Shedding excess: It’s not just about a clean house.

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Yesterday in church our pastor spoke on joy. He made the illustration of happiness as a cheap umbrella that gives us the illusion of protection, but when life starts to rain it fails. Joy, on the other hand, is like a sturdy roof. A roof that protects us even when life gives us hail.

Anyone else out there getting some hail right about now?

How does this tie into owning less? You see…we collect stuff and fill our homes overflowing with things that make us happy. But it’s not the kind of happy that will last when life gets hard. (And if you’ve lived longer than a day, you know life gets hard). Our houses are overflowing but our hearts are empty.

This is so clearly demonstrated by our kids. Ever walk through the toy aisle with your toddler? If you have, you know they will undoubtedly find something that they cannot live without. In fact, if they leave the store without it they will surely perish within moments from the crushing disappointment of leaving it behind. If you’re like me, you sometimes give in to their request only to realize that they didn’t even bring it in from the car before they’re on to the next thing. The happiness that came with that new toy already forgotten.

Aren’t we all like that sometimes (although not so dramatically, I hope)?

Part of my purpose for clearing out excess was to create space to focus on filling my heart with Christ’s love, and I can’t do that if I’m chasing temporary happiness. Maybe for you it’s not stuff. Maybe it’s commitments, people pleasing, drugs, work, food…whatever, you name it.

There is nothing wrong with being happy, just as long is it’s supported by a good solid layer of joy.

This is not meant to be a preachy post, if it feels like it know I’m saying it to myself as much as to you. My point is, it’s not just about having a clean house (because trust me, my house still isn’t clean). It’s about making space for what is truly worthy and filling up on that instead.

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What would you do if you had the time?

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One of my big motivators throughout this process has been to open some time in my schedule to pursue the things that are on my heart.

I felt so burdened by my job keeping house (and everything that goes along with it) that I honestly couldn’t see space for anything else. Because of this I became very protective of my time. People would approach me with opportunities and ideas and even though they were things I would have loved to do or needs I wanted to meet, the very thought of adding more to my plate sent my head spinning.

I thought if I made a weekly housekeeping schedule it would help break the work up into small, manageable chunks and would free up more time in my daily life. While it did guarantee I kept house that almost always was clean, it didn’t really reduce the amount of time per day I spent cleaning.

The thing is, once you create a clean environment, it’s kind of addicting. A routinely clean house means those little messes you once didn’t notice become eyesores. Although a cleaning schedule is a good thing, the truth is a house keeping schedule + a clutter filled house = constant maintenance. Add in a couple kiddos and it becomes a full-time job. The messes just follow you from room to room to room until your feet ache and the day is over.

I was so frustrated. The point of maintaining this schedule was to feel more free, not less! When my second child was born I knew something would have to change. What extra free time I had was now completely occupied by my son, and I was over spending so much time doing something I really didn’t like!

So I started exploring minimalism and how I could apply this concept to my home.

Having less stuff to maintain means I spend less time maintaining it. It’s rocket science, I know, but yet it never occurred to me that I didn’t have a cleaning problem I had a stuff problem.

There is no way to escape cleaning your house, but it goes so much faster when 2/3 of the time is not spent picking stuff up before you can even start cleaning. What used to take me most of my mornings now takes less than an hour and maintaining a clean house throughout the day is a breeze. One great perk is if we last minute decide to host someone for dinner or coffee or whatever, the house can literally be ready in minutes. Not letting a messy house get in the way of being hospitable has been so rewarding.

Yes, I am still a mom. Yes my kids still dominate my time (and I wouldn’t have it any other way). But by becoming more minimal I’ve found some time to add people and activities into my life that I love. Be careful to add only one thing at a time and wait a few weeks before adding another. Doing this will help to make sure you’re not getting too excited and headed straight for a burn-out!

If you didn’t have to spend so much time chasing your tail cleaning house, what would you do? What do you love? Who would you help? What would you volunteer for? The opportunities are endless and having a choice with your flex time is so freeing!

3 ways to break through your minimizing slump.

I’ve been steadily working my way though the process of discarding a bunch of stuff in order to live a more minimal life. It blows my mind when I think about how many car loads of belongings have been carted out of here…yet there is still so much left. It’s both a motivating and disheartening realization. There is still so much work to do.

As with any new goal, once the “newness” wears off it’s hard to keep going. I love to read, but by the time I reach the middle of nearly every book I pick up, I get bored and distracted by the promise of a new book and I put down the old one…never to return. This year I made a goal to actually finish 24 books so I’ve been powering through the middle-of-the-book slump, but the same can be said for other goals I’ve made both now and in the past.

Ever set a resolution to lose weight, eat right and exercise only to find by March you’ve given up? Ever started a week out with the best of intentions to cook every night, then by Wednesday you’re scanning the take-out menus? Yeah, me too.

I’m reaching my “March” the less exciting phase. The phase where the new idea of minimizing and the promise of the freedom that will follow have wained to the actual work of getting the job done (and the long road ahead).

So, I took some time to seek inspiration outside of my own head. Below are three ideas I’ve found that have helped renew my motivation.

  1. Take everything out. I was working room to room, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, etc. This is a great start and I got rid of tons of stuff doing this, but it doesn’t tackle the whole problem. Take your living room, for example, and move everything out (besides the big stuff that you’re for sure keeping). Doing this helps you see the room for what it truly is and what it truly needs. Then, simply put only the things you love or find useful back. What’s left is either stuff you don’t really need or want, or stuff that belongs somewhere else.
  2. Let go of the guilt. Feel guilty for getting rid of something? For me, some of the hardest things to dispose of were toys I bought my kids. There are such sweet memories attached to some of these toys that have been sitting, neglected in the bottom of the toy box. But, when I really thought about it the toys had served their purpose for our family. Stuff is only stuff, the happiness I felt choosing and giving them this gift wasn’t because of the toy it was because of them; and I still have them. The gift served its purpose it was not a waste, what is wasteful is letting it sit unused and unneeded…time for that toy to be a blessing to another family.
  3. Sell it. Hard to part with some stuff because it was expensive and barely used? Yep. Try selling it instead. Getting some money in return can help ease the sting of seeing some of your stuff go. This couldn’t be easier these days. I’m too busy and frankly uninterested in hosting a good ol’ fashioned garage sale (though this is a great way to rid yourself of stuff) so I took to Facebook marketplace. This was so ridiculously easy. I posted my stuff, set a price and within minutes had buyers who that same afternoon handed me cash for the stuff that was taking up space in my garage. This seriously has been so fun. As an added bonus, they came and got it from me! I didn’t even have to break my back lugging it to Goodwill. Just remember to be responsive and friendly!

For more decluttering inspiration…check out these books! There a quick read and can get you on the right track to tackling the extra stuff in your life.

To wives of husbands who work long hours.

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I’ve got to be honest, this has been an off week for me. My husband has been extremely busy with work, and my kids caught a nasty stomach flu that has rocked our boat for several days. (So far only the kids, Lysol wipes are my new BFF).

So I’m taking a break from minimizing with a post that I hope some of you can relate too. It seems the more moms I meet, the more I find are in a similar situation as me. Moms that are fortunate (and happy!) to be at home with their kids, but have husbands who have to work long hours and/or travel to make it all work.

So…if that is you, even just some of the time, here are some things that I personally have found to make this time alone a bit easier.

Stay positive.

Our kids feed off our moods, if you’re allowing yourself to succumb to bad moods, guess what? So will your kids. And grumpy kids are so not fun (like not at all). Negative, self-destructive thoughts about your situation will creep into your mind during these long days, but it’s important to stop them before they eat away your happiness. Try focusing on the blessing of the job (I know, I know this is a hard one!!). If you can’t stop the mood, try letting yourself cry for a minute. The key is to go there but not stay there; let yourself be sad or angry and process that feeling…but then get the heck out because that’s not a good place to live. I’m not gonna lie, I have to do this quite often. It really helps get the stress out before my husband comes home, that way I’m not as likely to take out my frustration on him. Because although yes, motherhood is hard and we have every right to feel this way…taking it out on our hardworking husbands is not the answer nor is it helpful. Trust me, they feel bad enough about missing out.

Tackle a project.

Nothing sucks out my will to live like watching endless hours of useless t.v. (ok dramatic I know, but I know this because I’ve done it). I really get a renewed sense of purpose when I tackle and accomplish a project. Whether it’s finally putting away that heap of laundry, reading a book, decluttering a room or refinishing a piece of furniture to sell. The sense of accomplishment can really boost my mood (and improve my life). Bonus if you can find a way to make some money doing it! I am a freelance graphic designer on the side and I love to use some of my time to tackle projects that keep my skills sharp. Think about what you love and how you can put it to use – you never know, you might be a budding entrepreneur!

Get active.

Nothing shakes a bad mood like some exercise. Especially if it’s out in the fresh air and sunshine. My personal favorite is a simple walk. It kills that extra time between dinner and bedtime in the evening and gets the kids out to work off those end-of-day wiggles. If not in the evening, the pre-naptime walk is a fantastic way to guarantee you’ll get some good naps (and some alone time). When the weather doesn’t cooperate, I stick to the treadmill or a workout on YouTube. Not my favorite, but it is definitely better than nothing!

Distribute the fun.

Know your spouse will be gone for a week? Plan one fun thing per day to give the kids, and yourself, something to look forward too. It doesn’t have to be big and expensive, just fun. Our favorites are going to the zoo, the splash pad, the park, Tuesday 1/2 price movies, walking to the ice cream shop, hiking at the local recreation area, visiting the lake, story time at the library, playdates with buddies. You get the idea. Every community is different and every community has their own unique things to do. If you’re on a tight budget, don’t get discouraged! There are so many free options out there, you just have to know where to look. Other moms are a wealth of knowledge, tap into your friends for ideas.

Get creative with self-care.

I get it. Self care is a big deal right now. I know you can’t pour from an empty cup, blah blah blah. It’s just that sometimes you have no one else to take your kids for a few hours so you can get a latte and a pedicure. We live far away from family and I can’t afford to pay a babysitter every few days when I need a break. What I’ve learned after four years of this schedule is that it doesn’t take much to give me a little more fuel to get through the day. Some things I love to do for myself are getting a cup of my favorite coffee to sip at the library, taking a good book to the park to read while my kids play, or soaking in a hot bath after the kids go to bed (or nap). Maybe you’ll even get lucky and find another mom who is desperate for some alone time too so you can arrange a child care swap with her a couple times a month to squeeze in some of that much needed real alone time.

Create a clutter free living space.

We’ve all got enough on our plate to manage without adding a bunch of useless stuff to take care of! A clean house eases anxiety and reduces stress. This pas week, with sick kids and an absent husband has been really hard, but not as hard as similar situations have been in the past. I honestly think its because I’ve created better order in my house so when life happens and I’m up to my waist in puke covered laundry…I can just focus on that and not on the piles of junk on my counters.

What are your tips for going it alone? I’d love to hear any suggestions you have!

We already have everything we need (and didn’t know it).

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about stuff we needed to get. That new piece of furniture, upgraded TV, kitchen gadgets, clothes, boots, coats…

I’d start hunting for stuff online and in stores and I honestly enjoyed the search. It was kind of a hobby of mine. The only problem was, I didn’t really need most of it. Sure, I could come up with reasons why I thought we needed it at the time, but they were never really true needs. These seemingly innocent choices have cost us in the long run.

I’ve been spending so much time cleaning out my house that I’ve naturally started to think more about what I’m bringing back in. (Because I don’t want to turn around and haul it out any time soon). The physical act of decluttering has taught me to be more intentional, and this new found intentionality has had a direct effect on our budget.

Probably the most surprising thing I’ve learned during this process is: The more I toss the easier it is for me to see what we really need to keep or buy.

I typically pay bills and review the monthly budget for our household every Friday. I pull up our transactions online and compare them to our budget. Typically I weed through dozens of small debit card purchases between each Friday (while racking my brain to figure out what they were). The past couple of months have been dramatically different… with maybe five or six transactions a week. That’s all.

This was a side effect that I didn’t really think about when we started. I didn’t think we would naturally want to spend less. I mean, one of my motivating factors to start was to get rid of junk and buy the nice stuff! I feel like I’m finally getting some freedom from the grip acquiring new things has had on me. I’m still a work in progress, and will be for a very long time, but I’m starting to see things differently. I’m doing much better at admiring and appreciating the pretty stuff my friends have, or I see on TV or Instagram, rather than rushing out to find something similar for myself…only to prove, to no one in particular, that I am stylish.

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Other peoples stuff.

I think it’s time to discuss this one important thing, before we all get too carried away.

Most of you likely live in a home that is also home to other people. Other adult people who have their own stuff and the right to keep or discard it at their discretion. Meaning…in no way do I recommend tossing out your spouses stuff. Period. You can encourage them to do so (encouraging and nagging are not the same thing, I have to remind myself of this often!), but you can’t make them.

However, I think there is a gray area here. Preschoolers. As in, people who are old enough to have an opinion (a very loud one), but not necessarily the decision making skills needed to discard excess stuff (Okay, maybe this age goes way beyond preschool).

Case in point…my four year old daughter.

My sweet girl forms an attachment to anything that is or what she thinks once was hers. I was recently going through an embarrassingly huge pile of baby girl stuff while she was home. Thinking it would be no big deal, because it was just storage stuff, I let her play along with me while I worked. What I didn’t realize was that seeing clothes that she wore and toys she used as a baby go away really didn’t sit well. I did my best to explain to her that there are other sweet baby girls out there who really needed her old stuff. I do think she understood, but there were still a few things she had a hard time saying bye too.

Sharing this process with my kids has been an incredible opportunity to teach them about what we need, don’t need, and how we can help others. (Even better if they get to see the people their stuff goes too!). The act of giving excess things away is a real-world memorable action that will stick with them longer than just talking to them about how “blessed” they are. I’m glad I get to share these moments and tough conversations with her while she is young and hope that she learns something from all of this.

But…at the end of the day, she is a human with choices.

Cue, the pumpkin bucket.

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This is old, it’s broken, it was likely a free thing from McDonalds or something like that, but for some reason it is sooooooo important. I found it in a storage box and without hesitation tossed it in the junk pile.

One persons trash is obviously another persons treasure. So, despite my desire to get rid of EVERYTHING in this house we don’t need…I may have to flex a little on what I define as a need.

I need to flex a little here because the whole reason I’m doing this is to create some free space in my life to better enjoy the people in it…and I’m pretty sure creating division by throwing away their treasures is not going to help!

So, as I work to teach my kids about what they really need, how to manage their stuff and create order…I’ll also work to make sure they have healthy freedom of choice regarding the things they want to surround themselves with. Even if it’s an old, broken pumpkin bucket.

Any tips for encouraging kids to donate unused toys? That’s up next…

First things first…

I grew up in a big family.

I am the second born of six kids. When you grow up in a family this size, you don’t have much thats just yours. Everything is shared and handed down and shared again. I never particularly cared about toys, but one thing I did dream of having once I was old enough to make my own money was new clothes. Not hand-me-downs or thrift store stuff…new stuff that I chose. My love for clothes goes back as far as I can remember.

My love for clothes is why I started the process of decluttering with my wardrobe.

Piles of clothes

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the term “capsule wardrobe” right? It’s pretty hip right now. I can hardly scroll through Instagram without someone showing off a new, expensive purchase for their “hashtag capsule wardrobe” or seeing an ad from a clothing company suggesting items to add to your own capsule wardrobe. But incase you live under a social media rock, basically the idea is having a wardrobe comprised of few, high quality pieces that can be mixed and matched and used for a long time, saving you money and closet space. Phew…got it?

Good concept. I love the idea, but part of my goal here was to save money, not to immediately go out and spend on new, nice clothes when my closet doors were literally vomiting out junk from cheap clothing boutiques (and Target sale racks, oh how I love to hate thee). I needed to purge out the junk first to see if I really, truly needed anything to add to my already enormous wardrobe. (Though I really wanted the excuse to buy something expensive and tell myself “no worries, it’s for my #capsulewardrobe”).

So to the closet and dresser I went. The clothes had to meet at least one of the following criteria: I love it, wear it often, or feel great in it. If not toss it. (And by toss it I mean donate it. The people at Goodwill and I are now on a first-name basis). This included things I spent a lot of money on, cheap stuff, gifts (guilt), stuff from my old life (aka career wear, really and truly if I ever go back to a formal office…I’m not going to wear suits from 2011 no matter how frugal I’d like to think I am, ok?).

When I got though all of my clothes, I did it again and got rid of more. The whole process took about two hours, but when I was done, I was left with clothes hanging nicely on hangers that have space between them like a fancy store. Clothes that when I touch them I feel fabric that is soft and appealing to me, colors and prints that energize me and look good on me. No longer are there messy piles of sweatshirts from 2003 on the top shelf threatening to topple over. And you know what, I still remember playing tennis for NPHS in 2003 without the ratty sweatshirt reminding me that I did.

But you know what else I saw in my closet and dresser that I didn’t expect? Clothes I want to wear. Stuff to wear to church, to weddings, on date night, around the house, out with the girls, to the gym. I started to think about the countless hours of my life I’ve spent staring at my huge collection of perfectly acceptable clothes and exclaiming to my poor innocent husband “I have nothing to wear!” Then promptly scrolling through my favorite clothing stores online and ordering a few new things to add some momentary spark to my pile.

By keeping only the things I love, I wear only the things I love. I wash only the things I love, and fold only the things I love, and put away only the things I love. When they wear out, I’ll replace them with an even better version (now here is where I can really justify the nice stuff!). For those of you out there like me who feel like you’re drowning in piles of laundry, you get my excitement here.

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This whole process took place about a month ago now and I can honestly say without hesitation that I don’t miss one thing I donated. I’ve gone through my clothes again and gotten rid of even more. Sure, there may be a time in the future where I wish I had something I tossed, but you know what? The lightness I’ve experienced in the actual physical weight of the stuff and the work related to maintaining those clothes is totally worth the risk. When in doubt. Toss it.