The Art of Simplifying (For Real People)

Cleaning out clutter is all the rage. We can’t get enough of the Container Store. Two guys known as “The Minimalists” are touring the country with their evangelism of simplicity. Millions of people are watching Marie Kondo’s folding videos on YouTube. We’re consigning, repurposing and swapping. And have you seen the Project 333 challenge? Would you narrow your wardrobe to 33 items for three months? A challenge indeed!

There comes a time in life when many of us get serious about living simply. Usually it happens when you enter an alternative universe known as THE EMPTY NEST. Many people in this life phase scale back not only what they own, but where and how they live.

Having just completed this transition {and it’s glorious} I have some advice to offer. Downsizing is not for everyone. If you envision Kardashian-like parties or host many out of town relatives for Norman Rockwell–inspired gatherings, this is probably not for you. Stop reading. Right now. Seriously. If you’ve noticed that there are rooms you never go in, or if you own a set of wedding china that has not seen the light of day, I invite you to read on.

We traded in a 2,300 square-foot two-story colonial with a large fenced and manicured yard for a 1,600 sq. ft. ranch on a woodland lot on the cusp of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We overlook a ravine and a stream, and we have a killer deck with a million dollar view. There were, however, many tradeoffs. For instance, we no longer have a basement so a lot of “stuff” from our former lifestyle had to go.

“How hard could it be?” we thought to ourselves.

Living in a smaller, natural footprint brings us daily joy, but getting here required some very tough choices…and some not so tough. It’s easy to get rid of coffee mugs with funny sayings, marinara-stained Tupperware and outdated baby items. It is much harder to say goodbye to wedding gifts, bulky heirloom furniture and a collection of books for that awesome library room you were going to make one day.

Downsizing and living minimally requires making tough choices. It will test your mettle and possibly your marriage. The plus side? The things you value will never be more clear. It is quite freeing and you will learn a lot about yourself. You will have room for new things that express who you are at this new and exciting stage.

If you need to make a big life change such as a move, or if you just want to live a little more simply, here are some tips to consider as you get started:

  1. Get clear on your motivation. In our case it was a move that would allow us to be more in touch with nature, and allow us greater freedom in the long run.
  1. If you love it and use it, or have a specific future use in mind, keep it. If you can’t identify a use for it, you don’t get excited about it or you don’t know where to put it, then let it go.
  1. Get excited about the act of donating. Your extra, unused pots and pans or family room furniture can help a refugee family make a new start. You can earn some extra cash for an awesome vacation selling just about anything on a buy-sell-trade Facebook page or the LetGo app.
  1. Consider a storage unit for questionable items— but limit yourself to one year. If you have not missed it in that time frame then you know what to do!
  1. Avoid building up random stuff again. You do not need to grab extra soy sauce or ketchup packets and you don’t need to stockpile greeting cards or 75 percent off Christmas decorations. Live in the moment and buy things when you need them, or when they speak to you. It’s really fun to start from scratch and buy things with intention.
  1. Use and enjoy everything you choose to keep. Notice how your special things stand out because they are not competing to be seen. Pass along some things you no longer find useful to others. Share a book you enjoyed. Fill your unused vases with fresh flowers and give them away. Donate your “library” to a senior center. Start small with simple acts of generosity.
  1. Remember that purging is personal so do what feels right. No one can tell you what holds value to you. And you can’t expect everyone to get on the minimalism train. It’s really hard commit to living simply in a world full of marketing messages telling us we need more things.

So take advantage of a stellar sale, but be sure you don’t have something similar {or identical – whoops} in the multiple laundry in baskets around the house. If something you want to buy will bring you a few moments of joy, treat yourself.

Displace the desire to have things with a desire to experience things and your enjoyment will be compounded.

I’ve found that removing our clutter has freed our minds, our time and our space. It gave us more room for the things we really value and enjoy and a clear on understanding of what’s really important.




About author View all posts

Lisa Sands

I live for great food, dog love, deep conversations and meeting new people. I am old enough to know my truth, and to know the difference between the things that matter most and what is poison to the soul. I wake up every day with an intention to make my life joyful, abundant and amazing. I make a living as a marketing/communications professional and I indulge my passion for food as a writer and blogger for Edible Cleveland.

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Very practical advice. I’m at an age where I felt the need to do the same and slowly over 2 years donated possessions to various charitable organizations. Many things still in excellent condition were acquired 50 years ago. Two things that made decisions difficult were either emotional attachment or admitting that it had been a mistake to buy it to begin with; so in essence I’d wasted my money on the latter. I had people in my age group who questioned why I was doing this and my answer was that I’d enjoyed living with these things for 30-40 years and now it was time for them to get a second home with someone else. Antiques went to the WVIZ annual auction, other items to Goodwill, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, The Discovery Shop, The City Mission. Several of these places will pick up furniture in good condition. It’s a good feeling to know that someone else will benefit from your donations. My parents left me a house where 70 years of stuff was acquired and retained. I vowed I wouldn’t do this to my daughters and will continue to work at keeping that vow.

    • I don’t think I have the sentimental gene that makes me want to hold on – that helps! I even parted ways with my wedding dress pretty easily. You were successful in my eyes and you list some great resources that will gladly accept items you no longer need. Thank you!

  • Great tips. We lived in 800 square feet with two toddlers while we built our custom home. My approach to clutter and keeping what is useful and meaningful rings true in our new home which is substantially larger. More space doesn’t mean more stuff! Having less helps tremendously in keeping three kids six and under organized. They can easily grab an outfit, locate art supplies and find a favorite toy because the closets, cabinets and built-ins have room to breathe and so do we!!!

    • Yes, actually we need to improve closets and their efficiency. I understand how that can be a great help! Did you use a system, or make something yourself when you built?

  • Oh my, this post could not have been more timely. My husband and I are in the midst of trying to find a new smaller house to move into now that we are empty nesters. But anything below 1,800 square feet makes me break out in a cold sweat. And the thought of not having a basement to put things in is overwhelming.

    I am going to print this post out and read it over several more times, especially before we go look at the next house. Maybe it will finally get me to the point of cutting away the clutter and moving on.

    Thanks for posting.

    • 1800 feet is still small! Start out with the obvious things. Check out The Minimalists – in fact they are in town on Sunday June 25. Their website is great and they have a few challenges and activities to help get you started.

  • Lisa this is awesome!! One question: what to do with boxes of memories: photos, old work projects, writing, etc. any thoughts?

    By the way, your voice continues to get stronger. I love your writing!!

    • I think that is a winter project for us – and it is a hard one for those of us who have boxes of photos from the pre-digital age! I think setting aside time to look at everything is hard, but what fun it is to go through memories. I know we’ve managed to get loose and random things in about six of those “photo boxes” and we have most digital items backed up on an external drive. My goal is to make a few new albums for us and at least one for our son to take as he starts his own family.

  • One more tip – take photos of things you are attached to but no longer have a need or room for. You can make an album, frame the photo or just keep it on your computer/phone to visit. I am working on this now. It’s HARD to get rid of the sentimental stuff!!!

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