In my post on the What, Why and How of Simplifying, many of you asked specific questions about practical ways to simplify your everyday lives. I’d love to help troubleshoot and answer those questions today. While a grand idea is good, the nitty gritty of how it plays out in real life is so much more interesting.
Here we go…
Q: What do you do when your spouse does not feel the same about decluttering?
A: This is a great question, because a more minimalist home at the expense of your marriage is definitely not worth it. My husband is a saver, whereas I am much less sentimentally attached to things. I also think clutter just doesn’t bother him as much. Here are a few things I have learned over the last ten years of marriage…
First, you gradually begin to appreciate the strengths the other brings to the table. For example, I have slowly become more and more grateful open to my husband’s skills in budgeting, even though I was initially very resistant to accounting for every single penny. I’ve seen how much it has benefited our family when I started following his lead. Likewise, he was resistant to me going through his stuff and editing it, he gradually began to see that our home functioned better and had more breathing space after decluttering.
Second, you can’t get rid of his stuff without telling him. This will not go over well. However, there were times when I would start a little collection box in the basement for things that I guessed he wasn’t using anymore. Like a little experiment, I would move it to the box for let’s say, 6 months and forget about it. If he asked for it or needed it in the 6 month period, I could easily retrieve it. If he didn’t…when I was ready to donate the box, I could say, “This has been sitting forgotten in the basement for 6 months, would you be willing to let it go?” Sometimes, he says yes. :)
Third, it is helpful to explain the why behind the what. In our case, I really began decluttering as we had kids and I started staying home full-time. Our house effectively became my office 24/7, so clutter really bugged me. I had to stare at it all day, while he was away from home working a large percentage of the time. I truly believe, that a cluttered space can lead to a cluttered mind. Also as we had more kids, our possessions increased to accommodate them. We could no longer afford space-wise to have a guest room where we just piled up our cast-offs. Living in an older home with small closets and three little kids, meant we need to make our space work as efficiently as possible. Verbalizing these reasons allowed him to understand my viewpoint and prevented him from feeling defensive about decluttering.
Q: What if your child is a saver?
One of my friends has a child who is a saver, particularly of artwork and creative projects. They are scattered around the house and my friend, while she loves her child’s creative spirit, feels overrun by the visual clutter. Here’s my suggestion: Create a treasure box for your child. This could be an underbed box or a shoebox to tuck in a closet. You pick the size based on your child’s collection. A box gives your child a boundary line to work within. The child can keep as many projects as fit in the box, but as a time goes on and the space fills up, they will need to pick what to keep and what to let go of. The clutter is contained to one space, and they claim ownership of the decluttering and the saving.
Q: Do have any guides that you’ve found especially helpful for different areas? I’d love to brainstorm a plan to simplify both different areas of my life and more tangible areas of our home.
Well, the book that truly jumpstarted my love for simplifying is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. I would highly recommend reading it for decluttering toys and kid gear. However, I also like their overall philosophy of home and some of their mantras for why simplicity is important for our brains and well-being (for adults too, not just kids).
For paperwork + filing cabinets, I refer to Martha Stewart’s guide.
I’ve also read Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider, which helps you think big-picture about how you want your home to feel, then gives a 10-day plan for simplifying. Erin Loechner is someone who I always admire for her penchant towards simplicity and her book, Chasing Slow, is another that certainly gives practical ways to declutter, but also eloquently describes ways to slow down and be more mindful and peace-filled.
Q: When you started simplifying, how did you go about starting? I am reading a bunch about simplification but having a hard time just jumping into it.
I started with my own closet. I had just had my first child and was no longer teaching, so much of my wardrobe wasn’t working anymore. This worked well for me, because my wardrobe was mine and I didn’t need to consult my husband about decluttering. I could try things on and decide what to sell, donate, or give to friends. I also really needed a fresh start after the ways my body had changed after having a baby.
From there, I got kind of hooked on a simpler, pared-down way of living. I think the next thing I focused on was our kitchen cabinets and then maybe the baby toys and gear. Registering for things before marriage and before babies is awesome, and people are wildly generous and kind. However, you sometimes don’t know exactly what you will use or need. So, assessing what we actually needed to keep and what wasn’t serving a purpose was my next big project.
I slowly spread from the kitchen to other areas of the house. One day I tackled our coat closet. Another I went go through our bathroom drawers. We try to take a day every year to clean out and straighten up the garage. After Christmas last year, I decluttered the excess decorations we hadn’t used. As my husband started to see the ways our home was more efficient and everything had its place, he was more willing to help me tackle areas of our home that we needed to work through together.
Now, I occasionally declutter areas of our home, but it doesn’t need to happen as often. Once you begin to see what you are donating and can better see the beautiful and useful things that remain, you stop buying so much stuff. You spend a lot more time analyzing before clicking buy. At least that’s what has happened for us!
Q: How does external simplicity (around the house) inspire internal simplicity and mental focus?
I found the article, Living with Less, A Lot Less, by Graham Hill very interesting. Here are a few key excerpts:
“In a study published last year titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” researchers at U.C.L.A. observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. Seventy-five percent of the families involved in the study couldn’t park their cars in their garages because they were too jammed with things.”
“In a recent study, the Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen linked consumption with aberrant, antisocial behavior.”
Stress spikes? Antisocial behavior? No thanks.
I also love a section in Simplicity Parenting that says, if a child sees a mountain of toys, none of the toys have value. The child is so overwhelmed, it becomes hard to play. The same is true for a pile of presents, or a stuffed toy box. At least for our kids, contentment and joy doesn’t happen when there is too much. They have deeper, more focused play and imagination when they have less. I’m sure the same is true for me too.
Q: How do you deal with grandparents or other well-intentioned relatives that would get their feelings hurt if they couldn’t give an overload of toys and gifts to your kids? Especially if they just really dislike the idea of giving “experiences” and would rather give actual objects?
Well, even if they say they dislike the idea of giving experiences, I would first try to win them over. Have them choose an experience that they could attend with your child. Maybe try giving them an experience this year? There is truly nothing like taking a little girl to her first Nutcracker ballet or a little guy to his first soccer game, and watching their eyes light up. My guess is they don’t want to give experiences, because it’s not as exciting to watch a child open that present. So, try to add in some tangible gifts that coordinate. A few ideas in case this works…
If that doesn’t work…. I recommend starting an Amazon Wish List, so you can gently encourage them to shop from it instead of winging it. This has definitely worked for our kids as they have started having their own preferences of what they would like as presents. Also, we’ve sometimes asked for bigger gifts that we know the kids will use over and over – like a bike or a set of magnatiles, instead of 10 small gifts.
If you find they still prefer to give a lot of gifts…. one thing that has helped me is remembering that I am not a victim of my stuff. Each item is in my home because I allow it to be, so if something isn’t serving your family (even if it was a gift), it is ok to let it go. This is also something from Simplicity Parenting, so if you need more encouragement, grab that book and read their thoughts on gifts. Basically, they say a giver is entitled to give and have all the joy of giving, but that doesn’t mean you are required to keep the item forever and ever.
Well, that sums up our first ever Q + A post. I hope it was helpful! Thanks so much for reading along and good luck with all your simplicity endeavors, friends.