Your Clutter Coach


Sometimes you need more help than a book or a blog can give you.

Sometimes you need a friend to remind you to donate those bags of unworn clothing that are sitting in your basement.

Sometimes you need someone to make a plan for you, motivate you and keep you accountable.

Sometimes you need a Clutter Coach.

I get a lot of emails asking for help. I always respond (even it takes me a while) with advice, suggestion and encouragement.

And I always wonder, did they carve out a weekend to clean out that attic? Are they in the throes of home purging and feeling beaten by the process? Did they pull out some boxes from under their bed, lose a few hours looking through old junk, and then decide it was all too much work?

For some time I’ve wanted to help beyond the posts on this blog. Something very personal for paring down and living smaller.

A book wasn’t the answer. There are already some great books out there like Family-Sized Minimalism and Clutter Bootcamp for inspiration and how-to. A book can’t hold your hand, give you a kick in the butt or suggest another method for dealing with all that mail.

I want to do those things.

I want to see closets go from jam packed to roomy.

I want to help people get more sleep.

I want to find solutions for the mud room clutter that can be so hard to reign in.

So I’ve started something new.

Your Clutter Coach

This is for people that:

  • can’t make the time to declutter even after reading a lot of books and blogs on the subject
  • get sidetracked by old photos and trinkets every time they attempt to clean out the guest room
  • have pared down their stuff but it crept back quickly
  • need motivation and accountability to clear clutter for good

Your Clutter Coach is a personalized decluttering program. It’s tailored to your lifestyle, your needs and your schedule. It’s me kicking your butt and you kicking ass.

You can read more about the services here.

If you’re interested in the program I am currently giving away one free Four Week Clutter Coaching Program at Parenting with Crappy Pictures (if you haven’t visited this site before it is hilarious). The giveaway is open until Tuesday May 8th at 8pm PST. Head on over to read the details and enter.

PS. This will be the only time I mention Your Clutter Coach in a big post like this.

Are You Raising Your Kids to be Hoarders?

This is a guest post from Lorilee Lippincott from Loving Simple Living.

Commercial society has done a great job filling up kids lives. Couple that with the fact that houses keep getting bigger and most kids are now getting their own rooms. Kids have room for more and more stuff. Retail has done a great job of translating love to equal gifts and often it is kids that get the brunt of this lie. Kids collect gifts at birthday, Christmas, every other holiday, when they get a good grade, when they behave in the store, as a reward for doing a chore, as a apology or a way of making up for parenting mistakes, and sometimes for no reason at all. Kids get gifts from parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, friends, and more. There is a constant flow of stuff into our kids life and space.

In my home, and probably in yours, my kids have more stuff to process and sort coming in that I do. Pair that with the fact that minimalism can be seen by some as cutting back, almost depriving, it is the last thing we want to inflict on our kids. We want to show them that every gift is special, ever art project is valuable, and that nothing should be wasted. However, in doing this we are further telling them that stuff is tied to love, experiences, and value.

As a parent it is our job to teach the opposite. To teach our kids that love is shown in many ways and that a person is not more or less because of the stuff that they own or have given as gifts. At the same time we need to guard against our kids being overwhelmed and stressed out because of their amount of stuff. We are responsible from birth on up (in different degrees to match ages) to create a living space that will inspire, relax, and grow them as ‘little’ people. I want my kids to love their room and have no trouble maintaining, playing, or cleaning it up. I want them to have time and space for lots of creative play.

Minimalist living, for us and for our kids, is about the benefits and environment we are creating and giving, not about depriving or anything we are taking away. Because that is the focus lets look at what kids should have access too: (not every kid at every age needs these, but this is the list I use for my kids)

  1. Art supplies – a few good quality ones not a whole pile of broken crayons, dried markers and half finished projects.
  2. Building/Structural Toys – blocks, legos, or something similar but only one or maybe two sets. They don’t need a bunch of pieces that get mixed up and don’t fit together.
  3. Relational/Nurture Toys – Dolls, Barbies, stuffed animals. Same with above, they don’t need all of them. There are dolls of so many sizes with cloths and accessories to match. A nice set of one or two types of dolls is all that is needed.
  4. Active Toys – Proper equipment for a few sports or activities that they enjoy.
  5. Puzzles and group games – A few age appropriate and quality options.
  6. Dress up – Probably more applicable for younger kids. A few quality, none character specific options that can fit many roles for creative play.
  7. Books – more books don’t equal more reading. Having a few age appropriate books and a clean spot to read them equals more reading. Kids go through books fast so it is always good to have new and interesting books, but they don’t need to keep the ones they have read. Libraries or other book sharing options are amazing for this.
  8. A few more child specific pieces can fit in as well.

Once we know what they need to have, it is very easy to see everything else as stuff that they shouldn’t have.

I first started to understand this when I noticed that my kids played the best after I had cleaned and organized their rooms for them. They were too overwhelmed to clean it themselves. They were crowded and overstimulated. They suffer from the same clutter stress and are overwhelmed just like we are.

We cut back on almost all of our kids toys a year ago (when they were 7 and 4). They now share a room and it is still mostly manageable for them to keep clean on their own. Their clothes and toys all can be put in their closet and they have lots of floor space to play. It was a huge change for us, but I wish we had done it sooner.

Lorilee writes about her family’s pursuit of less stuff and more living at Loving Simple Living. You can read more about how they downsized from a 2000 sq ft home to a 900 sq ft apartment here.

Crafting an Authentic and Purposeful Life

I’m excited to bring this guest post from Amber Strocel of Crafting My Life (Amber has written here before). I hope you like her message and steps for creating purpose in your life. These topics are near and dear to me as I continue to work towards a freelance writing career (about 20% of the way there!). If you are interested in career or life change this year her book and e-course are a great kick start.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t have a single answer; my aspirations changed from moment to moment, depending on my mood and what book I was reading and what the weather was like that day. I was young, and the world was filled with possibilities – I saw no need to confine myself to just one. All the same, if you asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I always had an answer.

The years passed, as they do, and I found myself in my mid-30s, living in the suburbs with my husband and two children. One day, as I considered the question of what I most wanted to do with my life, I realized I didn’t have an answer. Somewhere along the way I had lost that sense of possibility, and forgotten how to dream.

Me, in the green

What do you Really Want to Do?

As adults, we often spend so much time worrying about all of the things we should do, that we never pause to ask ourselves what we want to do. Oh, sure, maybe we think about the clothes we want to buy or the trips we want to take or the house we want to live in, but that’s not the same. When we spend time thinking about the stuff that we want, we’re not focused on the things that really bring us joy or help us feel as if we’ve found our purpose. We’re focused on the things we use to distract ourselves because we haven’t found our purpose.

How do you find your purpose, though? It’s a big question. What’s more, there isn’t a single answer or method that will work for everyone. We’re all different people, with different dreams, and we’ll all uncover and pursue them in different ways. But there are some basic tools you can use to help you live a life of greater intention. The best part is that you don’t need a lot of time or money to do it – you just need a willingness to do some exploring, and take some risks.

Solstice Celebration Lantern Festival

Tools to Help you Find your Purpose

  1. Take Stock: When you’re trying to figure out where you’re going, it’s a good idea to start by figuring out where you are. If your life were a map, this would be the little dot labelled “You Are Here”. Ask yourself what is and isn’t working for you in your life, what resources you have at your disposal, and who you have in your corner.
  2. Seek Out Inspiration: When you want to create change in your life, searching out inspiration can help fuel your dreams and get you motivated. Read some biographies of famous people you admire, listen to music you love or see a great movie. Use the momentum you create to explore your own dreams.
  3. Create Space: If you’re a minimalist, you know how great it feels to get rid of all the clutter in you life. As you do it, you’re freeing up space you can use to pursue your dreams. Creating space doesn’t just have to mean getting rid of stuff, though. You can also go of commitments that aren’t working, or intentionally add things that inspire you, like great art.
  4. Cut Yourself Slack: When you start a new project, you often feel really energetic. But then something happens, your schedule slips, and you start feeling discouraged. You may even give up entirely. Remember, though, that this is your life. It can happen on your schedule, and on your own terms, and it’s okay to make adjustments as you go.
  5. Share your Dreams: Help is everywhere. If you tell people what you’re doing, you’ll be surprised by what they have to offer. A casual acquaintance may have just the connection you need, for example. Even if it feels scary, it’s important to use your voice and share your dreams with the wider world.

Crafting my Life

Crafting my Life Playbook I have been on a personal journey to figure out exactly what I want to do with my life for almost three years now. I am happy to say that if you asked me today what I want to be when I grow up, I would have answers. Lots and lots of answers. One of those answers is help other people figure out what they want to do with their lives. The seeds of that desire to help grew into Crafting my Life. Crafting my Life is a set of online tools for busy moms who want to live a life of greater intention and purpose. It’s targeted to moms because we have some special constraints in our lives. It’s hard for us to get out of the house to take classes or spend time by ourselves. Crafting my Life is something that you can do on your own schedule, at your own pace, without ever having to leave your house.

I’ve found my answer. As I said before, we’re all individuals. Your answer may be similar, or it may be totally different. That’s as it should be. The important thing is that we’re all free to find those answers for ourselves. So, tell me – what do you want to be when you grow up?

Amber Strocel is a writer, life-crafter, dreamer, and rather shoddy housekeeper who lives in the Vancouver area with her husband and two kids. She’s devoted to simplifying and living a more sustainable life. She helps moms follow their bliss at Crafting my Life, records her daily adventures on her blog, and works as the Content Manager for

4 Ways to Live With Less Stuff, More Fulfillment

This is a guest post from Rachel Denning of Been a crazy week for me personally. I am currently in Vancouver for 2 weeks to spend time with Chris as he waits for a new passport and UK visa. I’ve had this post saved for a little while and am excited to share it with you. Not sure we will ever be living out of a truck ourselves but find reading about this lifestyle inspiring. Enjoy! And thanks again for all the support with the book. I will have an update this weekend on the funds raised for CARE.

Perched atop the mountains, expansive picture windows provided us a picturesque view of the Central Valley below from our large, spacious (and fully furnished) rental home in San Jose, Costa Rica.

It was just a few months ago that we were living in the United States, and decided to sell most of our stuff and move abroad. Costa Rica was our country of choice – for several reasons – and now we were living here.

We loved the beauty, the diversity, the culture, the people- but it wasn’t a simple life. We’d carried our old American ways of consumerism and social expectations with us, and maintained (and amplified) them in the expat community where we lived.

Our home was an ungodly 6500 sq. feet of (beautiful but) unneeded space. Our monthly expenses would have made Suze Orman scream. We equated having lots of stuff and spending lots of money with being happy.

Instead of happiness, what I usually felt was a great deal of stress (on meeting those monthly massive bills), and an unreasonable compulsion to have more, believing that it would be the ‘answer’.

Fast forward four years, and I sit here writing in my ‘home office’ – the passenger seat of our Ford F250 – expedition vehicle/home on wheels.

We’re camped just sprinting distance from the wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico (where we’ll be crossing later today).

The approximately 321 things that we own fit into totes that are attached to our roof. Our five children sleep soundly in the back of our truck, or in the roof top tent above.

From one extreme to another (at first by economic force, and then by choice), we’ve learned to simplify.

We have minimal stuff, but ample quality time together. We lack a permanent residence, but are abundant in freedom.

Rousing ourselves from the hypnosis of social conditioning, we’ve awaken to a new reality: We’ve discovered that it’s not things that bring meaning to life, but relationships and experiences.

Here are 4 ways that you can simplify stuff, and amplify living:

1. Eliminate the Distractions

Our lives are crazy busy. So much so that it keeps us from spending time with our loved ones.

What ‘free’ time we may have after work, school and extracurricular activities is unfortunately usually sucked up by TV, video & computer games, Facebook and countless other technical interferences.

To find more fulfillment in living, it may require drastic action. Throw out your TV, get rid of the video games (and the constant battles with your kids that go with them) and set strict rules on social media.

Oh, it will be an adjustment at first (and your kids will definitely throw a fit). But you (and they) will get over it, and soon find new, more engaging activities that help you grow.

Our two boys are especially fond of video games and movies. Along our travels, we’re often invited to stay with families along our way.

At one home, my boys had a heyday playing Wii all day long. They couldn’t get enough, it was all they wanted to do, even with a trampoline, legos, and other previous ‘favorites’.

When the time came for us to leave, they went through a ‘withdrawal’ – whiney, pouty and just plain unpleasant.

But returning to the simplicity of our life, free from those types of ‘distractions’, the very next day they spent 4 hours occupied by the same pile of dirt, some buckets of water and their imagination. (And it didn’t result in whininess and withdrawals when it was time to go).

By simplifying the distracting elements in your life, you’ll discover that less is more – more time to spend together, more freedom to pursue your hobbies, more time to educate your mind and ignite your imagination, more focus on what is meaningful.

2. Eliminate the Excess

Everything that you own takes up space – not just in your home, but your thoughts, your time, your energy.

Every time you have to clean it, move it, organize it, shelve it, box it, store it – you’re giving away part of your life to this thing.

Get rid of anything that doesn’t add real value to living, and get your life back.

Does this mean we should live like monks and own only a robe? No.

Owning things can make your life better, when in the proper balance. I enjoy having clothes to wear :) but for me I don’t need a whole closet full. I use shampoo to wash my hair, but I don’t have a cupboard of extra (half empty bottles). One bottle is sufficient, and then I buy another when it’s gone.

I also find great fulfillment in taking pictures of our travels, so a camera (and the necessary accessories) adds value to my life. As does my laptop and it’s attendant devices.

The message of minimalism isn’t that owning things is ‘bad’, but that having things in excess begins to take away our life in direct proportion to the amount of excess things that we have.

3. Do More Stuff, Don’t Buy More Stuff

Our lives should be about experimentation, not accumulation. Life is meant to be lived, not purchased.

Having lived abroad and come back to my home country, I’ve noticed that a favorite American pass-time is shopping. It’s recreational.

Instead of shopping we should be sharing – fun, significant and bonding experiences with our family and friends.

Once you’ve eliminated the distractions and the excesses, it’s time to alter habits – get out, but not to go shop. Instead start experiencing the world, first your neighborhood, then your community and the world.

If you really want to spend money, then spend it on experiences, not stuff – a gourmet meal; a trip to the zoo or museum; a class on painting; an excursion abroad.

(And you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ll be able to spend on experiences once it’s not being spent on distractions and excesses).

You’ll accrue lasting memories and personal growth, instead of a houseful of ‘junk’.

4. Spend More Time in Nature

Technology is an incredible thing. It’s provided the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate in unbelievable ways. It adds a lot of benefits to our life.

We can have the comforts of temperature control, electricity to light our homes when it’s dark, Facebook to keep us in touch with friends around the world, and an app for everything.

But technology also has the capacity to take away from living. With it’s addictive nature, if we’re not careful, we may spend all our waking hours attached to some piece of it – whether it’s our Smartphone, our Bluetooth, our iPod, or our laptop.

In getting connected and comfortable we’ve also become disconnected.

We’re disconnected from the natural rhythms of nature – the rising and setting of the sun, the cycles of the moon. We’re detached from our natural environments, which are covered in concrete, landscaped and regulated by HOA’s.

How often do we watch a bug on a leaf; the sun peak over the mountains; have the full moon light our path; see the stars in a pitch black night?

Nature has a powerful healing influence which technology has eliminated from our lives. Just being in it brings us fulfillment. It doesn’t require having the right app, or making sure there’s a good internet connection. You just have to show up.

Our personal journey has taught me that living simply truly leads to more fulfillment. It really doesn’t take a lot of stuff to be happy. It doesn’t cost anything to enjoy a sunset, or to spend time holding hands with your child. All that is required is the space for it to happen, and a mind focused on enjoying it.

Rachel Denning is traveling with her husband and 5 children from Alaska to Argentina. She writes about their family travel adventures and inspires others to design the lifestyle of their dreams.


Minimalist Travel: Living on the Road with 4 Children

This is another guest post from the Smeenks, a Canadian family of 6 traveling overseas indefinitely. You can read Jenn’s initial post about preparing to leave Canada and how they let go of their possessions here. It’s a great read. Particularly if you have a larger home or many children.

Today Jenn is going to give us more details about how they travel and what they travel with. Reading it has given me more to think about for our everyday living. Quality over quantity can’t be beat. And I love hearing about the impact travel and living a minimalist life has had on the children. Enjoy and thanks again, Jenn!

You can follow the Smeenks adventures on their blog At Home in the World.

in Venice

Living on the Road with 4 Children
This past year, our family of six spent seven months backpacking through the countries of Spain, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, and France. Carrying our belongings with us was an important factor to consider.
This second post describes in detail what our minimalist travel lifestyle has been so far during our travels.
What do we travel with?
We started our travels with one large backpack and two carry on day packs for us adults and our two older children (ages 9 and 8 at the time). Our two younger ones had a small day pack each. We also had a small carry-on rolling red suitcase filled with our homeschooling books. Over time and a couple countries, we still found we were carrying way too much. So during our third month in Turkey, we sent home two of our day packs and many of our homeschooling books, and gave away our extraneous clothes and toys to the locals there.
Each member of our family owned 5 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, 1 fleece jacket, 1 bathing suit, a microfiber towel, a pair of sandals (the girls brought their black boots on top of their hikers and sandals), tuque, mitts, rain coats and rain pants, 1 set of pyjamas, 4-5 interchangeable outfits (1 sweater included, 1 dress for the girls and 1 button-up shirt and dress pants for the boys). I also brought my running clothes. As well, we ended up buying rain boots in Turkey.
We tried to bring as many light weight, quick drying clothing in dark colours. We brought SmartWool socks (keeps feet dry and warm, does not smell, and dries quickly) for the adults and black cotton sport socks for the kids. We regretted going cheap here and not buying the children SmartWool socks, and will certainly stock up before our next adventure.
We packed our electronics in our daypacks: A Garmin GPS (super handy with walking maps – we didn’t get lost in the chaotic mazes of Morocco’s medinas), Kindle e-Reader, 1 Canon digital SLR camera, 2 small point and shoot cameras, 1 digital video camera (we never used it and mailed it back), 3 Nintendo DSi’s, my Garmin running watch, 1 iPod shuffle, 2 laptops, and 2 netbooks (one for the girls and one for the boys for homeschool).
Important Miscellaneous:
4 international travel adapters, 1 red umbrella, toiletries, one pair of binoculars, first aid kit, medication kit, 4 head lamps for reading at night, 2 braided rubber laundry lines with carabiners, international rubber sink plug, a small bottle of liquid laundry soap, and sewing kit.


How long do you typically stay in a city?
That varied tremendously because of our goals and activities in each country; but typically, we’d like to stay at least one week to get a feel for the place.
In Spain we spent 1 month in an apartment in the Costa del Sol, which was a five minute walk from the beach. We lived there and homeschooled. We took day trips to the surrounding areas such as Gibraltar, La Ronda, Sevilla, and Marbella.
In Morocco we spent 6 days in Marrakech then took a road trip loop around the country across the High Atlas Mountains, through the Dades and Todres Gorges, stayed a night in two different Saharan deserts, then spent our last three nights in Fes.
After Morocco, we stayed in Barcelona for a week to rest and catch our breath. We walked around the city to admire the Christmas lights and decorations. We spent our Christmas and New Year Holidays in Rome and Vatican City, as we were there for 20 days.
After New Years, we stayed 2 months in an apartment in Turkey to rest and catch up on homeschool. We then spent our third month backpacking around Turkey, ending our trip in Istanbul. From there, we spent 3 weeks in Italy – 1 week in Venice, 1 week in Cinque Terre and 1-3 days in other cities like Milan, Florence, Bologna.
We spent one month in France with a week stay in Cannes, 2 weeks in Montpellier, and 10 days in Paris.

in Turkey

How long do you see your family traveling for?
This is an ever changing topic. We plan to be overseas for 3-5 years, returning home to Canada for the summers to be with family. Seven months was a good dip in the water for our first long term travel experience. It has opened our eyes to the possibilities of our future! Nothing feels more exhilarating to us than opening the world map and asking each family member where we’d like to go in the next few years. We’re dreaming big together as a family!
We’ve also learned that living out of a backpack and constantly moving is exhausting. We didn’t realize how stressful it can be to find appropriate accommodations for a family of six along the way, when most places take a maximum of 5 people to a room. We need and desire to travel more slowly!
Depending on our finances and time, I think we are going to be changing our travelling style by staying in one place for 6-12 months to get a deeper sense of a country and its culture.
We’re spending our summer at home in Canada to prepare for another year away. This August we’re returning to France and plan to live in Southern France for at least 6 months to immerse ourselves in the French culture. We plan to enrol the kids in the local French school there so they can continue to work on their second language.

How have the children reacted to moving and traveling? Do they ever 
ask for/about things you had back home?
I think one of the best gifts we’ve received from this whole experience of selling our stuff and travelling the world is seeing our children in a different light. We have seen first-hand how incredibly capable they are. Actually, my heart bursts with pride, joy and astonishment for them because they have shown us how naturally adaptable and cooperative they can be.
They’re great at walking several kilometres at a time, and have learned how to cross the street safely in all sorts of traffic. They’ve slept in trains, cars, and overnight buses. I am so impressed by how well they travel! I love their openness to new things and their positive attitudes in exploring different countries. On the other hand, who wouldn’t have a good attitude when riding a camel through the desert in Morocco, paragliding on a spectacular beach in Turkey, or visiting world famous monuments and museums? The world is their classroom and their playground! More than anything, we wanted to open our children’s eyes to the possibilities around them, like studying art in world renowned schools, and working, living, and volunteering internationally.
Travelling with school age children is great! They’re small enough to fit into a double bed and young enough to be half price for most admissions and transportation fares. We’ve received a lot of complements by strangers at how well behaved and patient they are. As well, our kids have learned how to watch out for each other and have developed closer relationships. We hope their childhood travel memories will bond them for life. Several of our family and friends have noticed a big change in our children. They’ve remarked at how mature they’ve become this past year. They’re less demanding and are able to sit still to think, read, or visit.
The things that they did miss were their bikes and some of their toys (especially their Legos and Nerf guns). However, backpacking for 7 months has taught us to look at our stuff differently. It helped us distinguish between our needs and wants. We discovered that we rarely needed anything, but we wanted so much; and that having too much unnecessary stuff to carry was a burden. What a valuable lesson!

What are the biggest challenges with having fewer things?

We discovered that things wear out quickly. Our limited supply of socks and clothes sprouted holes from the constant wearing and washing. The kids, especially the boys, sprouted holes on the knees of their pants. Yet overall, we never felt like we had fewer things. It actually felt more the opposite – because we carried our things, we always felt we had too much.

What are the rewards of having fewer things?
Less to worry about! Having fewer things brings simplicity in our lives, a detachment from things, and a freedom from the preoccupation of keeping up with the Joneses.
Doing the laundry is no longer overwhelming because I deal with only one pile of clothes at a time instead of a mountain heap. I’ve actually enjoyed hanging them on the line to dry. The clothes we own are good quality and ones we love to wear. We’ve learned not to be careless with our clothing. For example, the kids have learned to be careful with not getting their clothes dirty so that they could wear it for another day. Back home, typically they would wear a shirt once and then throw it in the laundry, even though it was still clean. They’ve since learned that they could still wear clothes at least a couple of times (especially jeans) before throwing it in the wash.
Living with less has taken away our preoccupation to acquire things, clearing our minds to focus on what is really important – our personal growth, relationships, future, hopes and dreams.
Our travelling minimalist life is a choice, and we are incredibly surprised at how deeply rewarding it is. We love our travel lifestyle!

If you were to travel long term with your children, what would you bring and how would you carry it? How has your Minimalist lifestyle affected your children?

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