On What I’ve Learned from Simplifying

Simply put: I’ve learned a lot of gratitude. For things, certainly. For people and the circumstances in my life, absolutely. Taking the time to consciously comb through the possessions in my house has also enabled me to do the same with my life and I have come to realize what a great life it is. Is it perfect? No. Are there bumps and disappointments and anxieties? Of course. But there is so much to be truly grateful for. And a feeling of contentment, with myself, my home, my relationships, everything, has spread everywhere.

I have discovered a beauty in simplicity. In making what I have work. I feel more creative, more free and more accomplished. I feel less lust for things and more lust for life. I spend less time cleaning up and more time checking items off my to-do list. I feel more confident and put together. Less like I’m faking it. And more like I’ve found what I truly care about.

simplicity is the way back to love

These past six months or so I’ve been seeking to really and truly simplify our home and our lives. I’ve cleaned out everything. Closets, storage, the kitchen, the toys, everything. It’s kind of a trendy thing right now, simplifying and downsizing, but it’s probably the best trend I could get on board with.

Because when you go through every inch of your house with the perspective of, “Do I really need this? Is this helping us?” it completely changes the way you look at new things about to come into your house. I mean, I love Target just as much as the next person. But now when I go in there, (which I surprisingly feel the need to do much less often) I see things as what they really are: just things.

I think there can be a tendency in our culture to really be defined by our stuff. And don’t get me wrong. I appreciate pretty clothes and good taste just as much as the next person. But pretty clothes don’t define a person. They don’t define me. The things in my closet or home don’t make me who I am. My mind, my heart, my compassion, my skills, the gifts I have to give… those are the things that define me. In fact, I would hate to be so caught up in appearances and accumulation that only that defines me. What kind of a life is that? What kind of a contribution is that?

After this experiment I started wearing less makeup and I cut down my wardrobe to a capsule wardrobe. I’m okay with the fact that skinny jeans aren’t made for me and I’m going to have to bide my time until boot cut jeans are available again. I’ve learned that I don’t need to impress anyone by the things that I own. I would rather inspire them by the way that I live.

Disclaimer: My life is not completely simplified. But it has come a long way. Here are some of the benefits I have experienced:

  1. I’ve stopped holding onto things out of guilt. Guilt is such a tricky little thing. It’s that nagging little voice that can keep us rooted firmly in the past, instead of embracing everything that the present is offering. For instance, I had clothes that I didn’t really like but this nagging thought of “I paid for this… so I have to keep it” kept these unworn things in my closet, as if keeping them would somehow make up for my financial mistake of purchasing them. It was easier to let go when I thought, as I told my kids, “this could be bringing someone else joy. So why am I hoarding it?”

    There’s also the guilt of sentiment… “someone I love gave me this so now I have to keep it forever.” The purpose of their gift was to show love and it has fulfilled that purpose, so I can give it away. Or, even harder to tackle, “this belonged to someone I love who is now deceased, so if I let go of this thing I’ll be letting go of them.” I don’t feel that need anymore. I’ve let go of that guilt, and even that assumption that they are defined by my possession of an object. I don’t have to keep the actual item interminably – I know their love. I carry it with me in my heart, in my memories of them. And I appreciate their love and friendship more than a tangible object can represent.

  2. It’s so much easier to say “no.” After intentionally paring down, giving away extras or things that we just don’t really need, it’s so much easier to say, “I’m okay without that.” It’s easier to admire all the pretty seasonal decorations, and then walk away, knowing full well that if I spent money on them, I would probably be ready to discard them before too long. In fact, going into stores in general has become a bit overwhelming, when I see everything through the eyes of a box of future Goodwill donations.
  3. And because it’s easier to say no, it becomes easier to say yes to the things that will actually improve my life! I had been wanting to get a food processor for years, but always put it off thinking that they were too expensive. Well, when I stopped spending that money on smaller, useless things, I could buy the food processor and it is amazing. I use it constantly and I feel so much better about that purchase than about one that would be wasted before too long. Simplifying shouldn’t just be about decluttering in this moment… but in saying no to letting junk invade your life and home in general.
  4. And with that comes an appreciation for what I do already have. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo talks to her things out loud, thanking them for a job well done. While I haven’t gone as far as talking to my things, I do take the conscious effort to look at something and be thankful for it. I’m thankful for my handbag that helps me carry everything I need for the day. I’m thankful for my water bottle that keeps me hydrated. Paying attention to these little things makes them feel like luxuries (and in fact… they really are luxuries if you think about it!). And that gratitude makes it easier for me to stop being on the lookout for a better this or a better that. Mine is working just fine. I don’t need anything else.
  5. It has made me re-think almost everything I do to ask myself, is this the best use of my time? My family’s time? Our resources? We have practiced saying no to cluttering up our house, and we can say no to cluttering up our lives. Which, in turn, means we can say yes to the things we do want to do. Basically, it has taught me to be very conscientious about how we make decisions. (And not letting guilt factor in was a pretty huge lesson here, too.) After decluttering our schedule, we’ve been able to find that lost time for things that were important to us, but were being put off. Like having friends over for dinner or starting a book club. That nagging to-do list of projects is actually getting accomplished because I don’t feel so drained by the mere task of keeping up with the daily chores. (Although I’ll just throw it out there that if we didn’t have to make dinner every. single. night, that would be nice. Ha!)
  6. Practicing letting go of tangible objects has made it easier to let go of intangible things – maybe ideas about how things are supposed to be, or guilt over past misdeeds, even the idea that the things I have are what defines me. I have noticed less anxiety in my relationships. I quit following people on social media who made me feel lacking or like I needed to buy more things to be special and cool and authentic. I unsubscribed from all those deals emails that were cluttering up my mind with thinking I needed more, more, more. It has freed me to be more content with myself, while also truly enjoying the people and things that I do choose to make a priority. I feel more confident in my decision-making abilities, because I’ve practiced making little decisions that had a big payout.
  7. I don’t keep things for a special occasion or “just in case.” Thomas Morton once said, “Don’t keep things for a special occasion. Everyday of your life is a special occasion.” I’ve cleaned out so much storage with that very thing in mind. What good is my grandmother’s crystal if it’s sitting in a box in the basement? Either I’m going to use it and enjoy it and yes, risk it getting broken, or I’m going to let it bring joy to someone else. Because it’s doing nobody any good in storage. If you love it, use it. Enjoy it! If you don’t love it, lose it. Let it fulfill it’s purpose elsewhere.
  8. Tidying is easier and cleaning is less of a chore. Let’s be honest. If you walked in my door right now, you would see pillows and blankets strewn about. A counter and sink full of dirty dishes, so many school papers that Ellie just brought home on the dining room table, toys and socks littering the hallway. But if you gave me a 15 minute warning, I would feel pretty confident in my ability to tidy almost everything up. It gets way less chaotic than it used to around here. And since everything has it’s place, putting it back in it’s place is easier, even if it doesn’t happen immediately. (Because who honestly does that? I alway read these tips about tidying your house and how you should wash every dish the moment you are done using it and that just doesn’t seem practical with kids, especially ones too small to wash their own dishes… Those must be tips for homes with only adults in them…?)
    So it’s not perfectly tidy all the time. We live here, and it’s messy a lot. But it is easier to maintain with less meaningless stuff invading every corner. I find that keeping things clean is much simpler and less time-consuming than it used to be.
  9. Basically, it all comes down to this: choosing what we own is choosing how we want to live our lives. Ellie and I were talking today about how all of our actions have reactions, everything we do has a consequence, whether good or bad. Because I feel powerful in my ability to say no to unnecessary accumulation, I feel like I am actually making a choice about how I live my life. I am less a victim of marketing and sales and peer pressure and more in control of my time, my mental space, and my desire to bring something good to the world around me.

Simplifying has changed so many things for me. It has sharpened my senses and increased my gratitude and contentedness in a world thirsting for more. It has sharpened my decision-making skills, helped me clarify what I think is important and develop a system for actually accomplishing those things. I guess there’s a reason that Marie Kondo calls it, “The Life-Changing Magic.”

P.S. Attempting a capsule wardrobe is really what got me started on this journey. And I love it so much that I will sing it’s praises to anyone. It’s so practical and easy to maintain that I’ve made sure my kids and husband have one, too. There’s lots of info out there about capsule wardrobes for adults (try here and here if you’re interested), but not much on how to do one for kids. But I’ll be back with some thoughts on the subject.

P.P.S. If you want to start simplifying but feel overwhelmed by the prospect, I’d recommend “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. It’s a best-seller for a reason. Although there are parts that might seem (really) weird, the basic premise and guidelines are super helpful. Especially helpful, I think, are the specific categories to tackle and the order in which to tackle them. I think it was no coincidence that this started for me by a thorough decluttering of my wardrobe. // More practical ideas to come in another post.

2 thoughts on “On What I’ve Learned from Simplifying

  1. This post was just what I needed to read today. I definitely see the trend in downsizing and simplifying on a large scale through blogs etc. However, I don’t see it so much in my specific area which makes it hard when I’m trying to describe what I want my personal/family goals to be with those around me who are waiting and going for more and bigger. I found you through your Design Mom feature and check in periodically. Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Hi Kelli!
      So glad you stopped by! Isn’t funny how it’s like a microtrend to downsize, and yet there are still so many who want more and more. When I first started talking about how decluttering was changing my life, I was met with a lot of “Huh?” Which is partly why I wanted to put all my thoughts on how beneficial it has been all in one place.
      In a book club this past month we read and discussed Marie Kondo’s book, and it was thrilling to hear the different ways people had been inspired, and the unexpected joy they had found in thoughtfully cultivating their home, whether a house full of kids, or a tiny studio apartment.
      Best of luck to you in your journey! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

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