18: Learn how to embrace a “live with less” mindset

There’s been a lot of talk lately about living a simpler life, slowing down, and being more intentional about how we live our lives. This conversation has been fueled in large part by the pandemic, but minimalism is definitely not a new concept. This idea of embracing a less-is-more world view has been around for a long time, and it seems to have been going more mainstream for several years too – just look at the popularity of Marie Kondo’s book! In this episode, Liz sits down with minimalist living expert Diane Boden who hosts the Minimalist Moms podcast and recently published the book Minimalist Moms: Living and Parenting with Simplicity. Diane shares tips and inspiration for embracing a more minimalist approach and living a life in pursuit of less.

Minimalist Moms Podcast: https://www.minimalistmomspodcast.com/

Diane Boden hosts the Minimalist Moms podcast where she inspires moms to “think more and do with less.”

I’m not sure I would call myself a minimalist, but I do like the idea of striving to have fewer material possessions and placing a higher value on experiences than things – which I think are both hallmarks of minimalism. But, needless to say, I have a lot to learn. So I sat down with Diane Boden to get the basics and some ideas for how to be (even just a little bit) more minimalist in my own life. 

Liz Serotte (LS): Let’s start with a very basic question: How do you define minimalism? And specifically, what does it mean to be a minimalist mom? Because minimalism and mothering, it almost sounds like an oxymoron to me.

Diane Boden (DB): Minimalism comes down to intentionality and your purpose. I think it can seem really overwhelming, and so we don’t act because it’s like, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m a mom. It’s not approachable to me.” I would say aim to get rid of what’s superfluous. Ask yourself: What is excessive in your home? That’s where you start. With minimalist motherhood, again, it comes back to intentionality. I feel like so often we’re just pulled into so many directions. We’re a mom, we’re a wife, we’re a friend, we have our jobs. I think that when we come back and get that focus on what’s important, we just feel so much lighter. You’re curating the type of lifestyle you want to have.

LS: We all spend so much times on our devices these days – phones, computers, tablets. What are your thoughts on digital minimalism?

DB:  I have set boundaries where I say, I’m not going to check it after a certain hour or I’m not going to really post on the weekends. But it’s still really hard. I feel like that’s a hard area to minimize.

LS: I think especially lately when people are stuck at home and we’re kind of starved for connection. Social media is one way that we’re connecting with people. So are there core principles that you follow? 

DB: Yes. First, I think it’s deeming what’s a priority in your life and having that foundation set. That’s going to look so different for everyone. But I try to focus on experiences over things. That’s a priority for me and my husband. Then, I love the idea that if we are going to make a purchase, we try to purchase quality over quantity. For example, if we want new bath towels, I’m probably going to wait and save up some money to spend a little bit more on higher quality bath towels that are not going to fall apart in a couple of years. I would rather own fewer but nicer things rather than constantly replace things. And then just remembering that advertising is designed to make you feel like what you have is not enough and that you always need to upgrade or have the newest things. So you have to remind yourself that you don’t need all the new things. We’re such a throw away culture and that’s what a lot of minimalists are trying to stand against. Use what we have, fix what we may have broken, and don’t just be looking for a reason to go shop if you don’t need to.

LS: How did you get into minimalism and what drew you to this way of life?

DB: I was in my parents’ basement with my husband and we were looking for something, and he said to me, “Look at all these things that are now in boxes that were once your parents hard-earned work hours.” And it just really struck me in that moment. All l these things are in boxes, they’re not even using these. And I have to go to work, so what do I want those working hours to be put towards? I really wanted to focus on experiences and not having so many things that would one day be in my basement. 

LS:  I saw on your website you said, “Minimalism is more of a way of life than a goal to be reached.” So it sounds like it’s really like it’s an ongoing choice that you make every day. It’s not like you’ve now achieved minimalist black belt status, so you’re done.

DB: One hundred percent. And as a mom, now I have these three little kids that are growing into bigger kids, and they’re going to have their own opinions and things that they want to bring into our home. I really have tried to involve them in it and to tell them exactly what minimalism is. But we’ve lived like this since having kids so it’s not new to them. If we’re going to Target or something and my kids are like, “Oh, we want to see the toy aisle.” I don’t say no, but when we go through the toy aisle, we’ll take pictures of things and say, “Okay, let’s add that to your wish list for your birthday or Christmas.” And then I have this little running note in my phone and I just have the screenshots of the different things, and then I get to curate that when we send out lists for the holidays.

LS: So your kids have never known it any other way. You didn’t have to convert them, so to speak. What do you recommend to people who have older kids and they have never introduced minimalist concepts to them before? Is it too late to start? 

DB: I think that with any new habit or any new discipline, there is going to be that trial and error process and then there’s going to be the period of time where you have to put in the work. Minimalism and living with less is very counter-culture, so it is going to be hard at first. But, it really does pay off after even just decluttering your space, or decluttering your schedule, or focusing on gratitude and experiences. I feel like I reap the rewards every day.

LS: Marie Kondo’s book talks about only keeping items that spark joy. Do you agree with that approach?

DB: I’m looking at a hammer right now. I definitely need the hammer, but I’m not going to say that it sparks joy in me. Yet, I still need the hammer. So some things are practical and you need them even if they don’t spark joy. It’s the same with your schedule. I tried to be certain when I say yes to things that I really want to do them. But at the same time, I don’t really want to commit to a doctor’s appointment, but it’s a thing that I have to do. There are commitments that I have to follow through with just because that’s adulthood. So I think Marie Kondo has some great advice, but I don’t think that everything we own necessarily sparks joy or some type of enlightenment in our lives.

LS: Right, but for the stuff saved in the boxes in the basement, it probably is a good rule of thumb.

DB: Yeah, for sure.

LS: Can you give a newbie to minimalism some tips for taking the first steps in terms of thinking about decluttering your home?

DB: I would always say to start in the bathroom because there are not going to be sentimental items in your bathroom, typically. And it’s usually it’s one of the smallest rooms. People start their days in the bathroom and they end their days in the bathroom, and you don’t want to start with that feeling like oh, it’s kind of messy in here. Once you have gone through that process, you can start to tackle other areas and then make your way up to those sentimental items. Whether it’s your baby clothes or kid’s artwork, those are harder things. Maybe if your parents have passed away and you’re going through their items –  I would stare steer clear of that until you’ve been at this for a while because I know that that can be really hard for people.

LS: I secretly love cleaning out and reorganizing my pantry. I guess that’s another area where there aren’t any sentimental attachments. 

DB: For sure. I think that sometimes even in the bathroom or the pantry, we don’t want to throw something away because we think, “I already spent the money on this.”  But you already spent the money either way and if you’re not going to use it, why is it still taking up the space? We have this idea that our future self is going to use that, and that’s typically not very realistic. I think that’s a lot of minimalism too, just being really honest with yourself and seeing where you may be not telling yourself the full truth about who you are and what it is that you want. That’s why I think it comes down to, again, your intention and what your purpose and your foundation is as a family.

LS: Do you feel like this past year when we’ve been in lockdown for a good part of the year is an easier or a harder time to apply minimalist principles to our lives?

DB: I think that everyone’s answer might be slightly different with this. For me, I thought it was easier because I wasn’t doing nearly as much so I definitely didn’t feel the comparison game when it came to what I had in my house or what I looked like. Maybe I felt some comparison towards what other moms were able to do during the day. I also had a lot of help from my husband because he is a teacher so he was home a lot more. It was really nice to have some time to just be with one another without others giving as much input because you’re not seeing people as regularly.

LS: As things start to open up again we can be very intentional about what we do let back in and what we don’t.

DB: That’s exactly it. I think that we can have gratitude for the things that we do have, and just have more of a respect for the things that are in our lives and what we want to take forward.