Kelly Kandra Hughes has been a professional housesitter since 2016. She is also a minimalism coach. Visit her website at KellyKandraHughes.com.
Mollie: Have you ever significantly changed your life to become more minimalist? What led to the decision and what did you change?
Kelly: Yes. I got rid of approximately 95 percent of my belongings by donating, giving away, selling, recycling, or trashing them. Essentially, I wasn’t happy in my current life and I wanted to make radical changes. I followed a career trajectory of which some people only dream: college, a PhD program (for which I had a full-ride scholarship), tenure track position, and tenure. Yet it wasn’t the life I really wanted to live. I had all sorts of health issues related to stress and sleep. My weight dropped to 97 pounds. I developed severe adult acne. I used to hope that I would get in a nonfatal car crash, just so I could take a break from my life for a while.
It wasn’t until I was granted a paid sabbatical for the 2014-2015 academic year that I finally got time to myself. I didn’t miss my job for one second of one minute of one day. That was a wake-up call to me that I needed to make some changes.
While on sabbatical, and after I realized I needed to quit my job, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, housesitting. I had already been pet-sitting and housesitting for friends while I was on a sabbatical. I wrote down my idea and went back to bed.
The next morning a Google search informed me that, yes, pet-sitting and housesitting is a viable way to live these days. That became my plan: to no longer have a place of my own, but to live in other people’s houses. I didn’t want the burden of storing of my belongings, so I made the choice to get rid of them. My husband and I have been on a long-term housesit in the northwest corner of Connecticut since September 2016. At the time we began, everything we owned fit into our car.
Mollie: What are your most prized beliefs regarding minimalist lifestyle—the ideas you want most to spread?
Kelly: The idea I most want to spread is that minimalism is not just about tidying up and reducing clutter. It’s about personal growth, and most importantly, the understanding that there is no one way to best accomplish this growth. Being a minimalist means you have a good understanding of who you are and how you want to live your own best life … and then acting accordingly. This understanding can be accomplished through self-reflection (e.g., journaling, creating vision boards, praying, meditating, etc.) or with the help of professionals (e.g., therapists, life coaches, pastors, career counselors, etc.).
I also want people to know that the first thing I recommend people get rid of is mental clutter. By knowing who you are and how you want to live your best life, you can say no to things that don’t serve you. Of course, it’s not easy and it takes a certain amount of courage to start saying no. But this freedom then brings benefits in other areas of your life, including increased time, energy, and financial resources to pursue the things that are most important to you.
Start by identifying your core life values. These are the five to seven values that are fundamental to who you are as person. Ask yourself questions such as, “When have I experienced the most joy in my life? When did I experience my lowest points? What happens on the days when I can’t wait to get out of bed? What happens on the days where I dread getting out of bed? Who inspires me? If I could have any job in the world, what would it be and why? What did I dream of being when I was a child? If I could live a perfect day every day, what would that day look like? What are some times in my life I thought I was doing the right thing, but it turned out to be wrong for me?” Look for common themes and patterns, then name those ideas using a single word, such as achievement, service, fairness, creativity, or spirituality.
The second thing I recommend is to identify specific interests in your life related to those values. Values and interests go hand-in-hand. For example, you may value creativity, but you may have no interest in Renaissance art. If that’s the case, next time you visit an art museum, give yourself the freedom to skip over entire floors and head to the impressionists who you find whimsical and inspiring. The good news is, you’ve probably already uncovered most of your interests if you’ve spent time reflecting on your core life values. Review your answers to the above questions and notice what specific activities and events are associated with your more joyful times. Keep those in mind for making your day-to-day and long-term decisions on how you’re going to spend your time, effort, and money.
Mollie: I love everything you said so much. Any final thoughts, Kelly?
Kelly: Here’s something that I don’t think gets mentioned too often: it’s important to stay open-minded and empathetic to others while living a minimalist life. I’ve found that people who experience the kind of personal growth that comes with minimalism are so excited about their journeys, they think their way is not only the best way, but the only way. We may end up self-righteous and judgmental of others who are still struggling on their own paths. I know I certainly did!
We need to remember where we started from and extend empathy to others who may not be there yet. When you live a life of joy and one that lines up with your core life values and interests, people become interested in what you’re doing. When they ask, be happy to give advice on what worked best for you. Otherwise, it’s not our place to judge. Stay focused on your own life and lead by example. I know it’s cliché, but Gandhi was on to something when he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
A place for everything and everything in its place. Get The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home.