How to Become (and Stay) a Minimalist, According to Expert Shira Gill

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Minimalista by Shira Gill / Photo (left) © 2021 by Zoe Ching / Photo (right) © 2021 by Vivian Johnson

What's it like living as a minimalist? What can one do when the temptation to purchase more stuff keeps getting in the way? In honor of her upcoming book, Minimalista, out November 2, 2021, author and home organizing expert Shira Gill shares tips on how to streamline your life once and for all—and how to successfully achieve a more clutter free home, even when the going gets tough along the way.

The Spruce (TS): People have been buying more and more home products and leaning into maximalism over the past year—why is minimalism still so valuable?

Shira Gill (SG): People get the wrong impression of minimalism and think that it means deprivation and scarcity and living in a stark white box. I believe that minimalism is just living more intentionally and creating a home and life that reflects who you are and what you care about. I think often people get lost in a sea of consumption ... there's just so much pressure all the time to buy all of the things. What I've seen in my work is that typically, it's a very short-term gain and a long-term loss in terms of time and energy and freedom and stress. What I have found personally and in my work with clients is that when we can slow down and be more intentional about what we bring into our homes and lives, we have more time and energy and freedom for the things that are important.

TS: When one is getting started with a more minimalist lifestyle, what is the best room or category to start with first?

SG: For me it's more about identifying your 'why'—why do you want to live a more minimalist life—and then basically tackling one space at a time so that you don't get overwhelmed.

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Minimalista by Shira Gill / Photo © 2021 by Zoe Ching

TS: What are tips you would give to someone who craves a more orderly lifestyle but has never been able to have this come naturally?

SG: The big thing I would say is starting very small. Most people start big—they try to approach their entire home or a massive project, and then they feel overwhelmed and give up and feel defeated. When I'm working with people that feel that lack of confidence with organization, I would say, 'Let's do a drawer,' or even 'Go through your wallet.' Just organize something successfully and you've got that under your belt. Then maybe move on to your junk drawer or your sock drawer. It's really about building small wins so you can increase your confidence, and just simplifying the process of organization. The way I define it is grouping similar things together and then assigning a home for them. That's something my kids can do and anybody can learn at any age.

TS: In a similar vein, what advice would you give to someone who wants to live a more minimalist life but is struggling with the transition? How can people remind themselves that change really is possible?

SG: People should challenge themselves to a purchase pause or spending freeze, even just for a month, because I find that people who are overwhelmed still keep bringing in more and more. Cut the consumerism for a month and just catch your breath and start working with what you've got without building more overwhelm. Again, just taking it one tiny area at a time—just looking at your coat closet and deciding, 'How many coats do i need,' and "What do I need in my entryway and what's just clutter' ... and working your way through your home as time allows in really little bite-sized chunks."

inside of minimalista book

Minimalista by Shira Gill / Photo (left) © 2021 by Madeline Harper / Design by Anastasia Casey

TS: What are some ways to make becoming a minimalist more fun?

SG: When I declutter, I turn on music or a podcast or invite a girlfriend over—there are ways of making the actual process of slogging through the piles more fun. Add ice cream, add cocktails! I hosted a clothing swap party and all of my girlfriends came and brought things that were in their closet that just weren't working for them. Everybody traded, and at the end of the night, we donated all of the excess to charity. It was such a fun way of lightening the load, but having it be a social event and then also giving back.

TS: What should people remind themselves when they're tempted to give in and buy more stuff?

SG: I would remind people to think about after the dopamine [of purchasing something] hits ... that when the thing actually arrives, really thinking about, 'Do I want to break down the cardboard that this comes in', 'Do I want to deal with the styrofoam', 'Do I have a place in my home to store this, or is it going to be stressful to figure out what to do with it'—really thinking about the future costs of the item. I think typically when we buy something, we're just thinking about that initial fun hit of 'Ooh, shiny object, something new!', but we don't slow down to think all of those things through.

inside of minimalista book

Minimalista by Shira Gill / Photos (lower left) © 2021 by Madeline Harper / Design by Anastasia Casey; Photo (upper right) © 2021 by Vivian Johnson / Design by Chrissy Hunter

TS: When is the appropriate time to buy organization products? Before you get started on your journey, or as you go?

SG: Do not buy anything until you have fully edited and organized. At that point, you can look and see, 'What do I own?,' 'Do I have things I already own that can be repurposed as a drawer divider or a bin or basket?' If not, make a list of those specific items you need once you've edited and organized.

TS: What have you enjoyed most about adopting a more minimalist lifestyle?

SG: For me, it's been a really values based decision to have a minimal home. The goal for me was to be able to host and have people over really easily, which we do, and to be able to travel and rent our home out. Because we have a really minimal home, we can rent it out and host guests. We even rent our house out for photo and video shoots for other creatives. It's just provided us the freedom to live the life that we really want to live.

All photos are reprinted from MINIMALISTA by Shira Gill. Copyright © 2021 by Shira Gill. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.