Article: Authority Magazine: How Simplifying & Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier

Interview with Drew Gerber

Get clear about what you want…what you want for your life, how you want to feel, your driving values. When we know what we want and more importantly, the value behind what we want, it’s so much easier to chart our course. In fact, we’re exponentially more likely to attain those aspirations once we name them. Welive in a time of great excess. We have access to fast fashion, fast food, and fast everything. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. How can we simplify and focus on what’s important? How can we let go of all the clutter and excess and find true happiness? In this interview series, we are talking to coaches, mental health experts, and authors who share insights, stories, and personal anecdotes about “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make Us Happier.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Garner. As a designer, philosopher and writer, Kimberly spent over 25 years studying, researching and intersecting the fields of design, science and soul. Inspired by the complementary fields of epigenetics, neuroscience, human ecology and simply being human, she’s developed a results-oriented, soul-centred and integrative approach to human flourishing. Kimberly founded the School of Holistic Design® and pioneers the ground breaking field of NeuroSpatial Linguistics. Her passion lies in translating the language between our environment, architectural spaces and the mind in a way that supports overall well-being, inspires one’s ideals and empowers authentic self perception. As her body of work developed, she stumbled upon a means to manifesting, called the Life+Design Method™ which aligns the interior of home and mind with one’s vision of an ideal life. There’s an alchemy between the three and what unfolds is effortless transformation. Epigenetics and neuroplasticity play a large role in her work and precisely why it’s so effective. Her mission, remind people how to tap into their innate wisdom, evolve beyond the obstacles and accelerate their highest potential by tuning the interior space of their home and mind in unison with their values, desires and intentions. Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice? Thank you. It’s an honor being a part of your compelling series. This is such a big question. My story is a bit of a slow brew, two life crises and an aha moment over a fifteen year period between the ages 22 and 36. I’m going to do my best to keep it as succinct as possible. Looking back I recognize how all of the elements of the past thirty years wove the tapestry for where I am today and the culmination of my life’s work. Arriving at this point in my career was a bit of a winding journey. College graduation delivered life crisis number one. Like many others of my generation, I was raised to believe when you graduate from college your life begins. You get a corporate job, fall in love, have kids and live the American dream. The day came and went and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was clear what I did not want…the life I was raised to live. There was something else calling me, yet I felt myself in an unfamiliar wilderness without a compass not knowing which way to go, or more importantly, my own True North. My therapist at the time, author and depth psychologist, Bill Plotkin, Ph.D. introduced me to the nature-based wilderness rite of passage based on native people’s vision quest. He’d been guiding wilderness quests for decades and the experience sounded like something my spirit craved and my mind detested. What is a vision quest? It’s an ancient coming of age rite of passage, leaving your people and your place in society behind in search of your life purpose, your giveaway to your people. Setting out to wander in the natural world, naked of everything you identify as yourself in order to discover who you really are, that seed alive within you that’s not associated with your name or roles or relationships…the true self. The deep wisdom of nature and your inner whisper guide the journey. For me it was a window of preparation leading up to four days of solo time, fasting in the desert wilderness without a tent or shelter…completely alone without the distractions of books or food or people. Being stripped of those things we identify as self feels uncomfortable and at the same time liberating. My hope was to glean clarity about what I was supposed to do with my life…a big ask. I didn’t get the answer to that question then, but what I did get was the introduction to two relationships that would change the course of my life forever and guide my eventual career: my relationship with the natural world and my understanding of my own soul and the eternal quandary between it and the human psyche. The next ten years held this theme of wandering, studying and following the inner whisper. I was devoted to finding out whatever it was I was meant to do with this thing called “life”. Fifteen years later I hopped on the bus headed for the “American Dream”. I had my first child and shortly thereafter, life crisis number two. As much as I loved and cherished my son, no one had told me that when you have a baby…especially when you’re a geriatric mom of thirty-six who’d lived a full and rewarding life so far, you just might lose your sense of self for a spell. Yes, of course, it’s all worth it and I wouldn’t do anything differently, but the rug was snatched out from underneath me and I hit rock bottom HARD! I liked who I used to be, I loved my old life. It felt like, “What just happened. Where did I just go? I can’t find me anymore. I’m gone.” I often joke that it’s not possible to be self actualized if you’ve never had kids. Having children brings you to your knees, leaving you scrambling for every tool you learned and can’t seem to remember in the depths of disorientation and despair. Motherhood truly is the toughest job you’ll ever love. There I was, home…a stay at home mom, just like I thought I wanted…and did. One day, while in the kitchen, I stumbled upon a talk by Bruce Lipton on epigenetics. I’d never heard of him or this new word. Enter the aha moment. In those moments everything changed and everything came together. Something magical happens when we hit rock bottom and courageously keep going…trusting, holding on. All of the searching and studying that began around the time of my vision quest guided me to this place. There’s a missing link in the mental health dilemma and it’s called “home”. Our human ecology it’s not just about our environment, unless when we say environment we mean our thoughts, our feelings, our home, our deeper desires and that place within us that is our true home where we shall always belong. I had never realized science played such an enormous role in how we evolve into our highest potential and how our home acts as a catalyst for, what so many call, “manifesting”. After listening to Bruce Lipton speak, I became obsessed. Just like the cells in our body are influenced by their environment, we as humans (a large collection of cells) are equally influenced by our environment. Our home acts as a Petri dish. Like those cells in Lipton’s study, our home environment informs our outcomes and I knew I was the person to show the world precisely how to curate the outcomes we desire, for both our outer life and our inner world. I spent the next 14 years developing the first results-oriented, science-based and soul-centered approach to holistic design and human flourishing, using our home as our primary ecology for designing the life we want to experience. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? I spent three days working with a famous freelance writer in Manhattan, who deeply wanted to address his writer’s block and general morose outlook on life. We’ll call him Steve. Most days, Steve slept in until ten or eleven in the morning, ate poorly, watched a lot of ESPN, stopped exercising or getting out socially. He was definitely in a funk and even though he wasn’t totally convinced his living space could change his life much, he held hope. All of my clients go through an extensive interview package prior to our in-person deep dive. When I reviewed Steve’s information along with the images he shared of his space, it was evident his environment played an enormous role in what was happening or not happening in his life. We spent three days straight in his 420 square foot apartment, minus outings for quick meals and my prerequisite morning run and swinging on an amazing swing set in Central Park! We transformed what looked like an unkempt college dorm room into a bachelor pad more reflective of his distinguished values and aspirations. I’m happy to report Steve immediately began waking up before eight, exercised each day, changed his diet and scheduled regular social time with friends and colleagues. Within 60 days, he received a writing fellowship and met the woman he’s with to this day. The work is incredibly rewarding, quite intimate, vulnerable and not necessarily easy. Yet when working together at this level, purging and sorting and curating one’s outer space to support their inner world, while holding their ideals and the brilliance innately shining within them as central to our process, it’s magic. Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? Yes! That’s so kind of you to ask. I now offer a Holistic+Design Practitioner Certification as well as a program called The Reset: ReMind & ReDesign. Both programs teach people the interconnected relationship between what’s going on in their home and what’s showing up in their life and how epigenetics and neuroplasticity factor into curating their space so it encourages and even accelerates the outcomes they desire. I’m shocked by the lack of awareness around the significant role our home plays in our life. When we go to our healthcare practitioners, they need to be asking us about our home because there’s a direct relationship between our home and what’s showing up in our physical health, our mental health and certain aspects of our life, especially those things showing up we don’t necessarily want. Architects, designers, professional organizers, life coaches and holistic practitioners need to recognize and understand the impact our homes have on our life. It’s our professional responsibility to incorporate home into the well-being conversation that’s simply not being acknowledged within the design, build or health and well-being industries. Our home is one of the quickest and easiest ways I know for changing our life for the better. This is the culmination of my life’s work and it’s also the only program I know that intersects the fields of epigenetics, neuroplasticity, design, human ecology and flourishing. It’s basically like my third child. The program offers an entirely new outlook on the impact our home holds in our life, how we feel and how our home acts as a catalyst for manifesting. I hesitate calling it manifesting because there’s a lot of hype around manifesting right now. But here’s the thing, we’re manifesting creatures. We cannot help but manifest. As humans, we’re constantly manifesting whether we realize it or not. We just don’t like to call it manifesting unless we’re creating something we actually want. Our home plays a pivotal role in a feedback loop which affects how we think, feel and behave, influencing us on cellular, physiological, neurological and psychological levels. So we want to get really curious about what our home communicates and the cycles it’s perpetuating in our life right now and how we can create the shifts we need to feel better supported, while moving closer to those things we want. These programs are designed for anyone interested in learning more about the relationship between our home and our life. I find it especially useful for life coaches, designers and holistic practitioners looking for effective ways to support their clients in simple, meaningful and lasting ways. Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier”? I’ve studied and researched the intersection of design, science and human flourishing for the better part of 25 years. My approach is rooted in the work of Aristotle, Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Bruce Lipton, Bill Plotkin, Christopher Alexander and Rumi, among others. My work is steeped in the timeless wisdom and universal truths of the sages and ages with my own experience and perceptions in navigating the trials, tribulations and wilderness this being human offers. Currently, I’m pioneering a field at the forefront of design and well-being, called NeuroSpatial Linguistics. That’s fancy talk for the language our environment communicates with our mind and body. It focuses on how we may use our outer environment, specifically our home, to better support how we need to feel on the inside with what we want to experience on the outside. There’s a curative element of “therapeutic design” at play within our home allowing us to address what’s not working in our life. What’s more exciting is that our home holds a cooperative element for our deeper longing and aspirations. It’s all right there, latent within our living environment, just waiting for us to remember and tap in. We need to recognise there’s little gap between how we feel, and what’s going on in our environment and what our soul longs for. It basically comes down to our personal human ecology. We’re in relationship with our environment and our outer environment informs, moment by moment, so much of our inner landscape and outer experience. We have a choice, we can be haphazard about our inner and outer environments or we can bring our awareness, intentions and values into the space we call “home” and watch life take on an entirely new potential. Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. We live in a time of excess. We have access to so much. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. Can you articulate for our readers a few reasons why all of our possessions are not giving us happiness? It’s such a beautiful, tragic and complex question. I’ll do my best to offer some clarity. At the heart of being human and hidden within all of our desires exists a common longing to simply just feel good. So naturally…or not so naturally, we’re conditioned toward and attracted to those things which we believe will satisfy some version of feeling good, or more specifically will alleviate feeling not good. Our emotions are the primary motivating factor behind almost everything we do and every choice we make. We want to feel good and we want to feel good now and will go to great lengths to avoid not having to feel what doesn’t feel good. Here’s the thing, feeling good is golden. A life full of enthusiasm, joy, passion, delight, love, laughter, connection, collaboration, creativity, play or whatever it is that lights us up, comes from within and has very little to do with accumulation. Look at the way young children radiate joy, feeling good truly is our natural state and we do not need things to access that place. Until we recognize this dynamic we will continue to replay the cycle. Ultimately, the satisfaction of the value behind the desire is what we want to experience…like vitality, freedom or belonging. We make assumptions and create expectations about how certain things or experiences will make us feel once we get there. It’s the lead up to the purchase or experience that brings so much promise. Shortly thereafter, we still must reconcile the gap between where we are and where we want to be…how we feel versus how we want to feel. If we continue in this externally driven cycle, life often grants us a life crisis (a.k.a. mental breakdown, midlife crisis/midlife awakening) so we have no choice but to face the discomfort, face the old outdated, and often erroneous, belief systems we’ve built our life around and finally start building something more reminiscent of the “me” that has nothing to do with the person we were raised to be and everything to do with the person we were born to become. Accumulating more possessions is like putting a Band-Aid on the heart when in reality the heart just wants you to stop and listen and do what’s best for both of you. On a broader societal level, how do you think this excessiveness may be harming our communities and society? Humanity is moving farther and farther away from the core elements of what it means to be human. I think it’s safe to say culturally we’re experiencing an existential crisis and at the root of it, a chasm between the social and cultural values of our outer life grows vast against the backdrop of those more timeless inner values. The fact that we as a civilization are experiencing varying and growing levels of mental discomfort shows us what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Beyond the obvious waste we’re creating and multiplying for our planet, excessive consumption takes us farther away from the universal treasures of being human. Those things the buoyancy of our spirit needs to experience which don’t cost us financially…like sunsets, laughter, walking on soil, sharing a moment with touch and eye contact, sitting alone and enjoying the stillness of our own company. We want to look at our outer life and external experience as an invitation for cultivating more meaning and fulfillment for our inner world. Even though we may feel an enormous disparity between them, that’s actually really encouraging because with some awareness and intention, we can nourish those innate needs quickly and simply, without needing anything of material form. One of our basic primal needs is a sense of belonging. We literally cannot survive without love and belonging. Media exploits this eternal value by informing us of what we should want, showing us everyone who’s anyone is doing better and reminding us we will never be good enough. Collectively we’re allowing the authority of capitalism and consumerism to brainwash us into their notion of what’s best for us, robbing us of our own peace of mind and self sovereignty. We’re perpetually met with messages for what we need to do to belong, how we could be better, do and have more…that’s enough to drive anyone to the brink of breakdown. My dad has a beautiful saying that became very real when I had children of my own. He said, “I am as happy as my least happy child.” We’re all connected, as humans on the planet Earth, as members of a society, a culture, a neighborhood, a community, a family or friendship. We cannot not feel the pain of another, even if only on a collective energetic level. We cannot get to the source of our own peace or happiness by keeping pace with the trends of the outer world. Peace and happiness must be sourced from within and we are the only ones who know what that means for us, but it’s likely going to need some spaciousness for curiosity and a willingness to excavate the layers we’ve grown accustomed to and that’s not always comfortable…it’s actually really uncomfortable because it forces us to chart our own path, look within and step out onto our own heroic adventure. Ironically, that’s exactly what a vision quest invites. I’m actually really encouraged by the possibility and potential for significant change because, let’s face it, discomfort is a fabulous motivator. Once we make the choice for a different way of living, feeling the aliveness of being is simple and easy. The irony of struggling with happiness in modern times is glaring. In many places in the world today, we have more than ever before in history. Yet despite this, so many people are unhappy. Why is simplifying a solution? How would simplifying help people to access happiness? Yes, as a culture, we’re absolutely overwhelmed and overstimulated. Simplifying is essential to our peace of mind as it allows us to experience more ease in our life by reducing the distractions occupying our mind and time. When we simplify we’re creating more spaciousness for those ideals and experiences we value, like pleasure and peace. A Buddhist teaching on possessions comes to mind. I won’t be as eloquent as the monk I remember from Wat Suan Mokkh in Thailand, who shared this lesson, but I’ll do my best. Let’s imagine for a moment all of our possessions…our vehicles, our home, our furnishings, our decor, our clothing, all of those things in storage…everything. Imagine the vastness of those objects. Now imagine heading out on the adventure of life with all of those things on our back. Wherever we go the weight of those possessions accompany us. This poignantly illustrates how the items we acquire carry a very real psychic burden which quietly intensifies over time. In excess, our things become burdensome and complicate our life. No one wants to feel hostage, let alone to their own stuff. I think what we’re all striving for is greater ease, feeling more ease in as many aspects of our life as possible. Simplifying is a great way to create more ease. We also want to acknowledge the pursuit of simplifying can feel challenging at first. Concepts might sound simple, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy to implement. In an effort to simplify, we want to ask: Are my possessions possessing me? Am I surrounded by possessions or belongings? What’s essential for me and the life I want to call my own? What is my highest potential and what do I need to help me get there? From my perspective, the first step toward simplifying is about aligning. Aligning as a means to simplify. Then simplifying as a means to create more ease. More ease as a means for more meaning, fulfillment and peace. We want to look at ourselves as the curators of our own life and select those things which will enhance our experience of being here. It’s about discernment and cultivating the elements of our outer life so they become the cooperative components for nourishing the landscape of our inner world. Can you share some insights from your own experience? Where in your life have you transformed yourself from not having enough to finally experiencing enough? For example, many people feel they don’t have enough money. Yet, people define abundance differently, and often, those with the least money can feel the most abundant. Where in your health, wealth, or relationships have you transformed your life? Prior to the pandemic, we lived in a four bedroom, plus office, 2.5 bath, 3500 square foot home in a stunning valley with the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was probably one of the most elegant homes in my area. I called it Jane’s house after the woman who designed and sold it to us. It made a statement similar to that of fine jewelry and it was everything I thought I wanted in a home. My former husband and I split up and it didn’t make sense to live in such an opulent space when every other week, it was just me, myself and I at home alone. I decided to sell the house. Then the pandemic hit and everyone seemed to flock to the island where I live, causing a HUGE housing crunch. With a bank account full of cash, I still found myself home-less. It was the most disorienting, humbling and unsettling experience of my life. Here I was a grown woman, mother of two beautiful children and I couldn’t find a home for us. Thanks to the magic of the natural world and following my intuition, I was literally guided to our current home (which is another story altogether!). Now we live completely off the grid, collecting sun for power, rain for water and wood for heat at the top of a little mountain surrounded by forest. This home is 1100 square feet, two bedrooms, 1.5 bath, with a walk-in closet we turned into a Paris-style bedroom for my 11 year old daughter. My life has completely transformed. Instead of my home being a feature of my lifestyle, my home plays a huge role in my way of life. Everything I do each day is in sync with and must keep pace with whatever’s occurring in the natural world. From the time of day, to the weather, the wind and season of the year, nature determines the flow of my routines. Living so closely aligned with the natural world puts us in a constant state of both abundance and lack depending on the season, which makes me appreciate what I formerly took for granted. In the summer we have plenty of power, but water becomes more scarce. In the winter, water flows in a surplus, but we must be mindful of how much power we’re consuming because sunshine and daylight elude us. My idea of abundance now looks like long hot baths in winter, the satisfaction of stacking stockpiles of wood throughout the summer and early fall, and not having to turn on the generator all summer long just to vacuum, wash clothes or toast bread. I suppose it all comes down to perspective. This home has taught me to appreciate the treasures nature gifts. People, places, and things shape our lives. For example, your friends generate conversations that influence you. Where you live impacts what you eat and how you spend your time. The “things” in your life, like phones, technology, or books impact your recreation. Can you tell us a little about how people, places, and things in your own life impact your experience of “experiencing enough?” I’m fortunate enough to live in an exceptionally beautiful place. I’m not left longing for much in the way of natural environments. In my spare time, I’m often soaking up the majesty of my favorite places along the shore or in the forest. Nature is the end all and be all for me. Getting on the trails amongst the trees or swimming in the sea is like therapy and church for me and I am devoted to that part of my life. The island isn’t necessarily easy to get to and doesn’t offer many modern day conveniences like restaurant delivery, orthodontists or big box shopping, so there’s a certain breed of folk who come and another breed who stay. We must all work a bit harder in similar ways just to exist here. It’s a choice and, on most levels, a very worthy sacrifice. People who live here share overlapping values which creates a unique bond in the community and makes finding your people a bit easier. “Oh, you’re weird like me! Want to be friends?” I’m very selective with how, where and with whom I share my time. I protect my mental real estate and nurture those elements I love about life and being me. Is this nourishing my life or depleting it? I think that’s a lesson everyone learned after the pandemic. Allowing space for those things and experiences available to each and every one of us, that don’t cost a thing, bestows the magic of being alive. What advice would you give to younger people about “experiencing enough?” Allow yourself the opportunity and gift of getting bored. The magic and richness of life exists on the other side of boredom, the other side of being alone, doing nothing in particular and then discovering the fertile seed of passion awaiting within you. Protect your mental real estate at all costs. Those things we allow access into our mind, heart and home determine the experience of our inner landscape, which is our only everlasting true home. Let your big D-desire guide everything you do. Ask yourself and ask often, what do I really want, not what does society expect of me, not what does my family want for me, not how will I fit in. Get really curious about what lights you up…while at the same time asking, what’s my highest potential? Life is a game and the name of the game is “Live a life you’re delighted to call your own”. It takes a Herculean dose of courage, promising a grit you feel in the marrow of every bone, yet it pays dividends beyond any portfolio could reward, while granting you a power and freedom beyond any predictable life. Trust your feelings. Understand they are life’s way of communicating with you and pointing your shoulders in the direction of your dreams. Follow what feels good and get curious about what doesn’t, as they are paths to the same place. Develop your relationship with your inner knowing, your intuition. Do those things which bring you into closer connection with the aspect patiently awaiting reunion. This is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you share your “five ways we can simplify and declutter our lives to make us happier?” Absolutely! I’d love to share! Get clear about what you want…what you want for your life, how you want to feel, your driving values. When we know what we want and more importantly, the value behind what we want, it’s so much easier to chart our course. In fact, we’re exponentially more likely to attain those aspirations once we name them. Look at your life and your environment in terms of what’s encouraging your ideals and supporting your values and what’s getting in your way. Look from a macro perspective, then hone in on the micro elements. Remember, at the core of everything we want is a desire to feel good. Ask yourself, how does this make me feel? Does this support what I want for myself and my life? If I keep doing this, will I move closer to the life I want or farther away? Align accordingly. Recognise your home is your primary environment. Like other creatures, in order to survive and thrive, we need to make certain our environment supports us on multiple levels. Our home is a huge aspect of our human ecology, so is our mind. Make sure your home feels really good and supports not only your lifestyle, but also your aspirations and those things you love about being “me”. Address the toxic clutter in your home and other forms of clutter. Toxic clutter is anything that brings up a negative thought, memory or emotion. Toxic clutter acts as visual poison in our home. You can use my definition and litmus test for identifying other types of clutter in your life. “Clutter’’ is any obstacle that blocks us from our desires, intentions and values. Remember, clutter is not just the physical variety, it can be thoughts, relationships, habits, etc. Here’s my litmus test: Do I use it? Do I love it? Does it support my desires, intentions & values? If we don’t answer yes to at least one of these questions (preferably all three), we need to ask why we’re choosing to hold on to it. Find ways to connect to those deeper aspects of your Self that have nothing to do with your name, zip code, bank account, career, education or who you know. For me and I suggest for others, this means alone time…alone time in nature, listening to music (without words), journaling, singing, swimming, running…or whatever it is you do where you lose track of time because you’re so absorbed in the moments. Make space for developing your relationship with the “me” that has no name, the constant companion that lives within the brilliance of you simply being you. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-) Let’s call it the Life+Design Project. I believe if each of us follows our deeper desire, we will make this world a better place for others. So I would begin by teaching every person, including children in school, how our dreams and desires are our evolutionary drivers and that our feelings are our internal navigation system guiding us toward the life we were born to experience…so trust them above all else and follow the thread of your delight. Then I would create a way for every person to experience unscheduled alone time in nature daily. Space for them to cultivate their own relationship and connection with the natural world. Our inner knowing lives within us and delights in these moments, making space for listening to what it wants to share becomes imperative for nurturing our inner home. I’d teach my holistic approach and understanding for how the interior environment of our home relates to the interior environment of the mind and specific areas of our life, and how our home is a reflection of what’s showing up in our outer life and what’s going on within our mind. I’d teach them how to use their space, room by room, so it supports and encourages their deeper desires like that of a loyal friend, steadfast. Whether we find ourselves in the throes of survival mode or elevating to self actualization, our home holds potent wisdom for our unfolding adventure and evolution. I’d convince all architectural and interior design programs to include NeuroSpatial Linguistics and the Holistic+Design approach into their programs so we may include human flourishing into the future of design. How can our readers further follow your work online? My website for the School of Holistic Design® is . I can be found on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook @schoolofholisticdesign Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!