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Simplicity over Stuff

Well before the Marie Condo craze in recent years spurred by her best-selling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, we lean towards simplicity over stuff. Years before an empty nest, we considered moving to a smaller home to force us to reduce our stuff. Instead, when our kids were young, then 10 and 7, I declared that we were either getting rid of half our stuff or moving to a smaller house. In the end, over a couple of months, we essentially moved in and out of our house, and all 4 of us pared down. It lightened our load, we all had less to find, clean, pick up, put away or otherwise take care of, and more room to move, more time to live.

At first, we simplified by going one room at a time, thru every closet, drawer, cabinet, bookshelf, storage container of any kind, and took everything out. Then we threw out, gave away, consigned or kept each item. Let somebody else wear it, read it, use it. It’s amazing how many things we didn’t need, didn’t use or didn’t even know we had. Or were duplicates, things we’d finished with or had forgotten altogether. And things we weren’t sure what they were for, a stray key, a random charger, a spare cord.

For the items we kept, we moved them back in, sometimes to different places and discovered that a half-full drawer is actually full. Because you don’t look at or don’t remember what’s underneath, it’s better to have only one layer of stuff in each drawer. Bonus, it’s easier to open and close the drawer and quickly find whatever you’re looking for when you need it.

Space permitting, we rearranged how we stored food to be able to see what was there and cut down on buying that extra box of crackers or cereal, only to find you already had one at home. For the most part, we eliminated one-use kitchen items and admitted we really weren’t going to make our own ice cream, which had the added benefit of creating more space on our kitchen countertops. Even some items that we used, like a coffee bean grinder, we let go for simplicity reasons; we could buy ground coffee or if we wanted, grind beans in the store. A personal preference to be sure, an item and chore we wouldn’t miss.

When my husband decreed that all the kids‘ stuff had to be confined to their rooms, I thought that would be impossible with 2 elementary school age kids at the time. But we roped them into this family project, devoting an entire Saturday just to the two kids' rooms, with each of us supervising one kid as they went thru their own rooms as we had done throughout the rest of the house. We told them that we would have one yard sale, a lot of effort for little return that was not repeated, and they could keep the money from anything of theirs that they sold.

We discovered that the kids felt obligated to keep items that were gifts, even if they didn’t use or like the item, and already at a young age were burdened by stuff. We reassured them that the giver wouldn’t know if they decided not to keep an item, wouldn't want them to keep something they didn't like or didn't use so it was okay to let it go. When cleared of clutter, the kids were actually able to keep all of their stuff in their own rooms and not leave their stuff lying around all over the house. And they each made a tidy sum selling their unwanted stuff at our one yard sale.

Our goal was once simplified, we‘d use what my brother Dan calls the Alaskan pipeline theory of managing stuff, one thing in, one thing out. The hope was to keep the pile from growing again, which, despite the effort of simplifying, can be tempting especially when you‘ve created more room in your living space.

We learned that you can’t buy simplicity, buying a bunch of storage bins or closet organizers is not the same thing at all. Nor is it a one and done thing, it’s a process that takes time, goes in stages and needs regular revisiting. It’s a way of living, thinking about purchases beforehand, will I use it, where will I keep it, what maintenance will be required or as my friend Phyllis asks, how much care and feeding will it require? Maybe it’s better to borrow it, lease it, rent it, skip it. And then if you make a purchase that turns out to be a mistake, which is going to happen here and there, that’s ok, let it go. I’ve made many more purchases I regret than missed something I didn’t buy. It’s not about deprivation, it’s about enjoying what you have and having time to spend on things you want, not on stuff you don’t.

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