CSO Book Club: The Joy of Less

CSO Book Club: Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide

This month I read Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide for CSO Book Club. It took me a long time to get through this book, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but quite the opposite. I wanted to savor what I was reading it resonated with me so much. Many of Jay’s tips have become organizing mantras for when I work with clients and to repeat to myself. Although I already have the minimalist bug, this book made me want to go a step further in reducing clutter and simplifying my life and the lives of others.

The Joy of Less was so convincing because it approaches minimalist living in a holistic way. Jay is advocating for a lot more than just a clean house and an organized closet. She explains how living with excess weighs us down, and minimalist living is a chance to open ourselves back up: “…when our lives are too full – of commitments, of clutter, and of nonessential stuff…we don’t have ‘room’ for new experiences, and miss out on chances to develop ourselves and deepen our relationships. Becoming minimalists helps us remedy this. By purging the excess from our homes, our schedules, and our minds…it gives us infinite capacity for life, love, hopes, dreams, and copious amounts of joy,” (286). I can’t think of a more convincing argument to make a shift in your life away from clutter and toward the freedom that minimalist living can provide.

It is not easy to simplify and let go of possessions. That’s why it takes a shift in perspective to be able to shed what is nonessential in your life. One example Jay suggests is getting used to enjoying something without owning it. Just because you see something beautiful in a shop doesn’t mean it needs to go home with you. Or if your friend has a shirt that you like, maybe she will let you borrow it once instead of buying your own. I loved some of the tips outlined in The Joy of Less for how to establish a minimalist lifestyle, and these were my favorites:

Be a Good Gatekeeper

  • Your home is a sacred space, not a storage space. Break the cycle of clutter by not letting it in the house. Keep a recycling bin at the entrance so you can sort your mail and toss any junk before it makes it to your countertop, stay out of the stores so you don’t buy things you don’t need, and develop “freebie phobia,” not taking anything that is given out that you won’t use. For the things that do make it into your house, deal with them immediately. For example pay a bill when it arrives so you only process that piece of paper once instead of setting it aside to deal with again later.

Set Limits

  • Follow the one in, one out rule. That way you won’t end up overflowing if you get new things. It also might deter you from buying something new if you know you have to get rid of something you already have to make room for it.
  • Designate space for things, and be strict that they need to live in that specific space. That way items don’t spill over into other areas, or so you don’t keep adding storage to hold more and more things. For example, if you have one coat closet in your home, keep that as the only place for your coats, so they don’t end up flung on the back of a chair because you have too many.
  • Make boundary setting fun. Challenge yourself to live with less and fit in smaller spaces. Or try the One-A-Day Declutter – get rid of one thing per day and by the end of the year you will have gotten rid of 365 things.


  • Keep a piece of a collection instead of the entirety. The memories will still be there, but not the bulk.

Define Your Style & Invest in Classic Pieces for a Minimalist Wardrobe

  • As Jay says, “In order to create a minimalist wardrobe, we need a good handle on what’s right for us – because when we have a limited number of clothes, they all have to pull their weight,” (128). In order to reduce the amount of clothes that you have and to avoid making purchasing mistakes in the future, take some time or work with friends or a consultant to establish what looks good on you and what makes you feel great. Only buy things within the guidelines that you set.
  • We all know the expression that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. So recognize what is your “favorite 20” vs. your “unworn 80,” and eliminate those items that never make their way out of your closet.
  • Instead of buying each season’s hot new items, invest in classic pieces that stay in style for years. You’ll save money, you’ll need fewer items, and you won’t have to go through them as often.

When you start culling your clutter, Jay suggests diving items into 3 categories: trash, treasure or transfer. Trash is an easy way to start, throw away any wrappers, recycle newspapers and magazines, and toss outdated cosmetics. As for treasure, these are the items that deserve a place in your life. “Decluttering is infinitely easier when you think of it as deciding what to keep, rather than deciding what to throw away,” (54). Then transfer any items that no longer belong in your home to a friend who would use it or a local charity. Jay encourages her readers to dispose of things responsibly for the environment. Donate instead of toss things that can be used, post them online for sale or for free, and take things like batteries and electronics to an appropriate disposal site. Once your current living space is done, if you happen to have offsite storage, which I strongly oppose, that needs to be eliminated too: “And by all means, if you have a storage unit external to your property, get rid of it! It’s like renting a second house for your excess stuff – stuff you don’t even like enough to live with,” (207).

Even after the ridding is complete and you have reduced what you own to easily fit in your space, minimalism doesn’t stop there. Keeping organized and implementing simple systems allows you to maintain the openness you’ve created from purging. Organize your home by activity, and remember that surfaces are for activities, not for storage. Keep your desk and counter tops open so you can work, cook, and create. Have the things that you use the most often, what Jay calls the “Inner Circle,” at your fingertips. Then have less-used items, like seasonal clothing or serving platters a little bit out of the way from your everyday items, what Jay calls the “Outer Circle.” Finally, “Deep Storage” is for the rarely used things, for example holiday décor, that you only need to get to once a year, and should be properly stored so you only have to deal with it when you need it. When you have less in your home and then organize the items you have, it opens up your life and your schedule to other things much more fulfilling than managing clutter.

Minimalist living offers more than just a tidy home. When we are no longer weighed down by our possessions, we are actually happier and feel more fulfilled. When we break the cycle of excess and consumerism, we focus on and enjoy what we already have. “That’s the beauty of minimalist living – being satisfied with what’s enough to meet our needs, rather than wasting our time, money, and energy to fulfill lofty or unrealistic expectations,” (258). Because things are just that, things. They are not “surrogates for experiences,” as Jay reminds us, and our memories and lives don’t live within them. “By creating space in our homes, we put the focus back where it should be: on what we do, rather than what we own. Life is too short to waste fussing over stuff. For when we’re old and gray, we won’t wax poetic on the things we had – but rather on what we did in the spaces between them,” (36). This book made me want to create even more space in my own life, and I know it will for you, too.