It’s 7:43pm and you’re at mile 25 of your daily parenting marathon.
The finish line is in sight. So far, you’ve hosted a play date, dragged Halloween costumes out for dress-up, played at the park, supervised finger painting, and judged a Lego competition (which you determined to be a tie—naturally). Dinner is done and the children are bathed.
After your spouse reads a story to the kids and makes sure their teeth have been brushed, you seal the day with a kiss on their foreheads. You begin looking forward to a calm evening watching some television or catching up with your spouse.
Unfortunately, before you even have a chance to sit down, you quickly realize the day’s work isn’t done just yet.
While the children have “technically” cleaned up after themselves, your home still feels a bit chaotic.
Costumes are falling out of the king-size plastic bin you swore would solve all of your organization headaches. Kids’ and adult sneakers and flip-flops are scattered beside the shoe shelf you built beside the back door. The kids’ art easel is blocking the laundry closet, which is bulging with its own clutter. And while the kids did pick up most of the Legos from the floor, their favorite creations are still being displayed atop a stack of unread women’s magazines on the coffee table—the same coffee table you were hoping to rest your feet upon.
By the time you go to bed, the house is “mostly” back in order. But in the back of your mind you know the following evening you’ll be facing the same clutter once again.
Maybe It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Ten years ago, after a conversation with my neighbor, my wife and I sold, donated, or discarded over 60% our possessions. We removed clothes, furniture, decorations, cookware, tools, books, toys, plus anything else we could find in our home that was not immediately useful or beautiful.
At the time, the concept of purposefully owning less stuff was foreign to our worldview—especially being raised in a society that relentlessly promises happiness and fulfillment in our next purchase. But, for some reason, the idea of owning less sounded oddly attractive.
I had been introduced to the world of minimalism. And I was drawn to it.
Today Americans consume twice as many material goods as we did fifty years ago. The size of the average American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years and now contains about three hundred thousand items. Our stuff has even spilled outside our walls. Due to our garage clutter, 25 percent of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside and another 32 percent have room for only one vehicle! And I haven’t even mentioned the 10% of us who rent offsite storage.
We are drowning in a sea of possessions—and we feel it almost every day. We’re tired, stressed, hurried, and financially strapped.
The most popular solution to our battle against clutter seems to be “just implement better organization”—or at least, that’s what we’re told is the solution. So we’ve bought colorful buckets, bins and baskets from the same good folks who sold us the costumes and the Legos and the magazines and dryer sheets. But in the end, although the storage solutions we’ve bought promised to solve all our woes, they’ve only packaged them differently.
But there’s a solution that’s even more effective than organizing.
The surprising solution you’ll never find in an Ikea catalogue, plastered on a billboard or featured on a Google banner ad is to own less stuff. Owning less results in less cleaning and organizing and managing and repairing.
But the benefits go far beyond that: Owning less sets you free to pursue your dreams and become the person you desire to be.
The Unlikely Way
When you choose to live more lightly—both releasing some of what you have and choosing to add less to what you already do have—doors to pursuing your dreams begin to open. I’ve seen it in my life and you can experience it in yours.
Because when you own less, you’re freed up for what matters most.
My friend Marjorie had kept a jar of coins her grandfather had given her for about ten years. When she moved homes, she’d hauled the jar to a shelf in her new closet. They weren’t precious coins that could be sold for a profit; they would be worth whatever the screen displayed when she dumped them into the sorting machine at her bank. Marjorie had promised herself that she and her kids would do something special one day, like visiting a waterpark. But they never did.
When Marjorie’s heart and mind were captured with the more of less, she finally took those coins—and all the others she’d scraped out of junk drawers, couch cracks and purses—and cashed them in. After they’d gone to the waterpark, Marjorie had money left that she was able to donate to a local charity.
Similarly, Sarah recently told me her story of always wanting to do mission work overseas. When her church announced a weeklong trip to Haiti, Sarah began dreaming of going with her teenage daughter. Inspired, Sarah and her daughter made the connection between all they owned and what they hoped to be and do. Together they gathered and sorted much of the stuff in their home they no longer needed or used.
Sarah’s daughter made $325 on Craigslist and eBay selling electronics they no longer used. Sarah held a yard sale where she sold their extras and welcomed donations to purchase supplies for orphans in Haiti. Sarah and her daughter were not only able to raise the money for their trip, they experienced benefits they’d not even anticipated. Their clutter-free home didn’t accumulate more clutter each day because they were living with less. The space was pleasant to live in and they loved the extra time they gained by caring for less stuff.
These are real stories. And I hear more and more almost every day. Stories of people who have begun to live their dreams, because they chose to live with less stuff.
Just Do It
If the stuff you own is keeping you from pursuing your dreams—dreams for your family, dreams for yourself, dreams for others—then you can begin to embrace those dreams by taking a few simple steps to live with less. And while these baby steps begin with decluttering—which is, admittedly, not so glamorous—the ultimate purpose is to put yourself in a position to fulfill the dreams you have for your life.
So before you leave this article, I want you to write down your dream. If you use a journal, go get it. If you tape notecards to your bathroom mirror, grab a notecard. If you post sticky notes on your computer, go get a pad. Keeping in view the bigger picture of why you’re reducing the amount of stuff you own will help as you purpose to reduce the amount you own.
What is your dream?
If you keep your eye on the reasons you’re aiming to live with less, you’ll have more energy to do the work before you.
Now that your motivation has been articulated, here are a few tips to help you get started removing the excess from your home:
1. Start Small. Focus on easy battles, scoring quick wins and establishing momentum in your decluttering journey. Don’t make hard decisions. Just grab an empty bag and remove everything you can easily part with. Put them in the bag and set them aside for you. You can sort them later.
2. Start Easy. A bedroom, bathroom or living room will be easier to begin with than an attic or kitchen. Plus, if you remove what you don’t need from these frequently used spaces you’ll experience positive effects almost immediately.
3. Start Noticing the Benefits. Take a step back, look at what you’ve accomplished. Are you experiencing more peace, more calm, less distraction, and more peace? Notice the practical ways owning less improves your life—and use that motivation to tackle harder spaces in your home.
As you begin to declutter, experiment to discover what makes the process most satisfying for you. Is it offering scooters and baseball mitts to the younger kids next door? Is it seeing a once-crowded shelf become usable once again? Is it setting goals of gathering 100 items each weekend and relaxing during the week? Every person’s process is different, so find what works for you.
Live the Dream
Remember that index card on your bathroom mirror? As you choose to own less you’ll free up time, money and energy to be who you want to be. When you shop less, you spend less time driving from store to store and spend less money on what you don’t need. When you release what you don’t need you spend less time organizing and cleaning all you own. Don’t let those gains go to waste.
Purpose to take practical steps to realizing your dream:
- Spend 30 minutes each day working at your craft
- Mark your calendar with the day you can volunteer locally
- Devote three hours next weekend to developing a business plan
- Start a bank account to save for a mission trip
- Enroll for a class at your local city college
- Enlist your kids in collecting canned goods for a local food pantry
You have been gifted with a desire for abundant living. As you choose to own less, you’ll discover time, money, and energy that can be used to make it a reality.