New Minimalism: Declutter & Design Experts


We caught up with Cary and Kyle, the inspiring duo behind New Minimalism – a decluttering and interior design service in SF Bay. Their process is focused on finding long-term solutions for clients looking to simplify and rejuvenate their homes and workspaces.

When did minimalism become a theme you wanted to devote your personal lives to? 

It was something that I (Cary) stumbled upon as a tool when trying my hand at entrepreneurialism after leaving the land of corporate law.  I thought if I could change my spending, I could do work I loved and worry less about income.  I assumed that it would be a trade-off and I'd buy less and sell what I didn't need as a sacrifice. 

However, I discovered that it wasn't a trade-off after all. In fact it was one of the best things I'd ever done in my life.  I was suddenly liberated and freed from all of these things I hadn't even known were weighing me down and I wouldn't have imagined were ok to let go.  

After that I couldn't help but shout about it from the rooftops: hey guys, here is this thing you can do that saves you money and time, makes your home feel better, makes your life far easier, is more tailored to your desires, and is so kind to the earth and the people that inhabit it ... with truly no downside.  

Kyle was studying sustainable design and was learning about all these daunting problems our world is faced with today.  She realized that streamlining her personal consumption was one thing she could immediately take control of to make a positive impact on the world.  

Her focus was on interior design but not as a process of going out and buying a whole new room’s worth of furniture but rather as a curating and rethinking process. There is something even more enticing when you know that a beautiful space has a story and meaning and was created in a gentle, environmentally thoughtful way.

As professionals in the space, what are your candid thoughts on MARIE KONDO'S BOOk? 

We were so pleased to witness the popularity of Marie Kondo's book, because it meant that there was a wide interest in the subject.  When we first started New Minimalism, we had no way of knowing if there was mass appeal to this niche industry of simplified living.  After Ms. Kondo’s book we went from drawing blank stares to everyone wanting to sit next to us at dinner parties after telling them about our business.  She helped move decluttering from a rogue practice to a true cultural phenomena.

It was actually a little strange how similar our processes were, in terms of decluttering in a single focused period, working category-by-category, and starting with objects at the center of the home.  We loved her language, the compassion she expressed for items by anthropomorphising them, and how she focused on teaching people to tap into how their objects make them feel.

However, we were shocked and heartbroken with the number of times Kondo recommended throwing items in the trash rather than donating them.  We started our business because we care about the environment and want to put an end to mindless consumption.  

Reading the word "trash" so many times, even if it was a mistranslation, was a huge oversight in the book.  It was a massive miss for our environment and for the people in our communities who could deeply benefit from those items.  Ms. Kondo stating that she has thrown out over a million items – that broke our little green hearts.  

Donating is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Without a doubt it adds a more time to the process, but it also completely changes the feel. When you are letting an object go, you needn't feel guilty or wasteful because that object will receive new life in the hands of someone who needs it. Decluttering goes from being an internally focused, self-benefitting process to one of deep generosity and connection.  It keeps useful items out of the landfill and in our communities.  

For a person decluttering on their own, what are your recommendations for how to approach the task? 

We would encourage people to view decluttering as a two-phase process.  The first phase is to get clear on how you want to feel in your space and what your top priorities are for using the space.  Do you want to sleep better?  Are you single and wish to call in a partner?  Do you want to vastly improve your home yoga and meditation practice?  Do you want your mornings to have a sense of calm, even as your whole family prepares for the day?  Do you want to feel settled after a long day or work or extended travel?

Answer this: what are the top three activities you want your space to support and what are the sensations or feelings you want to experience in your space? 

For example, you could answer for your bedroom: serene, restful, luxurious; sleep better, read more, and have more sex.  Then when you are making decisions about whether the TV, velvet throw pillows, workout bike, and your ex-boyfriend's photos stays or goes, it’s quite clear!

The second phase is the actual decluttering process:

  1. Set aside a day (literally, mark it in your calendar) to declutter an entire category of your things.  
  2. Having a friend present to keeps you on track and focused.  
  3. Whatever category you declutter, make sure to remove it entirely from where it "lives" in the house.  Removing your clothes from the closet makes it easier to view each item objectively.
  4. When sorting, assess each item individually: Is it a keep, donate, or to-do (e.g. it needs to be mended or given back to someone). Keep up momentum during sorting so that you tap into your gut feeling about the object.
  5. Save time at the end of the day to bring items to your local donation center. After all the hard work you don't want to have bags of items to donate cluttering your home for longer than necessary.

What have been your biggest challenges and most fulfilling moments thus far? 

The biggest challenge is when clients want to jump right into decluttering before they are certain about the type of home and lifestyle they want to create.  As Kyle likes to say, in our business you need to slow down to speed up.  You shouldn't launch into decluttering without a clear sense of what type of home you desire, what you want to do inside of it, where your priorities lay, etc.  

If you try to just jump in you'll find yourself overwhelmed by the emotional task of letting go.  You'll weigh each item in terms of: might I ever use this again?  How much did it cost in money or time?  Could I use it in some other way?  What was my rationale for buying this to begin with?  When did I purchase this?  However, with each of these questions, the item is presumed as useful and necessary and that it ought to be in your home. This presumption makes it painful and challenging to "give up" an item.

Contrast that with the experience of being crystal clear on the type of life you want to create.  When you know the three top activities you want to perform in your space, it’s clear which objects support that.  

When you know the emotional experience you desire for your space, you know when something doesn’t make you feel that way and needs to go.  It moves the focus from “giving up” to having exciting, elevated standards for keeping only the best around. 

The most fulfilling moments have been responses from clients about the deep, meaningful and lasting effect this process has had on their lives.  A client who was recently divorced noted how much more settled and at home her kids felt in their new place; decluttering and designing their space with their favorite possessions had eased the struggle of this huge life transition and created a real sense of home.  

We’ve worked with clients who were 38-weeks pregnant when we finished and reported how in their fresh space they were able to be excited for the arrival of their new baby, finally feeling like they had the space and the mental bandwidth to bring a new life into their home.  

Comments like, “This was the best money we’ve ever spent ... My relationship with my husband/wife has drastically improved ... I didn't realize how much my stuff was weighing us down ..." make this work so incredibly rewarding.

What are a few of your favorite books, sites, or other sources of minimalist inspiration?

In addition to blogs and websites, we are moved by philosophical books which aren't exclusively about minimalism, per se, as they are about intentional, mindful living: 

Simple MattersZero Waste HomeThe Untethered Soul, A New EarthThe Big TinyNo Impact ManWhen Breath Becomes AirYour Money or Your LifeThe Story of StuffSoul Space, Essentialism, Jessica Helgerson Interior DesignMy Scandinavian Home  

New Minimalism has a book in progress scheduled to be released in January 2018. Visit them to learn more, book their service, or follow their updates via email and Instagram. Photos via photographer Ryan Devisser.


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