Monday, October 7, 2013

October simplified

Our culture is obsessed with finding ways to “simplify” our lives. Every time a new gadget comes out, it promises to simplify our lives. (I actually think my smart phone complicates my life more than it simplifies it.) Each new processed food product promises to simplify a meal to accommodate busy lifestyles with phrases like ‘all-in-one’ and ‘great on-the-go.’ 

In our house, I feel like when it comes to diet, we do make simple choices, even if the dishes we make are sometimes complex and the many places we source foods can make shopping complicated. We use whole, clean foods and try to keep the chain from the farm to our table as short as possible. We celebrate the simple pleasure of a ripe tomato in August or perfect strawberries in June.

But what about the rest of our lives? I got to thinking about this question a lot during the Mother Earth News Fair. Mark and I are blessed to live in a house that is more than adequate in size for our needs. But how did we move from a two-bedroom tiny apartment to a three-bedroom house and somehow within two years fill it up with stuff? We often talk about a dream of living in a small cabin on lots of land – but we can’t do that with an entire house full of stuff. We live a sustainable lifestyle when it comes to what we eat. But how can we carry that lifestyle into other areas of our life?

Having a burst of energy this weekend, I spent most of Saturday organizing one of our bedrooms – the area that functions like an office/library. It has two closets, both of which were bursting – and I’m ashamed to admit the doors hadn’t been shut for probably a year. The entire room was lined with bookcases packed full of hundreds of books, knick knacks and dust. After about 10 hours, I had about 12 boxes of items to sell or donate and had reduced my books by about 50%, a huge feat for me, having a master’s degree in literature and reading being one of the great loves of my life.

This was just one room, but the sense of success, and honestly, peace, I had from completing that task was amazing. I can walk in that room now and not feel that the walls are closing in on me – and I can shut those closet doors. It suddenly felt so much closer to “simple.”

So I’m devoting time in October to simplifying our home. Making space for the things that contribute to the joy we create in the home, and getting rid of things that don’t. I will probably feature some of the simplified spaces on Instagram (@nextgenhouse).

Let’s talk simplifying. What things do you do in your house to keep things simple? Do you have any great strategies to address the challenge of organizing or downsizing?


  1. Our rule is if you buy something new you have to get rid of something just like it. So if we buy new shoes, we get rid of a pair; new shirt, get rid of an old shirt. We don't shop often for much aside from the necessities really. I did need new clothes for church and I used my bday money recently. Ron got new work shoes. Our closet was a disaster...especially old shoes. We wear clothes and shoes until they fall off or are worn out! We did an overhaul of the closet and dressers Saturday. Got 2 garbage bags to donate (Ron said donate or sell and I said no yard sales til a house and I'm not keeping clothes!) and a garbage bag of clothes to throw out and 2 bags of shoes to throw out. Our closet is organized now. I also, personally, have a rule that if I don't use it or wear it in the past year, it needs to go. Needless to say when we DO move, I'm getting rid of stuff. I only say not until then because there's no way to do a yard sale. Mom and dad aren't doing them anymore and we can't where we live. I don't mind donating so I may say forget the hassle of a yard sale and just donate.

    We want to get rid of all DVDs and CDs too. But that requires some work. (minus any MWS of course! :)).

    We have definitely out grown our current apartment.

    This, too, is why I am only asking for clothes (next sizes/season) and books for Caroline for Christmas and Amazon gift cards for me (for my kindle) - NO MORE STUFF NEEDED! Hopefully SOME listen to that request....

    Also try to keep things simple by making stuff from scratch. Flour and water don't go bad but buying a pie crust in a box can. Plus canning is best b/c I KNOW what goes into it. I cannot WAIT to have our own garden!

  2. That's a great idea - to get rid of something if something new comes in. Ironically, in the last few years we haven't acquired a ton of new things except for what we've needed for the house and gardens. But somehow all the stuff we bought before that is still around, even when we don't use it! I can't even tell you how many unused coffee mugs I have in my basement right now. It's shameful!

  3. In our before-children days, it was pretty easy for me to stay on top of "simple" living. Since we've had our 4 kids in the last 6 years, I haven't had the opportunity to pare down and keep things simple. I keep a list of my hot spots (kitchen counter beside the oven where the mail inbox is, top of the deep freeze in the garage, on top of the dresser in the bedroom, etc.) and go through those every couple of weeks. The papers coming from school are killing me right now! I keep telling myself that when Jackson goes to preschool that I'm going to do the biggest house purge I've ever done.

    I do try to stick to Alton Brown's thought that we shouldn't have any "unitaskers" in the kitchen unless absolutely necessary. I also stick to the idea that if something hasn't been touched in 3 months, it needs to be dealt with- goodwill, trash, storage for future kids, etc.

    If you ask Roger, he'd probably tell you that I "rage clean" on an average of about once a month. Whatever hot spot that happens to get in my way when I'm really angry is a hot spot no more.

    1. Ah, rage cleaning! I usually do rage organizing - like when I open a closet and something falls out on my head, it usually ends with me yelling "WHY IN THE WORLD DO WE NEED A CHEESE BOARD WITH A FAT CHEF ON IT WHEN WE DON'T EVER SERVE CHEESE ON ANYTHING OTHER THAN A PLATE?"

      I think Alton Brown's advice is right on - someone gave me a "quesadilla maker" in a white elephant gift exchange at Christmas and that thing went straight to Goodwill.