How do we lead a minimalist life? – The Joy of Minimalism author Zoey Arielle Poulsen

How do we lead a minimalist life? – The Joy of Minimalism author Zoey Arielle Poulsen

by Suswati Basu

The concept of minimalism, which involves freeing yourself from clutter and “stuff,” has been around for some time. In fact, you can find mentions of minimalism throughout history. Buddhists, for example, tend to shun material possessions, and have for thousands of years. However, the practice has become more mainstream in the 20th century, seen in the art world.

That said, as with all movements, minimalism has changed over time, but thanks to Marie Kondo and the advent of tiny homes, the practice is seeing a resurgence. So why is it important and how do we let go of things that we don’t need any more?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Zoey Arielle Poulsen, who is a life coach and known by her incredibly popular YouTube channel: “Zoey Arielle,” spoke to me about her book The Joy of Minimalism this week:

Diana Spellman, the Realistic Home Organisation Expert and founder of Serenely Sorted.

Sian Young, Founder of © Sustainable Success Coach and CEO of © The Centre for Sustainable Action.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Positive Professional Podcast Host Tracyavon Ford.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Money can’t buy happiness, and possessions aren’t the key to content. Most of us would agree. But the problem goes beyond the possessions themselves. Here is Joshua Becker on his journey:

This number one New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Books looked at this week:

Zoey Arielle Poulsen: The Joy of Minimalism: A Beginner’s Guide to Happiness with Less.

Joshua Becker: The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own.

Marie Kondo: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.


Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 35 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

I am often intrigued by the idea of paring down the material goods in our everyday lives–decluttering our lives of the unnecessary, and embracing only what we truly need. Why, exactly, is minimalism–a style characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity–so important?

Minimalism is apparently important because it reminds us that possessions are easy to replace, while our friends and loved ones are not. And it’s been two weeks of spring cleaning, and realising I’ve accumulated a lot of junk that I hope is someone else’s treasure. And while this is definitely different for people in certain socioeconomic backgrounds, as someone who was born and raised in the working class end of the bracket, I still believe decluttering is important in the fight against rampant consumerism and for our planet.

So how do we lead a more minimalist life?

Here is Diana Spellman, the Realistic Home Organisation Expert and founder of Serenely Sorted, and Sian Young, Founder of © Sustainable Success Coach and CEO of © The Centre for Sustainable Action on minimalism.


Our first book is from Zoey Arielle Poulsen, who is a life coach and known by her incredibly popular YouTube channel: “Zoey Arielle.” It showcases her life journey; minimalism, eating plant-based, moving to Rome Italy (and now, BALI, Indonesia), embracing spirituality and travelling the world. Her book The Joy of Minimalism: A Beginner’s Guide to Happiness with Less looks at how to bring yourself closer to your truest self. She kindly shared her time with me this week so find the full interview on or on YouTube. But here is a preview:


Poulsen says our most precious resource is time which seems to be taken up by our growing consumerism. She adds that she wants the book to influence you to become more conscious, to be inspired to rid yourself of the excess baggage you carry materially, mentally, and emotionally, and to discover what it is that makes you feel fulfilled and happy.

For Poulsen, the journey of minimalism is about becoming conscious of the world around you, simplifying your life, and actively choosing to incorporate only the things in your life which bring you joy. Thus, this journey is unique to everyone.

After having a career in marketing, she is able to say that society, our upbringing, and the media are what sway us to accumulate “stuff” to become happier. The average person is exposed to hundreds of advertisements every single day. She says that the goal of marketing is to persuade you to purchase something, regardless of whether it is ethical or not. Thus, the hundreds of advertisements we are exposed to per day are often successful in communicating that we will be happier by purchasing more. Even though this isn’t the reality.

Once Poulsen started to taste the freedom of real-life adventure, she yearned for cultural moments and significant conversations. Hence her desire to travel and live in Rome, Italy actually unexpectedly brought her on her path to minimalism, when she was faced with the prospect of getting rid of her worldly possessions to live on the other side of the globe.

By no means does one have to hit rock bottom to bring themselves to discover minimalism and the joy the journey brings, but one does have to do the internal work. This “work” refers to the daily exercises she says we all know we should do, but can’t seem to fit it into our schedules: journaling, meditation, fitness, etc.

She recommends writing down what it would be like to follow your dreams and achieve joy. Your definition of minimalism is unique to you and your inward and personal journey. The more you grasp this concept and decide to take serious action and define yourself as a minimalist, the easier the decluttering process will become, and before you know it, the benefits will flood into your life.

Next become more conscious of your spending. Possessions you choose to incorporate into your life should align with your authentic self and spark joy inside of you. 
Hence start adjusting your lens, look a little deeper into the world of consumerism, and begin to uncover the somewhat hidden reality of it all. Happiness is a state of being not having. She recommends taking the time to write down why you feel the urge to purchase new or more specifically brand name possessions.

It’s also important to get inspired. Whatever sparked your interest in minimalism at first, take a mental note, and keep reminding yourself about what fueled your initial inspiration. You can be as visual as possible using vision boards if it helps to keep you going.

The next stage is stopping expansion which refers to putting the brakes on the flow of possessions into your life. This could mean not shopping for clothes for the next month, not allowing yourself to purchase any accessories, or simply refraining from buying anything else you do not need.  It is best to stop the flow of belongings into your life until you have decluttered your space enough to become aware of the benefits.

Begin to recognize feelings of temptation when they present themselves. What actions, images, and people make you feel like you need to acquire more in life?

With your new minimalist lens on, begin to take time to observe your daily routines. Begin to challenge yourself to decipher which of your household appliances you can do without. The items which add no value are actually taking away from you in the form of space and time. It is time for you to reclaim your most precious resource.

Here is when we start reducing the clutter. Take a mental note of cluttered spaces around you. A great place to start is by doing “surface checks.” Surface checks include doing a scan of all table tops, counters, dresser tops, etc. All surfaces that are visible in the home should be clear of clutter.

Clutter brings with it anxiety and overwhelm, so begin your journey by decreasing the visible clutter around you first. Once you have worked through one room, take part in a small exercise to spark motivation and bask in the pride of a job well done: step out of the room and walk back in with fresh eyes.

You may need to dedicate at least a full day or however long it takes to your epic clear-out and clean-up! Either way it will be super rewarding. First of all

1. Get in the zone so remove all distractions
2. Make your bed, because it’s an easy one to start with
3. Organise your disposal methods, so boxes and bags for donations, recycling, or rubbish
4. Begin with the nos, and get rid of everything you don’t want straight away
5. Move on to categories by emptying everything on your bed

Helpful tips to remember is:

– No duplicates
– Do it all at once
– Separate into piles of no, maybe, recycle, and donate
– Save favourite items only that you wear or use regularly and feel confident with
– There should be a no pile
– Maybe is for things you don’t know if you want to part with
– Recycle pile and
– the Donation pile will absorb anything in the No pile

Once completed, be sure to go through all of your piles. Do this for obvious reasons, such as accidentally tossing a LOVE item in the NO pile or vice versa, but also to ask yourself learning questions like why?

Realize sentimental items are only possessions which you look at, not those which provide utility or an increase in the quality of life. That being said, if you truly love it, you owe it to put it to good use, otherwise without guilt give it away. You can take a picture of it if it’s really precious to you.

Parting with items you spent significant amounts of money on can be difficult, because it can result in feelings of financial loss. But you can get some cash back for unused or unloved pieces using eBay or Facebook Marketplace even.

And it’s all about maintenance so begin to become aware of what triggers give you the impulse to fall back into your not-so-smart habits and remove them from your life. This could mean consciously choosing not to spend your Saturdays at the mall and to fill that time with a hike instead.

The next book is from Joshua Becker who founded the blog Becoming Minimalist and wrote the book The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. Here he is on his own YouTube channel.


Becker believes that consumerism is out of control. In the 1970s, the average American saw around 500 adverts a day. Today, it’s closer to 5,000. It doesn’t matter what’s being sold, all ads tell consumers the same thing: buy more and you’ll be happier. That’s the message companies in the US paid an astonishing $171 billion for in 2013. It’s an effective tactic: the typical household now owns 300,000 items. Hence Becker is a big believer in the idea of “more is less”.

The aim of minimalism is to help you get rid of unnecessary possessions that stop you devoting your energies to doing the things that matter most. Many minimalists have more flexibility as a result as they have discovered that decluttering their homes means they are free to work and live wherever they want.

But Becker says remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. And if you want to understand your spending habits, it’s a good idea to look at consumer culture and the roles of marketing and advertising. For example, how much does all your Amazon purchases add up to over the last few years?

Like Poulsen, Becker believes understanding the power and influence of advertising – and remembering not to be unduly influenced by it – is one of the first steps toward a minimalist lifestyle.

So where to start? The best place to begin your journey is to be clear about why you want to reach your destination in the first place. What is it, in other words, that minimalism can offer you?

It’s important to ask yourself this question because minimalism isn’t just about decluttering – it’s about focusing on the things you really care about.

The next step on your journey is dividing your belongings into different categories. Begin by identifying the things that are the easiest to part with. The tough decisions about objects of sentimental value can wait.

But when you get to it, remember these objects whether books or clothes etc. Doesn’t define who you are and won’t make you happy, so keep your absolute favourites and give the rest away. That act of kindness will contribute to your happiness.

If you’re worried that you’ll end up regretting your decision to toss something, try living without it for a while. If you don’t miss them, they can go. Courtney Carver, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, tested this out in Project 333. This involved selecting 33 items of clothing, excluding essentials like underwear, and keeping them in her closet for three months. Once she realized she didn’t need the clothes that had been stored away, she donated them.

Now it’s time to learn to navigate the vast oceans of consumerism in your minimalist boat. If you find it hard to resist the constant temptation to buy things, try taking a break from shopping altogether.

Another way to maintain your minimalist lifestyle is to let people know in advance what gifts you’d like to receive so you don’t end up accumulating unwanted possessions. And if you don’t want any gifts, suggest donating to a charity.

And the author says you can get more out of owning less by shifting your focus from receiving to giving by donating rather than selling. Giving plays an important role in minimalism. You can even use your extra money and time to become an intentionally generous person. I can recommend checking out With This Ring which was founded by a pastor who sold her wedding ring to help feed a village in Africa, and now others are doing the same thing.

Being minimalist is all about helping your children develop healthy consumption habits early on in life as well. That means establishing boundaries. The author made a deal with his daughter to say she can have as many toys that can fit into a plastic container under her bed but no more. And it’s also important to remember to be patient, because not everyone is in the same place as you.

Our final book has to be from professional declutterer Marie Kondo, who is also the star of her own Netflix series. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing discusses Kondo’s Shinto inspired KonMari technique which is the cult of tidying up. Here she is at Google, with her translator.


Kondo believes before you can begin to tidy up, you first need a vision for your ideal life and your living space so keep visualising it. Once you’ve figured out what you want in your life, you’re in a position to start tidying and moving closer to your ideal life.

A tidy environment is one where you can efficiently access the things you need and like, which is why it’s so important to first understand what it is that you want. Your space should be filled with things that you truly love.

By ridding your space of books you don’t read for example and keeping the ones you are truly passionate about, you could become more passionate about reading.

And she says don’t be afraid to discard things. Even if you have to give away a dusty book that you really meant to read but just never found time for, these pangs of regret show you that the book is something you’re truly interested in. Now’s not the right time for the book, but you can always buy it again later.

The purpose of tidying isn’t just to keep things clean and organized. Rather, your goal is to create a space that improves your body and mind.

To do this, you should organize your living space in a way that feels most natural to you. When you’re sorting through your things, for instance, you’re also evaluating their purpose and usefulness to you. Letting go of something that no longer serves a purpose – and welcoming something new in its place – can be deeply therapeutic.

As you are sorting, focus on what you want to keep, not what you want to throw out. Arrange your belongings by category, closely examining each one with your eyes and hands. Ask yourself: “Does this make me happy? What is its purpose?” Let things go you don’t need with gratitude and move on.

In this way, tidying ceases to be a cold, calculated process, and instead both comes from and heightens your own awareness of self a bit like meditation.

Tidying is also more than just keeping a clean house as you can use the stuff from your past to help guide you into the future. Keepsakes from your past should bring you joy when you look at them. It’s worth keeping the ones that capture happy or exciting memories.

When you begin the process of tidying, start with the easiest categories, e.g., clothes, books, documents, miscellaneous items, etc., and end with your sentimental items. Photos are the most difficult because of the sheer volume and emotional value. Be sure to keep the ones you remember taking and relive the excitement of that moment. Don’t just dump it at your parent’s house!

As you’re tidying, you should also ask yourself whether a particular item corresponds to your current wants and needs or your vision for your ideal future. A lot of documents have only a short term purpose and therefore can be discarded once they’ve outlived their use.

Old course materials have likewise outlived their usefulness. After all, you didn’t take the course for the materials, but for the experience and the knowledge.

Strive for simplicity and visual order when storing and organizing. Consider carefully how you feel whenever you use or look at your belongings in the space you’ve designated for them. Your wardrobe is a good place to start. Try organizing your clothes in a way that is visually appealing to you.

Kondo says some people think they’re born messy, but she advises to abandon this negative self belief and instead strive for perfection when visualising their living space so it motivates them to do it.

More practically, tidying makes your decisions around the house straightforward, and thus improves your decisiveness. Efficient and intuitive storage eliminates the stress of having to search through clutter for the things that you need. It allows you to make decisions instead of being stuck searching helplessly for hours.

Start by determining the purpose of the object and decide whether that purpose has yet been fulfilled. If you hesitate in your answer, ask yourself: Why did I get this thing? When? And how? Miscellaneous belongings that you keep “just because” are common causes of clutter and chaos. Every item should have a clear purpose.

Gifts and greeting cards also have a purpose: they are gestures from friends and loved ones to show you they care. But once this message has been conveyed, isn’t it time to let them go?

Either way she says you only have to tidy once to make a lasting change in your life.

So to sum up:

Poulsen says in The Joy of Minimalism that the minimalism process is about taking the time to discover what you truly value and decluttering everything around you enough to feel happiness through the abundance of time and meaningful experiences rather than of material possessions.

Becker says in The More of Less that although we think that we are immune to advertisements, our buying habits are a product of larger trends in consumption. Minimalism doesn’t have to be about creating an extreme lifestyle; it’s about becoming more generous, offering your children boundaries and spending more time and money on what we actually care about. Hence a quick, easy task to do is to do all those 2 minute declutter jobs right now like dishes or laundry.

And Kondo says in the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up that decluttering your life should be extremely simple: all you have to do is decide what you want to keep and discard what you don’t – i.e., everything that doesn’t make you happy. Accomplishing this, however, requires you to dig deep to figure out what kind of life you want to live. It’s up to you to develop the kind of space that reflects your ideal future.

I’ve had an epic decluttering session over the last two weeks, and I realised growing up with less meant my parents hoarded more. And while it’s a lovely sentiment to keep things in order not to be wasteful, there comes a time it’s more wasteful that it’s not being used by someone who really needs it.

With that, here is Positive Professional Podcast Host Tracyavon Ford on her thoughts, and if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!


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