Myquillyn Smith Shares Her Best Decluttering Tips

The blogger and decorating expert opens up about her journey to minimalism and how to declutter your home.

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- Posted on Oct 24, 2018

Photo from the interior of "Cozy Minimalist"

Myquillyn Smith is known online as “the nester” because of her cozy, down-to-earth decorating style. In her new book, Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff, Smith shares how she found joy in minimizing knick-knacks and decorations, and offers simple, step-by-step instructions for transforming your home into a peaceful, welcoming place. 

We talked to Smith, who coined the term “cozy minimalism,” about what minimalism means to her, as well as her methods for transforming cluttered houses into dream homes.

Guideposts.org: Have you always been a minimalist?

Myquillyn Smith: For a long time when I heard the word, "Minimalist," I had a really negative reaction. I wished I could be that way, but I had a husband, two cats, a dog and three teenage boys. Still, the idea of minimalism and simplicity was very appealing. I would find myself looking up blogs and just kind of spying on the whole minimalist movement.

I realized that the real definition of minimal is having just enough to meet a goal. That feels like minimalism is not just a need to count my possessions or a race to owning nothing. Having just enough is actually a good thing.

Guiposts.org: How did minimalism become important to you and your family?  

MS: Out of necessity, when we moved into our fixer upper, I just had the bare, bare essentials. And of course I totally love beauty, so I had to have a couple of things out. I had some pillows and a vase of flowers, just enough to get by. We lived like that for a couple of months, and [I realized] there is something special about when your home is visually simple and has like visual white space—it’s almost like a visual Sabbath. I didn't realize how much good that would do my heart.

It gave us some room in our life; it was because I didn't insist that every surface be covered with beautiful décor. I still want to have a warm, welcoming home. But I started wondering: What is the least amount of stuff possible that I can have this warm, cozy, inviting home and still have that serene, calming feeling that my home isn't filled with a bunch of stuff that I have to take care of?

Guideposts.org: In Cozy Minimalist you talk about the idea of having a “stuff threshold.” It’s the concept that people will have different internal thermometers for how much stuff they want in their home. How would you suggest someone determine their stuff threshold?

MS: If your home is getting on your nerves, if your home doesn't feel peaceful, if you always feel like, "Oh my gosh, my kitchen island, I wish it didn't exist because it's always so full of stuff it feels like a to-do list." Those are red flags that maybe instead of getting rid of your kitchen island, you just need to get rid of all the stuff on it.

Guideposts.org: If someone has determined they are over their stuff threshold, how can they begin lowering the amount of stuff in their home? What’s a manageable way to start the decluttering process?

MS: Start one surface at a time. Maybe have a goal to leave a designated empty surface in each room of your home.

I know for so many years I always felt like, "Oh, we need a bigger house because I don't have a place for my stuff." Really I just needed less stuff. Everyone wins. I got to take care of my stuff, my house felt bigger, and I don't have to buy as much to make my home look good.

Guideposts.org: What are some short term fixes that might help people who are overwhelmed with starting?

MS: I think so many of us put off doing anything because the first step doesn't look like what we want the final product to be.

A temporary fix can be attacking something that you're sick of or know you need to replace and don't have the budget for, but you make it look better so you feel better about the room. If you hate your carpet and you own your home, maybe you can just rip it out and paint the subfloor and put a big rug down for a while and that kind of holds you over.

The goal is to get our rooms looking the way we've always hoped so that we can use them the way we've always dreamed. The ultimate goal isn't to have a home that we show off or looks like it could be in a magazine. Most of us just want to love our homes so that we can kind of forget about it and just use it and volunteer to have people over.

Guideposts.org: What are some of your most practical decluttering tips?

MS: This is a book that tricks you into decluttering. It’s like backwards decluttering because a lot of us can't decide to keep something or not because our rooms aren't finished.

So if we can finish those rooms, then we can make an informed decision, and when we feel competent in making those style decisions and having our finished rooms, then we're free to get rid of a lot of extra stuff. It's amazing what you don't mind getting rid of when you're sure that you don't need to use it.

Cozy Minimalist Home is available wherever books are sold.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

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