The Joys of Less

For me, it all started when we thought we were changing houses. The overwhelming feeling of having to relocate 3 people, 3 pets, and 4 years of “stuff” was enough to stifle any excitement over the move. I’d read articles on how simplifying your life was a good thing, but I always assumed they were referring to everyone else’s life. Surely part of what makes me happy is all the accoutrements of life that I had pulled around me – the extra set of everything from clothes to silverware to baby toys. But now that I was considering having to pack it, haul it, unpack it, and find it a new home I knew it was time.

So began what I dubbed “Project 25.” Our goal as the Ludwig family was to give, sell/consign, or trash 25% of the stuff in our home. Some of it was easy (like donating my husband’s 15 year old ugly sweater collection that hadn’t been touched since we were married). Some of it still sits waiting on me (like costume jewelry I know I won’t wear but can’t bear to part with). But in the process of purging, there are priceless lessons I’ve learned that I believe are worth sharing:

  • Most of our stuff we’ll never miss. And I don’t just mean my husband’s sweaters that I gave away 2 years ago and he hasn’t asked about. We’ve all heard the idea to turn the hangers on your clothes backwards and every time you wear it and wash it, hang it right side forward. At the end of the year, if it’s still backwards, give/donate/sell it.  You aren’t really wearing it anyway. The same holds true for kids toys. If they haven’t enjoyed it in a year, let someone else enjoy it instead.
  • There’s a great joy and freedom in giving, especially big stuff. I had a nice full-size piano keyboard that was given to me in college. I used it to play for several friends’ weddings, but let all of it slip by the side when my son was born. After much thought, I donated the piano to one of my students who had lost everything in a home fire. It was assuredly the right decision and brought much joy to both of us.
  • There’s less to straighten and dust and clean and repair when the home isn’t over-stuffed. It’s easier to find items (like keys and phone… or is that just me?) that inevitably get overlooked when you aren’t having to go through piles of random items to search. Plus, if your closet looks like mine, it’s so crammed full you can’t find the article of clothing you really want for 3 other things you don’t want crowding it out.
  • Two great questions I’ve learned to ask as I go through my home:
    • If I give it away, would I spend money to replace it?  If the answer is “no,” then find someone who needs it more than you. I spent years determining my intellectual worth by how many books I acquired, particularly in my fields of study. But I found over the following seasons of life that I refer to only a handful and have electronic copies of many. The rest can be donated to a library or school for others who will use them more regularly.
    • Does it bring me a sense of pleasure to use? Far too long have I hung onto clothes that don’t fit or that I wear out of a sense of duty to them (ie, every woman needs 3 black dresses, right?). When I realized that I had plenty of other alternatives that bring particular enjoyment, I was able to release those that don’t.
  • There is a sense of calm that comes from open spaces. Open spaces in your home, uncluttered corners, uncluttered yard, and uncluttered mind worrying about the cleaning, sorting, and maintaining.
  • I’m much more a fan of consignment than I thought.  I’d bought second-hand before, but never sold until last year. With about twelve hours of work washing, sorting, tagging, and delivering children’s items for a huge sale in town, I made about $300. I’ll take it!
  • Don’t over promise to yourself.  It leads to under-delivery every time. You’re not going to get everything done in a day or even a weekend. Pick a task that you’re motivated to do – pots and pans, books, old CDs, the coat closet – and aim to get it accomplished. The rest of the mess has lived there years; it can wait until next week or next month.
  • Be just as concerned with new purchases. I now view a new purchase as it “coming into the elite fold” of our home. It must serve a purpose, be affordable, and provide a certain level of happiness over time to make the cut. And, if possible, for everything that comes into the house, something similar should move out.

At the end of the story, the transition wound up not coming through so we are still in our beloved little home in the suburbs, but Project 25 lives on. To date, we’ve gifted food items, kitchenware and appliances, toys and toys and toys, clothes, and even computers/TV. It has saved us time, money, and energy. And have we missed any of the stuff? Not once.

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