A year and a half ago, Ethan and I got rid of over half of our stuff, and we have never looked back. This is the story of our family reclaiming our home, and at the end a list of action steps if you need help starting a similar process.
So. Much. Stuff.
Despite my frugality, Ethan and I accumulated a lot of possessions during our first five years of marriage. We had started with an almost empty duplex, yet within a few short years… I was buried under the weight of stuff.
Some accumulation is inevitable: We set up that first home with basic furnishings and we had two children within those first three years of marriage who needed clothing and baby gear.
However beyond basic needs, our Cleveland suburb had some particularly awesome Facebook marketplace groups that made finding really good deals on things I never knew I “needed” so easy. I could just zip on over to a nearby street for that toy, furnishing, or accessory that was a steal. We had a big storage room down in our basement that made it easy to justify bringing more treasures home, since there was always space to put extra stuff in.
That duplex was a humble 2 bed-room size, and over time I grew to believe I was simply not a great homemaker because it felt like the house was always a mess. I started to watch tons of Youtube videos on organization thinking that if I could just find the right system I’d get it sorted once and for all.
When the organization videos didn’t work, I suspected the problem was simply because we lived in a two bedroom duplex. If I had a big house, then it would be clean.
I felt the weight of constantly wading through a sea of stuff, endlessly tidying.
I felt guilt if I wasn’t cleaning when I was reading, blogging, or just playing with the girls.
I felt the stress of every last surface or space under a bed or in a closet always having to be the home for some random thing, plus a few things that weren’t supposed to even be there.
I felt so defeated that I could plough through a bunch of tidying and the next day you’d never know it with the clutter.
My home was a battleground and I was exhausted.
We had done a decent decluttering of the house once when Zelie was a baby. I saw it made life so much easier, but because I made no changes to our habits on reducing what came through the door, the reprieve didn’t last more than a couple months.
How We Minimized
I shifted my Youtube video watching focus from organizing to minimalism. I came to terms with the fact that the problem wasn’t my organization skills, my work ethic, or how I spent my time. We had too much junk, and you simply cannot out-organize too much stuff. And once we minimized, we had to be vigilant about letting clutter accumulate.
I knew that our move to Nebraska was the perfect time to really minimize everything. I’d say we got rid of about 35% of our stuff during this process, and how I wish I’d taken more photos of what I moved out of that house.
I would take a cupboard, closet, or shelf and start packing; strict as I chose what was coming with us, and what had to go. I constantly asked myself if this was something that we legitimately loved or used. Was it really worth bringing hundreds of miles away?
When we got to the duplex in Nebraska we had a somewhat rude awakening. Even though it was also a two-bedroom, this apartment was much smaller than we were expecting, and there was *way* less storage space than our Cleveland duplex.
We quickly saw that we were not going to be able to keep our already greatly reduced amount of possessions. This brought about purge #2.
If Purge #1 before the move was considered thorough, Purge #2 could be called ruthless. We took multiple van loads to thrift stores. I won’t lie, it hurt a little.
I didn’t need seasonal wreaths with no where to store them or books that we had enjoyed and never planned to read again in the future. We could no longer house enough artwork and statues to decorate an entire Catholic church. Our limited space would not allow for boxes of toys that the girls only sometimes enjoyed or extra entertaining things for the kitchen like lots of platters and pretty bowls that were nice to have but rarely used.
What is sad is that I cannot even tell you most of what we got rid of! That sadness I initially felt was quickly replaced by a sense of relief! There have only been maybe one or two times I regretted something given away out of the hundreds of items donated or sold.
In the end, we have gotten rid of over 50% of our possessions from the time we moved to now.
This time, I changed our intake habits. For the last year and a half since downsizing, I have been very faithful about reducing what we bring into our home. I don’t browse Facebook marketplace or jump on something because it is free. If I can make due with less, I absolutely do, and it’s made all the difference in our lives!
What We Gained
What did we gain from giving away so much?
We got our lives back.
There is empty space in lots of spots in our home that before would have been “places to fill” in my mind.
I am no longer buried in stuff all of the time. We can say “let’s clean the house” on Saturday afternoon, and in about 30 minutes Ethan and I can have the whole place in great shape. There is no longer guilt about doing something other than cleaning. We don’t feel endless overwhelm from trying to manage and out organize too much stuff.
We have surfaces like our mantle that I can make beautiful because I don’t need the space to house a ton of junk, and the hearth is just open space, not storage for who knows what I would have “neatly” stacked on it before.
We easily exist in a two bedroom condo right now, with just a thin wall of extra storage in our garage. The only thing that goes under our bed is a tub of cloth diapers if someone is currently wearing them.
My days no longer revolve around constantly cleaning, and there is a mental relief when you don’t bear the weight of caring for, repairing, and storing so much stuff.
Now, I want to make sure that I’m not giving you an unrealistic expectation of our lives… our house gets messy. I have to tidy every day. There will be individual pockets every day where the kitchen or living room is crazy… but it can be restored so quickly because everything that we do have has a designated spot that it can easily be returned to.
And since minimizing is not a one time thing, but a constant process (especially with kids!), sometimes things need a reset.
It has been a year since we moved into our current condo, and some closets and cupboards were starting to get out of hand. So I went through each spot and got rid of anything we no longer wanted/needed that had accumulated, and I fine tuned whatever organization system had gotten neglected over the year. But it wasn’t super time consuming; just a couple weeks of tackling a spot or two a day and everything was re-minimized and re-set.
Since purging our lives of stuff we don’t need, my house is place that can be maintained, not a battle field that I go to war with every day.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. I fully realize a family with eight kids will need more things than our family does with two. I know as the girls get older and we have children of a much wider age range that it will come with more hobby supplies or toys that appeal to older kids and not just the littles.
Not everyone will be happy with as little as we have. (Some of you may think it looks like we have a ton compared to your personal level of minimalism!)
There will be different seasons and circumstances, and there is no one “minimalistic” ideal that we all are supposed to shoot for.
What I do know is that if we have way more than we need, we will likely suffer from the burden, and it will impact us day in and day out.
Steps to Take
I have been asked a lot how to actually start. Here is what I would suggest:
- Pick a timeline to finish by so this doesn’t drag on forever. Make it long enough to be realistic for you to go through your home, but not so long that you lose steam and momentum. Think in terms of weeks, not months.
- Make a full list of every room, closet, or storage area in your home so that you can cross them off as you go.
- Work how you work best. Ethan and I like to work for longer stretches of time and tackle a bunch at once, but some people will do better setting a timer for 20 minutes and then taking a break
- Start in one corner and move from there. Just focus on this one end table, this one cupboard, this one shelf, etc. Don’t see the entire closet or room and be overwhelmed, one bite at a time!
- Separate out trash, donate, and sell piles, but take action on them. I take photos of things to sell and immediately post them for a low prices to get them gone. If they aren’t gone within two weeks, I donate. You don’t want sell or donate piles to accumulate forever. Handle them ASAP!
- Stop justifying keeping something because of what was spent on it. That money is gone, and keeping something that you no longer use doesn’t make the money come back, plus you get the added burden of dealing with it constantly.
- If you just aren’t sure on an item, put in a box and whatever hasn’t been used in 3 months gets donated.
- Ask yourself if this item is worth having – does it serve you enough by its usefulness or beauty to deal with it every day? Some things will be worth their utility and beauty, but not everything when the cumulative burden makes us feel buried, even if all of these things are nice.
Oh How Little We Can Live With
The biggest take away I’ve gotten from all of this is how little we can live with and still be happy.
Our girls have incredibly simple capsule wardrobes and Ethan and I share a closet and one small dresser.
All of our girls’ toys and books easily fit in their room now, and we strive to keep only enough so we can clean the room in 10 – 15 minutes. This means our living room is no longer full of their toys, making it much less overwhelming to just deal with the few toys that make it out there during the day.
I don’t think a guest has ever noticed that I only have one serving platter and that I use our white dinner plates for food set out at a party.
I went so long using a spare kombucha bottle as a rolling pin that when I finally got a real replacement rolling pin from a church friend who was getting rid of it, I always forgot to use it! One of those kombucha bottles I need anyway works just as well…
We used to have a bathroom overflowing with consumable products, and now we have my very simple makeup bag, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste. (Guess what, goat milk soap works just as well lathered up as shaving cream. I haven’t bought shaving cream in so long!)
I could go on and on, but you get the point. We have learned to make less work, and in the end, it makes our home really work for us, not the other way around.
There are a few things I would like to have more of one day when we have a bigger home like another large bookshelf. Perhaps when we have a two-car garage we could find the space to store slightly more seasonal decor for our home. Those things would really be nice, but are certainly things I am happy to forego now in our current small space in order to have the peace that our current level of minimalism brings.