Modern*Simplicity

Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How I Answered the Call to Give Up “Stuff” and Gained Freedom in the Process

Photo by Austin Chan on UnsplashThis is a guest post by Nicole Akers.

Recently Sandy asked us to take part in her Lenten Challenge and, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or not, we all probably have extra stuff lying around. Some of it is holding you back. Wouldn’t it be great to be free of it?

Before I share our story, I need to put this in proper perspective: it’s important to know that we’re weird. My family took a backpacking trip a few years ago, and we’ve been longing — aching really — to get back to the place we feel we belong. We took Sandy’s challenge because our lease is up and we’re on the move again. Our challenge results were astounding!

So you’re probably wondering what we did, sold, or got rid of at bake sales and garage sales to create such amazing results. Here’s how we embarked upon our Modern Simplicity downsizing decluttering detox of “stuff.”  

Clothing and Accessories

We quickly went through all closets with a precursory “pull and bag” approach. Speed is key here. Don’t overthink it. The criteria was simple. If we haven’t worn it in a year or more, it goes in the bag.

At the beginning of each calendar year, we turn our hangers backward. As we wear and launder clothing, it gets hung up properly. We took a quick run-through, and anything that faced backward got bagged quickly.

Next, we went back through the closets and took a tiny bit more time. The criteria this time is do I really like this piece? If it’s something hanging around because the kids, the spouse, parents, or in-laws gave it to you, and you keep it because you feel obligated to wear it when you see them, it’s time to bag it. Don’t let that stuff hold you back. Someone will buy it at Goodwill.

We took a short time to go through kids clothing we thought would be passed down from one kid to another and re-evaluated usage. This kid hates jeans the other one loved. The jeans are gone, along with anything else that no longer makes sense.

Media

I can’t tell you how many email lists I unsubscribed from during this time. The criteria:

  • Is this information really valuable?
  • When did I last open this email?
  • Will it cost more time to unsubscribe than it will to keep hitting delete?

My inbox has information I consume and that alone is a valuable time-saving feature. What if I want information about that one topic? Google will help you find it within minutes when you need it.

We are a family that loves books. We cuddle together and read most nights. We have young kids, and reading together is one of our favorite past times.

The criteria:

  • Will I ever read it again?
  • Do I really need it?
  • Will I be able to borrow it from the library?
  • Do I have a digital copy?

If it didn’t fit the criteria, it got boxed for Goodwill or given to the church. We also made a substantial donation to our local library and received tax receipts in return for multiple donations. The most special books we want to keep, including kid’s favorite early readers, have been downsized into one box.

Decor

We live in a 997-square-foot apartment. We don’t have a lot of extra stuff. We still managed to sell three desks, all IKEA-style furniture. A flat surface with legs on one end and placed atop a cabinet on the other side to assemble a desk. Both girls had one in the house we sold and another was my sewing desk. I sold the sewing machine earlier this year and the girls share a bedroom now. They were disassembled and in the back of a closet. We sold every one of them on the 5-miles app.  

We sold other things too. My husband’s Grateful Dead prints, guitars, and amplifiers are gone. We sold knife collections, plate collections, coats, and a keyboard. We sold our Canon cameras, lenses, and tripods. Who carries a camera these days anyway? Don’t you use your phone? My phone isn’t the latest generation, and it has an 18-megapixel camera. It’s better quality than the cameras we sold, and it fits in my pocket. We also sold sewing accessories and the couch.

Are you thinking whoa, we went too far? The couch didn’t fit well where it was placed. It was a 13-year-old leather La-Z-Boy piece. It was broken and repaired in a previous move, and it is unlikely to survive another move. $400 for a whole couch is better than storing or moving a broken one. What do we sit on now? The love seat. We usually all cuddle together after dinner for story time, and we brought out the lay bags for times we all want more personal space. Trust me, no one is suffering. The girls love their lay bags.

The bathroom and kitchen

We went through the bathroom cabinets and pantry in the same fashion and acknowledged that we need to stop buying a lot of things at warehouse stores. There are certain foods that we can’t eat due to food triggers, and there was expired medicine. In rapid-fire-motion, we disposed of anything that cannot be used. It was fun too. It’s a lot of work to go through this process, so have some fun with it. We played basketball as we aimed items toward the garbage bag. Sometimes the bag moved or needed a rebound player. Have fun and everyone wins.

We brought useful items into plain sight. Extra bottles of body wash were inventoried and removed from the shopping list. Medicine, especially kids’ medicine, got moved to the kitchen. When the kiddo spikes a fever while you’re out, you don’t stop at the corner convenience store if you know three bottles of acetaminophen are at home. You beat a path home as fast as possible, administer medicine, and order rest.

We made really creative recipes to consume other ingredients in the kitchen. Dry beans, quinoa, rice, and a can of pumpkin were used in delicious, unexpected ways. We sold small kitchen appliances like the pasta maker.

Sentimental items/kid stuff

If it still matters for the right reasons and isn’t holding us back, it’s probably worth keeping. The most helpful item we purchased was a tiny scanner. It cost a couple hundred dollars and saved infinite amounts of space.

We eliminated more than 10 years of tax forms. They have been scanned and sent to the cloud. Paid off notes, mortgages, deeds, all scanned and shredded.

A thrilling rainy weekend was spent going through old photos and scrapbooks. We laughed and cried at events and weddings we’ve attended. Milestones for the girls were re-visited. Special occasions were re-lived. We haven’t looked at some of these pictures for many years. We experienced freedom as we took pictures of drawings and school projects. Once digital copies were uploaded to the cloud, we let go of the physical items. We have them at our fingertips and can pull them up anytime, anywhere.

Life

We gave up stuff until it hurt, then we kept going. Things that hurt were fabric remnants I was holding from creations I made the girls. I kept a bit of fabric from every article, blanket, and book I ever made them. It was going to be made into a hodgepodge quilt. It’s a one of those days project that was about me. The important part is that the girls remember that Mom made one-of-a-kind creations with love. I am confident they will remember Christmas, Easter, birthday dresses, and other special creations.

My dad recently gave me the leaf collection he and I made together in sixth grade. The time we spent together must be memorable to him too because the album is in mint condition 30-some-years later. I didn’t send it to Goodwill. I am offering it back to Dad for safekeeping.

The same with my college scrapbook. It is being offered to Mom along with a quilt I made. She will cuddle under it every night and feel like she is getting a hug from me.

Results

If we tripped over it or didn’t use it, we sold it. We are significantly lighter and our wallet is heavier. We earned more than $1,700 and that’s after a road trip back home for Spring Break to visit family. We paid cash for any trip expenses from stuff we sold.

Is there irony in the 1600+ word count to share a story about downsizing stuff? Probably so.  

If you had the opportunity to trade your stuff for money and freedom would you do it? Tell us in the comments.

Nicole AkersNicole is founder of www.publishousnow.com and spends her time helping writers grow their audiences through crowdsourcing readership. She’s also a health advocate at WeTalkHealthy who helps you tip the scales in your favor through healthier living. You can connect with her on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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21 Replies

  1. Thanks, Sandy for this amazing opportunity to meet your audience! If you’d like health tips check out http://wetalkhealthy.com/ If you’re a writer and want to share your work you can find us on https://www.publishousnow.com/ and https://medium.com/publishous on Medium. Come, say hello!

  2. It’s amazing how much we THINK we need. I’m as guilty as anyone of hoarding stuff. When we moved last year, we moved a lot of it to Goodwill. Like you, I haven’t missed a thing.

    Fascinating read, Nicole! Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Yes, it is amazing how we THINK we need stuff. When you consider how much stuff Americans have in comparison to other places around the world it is more alarming. In the 1950’s the average home was less than 1,000 sq feet, 2 bed, 1 bath for 3 people. Today a starter home is 2,500 sq feet and cost 31 times more for 2.5 people. Not sure how we can have half a person, but clearly, we think we need more space and “stuff”.

  3. My brother did a cleanse when he sold his house and moved into an apartment. He gave me the last of the nostalgia from our parents. I still have to go through it. It’s such an emotional thing.

    I’ve gone through and gotten rid of things every time I’ve moved, which is a lot. We’ve moved 13 times. We still have a lot of stuff and I frequently feel the desire to do a cleanse. I do it in small doses. Your article is inspiring.

    1. Hi Danielle! So glad you found our weirdness inspiring! Moving 13 times, I bet you have the art down to a Science.

      Since you cleanse often, I’ll ask a question: Do you think it’s easier to cleanse gently or tackle it all at once?

      1. I’m weird in that I enjoy moving. It causes a cleansing of things and there’s a newness I love.

        I heard of one way to do a cleansing is to completely empty a room, then only put back what you’re going to keep. Haven’t tried it yet.

        When not moving, gently is better for me.

        1. Thanks for the half a room approach. I may have to try it!

  4. Sounds like your whole family was in on the purge, which is HUGE! Congrats on living a lighter life. 🙂

    1. From toys to books and more this purge is a family affair. It’s more fun when we work together. Thank you, Kris!

  5. Nicole,
    That’s radical—but oh, so sensible.
    And a little “weird.” (Weird and wonderful!)
    Another way of “minimalizing” is to move every couple of years (read two) and throw the “unused” stuff out. I did this. Not so wise. The moves cost too much. Rather do garage sales or donate them.
    Time to follow your lead!

    1. Hi Danie! “Radical”. Yes! Someone found another word other than weird. I like it. I was beginning to think “Embracing weird” should be our family motto.

  6. Ahhhh.
    You Christians are always cross-blogging!
    love alwaz
    mike

    1. Hello Mike! I don’t know you yet, but am glad you commented. If you’d like to try out the cross-blogging fun (and have a blog) let’s chat about it. Love back at ya!

  7. I was good with the article until you said the guitars were sold, only then did I begin to feel the pain. 🙂 This is amazing! Yesterday we purged two large trash bags of toys while the kiddos were with grandma. That didn’t really hurt me though. I definitely need to do this with stuff of my own.

    1. Hi Brandon! I take it you’re a guitar player then? No need to get rid of all good things. Keep those to make beautiful music. 😉

  8. WOW!!! You’re very hard-core!! You’re on a whole different level, family!

    For me shredding pictures and scrap books is still a no-go. I am too emotionally attached to them. Maybe some day things might change – but not yet :))

    Thank you for sharing your valuable experience! You rock!

    1. Hi Meg! It took a long time to get here. One of the kids asked, “What happens if they get deleted”? That question gave me pause. We won’t have any hard copies to go back to, and that would be regrettable. But for now, we keep on keeping on.

  9. My goodness, what an inspiration. After recently cleaning out my father’s house of decades, I realized how much “stuff” we collect and don’t even know it! I went after my own collections with a vengeance! It’s getting leaner by the day, but still so much to do!

    1. Hello Sandy! Congratulations on being leaner. It is so easy to collect a few items and before we know it there are whole collections we never intended. Hopefully, the results of the purge are positive ones for you.

  10. As much as I understand that you reduced the physical “inventory” of your home, the experience (which I sort of shared by reading your captivating story) must have been psychologically cathartic, too.
    I’m envious of your relief, newly-found space and profit, but too sentimental to even consider getting rid of books, photos and the like. The cloud is a beautiful thing, but I like tangible stuff. Example? You can’t kiss a cloud, like I can kiss an old black and white photograph of my Mom…

    1. I hear ya, Sturm! Yes, this was cathartic too. Honestly, we all kind of walked around with a bounce in our step for a day or two. Physically lighter, like a physical weight being lifted.

      I hear ya! There’s no touching the cloud. No rubbing fingers over the object to get that “touch”. Nothing can replace that. I’m glad for you that you can touch the things that hold special memories.

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