

TEDxDayton 2018 took place Friday, Oct. 12.  Speakers included amateur photographer Adam Alonzo; performer Montrea Blackshear;  painter Tiffany Clark, educator Kevin “Mister C” Cornell; radio personality Faith Daniels; attorney Barbara Duncombe;  former Air Force pilot Mark Fogel; student and TEDxYouth@Dayton performer Shawn Gardner;student and TEDxYouth@Dayton performer Yash Gupta;physician Andre Harris ; parent  Elizabeth Horner; sex abuse survivor John-Michael Lander;  oganizer Rose Lounsbury; journalist Ray Marcano; engineer Dennis Ong and Tony award-winning actor Alice Ripley.
TEDxDayton 2018 took place Friday, Oct. 12. Speakers included amateur photographer Adam Alonzo; performer Montrea Blackshear; painter Tiffany Clark, educator Kevin “Mister C” Cornell; radio personality Faith Daniels; attorney Barbara Duncombe; former Air Force pilot Mark Fogel; student and TEDxYouth@Dayton performer Shawn Gardner;student and TEDxYouth@Dayton performer Yash Gupta;physician Andre Harris ; parent Elizabeth Horner; sex abuse survivor John-Michael Lander; oganizer Rose Lounsbury; journalist Ray Marcano; engineer Dennis Ong and Tony award-winning actor Alice Ripley.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson