Why Choose to Live with Less?
What Living in Smaller Spaces Has Taught Me: Everything Has a Place
I’ve been trying to write and finish this post for a few weeks now. I think my struggle is in trying to fit everything in that I really want to share with you all! Organization and minimalism are areas that I feel so passionate about, yet I even still struggle with at times. I constantly go back and forth between living simply and organized, or letting it all go and not worrying about the chaos, so I can just play with my kids. BUT - I think a combination of all those is the golden ticket. You WILL be able to let it all go, so that you can focus on your kids or whatever else it may be that day, if everything in your home has a place and it’s easy to just put back. You won't dread getting toys out and actually playing with them, because its an easy cleanup. I've found I'm so much happier, a better mama, a more loving wife, when I am not surrounded by stuff everywhere. Do you notice that it affects your mood too? (More on how a few plants help me with adding to a happy home, too, here!).
I've never really been a fan of clutter, even as a child. Even worse than me in this department, is my husband Jeff. I think we are just a family of little clutter-hating freaks. Even Ella will screech, mamaaaaaa, Lola made a huge messssssss! Maybe Lola will emerge as a free-spirited messy child, and torture us all. ha! Truly, I don’t consider this a gift of mine - more like a problem! It’s actually really difficult to relax when I know things are scattered or disorganized. A big struggle of mine has been just to freely play with my girls, without my mind wandering into little things around me, and it's an area I will always continue to work on. Letting go, and forcing my myself to be in the moment, rather than thinking of what needs to be done. Over the years, I’ve learned the best solution for me in working towards this goal, is to live minimally. And let me share with you, because I know what it has done for me...this lifestyle can be really freeing and life-changing!
Jeff and I have a really good laugh about it now, but some really fond memories came from a month of living in a completely empty 1-bedroom apartment, just the three of us (this was when we just had Ella). Probably hard to imagine, right? It was quite the adventure. :) Two summers ago after we moved to Berkeley, we were waiting to close on our new house but needed a place to go while we waited. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law had moved out of their apartment, and let us take over the last month of their lease, but we didn't have our furniture yet from the moving company. What we did have were mattresses on the floor, a teeny weeny table, and a few necessary kitchen items. Evenings were spent sprawled out on the floor watching shows, sitting on the balcony drinking wine listening to the next door neighbor sing opera, watching Ella do somersaults freely and sprawl her toys everywhere, and waking up to a nice, clean kitchen because there wasn't much in it! I guess you could say it was kinda like being on vacation, but it really proved the point that we don't need all of that extra stuff. I really felt so happy and carefree. I wonder sometimes if we felt like we were on vacation because we didn't have any stuff to worry about.
Be Thoughtful About Your Things: Quality Over Quantity
My friend was just having a good laugh at my inability to collect things. Our sippee cup drawer has probably nine cups total, haha. But in my defense, I’ve carefully and thoughtfully selected just the right cups! And…when Lola walks over, opens the drawer, and throws all of them onto the floor, it’s a quick clean-up.
I've found it to be pretty satisfying to be thoughtful about the things we buy, since everything in our little 1200-square foot home has a place. There can only be one drawer of sippee cups - so I want the ones we have to be super functional, not leak, be made of healthy materials, that the kids want to use (you all know which cups your kids favor). It’s kinda like packing a suitcase. We (myself included) pack too many clothes, to then only wear our favorite outfits that we really feel awesome in.
I once heard from a person, that every item in your house is paying rent. This was coming from a family living in a tiny apartment (where cost per sq. foot is super duper expensive), and literally every square inch was costing them. Gosh, that’s a good way to think about what we really want to keep. It changed my entire perspective, and I've never forgotten it. It’s so much easier to think, does this item really need to be taking up space? My sister goes about the same thing by asking herself a different question - does this item still bring me joy? More on that in the book The Art of Tidying Up. I really get major satisfaction - and my bet is that you will, too - out of purging our stuff every few months. It feels invigorating and freeing to me, to get rid of something we don’t need or use anymore.
Process of the Big Cleanse
To me organizing is a pretty dreamy activity. Certainly most people are not weird like this, so if that's you, have no fear. You can learn to love to purge your stuff! A couple months ago, I flew back to Portland and helped a friend do some major re-organization and purging at her house. Below I’ve outlined my basic process for how I like to go about the big C-L-E-A-N-S-E (which I prefer to spell for those who are a bit sensitive to getting rid of things. :)
- Remove all items from the space you’re organizing (i.e. take every last item out of the closet)
- Sort into two piles: I still use / I don’t use or need anymore (and really force yourself to think about this one…or better yet, read The Art of Tidying Up before you start this process :)
- Put all the “I don’t use” stuff into a bag for Goodwill (it's a great tax write off!), or give it to people who need it. Clear it out!
- Whatever’s left - the “I still use” pile - think about ways you could separate those items. For example, in my friend’s bathroom we labeled four plastic bins to go in her vanity: 1) hair, 2) face, 3) body, and 4) travel.
- Everything in your home should have a place…if it doesn’t, then think about whether you really need it.
- If the “place” is getting full, think about what needs to go.
This may seem daunting to you, especially if you’re thinking yeah right, I can't keep things organized! I have three wild kids running around, throwing toys every which way and it looks like a tornado came through when they’re done. Trust me, I know!!! And you may not believe me, but it won’t take long for the kids even to learn where things go when it comes time for cleanup. My girls know that the books go in our TV cabinet, the puzzles go under the couch, the legos in the closet, etc. I remember the day I sorted all of Ella’s little toys into plastic bins with lids, I was wondering how long it would last. But really - I know she prefers to keep them in their bins so that it’s easier to play with them the next time. When friends come over for a playdate and the house gets crazy messy, it takes all of five or ten minutes to put it all back.
Most of us, myself included, leave things around the house, rather than in their “place”. And to a certain extent this is healthy, because we can’t possibly always be picking up, straightening, or putting things away. But I think the point is, that it should take just about as much time to put something in it’s place, than it would to just set it down in a random spot. Yeah, but days are crazy. Especially with kids in the house, I barely get to pee let alone make sure things are in their spot. So maybe this takes place after kids are in bed, or just once each day. It doesn’t need to become an obsession, but at some point in the day you need to feel a sense of calm about the space around you. Zen-like. AHHHH.
In the future I’ll be doing a lot more in this series of posts on minimalism and organizing, so keep watching for new tips! Below I’m just going to briefly touch on a few areas that people expressed interest in hearing about.
Tips on Organizing Areas Around the House
Kids' closet: Again, I really think about what the kids will actually wear. After all, if your kids are like my kids, even at their youngest age they don’t like to wear what they don’t like. I’ve found e-bay or consignment shops to be great for getting rid of gently-used kids clothes. To organize, I used big soft bins in the Ikea Expedit system. Each bin labeled with: blankets/sheets, too small (clothes that need to be put in storage), too big (clothes that don’t fit yet), art work, toys, dirty laundry.
Kids' clothes: I have a bin in each closet for “too small” or “too big”. When the “too small” bin gets full, I either donate the clothes, or put them in a vacuum seal bag up in the attic.
Dressers: We sorted the drawers in the dresser into: 1) pants, 2) skirts, 3) pajamas, 4) short-sleeve/tanks, 5) long-sleeve, and 6) underwear/socks.
Art work / sentimental memories: I have a big open sliding basket in Ella’s closet, that every piece of art goes into. We will often hang stuff on the fridge, but eventually take it down and it goes in the basket. Finished school papers go in there too. Once it gets full, every few months or even once a school year, I go through the WHOLE pile and (secretly) toss out everything but my favorite pieces. Those go into a plastic bin, like this one, titled “4-5 years” and into attic storage. So the only artwork in the house is just from the current months. Sentimental things also go into this bin.
Trinket toys: Someone asked me, what do I do with all of the little plastic toys and trinkets kids get from dentists and birthday parties, etc.? Great question! I let Ella keep it in her room for a couple of weeks and then I sneak in and throw it all away! Does she notice? Nope, hahaha. Maybe your kids would notice…but try it once or twice to test it out. Or, give them a big mason jar or small plastic bin with a lid, that all of these items can go into. A mini “junk bin” for your child. And definitely, tuck this one away under a piece of furniture or inside a closet. When you see more little trinkets floating around the room, just toss them in with the rest of it, ha! And then every couple months...purge some.
Laundry: Probably like you, each bedroom has a laundry bin. Ours are small, literally one basket inside the Ikea Expedit cube. I do have loads of laundry piling up and it’s a #dailystruggle, LOL. Pretty much I’ve found that its easiest to do it all in one day, sort into four piles by person, then quickly fold each pile and put away. We all help!
Books: We have these in several places. The one thing I am picky about it keeping the library books separate from our books. All of the library books go into the gold wire basket in Ella's room, and we all know that's the spot for them. It makes it easy when it comes time to take them back.
Toys: This is one subject that has a lot of elements to it. It seems to me that my kids play best and use their minds creatively when toys are placed all over the house in different spaces. Primarily they are in the girls’ bedrooms and our living area though. In Ella’s room, she has a lot of small plastic tubs with lids, a few big plastic tubs with lids, and then a lot of soft square bins. I do my best to group toys together into each bin. All board games are stacked in her closet on top of the Expedit. For some reason it’s actually difficult for me to get rid of toys. Strange isn’t it?! I could let go of a handbag that cost way too much, but not a Mr. Potato Head? I think, gosh well what if they suddenly decide to play with this?! They won’t. I should know by now! I think we can all identify the toys our kids play with. If they haven’t touched it, they probably won’t. Do them and yourself a favor and donate it!
Dress up clothes and accessories: Again, all stuffed into a big soft bin inside the Expedit case. This cheap bookcase type structure sure does hide a lot of sh*@%$!!! I love them for organizing closets. We have a smaller plastic bin with a lid, for all of her little accessories like crowns, wands, etc.
Does this help as a start? I’d love to hear what topics you’d enjoy reading more of in regards to organization and purging. If you struggle with staying organized and de-cluttering, feel free to get in touch! This is an area that I truly love and enjoy, and I know it can truly relieve stress in a person’s life (it has for me!). I am here to help you if you need encouragement! :) Send me an email...I'd love to hear from you.