Have you tried to declutter your overstuffed closets and cupboards — only to fall back into messy and chaotic old habits? Maybe you need to take a deeper look at your life and what you want from it, then align your surroundings accordingly.
That’s the holistic approach that Minnesota-native productivity and organizing pro Aimee Olson takes when coaching clients on how to pare down and power up at home.
Sure, you can get rid of things that don’t “spark joy,” in the parlance of popular “Tidying Up” guru Marie Kondo. But that goes only so far, in Olson’s view.
If you aren’t clear about your core values, you’re “setting yourself up for failure,” she said. “People follow a particular [organization] method, looking to get the result they saw on social media or TV. Then they start backsliding and wonder why. What I do is help you establish what your core values are, so that we can develop a style you can maintain.”
Olson has practiced what she preaches. Several years ago, she began a radical downsizing after realizing that her “bigger lifestyle” — owning her own specialty contracting company and living in a 1,400-square-foot home in St. Paul — wasn’t making her happy.
“I was maintaining a career based on lifestyle,” she said. “I thought more would make me happier.”
But a retreat helped her realize that she was not being true to her “authentic self” while at work. “I was holding onto this career because it gives me stuff I’ve been told I need.”
Now Olson’s home is a 180-square-foot RV that she shares with her partner and their golden retriever.
“We love it!” she said of their tiny life on the road.
She travels to see some of her clients, and coaches others virtually.
“I have a passion for helping other people answer those questions,” she said of her current career as CEO of Life Done Simply. And she’s no longer tethered to maintaining a house in one location. “We’re in Phoenix right now, and the weather is beautiful,” she said last week.
Olson will introduce her approach, “Using Minimalism to Right-Size Your Life,” at a Jan. 13 event presented by NAPO-Minnesota (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals); she’s the current president of the Minnesota chapter.
“Minimalism has a stigma, even in professional organizing circles,” Olson said. Some think it means bare, stark spaces lacking creativity. Or having only a certain number of things, or that you can’t collect or be sentimental. I debunk all those.”
Instead, “minimalism is really about determining what is valuable to you, what you want to create space for,” she said. “It’s not a dirty word.”
Those who attend the Jan. 13 event will complete a “Vision and Values” exercise and learn how to create a “Vision Map” that they can use “as a compass, to get rid of things and create space for your future,” Olson said.
For example, people tend to hang onto stockpiles of things that they used to value or think that they’re supposed to value, Olson said, such as books.
“Somebody has textbooks from old college classes, books they’ve enjoyed in the past, and they end up keeping them,” she said. “They once brought value, and people have a hard time re-evaluating. If you’re never going to read them again, they don’t bring value now.”
People also tend to hoard what Olson calls “just in case” items, such as a tool bought for specific project and never used again. Or they accumulate hobby items for quilting or another craft that they think they might try someday. If years have passed, and you’ve never taken up quilting, it’s probably time to shed the notion that you’re going to become a quilter, she said.
Olson also has worked with clients who have gone through a life transition, such as a death or divorce, and find themselves living with boxes of items that have gone untouched for months or even years.
Understanding your values today can empower you to go through those items and see, “This is baggage. This represents a former life,” Olson said. “It isn’t propelling you forward. It’s just stuff holding you back.”
Olson doesn’t consider herself a life coach. “I don’t talk about career or relationships,” she said. But she strongly believes that “when you adopt minimalism principles, some of those other things become aligned.”