Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Author: amberrking (page 1 of 21)

The Power of Habit

Have you ever tried to change a bad habit? If you were able to do it, how? I just listened to a book that discusses the science of habits and how to change them. It could be one of the best books I’ve read this year.

What Is A Habit?

The book was Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life & Business. Habits are fascinating and they run our lives. Until reading this book, I never knew why I felt compelled to wake up every morning and go workout, or why I can’t seem to avoid eating a snack once I put my kids down for a nap. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains that habits are made up of three components: the cue, the routine, and the reward.

The Habit Loop

If you change the cue or routine, you can change a bad habit into a good habit (or vice versa). The book is filled with fascinating stories of why Alcoholics Anonymous works or how Pepsodent marketing created America’s toothbrushing habit. However, I like practical tips and tricks and it’s got some of those too.

The Essential Components of Habit Change

If you want to change a habit, you need to change the cue or the routine and/or take away the reward, which means you have to be fully aware of what acts as the cue, routine, and reward for each of your habits. You also need belief. That usually means finding a support group that can reinforce your new habits.

Habit Change Flow Chart

That seems easy enough, right? It’s really not that simple. What I discovered after listening to the book is that Duhigg has gone one step farther in fleshing out the path to habit-change. He’s got a habit change flow chart!

How to Change a Habit

This is brilliant and if you want more context for each of these steps, you can read more about them on I can’t say I’ve worked my way through the flow chart yet, but this makes a lot of sense and I can’t wait to try it.

Changing My Routine

So, why do I think this might work? Before I read this book, I successfully changed a bad habit unknowingly using Duhigg’s key principles. I used to put the kids down for bed, then grab something sweet to eat. The cue was putting the kids to bed, the routine was eating sugar, and the reward was that it tasted great and I got to relax without my kids begging me to share. I wasn’t even hungry. So, I decided to find something else to do once the kids went to bed. Now I pour myself a cup of decaf green tea every night. I look forward to it, it’s calming, and it doesn’t have the calories.

Without even trying, I took a page out of The Power of Habit and supplanted my old routine with a new one. That gives me some personal hope that this really works. I’m excited to see what else I can change!

Have you ever changed a bad habit? How did you do it?

Birthday Time!

birthday presents

Remember when you were a kid and it was your birthday?

Did you wake up early to find a heaping pile of presents waiting for you next to your spot at the table?

Did it seem like an eternity before your parents woke up, cooked breakfast, got ready, and finally declared that it was time to open presents?

Do you remember each and every gift you ever got?

Did you always get what you wanted?

Did you cherish each item?

Did you play with them all year?
For a few days?
A few hours?
A minute?
Not at all?

Are your memories more about the anticipation, the excitement, and the fun of having and opening presents?

Do you remember the event more than what you got?

I do. There are very few presents that I actually remember receiving for my birthday. I remember the tricycle I got when I was three. I came around the corner to the kitchen and there it was.

I also remember the birthday before I moved to Rochester, MN for my first internship when I got a bunch of pots and pans, a strainer, and toilet paper (yes, toilet paper). I was thrilled!

But mostly I just remember getting presents, not having them. I remember the fun event; the experience.

My oldest daughter turns 6 years old today and she’s also got a pile of presents. She’ll be getting three sets of legos, a scooter, some clothes, and a few other random items from her loving extended family. Then she’ll have a party tomorrow and she’ll get more things. In five years, she probably won’t remember any of them.

What if next year I asked everyone to get her an experience gift? A ticket or photo or teaser of the experience could still be wrapped up, but instead of clogging our closets, the presents would clog her memory bank and photo albums.

Would she then remember our presents and not just the event?

5 Things I Learned from the Minimalism Documentary

On May 25th, a new friend, Nuria, invited me to watch the new Minimalism Documentary from The Minimalists and lead a Q&A session afterwards. The movie was sold out and FANTASTIC!

Kudos to Ryan Nicodemus & Joshua Fields Millburn, who put the movie together and have been tireless proponents of minimalism for several years. The film couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d been a bit lazy about minimizing and had put the KonMari method on hold. I needed an infusion of inspiration and I got it! Here are the top 5 things I learned at the screening.

5 Things I Learned from the Minimalism Documentary

#1 There is a whole community of minimalists out there!

This showing and many others across the country were SOLD OUT and, although it ended late on a Wednesday night, we had 40-50 people stay for the Q&A session afterwards. Everyone in that room had amazing questions and experiences that they shared freely. It felt refreshing and reaffirming to find myself among so many smart, like-minded people. I feel honored to be part of the minimalist community in DC!

#2 There is something called “Essentialism”

One of the questions asked after the film was, “What’s the difference between Minimalism and Essentialism?” I actually didn’t know the answer, but a woman in the front row did and explained it beautifully. Minimalism is the pursuit of less stuff, while essentialism is the practice of doing less with your time. With essentialism, you focus on doing only the most important things and free up your life to really make an impact. THAT is exactly what I need. I picked up the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown and am about 25% of the way through it. It’s amazing. Greg is the real deal. He’s been there, done that, and promises to set forth a disciplined approach for choosing what’s important and getting rid of the rest of your obligations.

Essentialism is minimalism for your time!

#3 Ryan & Joshua Weren’t Successful Immediately

There’s a really funny sequence in the film that shows Ryan and Joshua sitting by themselves at book signings or in sparsely-populated rooms with a few people skeptically asking questions. Over time, more and more people start to show up, The Minimalists get asked onto major television shows, and the crowds get bigger and bigger. However, it took a looooooong time for them to get to that point. That’s an important lesson for those of us just starting out on a journey. Keep going. Do what you love and think is right and don’t stop, no matter how tough it is in the beginning.

#4 We’re Relatively Silent

It dawned on me that with so many minimalists out there (and/or minimalist-sympathizers), we’re a relatively silent bunch. Yes, there are people like Ryan and Joshua and Joshua Becker and Leo Babauta, but for every outspoken minimalist, there are thousands more. They are doing every day things (going to work, coming home, living in normal neighborhoods, and have a lot of friends that don’t consider themselves minimalists). Becker often writes about rational minimalism. That’s what a lot of us are doing. We haven’t gotten rid of everything, but we are living with less and constantly trying to simplify our lives. I don’t share this blog with all of my friends, but I probably should. Those that know have been incredibly supportive (and even call me out on buying things occasionally, which is helpful!)

#5 Just do it.

I look at people like Ryan and Joshua and I think, wow, they’ve done a lot in the last few years (books, movie, tours, moved to Montana), how am I ever going to catch up? But then I sit back and remind myself that that’s not the point. I don’t need to catch up. At one point in time they decided to make a change in their lives and they never looked back. That’s what we all need to do too.

Go get started.


Minimalism Documentary: May 25th @ Gallery Place

If you haven’t seen the new Minimalism Documentary (Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things) from The Minimalists, there’s still a chance to see it in our area. It shows this Wednesday, May 25th @ 7:30pm @ Gallery Place Stadium 14. Book your tickets here! I’ll be hosting a Q&A session on minimalism after the show.

Are you on the fence? Check out the movie trailer below. If you live outside of DC, find a showing near you here.

Hope to see you there!

The Toys Have to Go

I’ve struggled with kid stuff for years and have written about it here, here, and here. My kids’ junk may be the main source of clutter-induced stress in my life. Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and my mother all agree that you shouldn’t get rid of other people’s stuff (how will they trust you afterwards?), but do kids really count? Mine never want to get rid of anything and I’ve tried all of the psychological tricks. Are my 2 and 5-year-olds really old enough to dictate how cluttered my house is?

I finally decided that the answer to that is a big, fat NO. I agonized over that decision for months before doing anything about it, wondering if I would somehow emotionally injure my children by removing most of their toys. Then, I came across an article that put an abrupt end to my agonizing: Ruth Soukup’s Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back). Soukup got angry one day and snapped. She cleared out her children’s rooms, all the way down to their comforters; removing everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. What made her do it? Her kids weren’t listening to her pleas to pick up their toys. That sounded all too familiar. That’s when I realized, the toys have to go.


My kids get their toys out by the hundreds and leave them in the living room, their rooms, the kitchen, and even the stairs. They are terrible at cleaning one thing up before getting another thing out. They float from one toy to the other. They don’t appreciate or take care of their toys.

Should we really be teaching our kids to superficially use something, then toss it aside? I now concretely believe that’s what we unintentionally do when we overload our kids with stuff.

After reading Soukup’s article, I wasted no time in clearing the girls’ rooms out.


All of the Toys


I pulled all of the girls’ toys from every corner of the house together and sorted them into three categories:

  • Keepers: These are the classic toys that they come back to again and again. Great books, legos, markers, and our play kitchen toys all fall into this category.
  • Maybe: These are the toys that I wasn’t sure about; toys the kids occasionally played with and really seemed to like. I decided to keep them out of sight for a while and if the girls asked for them, I would bring them back into the rotation. Stuffed animals that are rarely played with and games that occasionally bring us joy, but are barely touched filled this category.
  • No Way: These are the toys that they never play with or that I hate. Loud toys, cheap happy meal toys, toys that are too big and never used. These went directly into a garbage bag.

For those in the Keeper category, I then placed them on the top shelves of their closets and put three items within reach in the toy box, brought down two stuffed animals and filled a small shelf with books. Everything else in this category, I put in a storage bin to rotate in. The new rule is that when one item comes out, another item goes back on the shelf.

What We Kept

The toys we kept were very simple, classic toys that I know my kids love. Art supplies and the easel, legos, blocks, the Lottie dolls, favorite stuffed animals, play kitchen supplies, and a sub-set of puzzles, board games, and books.

My Kids’ Reaction

 I braced myself for a screaming fit and a lot of tough questions, but to my surprise, this was a non-event. I did this while they played outside with their dad. I split the toys up and put them away before they had a chance to ask what I was doing. When they came inside, I told them that I put their favorite toys on their shelf. I told them about the new rule of having one toy out at a time and I told them that if they missed a toy that was not on the shelf that I would rotate it in.

Their response? “OK.”

“To my surprise, this was almost a non-event.”

How It’s Going

It’s amazing how much unfounded anxiety the anticipation of an unknown reaction can cause. This was one of the best things I’ve done since starting my minimalist project. My living room is cleaner. The basement is cleaner. It’s easier to clean almost every space in the house.

In the kids’ rooms I need to do a better job of reinforcing the new rule. Their rooms still get messy and old things are not put away before new ones come out. We just need to work on that. I will say that the time necessary to clean the rooms is much shorter.

This nuclear option seems to have worked for us!

I’m dying to know – how do you keep you kids’ stuff under control?

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