The weekend before Thanksgiving my family moved for the third time in 3 1/2 years. It was also the third time that we have downsized. We started with a 2000+-square-foot house that we bought in 2005. For the simple reason that my husband wanted to leave his then-current career to go back to school, we moved out in 2008 to live in the second floor of my parents’ house. We kept a large part of our belongings in storage but downsized some. The biggest change came in 2010 when we moved into a duplex about 1000 square feet in size, not including a bit of basement space. We downsized again, getting rid of about half of what had been piled into our 8 x 10 storage unit. Finally, this year we moved into an apartment a little less than 1000 square feet, losing one small but important room and basement space that we had in the duplex. We have downsized over half our space and belongings from what we owned when living in our house!
Benefits to simple living and small spaces
Overall, I have to say we have both been very happy with the changes in our living space, even if it can be challenging sometimes. We have discovered many benefits to living simply in our smaller spaces. We have a much smaller impact on the environment, for one. Our space costs less to heat and cool and less to supply with electricity. Fewer resources are used to maintain, clean, and furnish it.
One benefit I was particularly thrilled to discover when moving into the duplex was that even with two boys it was much easier to maintain a clean home. Instead of living with more messes or worrying about finding time to clean and stressing about both, I moved into an easy rhythm that allowed time to clean and plenty of time to enjoy my peace of mind playing with my boys, or (imagine this) time to myself!
Living small and simply has also encouraged us to spend more time outdoors. We’ve grown into a habit of being outside for hours of the day in nice weather: sitting on the porch in the morning, walking and hiking, playing in the yard or visiting the nearby park. Even in the cold of winter, most days we take a walk or play in the snow.
Living in such close quarters allows for a situation in which I can easily keep an eye on the boys while getting other things done, and then I have more time to spend with them later. In fact, living so closely has encouraged us to spend more time together instead of in separate rooms across the house.
Steps you can take
I would encourage anyone to take steps towards simpler living and, when you have the opportunity, smaller spaces. To help you out, I gathered some steps I’ve taken in three main “areas” where we all tend to collect “more.”
Be creative with where you keep it. In the past, I’ve boxed up clothing that I wasn’t wearing that season and stored it elsewhere – in a hall closet, basement, under the bed. If this works for you, do it. It lends visual simplicity to your clothing spaces. In our apartment now, I don’t have as much storage space so I have to keep most of it on my shelves. This means I really had to cut back on how much clothing I own. I had to fit almost everything on my shelves and in half of a small closet. I was surprised that I could do it and still have so much clothing!
How do I cut down on my wardrobe? Three hard rules: First, at the end of the summer and winter, I go through my clothing. If I haven’t worn an article all season, I donate it. Second, if an article of clothing was given to me but I don’t wear it or want it, I might wait a year before donating it. Third, if I don’t love it, I donate it. These rules, of course, can apply to anyone’s clothing. It’s a bit different with the boys since they grow out of clothing before the next season, but I find that I do spend less money on “new” clothing if I am honest about what they love and are going to wear.
When we owned a house, my Christmas decorations turned half of our house into a Winter Wonderland. I had a good four bins full of decorations. I had another two or three for other holiday and general decor. This is an area I have dramatically changed. I have now downsized to two bins – one for Christmas and one for the rest of the year.
These are the basic rules I’ve developed to help downsize this collection. First, I selected decorations that would be versatile both for seasons and everyday. Second (this is still a work in progress), I decorate minimally for a clean look. This also helps create the idea of space in a small room or house. Third, I have incorporated more natural objects into my decor that can be returned to the outdoors at the end of the season. Fourth, if I didn’t love it, I donated it. If you find that you can’t decide on whether to donate an item or not, store it away for a month or so and see how you feel afterwards.
Who hasn’t grumbled about how many toys tend to collect in their children’s room? This was an area I was especially pleased to dramatically downsize during our last move. Their bedroom has more space for play and the smaller number of open-ended toys we kept nurture their imaginations. Here are a few rules to use for paring down on toys.
First, I pay attention to what is played with consistently. Even if the toy was a gift, if my two boys aren’t playing with it, I donate it. If they don’t play with it, they will likely not notice when it’s gone. Second, it is a hard rule that if we are receiving toys, we are giving toys as well. As little ones, I don’t involve them or make a big deal about it. Before the age of four (maybe older), they are just too young to understand. My older boy is used to the purging now, so he knows and is involved.
Third, take advantage of a move or another similar situation. When we moved this last time, we gradually brought the entirety of our belongings. This meant that a few favorite toys came with us right away and the others were left behind. I thought we would have to head back for them soon after but pleasantly discovered how content the boys were with what toys we had at the new place. I certainly took advantage of the situation and donated most of what was left, keeping only what I knew they played with consistently. Other than moving, another option may be a room redecoration or a birthday. I recently read about someone having a friend come in and clean out her child’s toys and replace them with a few new ones. When the friend was done, she came to the little girl and explained that some faeries came and magically transformed her room. The child was so delighted with the story and new toys that the lack of her old things didn’t cross her mind.
If you aren’t sure about what toys to get rid of, try selecting a few you suspect would be okay and store them for awhile. If they are forgotten, then donate them. As for acquiring new toys during birthdays and holidays, well, we try to be very specific about what toys the boys enjoy, and most often we encourage gifts of experiences – trips to a new park or date night with grandma; or memberships – to the zoo or children’s museum.
Sure, it can be tricky sometimes trying to maintain the simplicity, but the benefits, for us, have definitely outweighed the inconveniences. Living simply in a small space has affected my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Keeping a clean, simple home helps me to clear my mental clutter and think twice about what I am willing to consume or keep. When I eliminate extra “things” in my life, it tends to eliminate some emotional stress and it always gives me a bit more space to just breathe and be present. Not to mention, the smaller impact I have on the earth lends me a greater peace of mind.
Acacia is a stay at home mama playing through life one moment at a time with her husband and two young sons. She is a natural parenting, cloth diapering, gentle disciplining, home schooling, wholesome foods eating, spiritually centered steward to this great Mother Earth.