May 6, 2013
This first Minimalist Monday of May, we have a special guest post from Jacqueline — Herbie mom of HOW Kids Talia and Jacob and fellow minimalist! Jacqueline serves up minimalist tips on her own blog, Barefoot Essence, and she put together some highlights from her family's inspiring minimalist experience for us.
Less Space = Less Stuff = More Life
I always thought I kept a pretty simple home, but every now and again, I would look around and wonder, "where did I get all this stuff?"
Every time I get ready to move — which has been 8 times in 9 years of marriage — we do a possession purge. We donate, toss or sell things we have not used and don’t fit our next home. One particularly large purge followed living in a 1,600 square foot home in Indianapolis when it was just the two of us. We were moving to a 500 square foot apartment in Chicago, so the only things that came with us were a mattress and necessities. To rid ourselves of this stuff, we hosted a ‘sell our stuff’ party where friends came over and cleaned us out. [Editorial note: I love this idea! Totally genius!]
People left with furniture, weed-wackers and even the artwork from the walls. I felt a little pang of sadness watching my favorite kitchen table being carried out the door, and I also recall reluctantly selling a painting. Now, I have no idea what the painting even looked like. Guess it didn’t mean much to me to begin with.
Were all those things an extension of who I was? Did a kitchen table, a couch, or some artwork define me? Did I see myself in those things? I didn’t think so, since I got rid of them all pretty easily and continued to sleep okay at night.
Did I want my value as a human being to be determined by the stuff I owned? Certainly not. Was part of me leaving with the painting that I liked? Definitely not. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Dave Ramsey; "We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like."
I repeat. The things I own are not me. Couches are for sitting on, beds are for sleeping in and artwork is for looking at. Do I want these things to look good? Somewhat, but I am pretty easy to please. What people place value in is relative. I find value in durable and functional goods that are inexpensive, even better if those goods are recycled or reused. If we have guests, I want to enjoy their company, where we sit is not important — and I hope they feel the same.
As luck and opportunity would have it, we were on the move again; back to city living in Chicago. Before this move, we came to the realization that our 1,700 square foot space was too big for our family of four (plus two furry dogs). Only living there just over a year, it became painfully obvious how badly we need to stop acquiring ‘stuff.’
This gets ugly. We rented a 10-yard bin that sat as an eyesore in the driveway for a weekend. I thought there was no way we would fill it, and complained to my husband about what a waste of money it was to get such a huge bin. I was wrong. We purged things we have not used in a year, things we forgot we had and things that we can live without. In our defense, much of the bulk came from scrap construction materials from finishing the basement, so please don’t call TLC’s ‘Hoarders’ on me!
To help simplify and prepare for our un-fussy minimalist life, everything was sorted into one of these categories:
- Donate to charity
- Give to specific family and friends
- Garbage (this was the big bin)
- Keep (and use)
Seeing our waste was embarrassing. This excess was the result of mindless spending; by us, by friends and by family on ‘stuff’. What a waste of money, time, and environmental resources. Most of the things we threw out were likely made overseas, so consider the environmental impact of all that ‘stuff’ being manufactured, shipped, boxed, sold, brought home, wrapped up in colorful paper, used for maybe a short time then stuffed in a closet.
We downsized from a 3-bedroom, with 2,200 square feet of living space with a garage, to a 2-bedroom, 1,100 square foot condo in the heart of the city and we love it. The kids love sharing a room (they are working on sharing their toys). Having less space forces us to acquire less stuff and get out and do more.
While moving in, if things did not fit into the closets or kitchen cabinets, they were tossed. As I unpacked, I realized I hadn’t downsized quite enough and let go of a lot more things. But having cupboards and closets that do not explode when you open them, is deeply satisfying. I refuse to pay a monthly fee to house my stuff in a storage unit. Imagine the cost of a unit at $80 a month for just a year. That is $960. Is the stuff worth that much?
Rules to live with less stuff to have more life:
- When we are done with something — donate, sell, trash or recycle it right away.
- When purchasing a new article of clothing, remove an old one. Uses for the old clothing — cut it up to make cleaning rags, donate it or put it in the compost bin.
- If an item is used only once a year (i.e., holiday decorations), we don’t need it.
- No multiples — In the kitchen there were 4 spatulas, half a dozen serving spoons, 2 can openers and various garlic contraptions (all you really need is a knife).
- Buy things for many uses. I bought 4 barstools because we hosted a holiday party one year. After the party, 1 of them held bath towels and 3 were in storage.
- Everything must have a function — it must actually do something, hold our bodies or hold other functional things.
We are progressing in our pursuit to enjoy life with less stuff. It feels clean, liberating, and un-fussy.
I wrote this to show you how easy it is to keep acquiring stuff when we are not paying attention. I hope this post inspires you to evaluate the things you bring into your home and the things you bring into others’ homes.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jacqueline! You can also follow Jacqueline on Twitter and check out her blog for more of her adorable family's plant-based, minimalist tips.