NAPO2015: Opening Keynote Speakers, the Minimalists

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The Minimalists

Wasn’t it fun seeing all the social media posts about the NAPO Conference last week? We’re going to keep that feeling alive over the next few weeks, as I’ve invited several guest bloggers to share certain aspects of their conference experience. Today we begin with Kathy Vines of Clever Girl Organizing, with her commentary on the opening keynote.


When I heard that the Keynote for NAPO2015 was going to be “The Minimalists”, I’ll admit my reaction wasn’t one of excitement. I’d heard the hype, and I was a little skeptical of the whole thing. I imagined it was about “throw your stuff away, live in a sparse setting with white surroundings, and you’ll have less stress.” So, with Conference kicking off, having the best open-minded attitude with me, I listened. Not surprisingly, I was wrong.

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are The Minimalists.  Of course, they’re not the ONLY minimalists out there, but they’ve become synonymous with the term, and most associate them with the movement and consider them experts. They started this five years ago, in their late 20’s, after several years of “living the American Dream,” with all the materialism that comes along with financial success at a young age.  After experiencing loss, grief, failure, divorce, debt, etc. before turning 30, it resonated with each of them that they were:

  • buying stuff because they thought they were supposed to,
  • acquiring things to fill a void, and
  • spending time with people and things weren’t truly important to them

They may have LOOKED successful, but they didn’t FEEL it. Josh then began his commitment to minimalism, and Ryan followed, upon noticing that Josh’s life seemed lighter, simpler, and just plain happier.

Their message was clear: a minimalistic life is not about just getting rid of stuff. It’s about the fact that the acquisition, accumulation, and worship of stuff is getting in your way of living a life that maybe you should be living, and experiencing the benefits of that life. They shared both the how and the why of getting there.

I think everyone in the room agreed with the HOW to analyze what they owned:

  • Our memories are not in our things. They are inside us.
  • Our things should Add Value.  If they’re not adding value to our lives, we should sell / gift / donate them so that they might Add Value to others’ lives.
  • The items you keep in your life should have purpose or should bring joy.
  • We must always ask how might my life be better if I have less stuff?

This last point is the WHY.  We must examine the life hidden underneath all the stuff, and make sure we answer the tough questions about the life we want to lead:

  • Why did I give MEANING to these things?
  • What is truly important to me at this point in my life?
  • Why am I discontented inside?
  • Who is the person I want to become?
  • How will I define success?

In their examination, they learned a significant truth: Our Priorities in life are how we spend our time every day. Even though we might say something is important, if we aren’t spending time on it, it isn’t. By simplifying, it was easier to identify these benefits. It was their health, passion, relationships, finance and contributions, and the STUFF blocked their prioritization of these concepts. They changed how they lived once realizing all this with clarity.

Humbly, they explained that they did not start all this to become this brand and presence of “The Minimalists”, but they could not help but share their story as people noticed their life change and wanted to learn more. Though they are but one flavor of the minimalist community, they share their thoughts through their blog, books, speaking events, and even upcoming documentary. This NAPO event is just one stop in their path to share their messages with all who may seek the same joy.

So, as a skeptical organizer in the audience, what did I take away? 

It brought to my work as a Professional Organizer an ability to listen to my clients who are interested in minimalism, and engage with them about what they want their lives to look like because of this path and help them see it’s not just about decluttering. I now have more insight into how I might help them find their OWN flavor of minimalism, not just ones they’ll find on blogs, in books, and anywhere else they imagine perfection might live. Even simple principles like mindful, and not compulsive, consumption can be a great first step for many.

All in all, I’m so glad I had an open mind and tuned in. If you haven’t seen them or spent time with anything they’ve written, spend a few minutes. You may learn something, about minimalism, or about yourself.

The Minimalists photo, courtesy of

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Kathy Vines is the owner of Clever Girl Organizing, based in Melrose, MA, a professional organizing firm focusing on residential and small business settings. She works side-by-side with clients in the Boston area and the White Mountains, NH, and virtual-face-to-virtual-face with clients across the globe.

She is an avid writer and speaker on strategic and tactical approaches to conquering disorganization in all areas of your spaces and systems.

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  1. […] speak last year at the NAPO (National Association for Professional Organizers) Annual Conference, and I was captivated.  I had low expectations, but walked away with questions and food for thought that still lingers. […]

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