Searching for simplicity versus the accumulation of stuff is striking a chord in our culture. Identifying a new and improved way to live our lives and how to handle our resources has taken hold. No longer are we enamoured by excess. Rather, the opposite is true. Shedding our overstuffed spaces for a simpler way of life is now fashionable and favoured.
Reflections on accumulating stuff
Stage 1: Leaving the nest. All my worldly goods fit into a steamer trunk and a couple of suitcases as I headed for university and dorm living.
Stage 2: Apartment living. Several friends and I moved into an apartment. Along with my trunk and suitcases, I had a few crates of books and binders from my years of higher learning. Beds, table, chairs, pots, pans and dishes were given to us or borrowed.
Stage 3: Newlyweds. Our worldly goods consisted of Hubby’s sorry-looking easy chair with no legs plus an old oak desk, my rocking chair and sewing machine, a few crates that housed our books, and a mishmash of dishes, pots and pans. Wedding gifts included: a waterbed (so squishy and warm!), a lamp, a quilt, pottery, cutlery and about eight sets of Corning Ware casserole dishes. Cash gifts went towards: dishes, pots and pans, a tiny freezer, a real couch and matching chair, and a kitchen table and chairs.
Stage 4: And then comes baby. Seven moves and five years later, our family expanded to include our sweet daughter and son. It’s amazing how much gear those tiny humans generate. Tired of renting, wanting to settle in our own space, we purchased a 60 year old, 800 sqft home. Each room was miniscule. Even the yard and garden were postage-stamp size. The kitchen was especially cozy! It had 4 doorways, so the table fit tight against the one remaining wall. Sitting around the table was so convenient! The sink, stove and fridge were all in arm’s reach, so no one needed to get up (and in fact couldn’t) during the meal.
Stage 5: Another move. In anticipation of our move to a 2400 sqft 3 bedroom plus basement home, we purchased a dining room table and 6 chairs, along with a couch and loveseat. Our stuff grew along with every increase in space. Over the years, purchases and gifts piled up. Warehouse shopping stuffed the cupboards. Shelves and storage hid memorabilia and miscellany. Simple living had gradually succumbed to stuff and nonsense.
I suspect our story is similar to that of many others in our generation and our country. As people prosper they purchase homes with ever increasing square footage. And even that is not enough, as garages house even more stuff, leaving vehicles parked on driveways. Storage lockers are doing a booming business, found in every village and community.
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But how to downsize all that stuff?
Marie Kondo’s popular book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, has become THE how-to guide for those seeking to let go of too much stuff. The author suggests that clutter creates unnecessary stress. In order to achieve a tidier, simple, restful space, plan to eliminate everything that we do not love or do not need. By creating breathing room in our space, we too will breathe easier.
This concept is not especially new, but has gained momentum of late. Many resources are available for those who wish to explore the practices of decluttering and simplifying.
As I sketched out the outline for this week’s theme, other blog posts on decluttering arrived in my Inbox or came across my Facebook page. For example, kid-clutter can threaten to overwhelm even the tidiest, most organized home. Sandy Kreps of Green Child Magazine suggests ways families can reduce clutter as well as initiate a simpler schedule, in order to move away from “too much”.
The Minimalists offer several suggestions for decluttering including a Packing Party, and a 30-Day Minimalism Game.
5 lessons in releasing stuff
My journey towards a simpler space began while removing everything in several rooms to replace flooring and to repaint. I looked around at the newly empty rooms and had an “aha” moment. These spacious, clutter free rooms felt energizing and refreshing. Filling them up with clutter seemed wrong. Creating breathing room was more appealing than hanging on to stuff.
And so the purge began.
Goodbye old furniture that didn’t fit the space. Even though it had been with us for a long time and had served us well, it was time to let it go.
Lesson 1: let go of items that don’t serve your current situation
Several years ago we’d sold our old living room couches. We had put off replacing them. In light of achieving a simpler space, we decided not to buy couches at all. We spend 99% of our time in the family room anyway. During the winter the patio furniture gets “stored” in the living room. Problem solved.
Lesson 2: don’t feel obligated to fill every space
Then I scoured the cupboards and closets. If there were items that were rarely or never used, I sold them, gave them to others or to the thrift store. To some degree this was a difficult process, because I could remember when each piece was gifted to us or purchased. But, the desire to create breathing space was stronger than sentimentality.
Lesson 3: allow someone else to enjoy and use your items, rather than have them lurk in the back of your closets and cupboards
Next I tackled papers. Back in the “old days”, before the Internet or Pinterest, I collected craft ideas from magazines and stored them in binders. I actually managed to create some of the items, but the majority of them were in the realm of “some day”. Would I ever get around to making these craft projects? Unlikely. Into the recycling bin they went.
Lesson 4: if you haven’t used the paperwork for years, and you can access the same information online, let it go
Together, Hubby and I tackled the 2 car garage. Before the purge our storage consisted of a workbench with a shelf, two built-in wooden storage shelving units, a metal shelving unit, and two storage cupboards. The garage also houses 2 apartment size freezers, a cordless lawn mower, various gardening tools and both our vehicles. We are strongly committed to ensuring there is space for our vehicles in the garage. Over a period of weeks, we tackled each of the storage spaces, one at a time. Every item was removed, assessed, and either returned to that space or sold or thrifted. We purchased a few bins to organize some of the smaller items. We hung gardening tools on hooks. In the end, we had removed so many items that we were able to sell the metal shelving unit and one of the storage cupboards.
Lesson 5: tackle a big job in small steps, organizing one component at a time
I feel proud of the progress we’ve made so far. It hasn’t happened overnight, in fact it’s taken many months to get this far. And, yes, there’s more to do.
Overall, our space feels lighter and brighter, partly due to the new paint, and partly due to our deliberate efforts to reduce stuff.
I felt we’d reached a milestone when in the midst of a staff Christmas party in our house, with twenty-plus people milling about, one of the guests commented: “I love what you’ve done in your home, it feels so calm and relaxing”.
How encouraging! By eliminating excess stuff, we have begun to create a calm and relaxing space that is worth coming home to.