Having Less and Living More

Jen Holman essays

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Leaving your home for an extended amount of time and then returning is a revealing experience. We were away this year for over five months and during that time most of our possessions were in a storage space near our home. Now that we are back, we get a rare chance: to move back into our home for a second time.

While traveling, the girls were each allowed to bring a child’s size backpack with whatever books and toys they wanted inside, one large Ziploc bag of Lego’s, and a craft. We bought art supplies like paints and paper where we were living. That’s really all they played with for five months. Lucky for us, their grandparents kept us well stocked in Rainbow Loom bands, but otherwise I never heard them ask for more STUFF. They never moaned about the one million stuffed animals in boxes back home, or the countless figurines or junky loot bag trinkets. I was pretty shocked and pleasantly surprised that they could live off of so little, and that they actually seemed LESS bored. They played with what they had all the time, instead of allowing it to grow dusty on a shelf. We lived in small quarters, but their room was never messy. Toys did not overflow into baskets and bins on the floor, and pieces of games never got lost. I started to look at our previous life back home as though it was an old episode of Hoarders—Why were we keeping all this stuff? Did our reasons make any more sense than those you hear on that show? I might need this… stack of newspapers… 40 cans of cat food… rice maker… vegetable steamer… shell collection… paint samples… It's a slippery slope.

If leaving our home was illuminating, leaving these cities was just as revealing, as we gave away many of our belongings to lighten our load. I really did feel lighter. And I really thought about how someone else could use the things I don’t need. I started thinking of how we keep all this stuff we aren’t using, and it began to seem selfish. There are clothes and baby toys and books and linens and all sorts of things in my home that we are not using that someone else could. Someone else might even need it, while I have the privilege of keeping it tucked away for the sake of sentimentality or laziness.

Once we got back to our home, we unpacked our cases from our trip. And stopped. I thought we would rush to the storage space for our old treasures, but really once we had all the necessities in our home, I couldn’t really remember what was in those other boxes. I really liked the sparseness of our living spaces. I liked how quick it was to do laundry. I liked how tidy the rooms were.

We finally went to the storage space and got our boxes and put them in the garage. Boxes and boxes labeled “Toys” or “Memorabilia” (which is code for trinkets we picked up somewhere, don’t really use, but don’t want to get rid of). One box labeled “VHS Tapes” and another “LEGO Manuals.” Seriously?

I am determined to only bring half of what’s in the garage into our home. Some of it has been surprisingly easy. I'd say that 50% of my wardrobe didn't fit, or were things that I never wore. Another 25% I was keeping for sentimental reasons. I did keep some things, but allowed just one bin of sentimental clothes, like my wedding dress, and a few other items. But let me tell you, getting dressed is so much easier now! Fewer clothes means less time doing laundry. I cut down on linens too, giving away those we don't use, or mismatched sheets and pillowcases.

We have five bath towels now, not 10. There is no backed up pile in the basement and doing laundry doesn't seem like such an overwhelming task.

The hardest part is coming up, the books. We all love books around here, but we don’t really have the space for them. I’m trying to be discerning as I bring them out. Looking at them one by one—Will I read this again? Or do I just enjoy the memory of reading it? So far we've made $40 at Half Price Books.

It's not only me who needs to cut down. Yesterday the kids went through the Lego’s—the sheer volume of which was threatening to take over our home. There was too much of it to actually find good pieces and the kids never wanted to go through the three huge boxes of it in the closet. Even before we left they would only play with a little bit they had pulled out and kept in a shoebox. Yesterday I had them go through all of it and pick out the stuff they wanted to keep, and we got rid of the rest of it. It was not an easy task, and there was plenty of grumbling. Now they have a manageable amount of Lego’s each, in a small bin, which I believe they will actually enjoy now. Despite the struggle, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment after this unloading. Then a terrifying thought occurred to me last night. One day, perhaps soon, they will want to buy another LEGO set. How will I ever keep this tide of stuff from coming back into the house? I think it’s probably a constant battle against the clutter, and a constant need to be conscious and discerning about what we buy, consume, collect.

I’ve realized that there is no arrival point. It's a new lifestyle we're embarking upon and I'm excited about the time we'll have to spend doing other things. I think about all the hours we used to spend “organizing” the garage, their rooms, the closets. Now I see that we were really just managing our stuff. “Stuff” has already taken away hours, days of my real life.

Not anymore.


About the Author

Jen Holman

Jen is a Canadian living in the U.S., homeschooling her two girls and following her husband around the world on his teaching gigs. Currently in Istanbul, Turkey, Jen enjoys her status as an expat (squared), being caffeinated and eating baklava.

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March 2015 – Simplify
We are partnering this month with the marvelous minimalists:
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