There’s a question that’s been popping up in my email inbox of late. It seems to be a widespread thought that’s running through the minds of people who are contemplating a lifestyle change from living with more to living with less. The following is my reply to the question that reads something like this:
I want to learn to live small. Yet, it is hard to let go of "stuff". Did you face this dilemma? If so, how did you decide what to keep and what to let go of? – a reader named Jeanie
Ah, this pull to live smaller and more simply is a strong one, isn’t it? For many of us, the anticipation of this lifestyle change is also full of many unknowns. Yes, we faced (and still do) the dilemma of letting go, yet we had also come to the place where we were very ready to start off loading. The liberation that we anticipated was a great motivator for us to distill our things down to a meaningful quantity.
But, where to start?
I would say, first of all, begin with your heart. I don’t mean to sound sappy or cliché, but you truly do need to have an understanding of your heart and what your convictions are, what your passions are, what your priorities are, and what your interests are. What is important to you as an individual? What is important to you as a family? A clear definition is a strong foundation on which to build and it will be a guiding force in your journey toward simplicity. For my husband and I, this defining came about very naturally and organically, through contemplation and conversation over time. Begin to think about it and talk about it, and you will see the concrete foundation start to form.
You may then want to pick up a pen and paper, to put down in ink those things that you’ve discovered and defined. Some people are page-fillers, others are bullet-pointers; go ahead and write it your way (and know that this writing doesn’t have to be saved forever, either. Grin).
A good thing to remember as you begin moving toward the purging process is that you’re actually going to have more with this less. You won’t have the amount of stuff and clutter to care for and upkeep, therefore, your time and space will be more open to what is meaningful to you – a good motivator, for sure.
Now, about the actual purging. It may be good for you to imagine you and your family going on a one or two week trip where you will need clothes for warm and cool/cold weather (this will help to define how few clothes you actually need), some simple kitchen items to prepare meals with along the way, things to keep each person occupied – favorite story books, a game or two, one favorite softie for each child (yes, our boys each had one), something to draw or write with, knitting for mom, a book for dad – a laptop, and an expandable accordion file with bills, stamps, checkbook, and immediately important documents inside – a traveling office of sorts. Obviously, you’d fill in these blanks for your family’s interests and needs, but it gives you an idea of how to begin the thinking process. Then, expand from there and add in things beyond this initial inclusion, but only those things that you love or need, knowing that you’re not actually going on a two week car trip, but on a new life adventure in a small dwelling (that will most likely be much larger than a car!)
When we were in this initial planning/purging stage, I literally went room by room, and family member by family member in my mind with an eye to see what was most important to each of us. This helped to define the interests and needs of each person. Maybe it would help if I described a bit about how I did this?
Our oldest son loves to draw and he’s continually writing screenplays and working on a film production of one sort or another. In our larger house, he had a big, beautiful drafting table. It wasn’t going to fit in the little house, but we still wanted to accommodate these talents of his and give them place, so I was thrilled the day I found a small drafting table for $20 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore that would fit in the loft of the little house! He sold his big table and happily pocketed the money!
Our middle son learned to fly fish a couple summers ago, and built his own fly rod the following winter. He’s also interested in tying his own dry flies, so that went into the small house plan, and now there’s a table in the loft for him to do just that.
Our youngest son is the resident guitarist, which means that he plays and collects guitars (love). He’s got three, including an electric guitar and amp, and they each have a place in this little house.
Of course, in this stage (ages 14, 11, 9), electronics have become a part of our boys’ lives. They have a desktop computer with a flat screen TV that doubles as a monitor in the loft. There is a ps3 in a cabinet beside the computer desk up there, and they can listen to Pandora or iTunes playlists via the TV or the Beats Pill (love that we don’t have to have a CD collection anymore). Toys have now been replace by football gear and airsoft equipment, which has a place in the shed, but somehow finds its way upstairs and underneath boy bunks!
My husband is an outdoor guy who loves to fish, hike, hunt, boat, or throw the football with the boys. His top personal indoor interest is reading, which is easily accommodated in any house (most of our books are kept in the ‘library shed’ – our storage shed that holds all our outdoor gear and tools, plus two full-size bookcases).
I enjoy putting words on paper, so a desk in a writing nook was planned for me. Sewing, knitting, and crochet are also interests of mine. I have one shelf (yes, just one!) in the wardrobe to the right of my desk that holds these supplies, and a basket of knitting sits on the floor next to the chair in the living room. On a shelf behind that chair (will) sit art supplies for when the boys and I sit down for sketching and painting (yes, the settling and placing of things is still happening around here).
When it came to the kitchen, I had an idea of what a basic kitchen looked like from having lived for seven months in the camper by the river. It was literally plates, bowl, cups, mugs, flatware, basic knives, a wooden spoon, a serving spoon, turner, spatula, cheese grater, two mixing bowls, cutting board, measuring cups & spoons, a toaster, coffee maker, mini blender, three sauce pots, and two skillets (I used a water bottle as a rolling pin!). For the cabin kitchen, I wanted the basics, plus a bit more. I do a fair amount of cooking and baking, so having my full set of baking pans, cookware, and tools again was like Christmas. I do not have a lot of gadgets, but prefer quality basic tools instead – things like professional knives, stainless steel whisks, and crockery mixing bowls (you may see a full kitchen tour here).
As with all the other purging decisions, my guiding point was recognizing what I loved and used and separating that from what I didn’t. I got rid of extras and doubles and most of the things that I would only use once a year. And some things, I honestly didn’t know whether to keep or toss. In this case, I boxed it up, labeled it, and waited. After living in the cabin for over a year, I now know what I’m going to do with those boxed up things (some will stay, most will go). Purging in stages is good.
For us, the reducing and paring down process was never an effort in nothingness, nor was it an experiment in coming to the fewest number of things we could own. It was finding our true selves and a clarity that gave us permission to release everything else.
It was the sweet spot of enough.
Wishing you the best of success in your journey toward less,