I recently read The Simple Living Handbook: Discover the Joy of a De-Cluttered Life by Lorilee Lippincott (Skyhorse, 2013). I actually have plenty to say in criticism of the book (I gave it only 2 out of 5 stars on GoodReads, and will review it here when I get the chance), but parts of it were very useful and provocative. One of those being, we really don’t need that much stuff.

For two years of my life, starting when my daughter was age 1, my then-husband and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Tacoma, an apartment with a walk-in closet that served as our daughter’s room. Tiny to start with, it was always cluttered and cramped, yet the thought never occurred to me that it might be less cramped if I just, you know, got rid of stuff.

Since my move to Illinois in 2009, I have (in general) moved to progressively bigger apartments. I now live in a sprawling 3-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and a spacious walk-in closet, an apartment that is probably a good 3 times the size of the apartment that I had in Tacoma from 2007 through 2009. The clutter persists. And the problem with owning lots of stuff, as Lippincott observes, is that you then have to spend time organizing and managing the stuff. Time that I, as a single parent, do not have.

Lippincott suggests that we are conditioned by society to always want more and that we should buck this trend and practice minimalism instead. She asks what we really need to own in order to function on a day-to-day basis, and provides tips for reducing the amount of stuff we own and simplifying several areas of our life. As I’ve taken inventory of the things in our household, I’ve realized that I do own a lot of stuff that I could do without. It doesn’t help that I’ve been starting the process of stuff reduction over the holidays, a time when we usually get even more stuff.

So far I have gotten rid of a few car-trunk-fulls of stuff. I went through my clothes and either threw out or donated 8-10 each of blouses, button-down shirts, slacks & jeans, and dresses & skirts. I got rid of 14-16 pairs of shoes. Many of the shoes were so cute, but barely used, and I just thought, “What few outfits I have that these shoes go with, I can make due with one of the pairs I’ll be keeping.”

Taking stuff to Savers
Taking stuff to Savers

My daughter’s room and my son’s toy areas have been very challenging, in part because every time I try to get rid of a toy, my daughter suddenly morphs into Gollum and the toy is Her Precious, even if it’s broken and she hasn’t touched it in 5 years. I have to do the cleaning, organizing, and sorting of the children’s toys while they are not around. I do appreciate Lippincott’s advice in this department. Lippincott says:

The goal of cleaning out the kids’ room is that they have a clean (and easy-to-clean) space with toys that encourage creative play and imagination. We want a room kids will be excited to run into by themselves, with siblings, or with friends, and get lost for hours playing games that they will talk about over supper and continue in their dreams. . . . It is about creating an outcome, not denying or cutting back. (Kindle e-book Location 460-467, 33%)

I think my kids have so much stuff that, in addition to their play areas being a mess, they just get overstimulated and don’t know what to play with. I spent some time sorting, eliminating, and organizing my son’s toys today. Almost every toy he owns is in this shot now:

My son's toys, organized
My son’s toys, organized

Another challenge area for me is anything that was given to me by my late mother, who liked to give very goofy and silly things. I have a hard time getting rid of anything she gave me, no matter how broken or dirty or useless it is, because I will never get anything from her again. A few years ago, I threw away a Fisher-Price Laugh & Learning Toolbench that my mother had given my daughter. The toy had been wildly popular with my daughter, who carried it around with her everywhere and played with it until it broke. I finally relented and carried it out to the dumpster, feeling like an idiot as this small act of tossing a broken toy brought me to sobs.

They don't make this version anymore. :(
They don’t make this version anymore. 🙁

I have to remember, though, that the stuff my mother gave me isn’t her, and I already have a space for remembering her in my apartment: a shelf on my wall that contains pictures of her and an urn containing her ashes. That is probably enough space to remember her by. I probably don’t have to hold onto every dirty and decades-old thing she gave me.


My "Mom" shelf
My “Mom” shelf

What does surprise me about this process is how spiritual this process has been. Saying, “God, I could keep this ________, but it’s a want and not a need, so I’m giving it up” somehow has brought me closer to God. For that I am grateful, and for that reason I look forward to continuing the process.

Yes, that’s right. Saying good-bye to cute shoes can bring you closer to God! Who’d have thunk?

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