'Lightly' Wants to Declutter Everything About You, From Stuff to Soul

©. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The newest book by Francine Jay, a.k.a. Miss Minimalist, doesn't stop at physical belongings.

Two years ago, I described Francine Jay's first book, The Joy of Less, as the best book on minimalism I'd ever read. So when I heard she had a new book, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. Lightly: How to Live a Simple, Serene & Stress-free Life just came out this March 2019, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Lightly takes the philosophy of simple living, which Jay touched on at the end of The Joy of Less, and explores it in greater depth. It is meant to be a minimalist manual, a reference book of sorts that readers can refer to whenever they're in need of guidance or a reset. In Lightly, Jay wants readers to 'minimize' every aspect of their lives – or, as the title suggests, to 'live lightly'.

"It goes beyond decluttering – far beyond – to uplift your thoughts, your actions, every moment and aspect of your life. When you declutter and call it a day, it's easy to backslide. But when your entire life is aligned to a guiding principle – to live lightly – you'll find a new sense of purpose and fulfillment, and powerful incentive to stay on the path."

The book starts as you'd expect any decluttering book to start, with a chapter called 'Lighten Your Stuff' that instructs how to pare down kitchen utensils, closets, office supplies, linens, toys, furniture, and more. But then it moves into new territory – a purposeful lightening of one's load in every aspect of life – which Jay believes is a natural progression once physical belongings have been reduced.

A subsequent chapter, 'Lighten Your Step', addresses consumption problems and how we all need to buy less and choose less wasteful items. Jay advises purchasing used, high-quality, ethically-made goods, and opting for borrowed, rented, and shared items whenever possible.

"Both the making and discarding of consumer goods takes a toll on our planet; therefore, we want the stuff we buy to last as long as possible. Products used for just a few hours (or minutes!) hardly justify the resources and landfills they require."

'Lighten Your Stress' delves into the importance of minimizing one's schedule and obligations – a serious problem in a society addicted to being busy all the time. She offers guidance on 'lightly declining' invitations and requests, on unplugging from the digital world, on being satisfied with good results, rather than inachievable perfection, and pursuing one's own version of success.

The final chapter, 'Lighten Your Spirit', feels like something you'd read in 'Mindfulness' magazine, but I suppose it's good for all of us to hear the familiar aphorisms repeated: Savor the present. Think before you speak. Let go of your ego. Be kind. Be still.

Because the book moves swiftly from cleaning out kitchen cupboards to cultivating a meditation practice, it feels like it spans a very broad range of topics in very little time; but when these are brought together beneath the common thread of living lightly, it all makes more sense.

Jay sets a high bar, one that left me feeling a bit inadequate, but also motivated to do better.