Project Simplicity: Minimizing Stuff to Maximize Life

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Project Simplicity: Minimizing Stuff to Maximize Life

As life becomes more complicated with kids and the homestead and responsibilities, I’m constantly asking myself, “how can I simplify my life?”.

When life gets too complicated, I suffer and so does everyone in my life. I get angry and irritable too often and I feel like I’m not doing anything very well, including being a mom or wife, homeschooler or leader of my business team. When I can’t successfully juggle everything on my plate, it feels like it’s all going to implode at any moment.

This is no way to live! Something’s gotta give.

I have spent the last couple years attempting to simplify many areas of my life, including “stuff” and general life commitments that clutter up my environment and my mind.

Right now I’m about to pop out baby #4 while managing a homestead, homeschooling, two family businesses, a growing list of weekly commitments and the many dramatic crises…err, adventures… that arise on a daily basis. Minimalism is my form of nesting and is on my mind NONSTOP!

I thought I’d share different simplifying projects I’ve either done or am working on in an ongoing series called “Project Simplicity”. These projects range from food and meal planning, to clearing “stuff”, to preparing for baby, to decorating, to spending money, to selling stuff, to letting go of things you *think* are important, to emotional and mental simplicity. I hope you’ll find what I have to share helpful in some way.
(Click here to see all our Project Simplicity Posts!)

I love the whole concept of minimalism, including all the inspiring blogs, Instagram pages, magazines, books and other resources available on the subject. But there are definitely extreme models of minimalism that I don’t quite fit into. We still have a lot of books, toys, art and other “extras” that most minimalists would get rid of. I’d rather find an organized place for things like that, especially for those dreary winter months where we are stuck inside all day long. My middle of the road approach to simplicity and minimalism will hopefully resonate with many families who visit this little blog, so I’m excited to share my experiences!

Here’s a little more backstory on how I’ve become an aspiring minimalist, and why I truly believe simplicity and minimalist living (on some level) is important for everyone in the family…

Could our family of 5 live in an RV?

A few years ago my husband, Brendan, and I were very seriously considering moving into an RV with our 3 daughters and testing out different potential places to live around the country.

This idea turned into a major “stuff purge”. I went through the whole house, eliminating and organizing every belonging based on if it would fit in an RV. We had the biggest garage sale anyone has ever seen! Seriously…jaw dropping, and a little embarrassing.

We ended up deciding against living in an RV, but we did take a 2 month road trip around the country- living temporarily with only what fit in and on top of our minivan!

Of course, after the trip we came back to a home still full of stuff (despite the big purge). It was no surprise that we survived happily without all the stuff during our trip. We created the most meaningful memories together without the distraction of constant house cleaning and organizing, or the overload of toys, screen time and “stuff” stealing our focus.

Why is it so easy to accumulate more STUFF?!

After returning from the trip, we decided to officially move from our Southern California beach cottage to Iowa. Moving meant it was time to purge AGAIN because I was only willing to pay for a 1-2 bedroom apartment-sized Uhaul.

Yet after only a year since moving, we are already completely overwhelmed by STUFF again! We bought a house on an acreage and inherited a ton of junk that the previous owners left. We thought we could use at least some of it, but most of this stuff has been useless to us and has been donated to the Salvation Army…or is in a big pole barn outside providing shelter for raccoons and waiting to be hauled away by a junk removal company…or, more likely, my husband taking many trips to the dump or burning large trash piles.

Since experiencing my first real winter, I’ve discovered that the cold season is the ultimate “stuff” collector. There’s winter gear, mud, Christmas, shopping because it’s one way to get out of the house, cold rooms and garages that you ignore and let “stuff” pile up in!

It’s not just the physical stuff. I like to refer to “stuff” as anything that clutters our lives: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. “Stuff” can bury us alive.

There are plenty of excuses for why “stuff” overtakes our lives so easily and quickly. It’s important to identify those reasons and make a plan to fight it. Usually the reason “stuff” piles up in life is because we let it in. We overindulge and we get comfortable shuffling it all around, though soon all the “stuff” we’ve let move into our lives overtakes us, keeping us from the life of freedom we were meant to live.

We are also emotionally attached to things that shouldn’t be so important. Then there are the non-physical attachments, such as addictions, bad relationships, debt or emotional dependencies.

Once we identify where and why we clutter our lives, we can make the decision to eliminate…and that’s what my “project simplicity” posts are all about!

Why minimalism and simple living is SO important in our house

When there is clutter or a mess in my house or my mind, I stop functioning properly. I’m extremely irritable and burdened with the constant feeling of anxiety and overwhelmed-ness.

There was a time when I took comfort in this “cute” little quote:

“Dust bunnies are evidence that you’re a good mom.”

Yeah, that’s crap. I’m a way better mom when I feel a sense of organization, cleanliness and peace. My family will all attest to this fact!

I know not everyone feels this way. I’m sure it’s important to me because of my RED/GREEN temperament (controlling yet easily overwhelmed). My oldest RED/BLUE daughter (the in-control perfectionist) feels the same way I do and absolutely loves purging belongings and creating new clean spaces. My YELLOW (fun-loving, hard-work-hating) child will visit someone’s complete disaster of a home and come back reporting how lovely the house was, mainly because it was filled to the brim with STUFF she wanted to play with. (Click here for more on info on those temperament colors…)

However, I know that regardless of temperament, everyone enjoys clean space. Even my clutter-loving, cleaning-is-torture YELLOW child is totally inspired and excited when I’ve cleaned and organized a space for her- especially the arts and crafts areas of the house.

Simple living and minimalism creates emotional, physical and spiritual peace that inspires creativity and meaningful activities. Clean, empty space- both physical and nonphysical- is like a blank canvas. You can be free from the bondage that a cluttered lifestyle enslaves you to. 

Let me tell you right now: I have not achieved this level of clutter freedom…YET. I think it’s an ongoing practice. But what I have achieved in simplifying my life has motivated me to keep working toward my simple-living goals.

I also rely on Jesus for His peace that surpasses understanding so I don’t get too obsessed with what I can’t control. I’m convinced that the ultimate cornerstone of a simple and de-cluttered life is having the hope, peace and assurance of eternity with Jesus, and the simplicity of His gospel in your heart. No matter what chaos life inevitably brings, there is ultimate peace and simplicity in a Christ-centered life!

Simplified, Minimalistic Living Requires a Rejection of our Culture and Developing Universal Awareness.

Our lives are absolutely saturated with consumerism. It is an established fact that our culture’s general desire or “need” to have more “stuff” (in its many forms) is a type of psychological addiction, just like any other addiction. Our obsession with “stuff”- including belongings, job titles, accomplishments and social approval- leads us to live self-focused lives directed by greed, entitlement and apathy.

I do not believe we, as a wealthy culture, are any more blessed or wealthy than the impoverished people of the world who have basically nothing, yet are still filled with the joy and hope of eternity.

Stuff-obsession a moral issue, but I believe is also a serious cultural war that is ruining lives now more than ever before.

The marketing industry has mastered the art of using psychological research to manipulate us- especially our children and youth. Through the many avenues of consumerism and advertising, we have been trained to value, obsess over and even worship a life cluttered with belongings, experiences, entertainment, wealth, business success, social popularity, physical fitness, health and anything else that can be bought with a price.

Then, of course, social media has been added to the mix. Social media users are practically addicted to the emotional response of sending and receiving digital (meaningless) life experiences. We are becoming completely disconnected from real life experiences and relationships and depending solely on social approval and popularity to give value to life.

By falling into this trap of consumerism and social dependency we worship at the altar of materialism and success, cluttering every waking moment of our lives with things that have no eternal value at all, which ultimately results in a life that totally lacks peace.

So what do we do about it?

One of my favorite jokes about treasuring earthly things goes something like this:

On his death bed, a man asked his wife to bury him with all his money. She agreed. Before closing his casket she wrote a check for the remaining balance of his bank account and placed it in his hand before his casket was closed. 

Or there’s the popular song lyric:

You can’t go to heaven in a Cadillac. ‘Cuz when you get to heaven it’ll roll right back. 

I find the best way to motivate a change of thinking from consumerism to minimalism is to become more universally aware. What I mean by this is spending time understanding and experiencing how people around the world live in ways so vastly different from our typical American lives.

I grew up regularly visiting an orphanage in Mexico with my mom and a group of missionary friends. These experiences became imprinted in my mind and heart as a young girl and have always remained a part of me. I experienced first-hand how much I had compared to these children who only lived a couple hours away who had basically nothing. I also joined a handful of mission trips with my church groups as I grew older, which all had a similar impact on my life.

Though I’d love to take regular mission trips with my family now, it’s easier said than done. In the meantime we participate in sponsoring poverty stricken families and children through missionary church programs. Through videos, pictures and letters we learn about how they live their daily lives in dirt homes with only a couple items of clothing and things to play with.

We can also easily look up videos and documentaries about different ways of life around the world to help give us daily perspective. We don’t have to watch gruesome videos on the news networks or sensationalized and politically driven documentaries.

I enjoy finding short age-appropriate stories with videos or pictures to share with my kids, such as this video about a poor Chinese boy who is starving and freezing and walks to school an hour each way, every day. It is helpful to reference stories and videos like these, as well as our sponsor children, when we are trying to teach our children to appreciate what they have in life.

The main lesson to be learned is that we don’t need the stuff- the gymnastics lessons and busy schedules, the entertainment, the vacations, the fancy food, the fancy house, decorations, cars, the degree from the top university, or the elusive “perfect” life without trials or emotional issues.

I had an interesting conversation with my daughter about why God lets some people have wealth and some people be poor. (To tell the truth, this came after I was mad and lectured her about how much she has and how unappreciative she is sometimes. God, please give me more grace!!)

At first she thought wealth might be a reward for those who believe in Him, but then she realized that we’ve learned about plenty of people who live with almost nothing yet love God with all their heart. Then there are those who face major adversity, persecution, imprisonment and even death because of their faith. She was confused. Why doesn’t God bless those people the same way He blesses us? I told her I didn’t have a perfect answer.

I suggested that wealth and the ability to have so much in life isn’t so much a reward but possibly a type of challenge from God. How will we use what God gives us? Will we worship the “stuff” and become completely distracted by all the things we’ve cluttered our lives with? Or will we pay attention to what God has given us and realize NONE of it belongs to us, but to Him?

How can we use our lives and what we are given to give glory back to God? If there’s something cluttering our ability to do this, then it’s time to eliminate and work toward the freedom of simplicity

Click here to see all our Project Simplicity Posts! 

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