I am regularly asked by readers, friends, and family about how to simplify their homes and lives - after all, we downsized from 1600+ square feet to not quite 160 square feet, right? I must know a little something about how to seriously de-clutter. I find that I struggle to put my process into words at times - yet I definitely ran the show. Ellen struggled with letting go of her things far more than I did, and I coached her through plenty of boxes, closets, and shelves during the time we spent letting go of more than 95% of our possessions. This isn't a new topic to discuss - do a quick Google search and you'll find a myriad of techniques on how to live with less. However, there aren't many of us that have to live with less - most of the population, myself now included (post-Airstream living) have plenty of space in our homes to hold all the things. This is where I think I have a unique perspective, as when we decided to live and travel in an Airstream for a year of our lives, we had just ten percent of the space we'd been living in to work with. It wasn't just decluttering, it was a serious purge that took a year and a half of our lives and we continued to shed excess stuff on the road, including a rug that was too large for the space (and developed a smell), speakers, dishes, and clothing.
When we returned to stationary life, I had five tops, three pairs of pants, four pairs of shoes (including hiking boots and sandals), and one jacket. We sold our Airstream in California and returned east with everything we owned packed into our 4Runner, which meant that we left quite a bit behind. It felt incredible to know that I didn't need a bunch of stuff - and now that we've had the chance to start from scratch, we've filled our house with the bare essentials and invested in pieces we know we will keep and use for years to come. We are mindfully purchasing clothing as needed, deliberately selecting versatile clothing in neutrals that we can wear in multiple situations, from job interviews and work environments to date nights, from working out to hiking/exploring and attending yoga class to lounging around the house.
Having next to nothing has given me a fresh, eye-opening perspective on how stuff had a very (tight) grip on me. I held onto so many things for fear of needing them later, items of clothing that were too large or small (in case my weight shifted drastically?), and had so many things I didn't even like. Recognizing why I was so afraid of letting it go before we started to pare down was incredibly helpful - for me, the things that I could afford while working multiple jobs as a single mom were points of pride. I loved that I could find a deal and put in some elbow grease to make something pretty for my home - I didn't want to let go of those broke single mama trophies...I made sure that no matter how poor I actually was, my home and my clothing didn't reflect that...even if I was thrifting everything from furniture to blouses. Those items, although not necessarily my taste, represented my versatility, creativity, and ingenuity from that time in my life.
Even now, I still want to purchase things that aren't quite what I want - but the price tag looks really good. Case in point...we were looking for a worn pine French-country farm table for our dining room - my dream table, one I've wanted since I was a nerdy kid devouring interior design books at the local library, but I was about to settle for a replica a third of the price, one that was clearly not what I actually wanted...but with a little elbow grease, I could make it look "kind of like what I want", my words to my wife in argument for getting it. I am so thankful that she put her foot down, reminding me that I didn't need to settle any longer - that we could purchase what we actually wanted. We returned home, I hopped on Etsy, and within minutes had found and ordered the perfect table, a French farm table from the 1800s.
I want to encourage you all today, if you are struggling with a mountain of possessions - to question your reasons for holding on. Is it overwhelming to think about diving in and starting to sort through? I find that many of the how-to guides don't address the emotional holds our things have on us. Before you begin your de-cluttering process, spend some time writing about why you want to live with less, and why you can't quite get started...or walk through the rooms of your home, taking a few minutes to sit in each. How do the rooms make you feel?
I want to continue to write freely about my journey to simplicity and my goal to remain so here on the blog in the coming weeks and months, but even more so, would love to hear and share your stories. Please feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email with questions, comments, or how you desire or do live with less.