Bernadette Joy Cruz is a money media expert. She speaks and teaches about debt repayment and other financial issues and writes Crush Your Money Goals™. Here is the interview we did for my book, The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home.
Mollie: Tell me about your experience with minimalism.
Bernadette Joy: I’ve been in the process of decluttering and reorganizing my home as part of my journey to become debt-free. My husband and I paid off $300,000 of debt, including debt from student loans and two mortgages, in three years. Adopting a minimalist mindset was a big part of our change.
At first, I decided to declutter just to find things to sell in order to help pay off our debt. I sold a lot of unneeded housewares, clothing, furniture, etc. At the first garage sale we made over $400 in four hours and that encouraged me to want to get rid of more stuff because we weren’t using any of it and it felt like free money!
Mollie: Tell me more about your debt repayment experience. How did you manage this feat? What did you give up?
Bernadette Joy: We started in January 2016 with about $70,000 in student loans and the rest in mortgages. It started because I felt overwhelmed with how much debt we accumulated in less than a two years because essentially, I cared more about what other people thought about us than about our own well-being. People will like me more if they think I’m smart and have a nice house, right? I started learning everything I could about money and debt through podcasts and YouTube. My husband and I started implementing everything I learned like budgeting and making extra money through side hustles. The biggest things we had to give up were time (we worked a lot during that time period), investing for the first 7 months (we stopped while we paid off the student loans and then resumed at 15% of our total income, more than what we were investing before) and large expenses like travel. All of this was temporary and since we’ve become debt free we’ve resumed all the conveniences and fun including going to see my favorite K-Pop band live in concert, buying a car in cash and going to Italy!
Mollie: What are your most prized beliefs regarding the minimalist lifestyle—the ideas you most want to spread?
Bernadette Joy: Minimalism is not just about stuff. It’s about minimizing anything that causes you stress, including stress at work, stress in relationships and stress in your mind. I’ve worked on automating or outsourcing a lot of things that used to cause me stress (for example, I now have a regular cleaning service that helps me keep tidy instead of agonizing over not doing it myself). I also believe that you don’t have to adopt a poor or no-fun lifestyle that I think people confuse with minimalism. I minimize material things like clothing and unnecessary house stuff to make room and finances available for things like going to concerts and on vacations.
Mollie: Can you share a few specific tips for organizing and simplifying?
Bernadette Joy: Find things you aren’t using and sell them! Garage sales worked great for me in the area I’m in, but I also sold a lot of housewares on Facebook. It’s a great way to encourage you if you’re like me and feel guilty about what you spent; at least you make some money back and use the money towards something you really want.
Work on one room at a time only. Don’t move onto the next room until you complete the previous. Start where you spend the most of your time because you will get the most benefit out of it. I started in my kitchen and in my bedroom. I immediately felt relief getting rid of so many kitchen items that were just cluttering up our space.
I’m a big fan of the minimalist challenge: get rid of one thing on the first day, two things on the second day, etc. for a month. I have committed to it at least once a year, sometimes multiple times a year. I like crossing things off my list and challenges in general and it really got me motivated to keep it up for a month!
Donate where you can instead of throwing stuff out. If I can’t find local charities, I just post things for free on Facebook or Craigslist. Everything I’ve put out, someone has picked up, so at least I know (or hope) they are being reused!
Mollie: Any final thoughts on minimalism?
Bernadette Joy: For me, a minimalist mindset has not deprived me of anything I wanted. In fact, it’s created more room for things I absolutely love in life and focused more on experiences than accumulating stuff. It’s also always a work-in-progress. One might come to my house and not think it’s minimalist because we own more than a few dishes or towels. But I can confidently say everything I own right now is on purpose and has a purpose, and that is peace of mind that I’m so grateful for.
A place for everything and everything in its place. Get The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home.