“…most Americans suffer from “possession overload’, the problem of dealing with too much stuff”. The average supermarket contains 30,000 items, two and a half times as many as it did 20 years ago [note added by me: that was 1990, people!]. To keep these largely useless items, homes have become twice the size they were in the 1950s, though the family size has shrunk. Typically, American homes now have 2,300 sq. ft. and three garages. But even this is not sufficient. There are now more than 30,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S. providing over a billion square feet of storage space. The authors point out that this industry has grown 40-fold since the 1960s, when it was insignificant, to one with an annual turnover of $12 billion now, making it bigger than the music industry in America.”
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I’ve had a life-changing shift occur in me recently. It’s something I’ve been thinking about constantly for the past almost 6-months. I’ve wanted to write about it here for nearly as long as that, but I have never been able to organize my thoughts. I still don’t think I have, but I also feel a burning inside to just write so here I am.
I’m not sure what exactly started the shift in me. It came about slowly and just built with time. I do know that a large proponent to the shift was following the journey of some of our friends who moved from this …
Blake and Sarah moved their family from one of the wealthiest places in the world (California) to the poorest (Lima, Peru) to work with Krochet Kids. Sarah writes openly, vulnerably and bravely on their blog about all they have learned and how hard the move has been.
The initial reading of how they sold nearly everything they owned to move to one of the poorest areas in the world was mind-blowing to me (and, holy crap, with their four young kids, too!).
While following their journey I found myself becoming more and more aware of all kinds of things big and small. The abundance of coats we had in our closet, the storage units sprawling across our country, the perfectly good clothes I was putting on Charley to realize she had outgrown (only having worn them a few times), the piles outside of the Goodwill I pass on a daily basis where people have ditched stuff when they weren’t open, the utensil drawer in my kitchen that often gets stuck because it’s too full, etc, etc, etc.
I have always been incredibly organized and tidy, but still I was looking around and realizing that we had
And, yes we still had room to grow as far as space, but we had somehow accumulated an insane amount of stuff over the less than five years we have lived in this house. Fancy cheese knives and miscellaneous utensils, umbrellas and gloves, blankets, quilts and pillows, books and DVDs, toys and baby gear, furniture and decorative items, shoes and sweaters, jewelry and an array of shampoos, conditioners and smelly lotions. Stuff. Just a bunch of stuff.
And, then I’d think back on the simplicity of our days in Memphis when we lived in an 1,100 square foot apartment and had 1 extra room to use as the guest room, office, craft room and storage area. And, I’d look at Charley and reminisce about my first 7-years of life when there were 5 of us living in a 1,200 square foot house.
And, a desire to lead a simpler life for and with my family began.
Corey is only two years away from making a lot of money. I know that’s a bit taboo to write, but it’s no secret that he’s a physician specializing. Life is easy because his pay is minimal (*minimal* compared to the hours he works) right now. We don’t live all too extravagantly (to America’s standards) because we don’t have the money to. But, one day we will and I want to start fighting now creating and keeping a norm for our family that is simple and laced with generosity. I don’t want our kids to grow up thinking nothing is hard to obtain. I don’t want our kids thinking they are entitled. I don’t want our kids to ever think that everyone lives in as nice of a set-up as they do. I don’t want my kids to lose the excitement of receiving a gift, even the smallest of kinds. I don’t want our kids to scoff at hand-me-downs. I want our kids (starting young) to learn the empowerment in working for something they want. I don’t want my kids to look at their birthday and Christmas time as a time in the year when they get an abundance of stuff and everything they have asked for. I want my kids to see that it’s more fulfilling to spend our money helping people or on experiences than it is on buying stuff.
At the beginning of December Sarah wrote on their blog that they would of course not be celebrating Santa (you can’t have “Santa” if you don’t have the money to buy gifts “Santa” left behind) and that they would not be buying gifts for one another for Christmas. Instead, they simply celebrated Christmas. Without gifts. What a novel idea, right?
I knew we would not be going that route, but it shifted my heart big-time. I felt more relaxed this past Christmas than I have in the 8 Christmases we have had married. I didn’t let the burdensome of gift buying get in the way. It was refreshing.
With our big family (Corey is 1 of 5 boys) we returned home with a car brimming with gifts. It took me a few hours a day for a week to make room for everything we had been given and I felt sad about it. I realized that I was trying to make room for stuff we didn’t have room for (or simply didn’t need). All the while I was reading posts from Sarah about the women they had hired that were living with barely anything.
And, this is when I became totally resolved with it all.
In the past I thought through every thing I chose to give away in an emotional sort of way. But, this time I started to sort through things with ease, creating giant piles of stuff we either 1. didn’t need or 2. had too much of or 3. simply didn’t love or 4. didn’t use regularly.
One day while the kids played, I talked extensively about my heart’s shifting with my friend, Beth, and we made the decision together to not spend a penny on anything (minus the necessities of course) in the month of January.
Then, Lola was born. January 8th.
And, I found myself, 10:00 at night, at Target and Baby’s R Us buying all the things we needed for our trip. We wrote the biggest check we’ve ever written for her adoption, lived in a hotel and ate 3 meals out a day (until I got to my sister’s house, of course).
Not spending money in January flew out the window faster than I could get started.
When I returned home with Lola I spent the week my mom was here continuing to sort through things in our house. When my mom left her SUV was stuffed to the max with things I was donating to their church’s yard sale.
I continued to tackle rooms and closets and spaces in the weeks ahead. Our bedroom, bathroom, the kitchen, buffet table, the hall closet, the girls’ room…
In March, my dad led a trip of college students to Mexico so my mom came to visit for a few days before we went on vacation. When she pulled out of our driveway her SUV was again stuffed to the brim with things I was donating to their church’s yard sale.
Since vacation, I’ve tackled a few more areas and there are piles piling up yet again. Just this past weekend I started on the closet in our guest room (where I keep our photos and albums, gift bags and wrapping paper, some extra blankets and sheets)…
I was watching Guiliana and Bill the other night on TV (love them) and she was making him help her organize their office/guest room. She was putting aside stuff to donate and he said, “No, no, no… isn’t it better to have and not need then to need and not have?”
And, it hit me. That’s what I’ve been fooled into believing.
Have we forgotten what it feels like to need (or want) and not have? Have we forgotten what it feels like to share resources with our friends? Have we forgotten what it feels like to have an empty drawer, shelf or closet not because our house is so big, but simply because we don’t have so much stuff?
We keep things in case we need it, right? So, we have stuff. An abundance of it. Just in case. Filling every corner of our house.
I don’t want to live in the “just in case” category. I want to live in the “if we have it it’s because we use it regularly” category. And, if we don’t have it we’ll make do or get creative or borrow. And, if we can’t do any of those things then we’ll have the perfect gift to ask for for an anniversary or birthday or Christmas.
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I still have a list of areas in our house I plan to go through, but so far it’s starting to feel good (and freeing!) to know we are that much closer to having a house filled with only the things we need, use regularly, or love …
Our food pantry has pretty much looked like this since we stopped eating so much processed foods last year. Outside of a few things for Charley we basically just have nuts, dried fruit, Lara bars and protein powder.
Where I get my craft on: (I really should have fixed the white balance on this pic, but people, I am tired.)
So, this pic is a little unrelated, but as I was be-bopping around the house snapping pics for this post I snapped this one of my husband’s beer cellar nook in our laundry room. Last year for his birthday, I built those shelves for him, organized all his beer making stuff, framed a few pics I took of his favorite beers aaaaannnnd bought him a mini-fridge. As a reminder at how awesome my gift was I just high-fived myself (which my friend, Jackie, says is called clapping, but it is totally not)!
A few disclaimers and notes:
1. I like stuff. And, I enjoy shopping. I specifically love small shoes. Charley probably has a dozen pairs. And, she’s one. I also specifically love buying stuff for our house. Recently I bought a new rug for our living room and it is the third rug I’ve bought in the past 18 months. For our living room. I like to think I’m resourceful, but I am not frugal. And, although I am not a brand snob, I like nice things.
2. Often tackling areas of our house is trying, tiring and just plain frustrating. Having said that, I have a knack for purging and organizing. Both of my parents (sister, too) are incredibly clean and orderly. I grew up in a small house, but it was never cluttered and we rarely had things we didn’t need or use. So, for me I can do this fairly painlessly and quickly.
3. Since I like to shop and we like nice things much of what was given away was nice. Clothes and jackets, decorative pillows and frames, unlit candles and blankets, small appliances and… you get the point. If we decided to hang on to something because it was nice or still in great condition we would have gotten rid of very little. Instead, I only saved what we needed, used regularly or loved.
4. For those of you wondering how I did this with a newborn and a toddler here’s how:
- I’ve been doing this slowly for five months now. That’s a long time!
- Although Lola has had colic, reflux and an intolerance to milk that took us a hot minute to figure out (a major detail I think I’ve failed to mention) she has always been an amazing sleeper. Charley, as a newborn, would only nap for 30 minutes bursts. Lola will sleep for 3 solid hours (thanks to the love affair she has with her swing).
- I did not birth Lola. I came home tired and with an array of emotions surrounding her adoption, but I did not have to deal with wonky hormones settling or an achy body healing. This is huge.
- I work Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (I also only Crossfit on these days) so I typically pick a house project to tackle on Wednesday, Fridays or the weekend if Corey is working. Then, I only work on it for short bits while Charley is awake. I am a big fan of my kids seeing what it takes to be a homemaker and helping out. She is not much help, but she thinks she is and we enjoy making messes and putting things away together (although she typically gets distracted by shiny things and will go off to play with her toys or stomp around the back deck).
- Once Charley goes down for her nap (1′ish) I do not do any housework (minus starting a load of laundry or washing a few bottles). Instead, I’ll take a warm shower, make myself lunch, sit on the back deck and chat on the phone, read, watch TV, work a bit, write here on this bloggity-blog, etc. Doing things that aren’t refreshing and fun is no way to spend your free time, in my (not so) humble opinion.
5. have no intention of writing this as a message to the masses, spurring you all on to do the same with your houses. Truly. We have chosen to do this with our house because we felt the Lord’s urging to do so. Having stuff in excess just wasn’t feeling right with us so we did something about it. This does not mean that you should feel guilty to do the same. The Lord could very well be urging you to do something totally different (which could equal resting!). It’s all about your heart. My heart was simply telling me to simplify our possessions.
6. We still have a lot of stuff. Like for reals. I don’t want to live in a museum and I still like stuff. I just want it to be stuff we need, use regularly or love. That’s all.
Ahhhh… again, I feel so good to have written this out! This here blog truly does help me process and make sense of things. Thanks for reading! I hope you know that when you invite me over I will only peek into a few closets and if you have a lot of stuff I will only judge you in my heart.