A Health Coach's Thoughts on Minimalism

Please meet my friend Tara Ward, a health coach, outdoorswoman, and all around beautiful person!  Tara and I met at a ladies’ ski day with mutual friends this winter and bonded over our love of the mountains and our complimentary work on helping people live happier lives.  We both believe in simplicity and balance, whether you’re talking about your own health or your home environment. I loved her thoughts on minimalism, which I’ve discussed a couple of times here as well, and wanted to share her perspective with you!

Photo courtesy of Tara Ward

Photo courtesy of Tara Ward

I recently watched a documentary that truly inspired me, Minimalism, a documentary about the important things. Minimalism is not about getting rid of all of your things. Minimalism itself is far more concerned with living intentionally, living elegantly through simplicity, and living meaningfully while enjoying the material possessions you own without giving those possessions too much significance.

With the start of spring and the task of “spring cleaning” looming over us, I’d like to share a few thoughts sparked by watching this film, some inspiration for your purging pleasure. I’ve always felt the need to have “less stuff”, I had this feeling that I didn’t own the stuff but the stuff owned me. I would never have enough of what I never really wanted, so I was not going to become happier by consuming more.  But for some reason I found myself consuming more things, seeking to fill some void. Then I started letting go. The more stuff I got rid of, the better I felt. Outer organization contributed to calming inner chaos. The stuff doesn’t fill the void, and clearing it can allow the space home to you, and the important things.

I had given too much meaning to the stuff I had bought, thinking it would bring me happiness or contentment. Happiness doesn’t work that way. Contentment is internal, and it is possible to be content with nothing OR with a room full of stuff. However, it is much easier to see what is important when you get the excess stuff out of the way.

Have you thought about purging, and living a more minimalistic life? Overwhelmed, many of us want to simplify, but we don’t even know where to start. Ironic, we consume the stuff, and then it consumes us.  There is nothing inherently wrong with owning “stuff”, but clearing some of the stuff can help us focus on everything that remains.

One of the filmmakers had what they call a “packing party”. This is where he packed up all of his belongings into labeled boxes for each room as if he were moving, and then kept the boxes in the middle of each room. Through the course of 3 weeks, anything he needed would be unpacked and put away in the house. After 3 weeks, 80% of his stuff was still in the boxes, to be given away. So this “packing party” is a bit radical, and very few people would be interested in doing the same thing, lets start small.

Try to keep only the things that you absolutely love in your space or that are absolutely necessary, and you will find that you’re about to rid yourself of a lot of unnecessary items.  Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, believe to be beautiful, or bring you joy.

Start in the easiest places. Identify some things that you’re certain are not adding value to your life. What unnecessary things are you holding on to “just in case”?

One fear many of us hold onto when it comes to letting go of things is that we may need them someday. This is the scarcity mindset, if you were able to attract these objects into your life at one time; you have the same ability to attract them into your life again, should you need them. Scarcity mindset says, “If I give something away, I will be in lack.” Abundance consciousness says “I can attract anything into my life that I need or desire.”

Look around your home, your car, and your office. Why are you holding on to so much stuff that doesn’t add value to your life? What would happen if you just let go of the excess? What benefits would you experience? How would it feel to have more time, more money, and more contentment? How would you feel to have a cleaner home, a clearer mind, a less stressful life?  Be honest with yourself, when was the last time you found value in many of the items cluttering your home.

Getting started is freeing, and I invite you to just that, getting started. Amid a sea of stuff, simplifying our lives keeps us from drowning. Beautiful thoughts from a beautiful film, and I will leave you this….

“Love people and use things because the opposite never works.”

Tara Ward is a Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, currently living and working in Tahoe City, CA, and yet thanks to the Internet, able to coach clients all over the world.  Tara is passionate about helping women find their true healthy potential, balance their lives, and live their most vibrant, energized, and joyful lives.  She is also a plant based chef teaching in the North Tahoe area.  Learn more at


A Radical Approach to "Just In Case"

Have you ever gone to donate or trash something and then thought, “No, I should keep that just in case”?  I can tell you that I hear this All. The Time., and so do The Minimalists: a pair of best friends who discovered minimal living and are out to spread the good news through their website, podcast, books, and documentary film.  They’ve come up with a revolutionary way of approaching the concept that will likely shock you the first time you read it: Getting Rid of Just-in-Case Items: 20 Dollars, 20 Minutes.

Kind of crazy, right?

But here’s why it works.  Think of something you’re holding on to just in case, and try what I do with my clients: drill down on that.  Just in case of what?  What is the scenario in which you would need this item, and how likely is that scenario to occur in your life?  What would happen if that scenario occurred and you hadn't kept the item – how much expense and effort would it take to replace it?

This might feel aggressive and make you uncomfortable, and that’s ok.  People are often resistant to this line of questioning because it challenges a very deeply held belief for many of us: that one should always be prepared for anything.  But as The Minimalists point out, preparedness for unlikely situations carries its own costs.

For example, I have a client who travels frequently.  She and her husband each have a complete set of rugged, top of the line luggage that they use on all their trips.  Perfect!  However, they have also kept the last couple of sets of luggage that their current set theoretically replaced.  When I asked if she was ready to donate the old suitcases (which are still in good condition), my client said the magic words: “I want to keep them just in case.”

I tried to drill down on this a bit. Her reluctance to donating her old suitcases boiled down to the fact that she had really liked her old luggage set and wasn’t as big of a fan of the new stuff.  She felt guilty that she had spent a non-insignificant amount of money on new luggage only to find she didn’t like it.  It became clear that she wasn’t ready to make this decision, and that was totally fine – I work on my client’s timeline, not mine – but my gentle probing questions got the wheels turning.

Hold on a second, you say – luggage is expensive and can’t be found just anywhere!  This doesn’t pass the 20/20 test!  I would counter that this situation does in fact pass the test because my client will never need the old luggage in the first place.  A scenario in which her new set is completely lost or destroyed is incredibly unlikely.

In the meantime, suitcases are large and take up space my client could otherwise use for other things.  In addition, their continued presence in her home means that she’s continually confronted with a decision she made that makes her uncomfortable and feels pressure to resolve this discomfort.

What are you holding on to just in case, and at what cost?


Take It Back

Have you ever gone shopping, purchased something, then taken it home and felt an uneasy sinking in the pit of your stomach that says you shouldn't have bought it?

I have. For sure. Ugh, it feels pretty crappy!


Have you then taken the steps to pack that item up and return it to the store?

if you're like most Americans, you likely haven't. And as a result, pieces you don't wear pile up in your closet or your junk drawer type space and increase your level of disorganization and frustration with your wardrobe.

We're going back to Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist again for his take on the buy-and-return phenomenon: How Refund Policies Encourage Spending (And Reduce Returning). Why? After all, Becker, as usual, takes a pretty extreme view of consumption in general. But I think you, as I did, will see a bit of yourself in aspects of his description of the purchase and return (or not!) cycle.

I know many of my clients struggle with returns, finding it hard to make decisions on returning and keep track of the things that need to go back. The way I see it, there are two ways to ensure that items you don't really want don't become part of your life: the push and the pull.

  • Push: be more careful about purchasing in the first place. Before you buy, ask yourself, do I LOVE this? Not could I use this, does it work, do I need something like this. Those questions don't lead to pieces you turn to time and time again and feel great in.
  • Pull: make your returns immediately. Don't allow unwanted pieces to find their way into a closet or drawer. If you ordered online, print the return label, box everything up, and put the package ready to mail by your keys so that it goes with you next time you leave the house. If you purchased in a store, fold the item back up in the bag it came in and again, put it by your keys so that it doesn't stay at home. 

Above all, when in doubt, never be afraid to just take it back!


Deeper Questions

Many of my clients ask me the same question when we first meet: “Are you going to make me throw all my stuff away?”

In our culture, we get really attached to possessions.  They comfort us, give us a sense of achievement, and create a sense of home base.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept.

However, my response to my clients who ask this question always ends up coming true: “I’m not going to make you get rid of anything, but you’re going to surprise yourself with the quantity of things you decide you no longer need.”

I never tell anyone that they must throw something away.  I never prescribe a quantity of things that must go.  I’m not a minimalist by any stretch, either in my work or in my own home!  However, in general, I do believe that less is more, because it’s easier to get and stay organized with less.

That’s why I’m so fascinated with Joshua Becker, author, blogger, and husband and father of two, who’s living an authentically minimalist life with his family.  In particular, I gravitated to his article To Declutter Any Room, Ask These Two Questions.

Photo courtesy of

Becker is notably anti-fashion, which as you have likely noted by now, is not my own perspective.  However, his stance doesn’t bother me, and I don’t think this takes away from his core points.  I think of fashion as an extracurricular activity: not everyone has to participate, but if you enjoy it, knock yourself out!

I especially love that he wants us to ask why.  Why do I need these things?  When I work with clients, I always ask if they love something, and if they use it.  I’m going to challenge my clients to go deeper, and ask why they have things.  The answer will tell us both a lot about how to get organized.

I also appreciate the way he ties organization and possession into consumption.  With so many of my clients, part of the reason they can never get organized is that there is a continual influx of large quantities of stuff that overwhelms their ability to categorize and store it.  When you can reduce the speed and quantity of your consumption, and purchase things infrequently and carefully, it’s so much easier to live an organized life!


It's Not Just You

I often find that individuals’ perspectives on their own clutter are couched in terms of shame and regret, as if having a disorganized home is a personal, moral failing. I don’t agree: many of us were never taught how to be organized, and we just muddle through the best we know how, while saving the best of ourselves for the things that we are really passionate about. 

And I can prove to you that you’re not alone: the numbers really show that acquisition of stuff, and the clutter that results, has been a major trend in our culture over the past few decades. Of course statistics are just numbers, and correlation is not causation, but still, I found this group of stats quite illuminating: 21 Surpising Statistics That Reveal How Much We Actually Own.

No wonder it’s so hard to stay organized, when both the amount of space and the amount of stuff that each person is responsible for has ballooned while our strategies for dealing with these increases have hardly evolved!

Again, I don’t necessarily think that everyone should become a minimalist – which is the underlying message on author Joshua Becker’s website – but a careful consideration of your space and the stuff you own, perhaps in partnership with a professional organizer who can help guide your process, can really help simplify your life.