How Many Towels Do You Need: Rose Lounsbury (Transcript)

Here is the full text of minimalism coach Rose Lounsbury’s talk titled “How Many Towels Do You Need?” at TEDxDayton conference. In this talk, she shares how to move towards a minimalist lifestyle and how it has improved her life.

Rose Lounsbury – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

How many towels do you need?

This was a question I faced on a Saturday afternoon in early 2012 as I scrutinized my linen cupboard. I had just started on a minimalist journey, inspired by my 1,500-square-foot house that could no longer comfortably contain the possessions of me, my husband and our three three-year-olds.

Yes, you heard it right — triplets.

The issue of our stuff had come to a head a few weeks earlier. We had returned from visiting relatives for Christmas, our van packed with gifts.

As I walked into our house and assessed our already stuffed surroundings, a slow, frightening realization came upon me. We didn’t have room for the things we already owned.

Where was I going to put this new stuff? I considered my options. We could buy a bigger house. We could buy no one Christmas presents anymore, ever.

But then a friend suggested a better idea: minimalism. Live with just what you need. Hmm. Never really thought about that.

But back to my linen cupboard. There I was, facing a literal tower of towels and one simple question: How many towels do you need? The answer was surprisingly clear: two per person.

But that’s only 10 towels for a family of five. Certainly wasn’t the message I received from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. They told me I needed different colored towels for every season. Ten towels just didn’t feel right.

So I went down to the basement where my husband, Josh, was blissfully watching Saturday sports to ask him a very important question. “Honey, is it OK if we have just 10 towels?”

After a long pause, during which, I’m sure, Josh deeply pondered the critical issue of our towel supply, he responded with “Umm. Yeah?”

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That settled it. Ten towels. That was six years ago.

In that time, I have not increased our number of towels. And everyone in our family has been dry when they needed to be dry. So this early venture into minimalism taught me two very clear things: One, I can live with a lot less than I think I can, and two, I can definitely live with a lot less than society tells me I should.

SO WHAT IS MINIMALISM ANYWAY?

We’ve all heard the phrase “less is more,” but what does that look like? Is it selling all your possessions and living out of a backpack? Is it never accepting gifts or having people over for dinner because the only utensil you own is one single spork?

My favorite definition of minimalism comes from 19th century designer William Morris, who said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Those two words, “useful” and “beautiful,” are the checkpoints I use to decide whether or not items are welcome in my home. “Is it useful to me?” and “I know it to be useful” — meaning I actually use it.

We’re not talking about potentially useful objects here. We’re all pretty familiar with those.

But what about those items we believe to be beautiful? I’d like to introduce you to the naked blue lady. My mom painted this as a wedding gift for my aunt and uncle in 1974.

Decades later, after Josh and I got married, we visited my aunt and uncle and bemoaned the bare walls in our first apartment. My aunt immediately ran down to the basement — true story — and came back, dusting off this naked blue lady that she’d been hanging on to for the past 30 years.

Now, some pretty obvious and time-delayed regifting. But my aunt was demonstrating a basic minimalist principle: Let go of the things that are not beautiful to you so they can be beautiful to someone else.

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And I’ll tell you, if you came to my house today and we had a cup of coffee, we’d be drinking it right under the gaze of this beautiful naked blue lady.

And while we’re on the subject of regifting: What the heck do you do when other people give you stuff you don’t want? I’d like everyone to take a moment and think about a time someone gave you something you didn’t want. It shouldn’t take long.

All right. Now, let’s use some logic.

If at some point in time, we’ve all received a gift we didn’t want, it follows that at some point in time, we’ve all given someone else a gift that they didn’t want.

A few years ago, I helped my best friend minimize her wardrobe, and we stumbled upon a pair of sheep-print pajama pants that I had given to her in 1999. I insisted that she let me put those in the donation bag myself.

So, let’s just accept that it’s OK to let go of unloved gifts, and you don’t have to wait decades to do it because it’s completely normal to give people things they don’t want. It’s truly the nature of gift-giving.

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