The Talk That Sparked a Global Movement

TED Talks, a global platform celebrated for igniting powerful conversations and ideas worth sharing, extended an invitation to best-selling author Rita Wilkins. Known as the “Downsizing Designer,” Rita’s TEDx Talk, “Designing a Life You Love,” explores minimalism’s transformative joy. Dive into her inspiring journey from a life cluttered with possessions to one rich with purpose that has captivated millions worldwide. Watch the video and read the full transcript to join the movement towards intentional living.

I Have a Confession to Make

When I owned a 5,000-square-foot home in the country, I had 11 closets and 9 rolling racks filled with clothes. Can anyone relate? Filled with clothes, I had convinced myself that having all of this stuff really made me happy. In fact, I was drowning in my big house. My life was spiraling out of control. The big house, the yard, the maintenance, the upkeep, the expense — at the time, I saw no way out and I was afraid.

A Gift from Senegal

It took a trip to a third-world country, 8,000 miles from here, for me to really rethink what mattered in my life. When my son Kevin, who now lives in the Congo, lived in Senegal, he was serving in the Peace Corps. At the time, I went to visit him. And excuse me, okay, I went to visit him in Senegal, and we took this trip. It was a grueling 24-hour trek via every imaginable mode of transportation: back of a pickup truck, cars with no working gauges, buses with holes in the floor. And we finally arrived in his little village where we were so warmly greeted by the villagers. I was also humbled by the fact that they had swept the dirt paths clean for us. Within a minute, the village elder scooped up a live, scrawny chicken and presented it to us as a gift. I knew in my head and my heart it was of extreme value. That evening, his African mother prepared a beautiful dinner for 15 people that included that little chicken. And while serving the dinner, she pushed the better part of the chicken toward my son and me. In that moment, I realized these villagers had so few possessions but they were filled with joy, and I wanted that.

Reflection with Joy

Several weeks later, I got on the plane to return home, and I realized how profoundly impacted I was by what I had experienced. Over the next couple of years, I started asking myself these questions that really changed my life: Does my stuff make me happy? If I buy more stuff, will I be happier? What really gives me joy? Why wouldn’t I want more of that? And did my life have to continue on this downward spiral, or could I choose to actually create a life that I loved?

Design Your Own Life

After all, for 40 years as an interior designer, I’ve been designing other people’s lives all over the country. Why not design my own? In December 2015, at a Christmas party in my home, a gentleman asked, “Rita, how much longer are you going to live in this big house by yourself?” I said, “Oh, a year from now, I’m gonna be living in a small apartment in Center City, Philadelphia.” I have no idea where those words came from, but in that moment, I realized that my words created the future that I would live in.

I Looked Up and Cried

January 2016, I sat on the living room floor of my big home. I looked up and I cried. I had no idea where to begin. So, rather than making downsizing a project, which is always harder, I decided to make it a game. So, I called family and friends, many of whom are here right now, and enrolled them in the possibility of helping me attack just one area of my home at a time, for just four or five hours on a Saturday or Sunday. So, week by week, for an entire year, they helped me disperse stuff that I had collected over many, many years.

Emotions and Time:

Downsizing is not without emotions. At one point, I found my father’s alarm clock, and I could hear him winding it to get up early to provide for our family. As my relationship to stuff changed, the process got easier and easier. And what I realized was, things didn’t make me happy.

Having Things Didn’t Make Me Happy

A year later, here I am in Center City Philadelphia, my beautiful little jewel box apartment. I moved from my 5,000-square-foot home in the country to 867 square feet in Center City. I gave away 95% of my possessions to people who needed them or wanted them, and I’m living on 5% of what I own. Now, I have all I want and all I need, and I’ve never been happier. I’m living that simple, joy-filled life that I experienced in Senegal. I’m living in alignment with what matters most to me: more time with family and friends, more resources, more freedom to travel, to learn, to actually live the life that I designed for myself.

The Ripple Effect of Downsizing

A ripple effect of downsizing is that I also downsized my company’s work week for a better work/life balance. We now work three days and we play four. And let me tell you, we were able to do that sooner and we actually grew the company by 27 percent last quarter. So, why might you choose to live with less so you can live more?

My Challenge to You

My challenge to you is to, with your mind and with your heart, think of possibility and ask yourself these simple questions: Is there an area of your life that is totally out of control? Are you willing to disrupt that part of your life that’s preventing you from living more? And what’s one thing that you will do today to begin living the life that you love?