Cleaning Out Clutter with New Minimalism: Q&A with Cary Fortin and Kyle Quilici

Now and then, I interview teens and adults who are doing something interesting, inspiring, and entrepreneurial – whether they are pursuing a particular interest, starting a non-profit or business venture, or somehow paved their own way to personal success and happiness. We can all learn from one another on how to better become leaders in our own lives, and I hope you find these conversations as inspirational as I do…

This week, my Q&A is with Cary Fortin and Kyle Quilici, the co-founders of the amazing service New Minimalism. I found out about their work on Facebook when a friend of mine posted about the transformation of her apartment, and I contacted them help me clear out my living room and kitchen. Even though I teach organization and time-management for a living, I found that stuff just accumulates and it sometimes takes a second (or third!) set of eyes to make real progress.

In four hours, we cleared out ten bags worth of stuff and accomplished what I hadn’t been able to do in four months – I truly felt I had a completely new living space. Cary’s calm demeanor is incredibly helpful when clearing out so much, and Kyle’s design eye is amazing. Now, I feel as though I have a brand new apartment. Thank you, Cary and Kyle, for all you do!

Your Names: Cary + Kyle
Where are you located: San Francisco
Age: 30 + 29 (respectively:)

What inspired you to start New Minimalism? What did you do before you started this business?

C: New Minimalism was started based on my personal journey. I was working in corporate law and desired the freedom and fulfillment of more creative work but I thought I couldn’t leave my job because I “wouldn’t be able to afford my lifestyle.” So I began to consider exactly what type of lifestyle I wanted — how I wanted to spend my time and money. I began cutting back on consumer goods so that I could spend more of my time the way I wanted it. I shared some of my journey on my business blog and I realized that this process I was going through was much bigger than a side project (and it had way higher hits than anything else I was writing). New Minimalism was born as a blog detailing the various challenges and lessons I was undertaking (No Spend Month and getting down to owning only 105 Things in 2011).
New Minimalism became it’s fullest self once Kyle joined. Together we moved from simply describing why to live a more minimal life into actually entering people’s homes and creating this life with them. Before NM I started my own career coaching business for women looking to move into entrepreneurial and creative roles. This coaching training ended up being key on several levels. It helped me work out the kinks of website building, newsletter creation, invoicing, client support, etc and it gave me the tools to really be present and supportive for our clients as they go through the deeply personal and emotional process of releasing their stuff.

K: My path towards minimalism started in Brooklyn. I lived in an incredibly small room with only enough space for a lofted single bed. It was spartan,  but I was supremely happy and realized I did not need very much to thrive. I had moved to Brooklyn to be near my (then) love, and to complete my yoga teacher training. While studying the yogic/Buddhist philosophy of emotional attachment, I was also very interested in interior space planning. I enrolled in an Interior Design intensive at Parsons to decide if I wanted to go to design school. I discovered traditional interior design has little to no emphasis towards sustainability and that was a huge turn-off for me. While I understood the importance of balanced and intentional interiors, I was more interested in understanding where emotional attachment plays a role. I returned to California and enrolled in the Sustainable Design certification program at UC Berkeley’s extension. I learned so much about these daunting global problems. I wanted to  feel like my work was making a tangible difference, and starting New Minimalism with Cary within my immediate community made the most sense for me. There was a lot of trial and error until New Minimalism really came to fruition – for several years I was seeking something but I wasn’t quite sure what.

How did you come up with the name? Were there others involved in the process?

C: My husband, Cam, was instrumental in the process. I love to write and create but often need help in the editing process (which Kyle is also amazing at doing for me:)… I bounced around names like “Less Stuff, More Life” but he encouraged me to focus in on something less cutesy and more at the core of my message.

“Minimalism” is really an acknowledgement of the bigger movement and history that we are aligning ourselves with — the focus on moving away from consumerism and towards simplified, thoughtful lives. “New” is about creating space within the minimalism for a population of people who might not have felt at home within the traditional “Less is less” style of minimalism.

I wanted it to be clear that we were not middle-aged bachelors telling people to paint all their walls white and adopt a Steve Jobs uniform. We are young women who want to be inspired by our spaces, surrounded by beauty, by good design and style. We just believe that having less junk is the simplest way to achieve that.

Whenever we start a new venture, there is often an “aha!” moment (or two). How did this project evolve?

C: We started out by trying our business model on friends’ spaces during the weekends. Our first “client” was a friend of Kyle’s and I remember being really nervous that he might not trust me to guide him through the process. The day ended up going really smoothly and I thought his house looked fabulous. But it wasn’t until I read the review he posted of us on Yelp that I realized how big of an impact we had on not just his space but the overall quality of his life… It was thrilling.

K: When we had photos of Greg’s Behind the Redesign I felt like, this is it. Now we have something tangible we can share with people. We can say, “Look, this is what we do.”

What were some of the challenges you had to deal with (or are still dealing with) in getting New Minimalism started? How were you able to overcome those challenges (or how are you dealing with them now)?

C: 1. Distinguishing ourselves from personal organizers. While we absolutely leave people’s spaces more “organized” than we found them, our methodology and focus is completely different. Organizers take what already is and try to make it as efficient and useful as possible. We start by donating the lion’s share of items and then easily put into place what remains. We believe that by releasing the excess, a natural order and beauty emerges. And I love that we are unique in that way.

2. Explaining to someone who hasn’t worked with us all of the benefits they can expect. We’re not just organizers who will make you more efficient and make your space prettier. We are going to clear out decades worth of stuff that has been weighing you down — physically, psychologically, spiritually. When we’re done you don’t just have a beautiful space that showcases what you love, you all of the sudden have the space and the freedom to focus your life on the things that fulfill and sustain you. You have the room to grow in ways that previously felt impossible.

I’ve worked with you on the process of re-working my apartment, and you are an amazing (and efficient) team. How did you become work partners, and how are you able to make it work so well?

C: As luck would have it, Kyle and I got linked up to carpool to a yoga retreat in Santa Barbara. On the 6 hour trip down we realized that we shared this pretty specific interest.

K: On that yoga retreat we were chatting during some down time and got deep into a discussion of consumerism a minimalist lifestyle. Cary was a wealth of information; she pointed me to all these books and blogs. I thought, ok I’m going to read all these books and stay in touch with Cary because a. she’s a genius and b. I think there’s something unique here.

C: We were pretty young at the time (mid-20s) and I remember being amazed at Kyle’s aesthetic and the range of her creativity and style. Though she’d graduated from BC and gotten certificates from Parson’s and Berkeley it felt like her sense of space was innate. A gift. We decided to get coffee back in the city and ended up meeting continually for almost 2 years. We always knew there was a seed of a great business but we allowed it time to naturally evolve. We each had other business ventures and work but we kept nudging this connection along.

K: Once we started working together, we saw how complimentary our skills really were. The fact that we really need each other to efficiently and effectively complete our work is a really magical combination.

Describe one particular moment when you stepped back from your work and said, “Wow – the impact of this work is bigger than I ever imagined.”

NM: When we hear back from clients weeks and months after their clearing and learn of the breadth of the impact their new space has on their lives.

One of the many things I like about your work is your emphasis on re-using and recycling. For instance, my living room looks completely transformed even though I didn’t buy any new furniture (though I did get rid of a lot of things!). What do you do with all the things people get rid of?

NM: For us, donating is the backbone of our company and our mission. We believe in the power of the consumer. It’s a multi-faceted solution. By not buying more, you’re preventing more resources from being produced. By passing things on that people aren’t using to others who need them, we are breathing new life into the items and supporting and growing our communities.

How has starting “New Minimalism” changed your life?

NM: Its just the beginning, we’re still evolving and only starting to understand our impact on our clients and greater community. With that comes a lot of excitement and a little risk. But I will say that being able to live each day inside of our values and seeing the impact we’ve had is incredibly fulfilling.

What are your goals for “New Minimalism” over the next year?

1. Continued smart growth. We’re allowing our services to evolve according to what really benefits our clients and staying aligned with our core values. Our goal is to be deep-rooted and trusted in our community. We want to be the kind of business you refer your best friend, boss, and mom to, knowing they’ll be taken care of.

2. Becoming more of a voice in this new and growing community of minimalists + conscious simplifiers. We want to see this movement gain traction and we think that we have the ability to add a fresh component to the cause.

3. Complete development and begin offering our service for people who are moving. Moving is a highly emotional, expensive and often overwhelming process. We want to help people save time, money, and frustration by paring down before they pack up. This means fewer boxes to pack, transport, unpack. It also means a fresh start in your new home to create the space and systems you’ve always wanted.

If you had one piece of advice for teens or Millennials thinking of becoming entrepreneurs in their own lives, what would that be?

C: It’s harder and more rewarding than you could possibly imagine. Your first idea is most likely not “the one.” Don’t be attached to specifics, allow new iterations to play out. If you can embrace the mindset of play and curiosity you will not only arrive at your best business model faster, you’ll understand that “failure” is never permanent — it’s just pointing the way to an even better option.

K: It’s ok if it takes time. Hone in on values and stay the course. Every job you take that isn’t your dream job is one step closer to your dream job. Don’t undermine the hidden value of all your experiences. It’s all serving all greater purpose whether it’s clear now or not.

So what does this work actually look like?

You can take a look at our portfolio of work here. The way we improve the lives of our clients it our biggest pride + joy. While many people in the minimalism movement write about why to be a minimalist, we are one of the very few (maybe only?) companies that will come into your home and show you how to put it into action.

And now, for some fun questions:

Three words to describe you:
C: Kyle is quietly confident, discerning and surprisingly hilarious
K: Cary is a bookworm, athletic and kind to the core

Dream vacation:
C: Bali — surfing, rice fields, spirituality, yoga, writing
K: Machu Picchu — sacred history, earthly beauty, challenging hiking

Favorite way to spend a free afternoon:
C: In nature. Sitting, hiking or trail running in Marin with Cam
K: Any opportunity to be really in touch with my surroundings — whether it’s a farmer’s market or picnic in the park or a bike ride to the beach.

Best movie of all time:
if we’re going by the movie I’ve seen the most and can recite for hours
K: Clueless
C: Sandlot (oh man, and Clueless too!)

as a cinematic feat?
K: Life Aquatic and Edward Scissorhands
C: I love Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”

Favorite quote:
C: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” Mary Oliver
K: “If you invest in beauty, it will stay with you all the days of your life.” Frank Lloyd Wright

Last book you read for fun:
K: Memory Keepers Daughter
C: A Return to Love

Best concert you’ve ever been to:
K: LCD Soundsystem’s last show in New York
C: Eric Clapton blues + unplugged tour

To relax and recharge, I…
C: hike or run on trails and “simplify” my apartment
K: go to yoga or clean my house

Favorite meal:
C: Fish tacos
K: Veggies, any and all.

I can honestly say Kyle and Cary are changing the world with their fantastic work – their work has changed my life, and I know it has changed the lives of others as well. Check them out here!

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