If you looked into our home, you would not immediately assume that we are trying to embrace minimalism. We still have stuff everywhere, but have challenged ourselves to keep a smaller home and deal with our stuff problem. One day, I’ll be brave enough to share the before pictures of our house so you can see just how bad it was. However we’ve learned so much along the way on our journey and continue to improve every year.
In my post today, I’ll talk about how we ended up overwhelmed with stuff, and the lessons we’ve learned to adopt so that we can slowly return to a house that is relaxing and enjoyable to spend our free time.
Our Story with Stuff
In 2016, we made the decision for me to go back to school for my MBA, and that seemed to be the year our problem started. At the time we were just dating and were getting ready to buy our first house – a 3 bedroom home for the two of us. Why? Well that’s what society tells us we should do when we have too much stuff to fit into the 736 sq ft rental house that we spent the last few years. Unfortunately, this upgrade never forced us to deal with our bad habits of allowing excess stuff we didn’t need to accumulate in our house.
One year later, we were getting married. We were both working full time, and I was going to school and planning a wedding for over 200 people in our free time. The number of items that accumulated in our home from the wedding was unreal. One of our spare bedrooms was an office turned storage, taken over by the stuff we accumulated including gifts, wedding decorations, invitations, thank you cards, and everything else. Meanwhile, we had boxes starting to pile up in our living room because we never made the time to decide what to part with.
Going into 2018, we were pregnant with our first child and moving again so I could take a new job. I’ll write about our challenges buying a home at another time, but let’s just say we ended up moving from a 3 bedroom home to a 2 bedroom and while adding another person. Not only did we need to reduce all the stuff we had, but we now had to make room for baby stuff with one less bedroom. We were extremely thankful for the generosity people had at our baby shower, but we still had a lot of stuff to bring home only 2 weeks after we moved in, and only 4 weeks before our son was born.
Fast forward a couple years, and I have thankfully finished school and our daughter was born in 2020. Since we still live in our 2 bedroom home, our daughter basically lives in our bedroom with us. While we have slowly downsized every few months, we reached a point where enough was enough and we needed to make some serious changes.
The Lessons We’ve Learned
- Getting a Bigger House Won’t Help – Getting a bigger house will allow you to procrastinate. While you’re paying for a more expensive mortgage, you’ll be putting off the more challenging task of dealing with your stuff.
- Stay Home and Accept the Challenge – Before the pandemic, we would frequently find excuses to leave the house. This should have been the red flag to us that our home was no longer a relaxing environment. Instead of fixing the issue, we would run to Sam’s Club or Costco and stock up on bulk products as if that is what we needed.
- Stop the Stuff Entering Your Home – We are significantly more critical of what we bring into our home now. Do we really need that year supply of Shampoo sitting in our closet, or can we make a run in a few months to get more? If you really need a new pair of pants, ask yourself what pair they will replace. You’ll never feel like you can catch up if you are constantly bringing in more than you can remove on a regular basis.
- Be Open With Family – To reduce how much was coming into our home, we had to embarrassingly admit to our family that we needed to stop how much we were taking in. We joked about it a few times hoping it would stick, but eventually we had to be very honest that while we appreciated Christmas presents, in many cases they were adding to the stress in our home and therefore to our relationship.
- It’s Easier to Clean than Remove– But that doesn’t mean you should. We actually slowed down on the traditional cleaning so that we could dedicate more time to what would make a lasting difference in our home. Clean the floors? Great – you’ll need to do it again next week. Consider using that time to make lasting change like dealing with the pile of paperwork that has been accumulating for 6 months.
- Do One Thing Each Day That You’ve Procrastinated On – I procrastinate on tasks that are challenging or force me to make a decision I’m not ready to make. Forcing myself to take that on first thing is difficult, but also extremely rewarding after it is done. A recently example of this was a laundry basket filled with mixed sized clothes sitting in our table for 2 weeks because I couldn’t decide what to do with backup boy outfits that my daughter would soon grow out of. Maybe I’d need them. Big surprise – I didn’t.
- What Bothers You May Differ From Your Spouse – I hate clutter on surfaces like dressers and tables. My husband hates when I put stuff in boxes and “hide” them in corners. Regularly, I will ask my husband what one thing I can do that day to help him. Turns out it’s to remove a box in the garage I forgot about 2 years ago. Clearly it doesn’t bother me as much as my husband. While it may not be as important to me, by prioritizing that one thing, my husband turns around and addresses something that has been bothering me for weeks. We’re both happy about the change when we support each other.
- Clutter Invites More Clutter – We made a small decision a few months ago to remove a “centerpiece” from our kitchen island. We focus on keeping that surface clean and it’s amazing how less clutter accumulates on this commonly used surface. Now our eyes look past the clean surface and it motivates us to focus on other areas.
- Push Yourself to Change the Norm – Does your house feel clean? Sit on the couch and admire your hard work. Now push yourself a little bit further because that is the best time to achieve a new expectation for a clean home.
- Get Rid of the Kids – My husband’s contribution of advice… and honestly not a bad idea, at least for a few hours or a day. We call our son “the tornado” for a reason, and sometimes we spend so much of our day picking up the chaos that he leaves behind. It can be challenging to make lasting progress packing up items for donation or trash with him pulling it all out again.
Questions to Consider:
- What is one thing you can do today that you’ve been procrastinating on or walking past for months?
- Ask your spouse what bothers them – what would they have you address if given the opportunity?
- Do you spend more time cleaning because it’s mindless and easy compared to the challenging task of deciding what to do with your stuff?
- Is your home relaxing or contributing to your stress?
- Does your family know where you stand and support you?
- Are you paying for storage to avoid potentially discarding items? When was the last time you looked at what was in your storage container?
- How often do you purchase a new item because it’s easier than finding the original one?
- Have you “upgraded” your house recently to allow for more space? Or have you turned down purchasing a home because it just wasn’t big enough for all your stuff?
- Do we all really need 3 car garages, basements, and walk in closets now?
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