Thank you so much for all your kind and thoughtful comments on the money post. My dear friend Kyce has a terrific post currently about living with less, so be sure to hop over and read that as well. And please do share your own inspirations with us below.
Like Kyce, I must admit that living simply comes naturally to me in some ways. I love many traditional crafts and skills and handwork, and I get a big kick out of decluttering our house (or a friends house!). Even so, when my husband and I bought a home five years ago, it was quickly filled with junk. Some wonderful, meaningful things, but mostly junk. Many family members gave us furniture and home goods, which was a blessing, and we also lost three grandmothers in a row, and inherited some of their possessions. At first, it was really exciting to have so much, but it quickly became oppressive. Our house was impossible to clean, there were rooms I couldn’t even go into, and I began to dream of living in a tiny, 900 sq foot home. I realized that in order to fit us into a tiny home, I would have to get rid of a lot of stuff, and so I got started, even though we weren’t even actively looking for a different house.
Over the past five years, I’ve given away over half of our belongings. I’ve sold a few big things, but mostly I’ve taken loads to the thrift stores. I started with the most obvious things – broken items, things we had never used, clothes that didn’t fit. For me, there was definitely a feeling of moving through layers – I would clear away one layer of stuff, and reveal another layer beneath (sometimes treasures that we had forgotten about, or just couldn’t appreciate because there was so much other junk). It was harder to give away gifts, or items from family, but as our home became less cluttered and more beautiful, it became easier to see what belonged. Did we find it beautiful? Was it useful? Did it hold too much symbolism, like Ben’s father’s flute, to part with?
This simple practice transformed our house, which sometimes felt like a not-very-clean hotel, into somewhere we wanted to be. Rather than feeling deprived of all that stuff, we feel enlivened by having a home we can truly enjoy.
Along with giving away so much, we became extremely picky about what we allowed to come into our home. I’m no saint, and I’ve certainly continued to make purchases I regret – but when I do, I don’t hold on to them just because it’s painful to admit that I made a mistake! (This is a big one, by the way, it’s amazing how many things we keep that we don’t really want, just because getting rid of them means admitting to ourselves that they don’t work.) We try to be very conscious about our buying – do we actually need it? (Usually the answer is no.) Where will it go in our house? Could we borrow one instead? Was it made by a real person, paid fairly for their work? What resources were used to create it?
When I think I want something, I often try waiting for a few weeks or months, and then see if I still want it. This simple tool is very powerful – what seems so urgent to us at one time may feel very different when we give it some space. When we do need to buy something, we try very, very hard to buy it from real people – small, independent companies using ecological, fair practices. Where we buy our goods is a habit, and it takes time to change our habits. When we first wanted to stop buying from chain stores, it was hard. We had to really think, where else could I get this? For clothes, it’s usually the thrift store, or trying to sew it myself. Some items, like wool long johns and underwear, we do buy new, so we buy them from good companies. For books, we went from frequent book buyers to avid users of inter-library loan and sparse book purchasers. For our daughter, we buy 95% of her clothes from the used kids stores, and many of her toys have come from there as well. We have bought some new toy/play items because we don’t want plastic toys, and wooden toys are really hard to find secondhand.
It may seem strange to talk about simplifying the clutter in our homes as a means to combat climate change, but I believe that we are bombarded by junk in our homes, it can be hard to make other changes. Clutter is sticky – it invites more clutter, and it is a time suck because we spend a lot of time looking for lost items (or buying things we already have but can’t find). When we don’t find our homes beautiful, peaceful, it can be hard to engage in the work of a more beautiful, more peaceful world. I believe we make a huge impact with our buying choices (and Mamas, you make most of the buying choices in your household – remember that!) Monetarily speaking, even though we choose to spend more on some items, like shoes made by real people, or organic cotton clothing, overall we spend far far less than the average American.
I want to talk next about some of the “big” things we’ve chosen to live without. Please share with us in the comments about your own experiences with clutter and giving things away!
Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (a fantastic book all around, with a great section on decluttering)
No Impact Man, by Colin Beaven (his blog and book both have some interesting reads on consuming less and getting rid of junk)
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (a really good book, with a section on decluttering and buying less)