My brother-in-law jokes that he could pack up my entire home in a matter of hours. I think this is an exaggeration, but it’s not too far off.
I used to have more stuff–boxes from college full of Mardi Gras beads, closets full of shoes and purses, and kitchen cabinets overflowing with coffee mugs–but over the years, I’ve realized that I don’t need all this stuff.
From an early age, I think we’re programmed to want a life full of big houses and expensive cars. This is the image that is presented to us on TV, and so we go to college with the hopes of obtaining a job with a high salary so we can attain that desired lifestyle.
At least I know this was my experience. As soon as I started earning my own money, I was buying designer shoes and expensive clothes. I had a set of Asian-inspired dinnerware for the off chance I cooked Chinese food. I once had two espresso sets because–well, they were cute, and I liked espresso and thought eventually I would own an espresso maker. Makes perfect sense, right? I’m sure you guessed that I never actually bought an espresso maker.
Then in one summer, everything changed.
I spent a month living in a village in rural India, a village that only sometimes had electricity. The residents in this village didn’t have much, but they radiated happiness. We created games with rocks and empty water bottles. We sat on the roof of the school in the evening, talking under the stars. We laughed over meals. We danced. We sang.
It made me realize how much I was lacking in my current life. My kids and I often ate dinner in the car as we rushed from one activity to another. I began paying attention to how we were spending our money and our time and realized we were doing it all wrong.
My kids had rooms full of toys, but they didn’t play with any of them. I had more handbags than I could count, but yet I only carried the same black one. I realized that the things we had were not adding value to our life; they actually were limiting our freedom. We were literally weighed down by stuff.
I started whittling down our belongings. I stopped buying things because I liked them and started buying things when I needed them. I went through each room, carefully evaluating what was in it. I donated half of my coffee mugs (really, why do two coffee drinkers need so many mugs?). I donated carloads full of stuff and sold just as much on Ebay and Craigslist. (A couple summers ago, I made almost $3,000 on Craigslist.)
It was so freeing. I felt lighter. Our house looked less cluttered. We knew where everything was. And we never felt deprived, like something was missing from our lives. In fact, the opposite happened. We had less to clean and less to organize. Things became simpler. We had more time, and without wasting money on trinkets that we don’t need, we had more money.
I found that simplifying our life freed us up in ways that enabled us to do more as a family. We could now afford to travel and do other things together. We became closer during road trips through the Southwest and hiking volcanoes in Guatemala. It has made us happier and closer as a family.
Small Steps to a Simpler Life
If simplifying your life sounds appealing, but you don’t know where to begin, start small.
- Pick a room and pull out five things that you don’t use and put them in a box.
- Eliminate old toiletries in your bathroom. Check expiration dates on medication and throw out any that have expired (don’t forget to recycle the bottles).
- Clean out anything in your wardrobe that you haven’t worn in a year.
- Have your kids pick five toys to donate. Kids outgrow books almost as quickly as they do clothes; go through both and eliminate.
- How many coffee mugs or glasses do you need? Go through your kitchen and honestly evaluate if you actually use the items in there. If you don’t, donate them.