Messy Minimalist

8 min read

Welcome to Run With Less, the Messy Minimalist.

Rachel, better known as the Messy Minimalist, is the quirky creator of the blog & very popular Minimalism YouTube Channel of the same name.

Rejecting materialism & corporate america, in exchange for a simple life; Rachel bought a motel in Northern Michigan, where she lives with her husband, a 4 year old, a Toddler and a house full of animals.

Rachel posted her first minimalism video, the “Messy House Tour” in January 2017. The Messy Minimalist was born, sharing the journey as she started to declutter and simplify her life. 

Her videos resonate because they are unapologetically real, capturing & documenting a work-in-progress story from the beginning.

I’ve found the Messy Minimalist to be a great source of inspiration and really helpful during the process of shedding 70% of my own possessions.

Rachel, thank you for inspiring me and taking the time for a chat today.


Run With Less: Could you give an introduction to your backstory?

Messy Minimalist: You pretty much summed it up in your intro! I’ll get a little longer-winded here: I spent the first decade of my adult life getting my degree and working in Corporate America – something I thought I wanted. I was lucky to get a position at a big advertising agency right out of school, which helped kickstart my career.

Work was my life, and I had many all-nighters at the agency to prove it. But as the years went by and my status grew, my mother became very ill. I was living in New York City at the time and rarely found time to visit her back in Michigan. I was so absorbed with my career that I sort of lost my way. Then one day I got a call that my mom’s illness had taken a turn. That was when it hit me: while I’ve been chasing some invisible carrot, my mom was DYING.

There’s layers of guilt I still haven’t processed. Something needed to change. My husband and I decided on the spot to move back to Michigan to be with her. What is life without family? It made me look at everything differently. She passed 6 months later. She was only 58 years old.

RWL: The passing of your mother was the catalyst of your minimalism journey. She left you with a profound gift – to see life differently, through a positive lense?

MM: Absolutely. It’s an amazing thing to find positivity and peace from something so devastating. It didn’t happen right away, I went through a very dark period right after her death, where I questioned every decision I’d made up until this point. So much time invested into my “career”, but for what? What had I really gained? I became determined – no, obsessed – with the idea of living my life differently. No amount of wealth or status can replace relationships and spending actual quality time with people we love.

RWL: So true, time with the important people in our lives is what matters most.

You also inherited the additional possessions. Did you feel a heavy sense of burden?

MM: Right. Something I didn’t mention above was that my mother had a LOT of possessions. These days, the term ‘hoarder’ is thrown around loosely, but she had real hoarder tendencies. There were paths through the house with totes, bags, and boxes piled high with stuff. When she passed, it was my job to go through it all. 

I think there’s a sense of burden for anyone going through a deceased person’s things. The heaviness isn’t just sadness for our OWN loss, it’s sadness for that person too. She had dreams of using this stuff. Like all of us, she had a fantasy-self waiting to come out. I think oftentimes people buy things with the intent of using them…but then we put it off. 

The burden I felt, now that I can look back on it, is for HER loss. She didn’t experience life they way she wished, and that’s a sad thing.

RWL: How did you begin to declutter the excess?

MM: Like many others, the Kon Mari “spark joy” Method was was my introduction into decluttering. I was recommended the book (WAY before it was mainstream), and I read it in a day. After that, it was easy. When you have SO much excess, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. 

After a while, I stopped asking myself if an item “sparked joy”, or “If I loved it” and instead I started asking, “do I love MYSELF when using/wearing/interacting with this item”. You’ll be amazed how quickly things go.

RWL: The Marie Kondo book is a great introduction & common starting place for many.

Why did you decide to document and share your minimalism journey on YouTube?

MM: I think it’s because I needed accountability. I needed a reason to push through the hard days and keep going with this journey I’d created. I’ve always been a starter, but not a finisher. (and this was something I knew I wanted to finish). If people were watching, I felt like it was my duty to keep going.

Then an amazing thing happened, people started emailing, messaging, commenting, etc and telling me how much I’d inspired them to do the same. People were waking up, and realizing that all the STUFF wasn’t making them happy anymore. (in fact, it was doing the opposite).

So you could say I started making videos for myself, but I’ve continued making them (and blogging) for everyone else who’s started this new way of life.

RWL: The reasons for continuing may have evolved over time but the channel has stayed true and authentic, which is really important. 

How has living more simply with less affected your health and wellness?

MM: Living more simply (with less) not only simplifies your immediate surroundings, but your habits as well. (don’t get me wrong, I’m still a MESSY person, so my home doesn’t always look tidy, but the things in it have purpose). The biggest difference I’ve noticed are my stress levels. When you’re surrounded by chaos, your mind will be chaos. Everything is connected.

Part of simplifying your life is the act of giving YOURSELF the attention that you once gave to your possessions. I now focus more on my routines, which in turn makes my body feel better. I get 8 hours of sleep every night because I NEED it. I drink more water every day because I NEED it. What I don’t need is all the gadgets/gimmicks/stuff that the media says will make us feel better.

RWL: Awareness is everything. Simple things like sleep and water, really become a priority.

Has your relationship with fitness and movement changed since adopting minimalism?

MM: Maybe? hah! Dan and I have never had a true fitness routine, but we do make more time for outdoor activities. Every Sunday, we try to do SOME activity in nature. (hiking, swimming, biking, etc). Anything that gets the family outside.

“No amount of wealth or status can replace relationships and spending actual quality time with people we love.”

Messy Minimalist

RWL: Could you describe your love for nature & the great outdoors?

MM: Sure. It’s simple really. I grew up in Michigan catching frogs in the creek and getting lost in the woods. I think when children are exposed to the wonders of nature and allowed to be curious from a young age, it sticks. Nature is real, and it invites all the best kinds of interactions. (in my mind, anyway). 🙂

When my husband and I moved to New York City, we got an apartment 1 block from the BEST section of Central Park. This wasn’t an accident. We probably spent more time in that park than anywhere else in the city.


RWL: Everyone’s definition of minimalism is different – how would you define Minimalism?

MM: That’s tough. One of these days I’ll have a succinct, canned answer for this. I suppose my version of minimalism is the ongoing act of having less things in your life taking up your attention, so you can focus on the things that give your life actual meaning. (Relationships, Purpose, Growth).

RWL: What advice would you give to someone discovering Minimalism for the first time?

MM: Push yourself out of your comfort zone. We have become comfortable in the chaos, we need to make a new normal. 

Ask yourself how your stuff makes you FEEL. Ask yourself WHY you have it. Ask yourself what would life be like WITHOUT it all? You can always buy stuff. But you can’t buy back time.

RWL: Minimalism is a unique individual experience and that looks different for everybody. What other flavours of Minimalism have you seen that inspire you?

MM: I think it’s really neat to see people who live out of their vans or RVs and travel the country. There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve texted my husband and just said, “Let’s do it. Let’s buy an RV and just leave for a month!” But these feelings usually come when something needs to be addressed in my immediate life. So instead of acting on this impulse, I find out what’s bugging me and try to deal with it. 😉

RWL: How do you cultivate a minimalist mindset?

MM: I don’t know that I have an answer to this. When you make up your mind to stop living in ‘want’ mode, your default mindset starts to change. 

Now, when I think a material thing can improve my life — or I see something that puts me in ‘want’ mode — I practice delayed gratification. Basically, I sit on the idea for a while before acting on it, or I take a picture of the item and review it a week or month later. Usually, this delay is enough for me to realize I don’t actually even need that thing.

RWL: Delayed gratification is a useful practice, I try to wait 30 days before making big purchases too. 

Since living with intention, one curious behaviour I noticed in myself is that I started making the bed in the morning to start the day right. 

What behaviour change have you noticed in yourself?

MM: I started doing this too! Big difference in how I feel each morning! I’ve also started putting an emphasis on sleep itself. I operate best with 8-10hrs of sleep each night. I rarely get the luxury of 10, but I NEVER get less than 8. Physically and emotionally, I’m so much better for it.

RWL: Sleep is so important. Since wearing a fitness tracker, I’ve become more aware & intentional around sleeping habits. 8 hours of sleep makes such a difference.

You own a motel called Sunrise Landing. In a blog post from 2016, you describe how as an innkeeper, you’re never really alone and sometimes yearn for a moment of solitude and peace. 

Since writing this, has your morning routine changed much and do you still get an opportunity to escape outside early to start the day simply with quiet & stillness? 

MM: It’s funny, because our routines change with the seasons. In the summer months, when we’re most busy, I can’t wait to share the mornings with our guests. There’s a quiet optimism as we sip coffee and discuss aspirations for the day. But in the fall, when things slow down, we do yearn for that peace. One way we get it is a quiet walk over the grounds each morning to ‘reset’ the chairs that overlook the lake. It’s a small thing, but it can change your outlook on the whole day.

RWL: What makes your soul sing?

MM: What a lovely question! Taking a walk, hand-in-hand with my husband, (and no schedule!). It sounds so basic, but he’s my highschool sweetheart and “my person”. We champion each other and lift each other up. An hour together is more energizing than an espresso! Energy is life. I’m a believer that we all need a person who gives energy, instead of takes it.

RWL: What is one thing about minimalism or slow living that actually really annoys you/ that you’d like to change? [Submitted by Britt @ Tiny Ambitions]

MM: There is type of minimalism that I have a love/hate relationship with. It’s sometimes called ‘aesthetic minimalism’. I think sometimes people get too wrapped up in the LOOK of a minimalist home without actually practicing minimalism. They take shortcuts. It’s easy to get rid of items when you’re going to just go buy an upgrade, you know? 

“Out with the old and in with the new” isn’t minimalism to me… it’s another form of consumerism.

RWL: When was the last time you made someone laugh, and what was the circumstance? [Submitted by Anthony Ongaro]

MM: Hah, gosh. Like big laugh? Yesterday afternoon my husband and I were walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline. We saw a HUGE wooden crate had washed up on shore and we were overcome with curiosity to know what was inside it. The only problem was there were huge waves crashing onto it every few seconds, and we were wearing street clothes. Throwing caution to the wind, I dashed out with the receding wave to pry it open, running back to shore with each oncoming wave. After getting my legs soaked, we finally discovered it was just filled with sand. We laughed at our silly endeavors and left. Sometimes if fun to just be kids again. 

RWL: What does your meditation practice looks like?

MM: Every morning I try to get a few sips of coffee totally alone. Even just for moment. I look out at the lake and watch the wave pattern. I note the color cast on the trees on the other side. They’re too far away to see individual shapes and colors, so instead they take on a mass shade of purple, navy, green, or brown. I listen to the sound of the coffee being swallowed, and I don’t just breathe, I take note of the smells around me. I imagine the oxygen flowing into my heart and making its way to each fingertip and toe. 

This can all happen in one small moment. But even just this moment is enough.

RWL: Sounds perfect. In meditation, every moment counts. 

You can add one word onto the end of the phrase ‘Run With Less’. What would you choose?

MM: Baggage. Run With Less… Baggage. The physical and emotional baggage we carry only slows us down.

RWL: Where can people find you online?

Instagram: @Messy.Minimalist

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