Even Home Organization Has Limits

I read Lorilee’s book 3-2-1 Stop this spring. It really resonated with some things that have been stirring in my own heart and mind, and I asked her to share more about her journey with you…

Written by Lorilee Lippincott, Guest Writer

I was always good at organizing.  I had never been accused of being a horder.  I usually knew what I had and where it was. I was just like any other mom with 2000 square feet of happy home and little feet.  But I couldn’t handle it all.  

I wanted to be a good wife, mother, teacher, daughter-of-God, servant to the community, and have time for my physical and mental health but I felt I was drowning in too many things to do – too much to hold up.  I was trying to juggle so many hats I didn’t have a chance to wear any of them right.  Something had to change.

About a year and a half ago I decided to start making changes.  At first I was just going to try and cut down on what we owned so I would have less to take care of and put away.  But the more we thought and talked as a family the more we realized we could live with much less stuff and still be happy.  ‘What if we got rid of this?’  ‘What if we sold this?’  got common in our conversations and in my head and the amount of stuff we realized we didn’t need became just as large or larger than the things we wanted to keep.

We were adopting minimalism without knowing what it was or what it was called. Since than I have learned a lot about minimalism and have gotten to know several other minimalists. Minimalism recognizes it isn’t more organization we need in our homes – it is less stuff. Minimalism recognizes that it isn’t new planners or better budgets we need for our time and money – it is less entries.  Minimalism isn’t about denying yourself anything, it is about making sure what is most important has the space and time it needs. I wrote more about what minimalism is a few months ago.

So since that turning point 18 months ago our family has made a pretty dramatic change.  I am still organized.  I still know what I have and where it is.  My kids still constantly stir everything in the house.  But things are way different.

18 months later:

Now my family (hubby and 2 kids ages 8, 5) lives in a 730 square foot apartment with no garage, little storage space, and plenty of room.  We have a few things stored at my in-laws, but the rest of everything we owned easily moved to this new apartment in a 10′ UHaul truck.  I packed, moved, and did most unpacking in 1 day at the end of June when we moved.

The process has taken 18 months.  When we started we never intended to get rid of more than 30%-50% of our belongings.  Now 18 months later I figure we have about 10% of what we owned before.  The crazy thing is that none of us, including the kids, remember much of the things we got rid of.

Now, this is probably a bit extreme and what we are doing probably doesn’t work for most people.  I think minimalism would benefit everyone but not every minimalist looks the same.

Where organization works to fit as much as possible into a space as efficiently as possible minimalism asks the questions:

  1. Do I really want to keep this?
  2. Would I miss it if it was gone?
  3. How often do I really use this?

The answer to all these questions will be different for everyone.  A minimalist will keep the things they need and the things they loveEverything that doesn’t fit in either of these two categories is removed.  Every home and every family has different needs and different values. A minimalist could keep only these two categories and have less than 100 things or a minimalist could still need 2000 square feet of space.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed.  If you are searching for a new organization trick or product.  If you want an answer instead of just a quick fix – consider the idea of minimalism.

Minimalism can go by different names.  Some people call it simple living.  Some people call it responsible living.  Some people call it intentional living.  These all have similar ideas.

This spring I released a book on simple-minimalist living for the Christian family.  It is called 321 Stop – stop running and start living and is all about how you can stop feeling overwhelmed and behind by simplify your life.   It includes our story as well as tips and tricks we learned along the way.

Specifically included are tips to simplify:

  • wardrobe
  • kitchen
  • kids toys
  • money
  • food
  • emotions
  • …and lots more.

It has been such an amazing process for us.  The one word that sums it up the best is ‘freeing’.  Less to take care of, less to sort through, less to pick between, less to manage.

I am still far from perfect with the different rolls I am trying to fill in my life but I am happy with the time I spend on them.  Last year it seemed like a crazy drastic change but I am so glad we did it.  You might not want to simplify as far as we have, but I encourage you to try.  It has been so worth it! 

About Lorilee Lippincott

God seeker, writer, intentional wanderer, wife, and mom.

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Comments

  1. I’ve always maintained a minimalist thought process in my head, but between a husband who prefers me to not get rid of everything, and being pregnant with baby #5, I haven’t succeeded as well in reality. Honestly though, our biggest problem is the kid stuff, from clothing we keep to hand down to the next, toys they seem to like today , but not tomorrow, but do again in a month, to all their books we like to buy them and hope they enjoy, but they don’t get through them fast enough. Then we also homeschool so that makes for more stuff. Funny to me though, that with all my worries of not being as much a minimalist as I’d like, we live in an 1400 sq ft home with no garage, basement or usable attic space for storage. Oh and we still have room to move around, so I must be doing something right. Right now I am going through a personal journey of getting ready for baby by decluttering everything at once, instead of as I see fit here and there.

  2. I’ve been working on this- slowly- but not to the same extreme. I might have to eventually, as my husband’s job situation likely means moving and probably will mean a smaller space (although our house is already 840 sq feet, plus basement). I’m wondering though more about how you manage to function in that small of a space with your kids in today’s world. I look around and there is not that much else that we don’t use. I think I don’t need a bigger house, but I need to use the space we have more efficiently. Do you have any tips on that?

    • That is a pretty small space already!

      One thing that is kinda sad is how poor the space is managed in most apartments and small houses. …there is almost no closet space. We have added shelves to our closets in both our apartments now. (we just make sure to fix up the holes we make when we leave). Nice deep shelves instead of just the little one over the cloths bar.

      Also, my husband built a base for our bed that is built out of 1 x 8 boards. It has boards all around (to raise the bed up 8 in that are painted to match our bedspread colors) and then boards going across (I think 5) that add support in the middle and create sections. I use all the space between those boards to store our out of season cloths and camping stuff. It requires me picking up the mattress and box spring but it is pretty efficient storage space that I can pack full and access fairly easily (instead of trying to crawl under the bed).

      • Yes I have found that too, that small places don’t have good storage. We’ve also added shelves in our house, and even an “extra” shelf in some closets, where I can store things like stocked up toiletry supplies etc and although its inconvenient its only for once a month at the most to access it.

        I was recently inside a motor home on display just for fun to see what was inside- and I was astounded at the storage! It was amazing. I wish they built homes like that!

        Your bed idea is a good one!

        My husband built storage shelves in our basement, mainly for the too small/too big clothes for my kids. I find that the biggest thing that needs space that doesn’t make sense to not keep. Its saved us a lot of money storing it and passing it on to the next child each time (I have 3 girls and hope to have more kids).

  3. We started doing this as well. First a few years ago when I started doing FlyLady. Then I had baby #2 and stopped. Started again just before we moved, and shortly after had baby #3. Stopped again. Just as I started again, here came baby #4. I’m just starting to get back to it again. We still have lots of stuff, so I cringe to think how much we had when I first started! Most obvious difference – we don’t have rooms stuffed with every baby gadget known to man. A place to sit, a place to sleep, and a slim wardrobe is all he needs right now!

  4. I love this mindset! Thanks for sharing this post. We live in a 1600 sq ft, 2-bedroom townhouse, and I feel like we are drowning in toys and clothes. I’ve been slowly getting of things, but I know we can get rid of a LOT more! We have a ton of books….both my hubby and I love to read…but, really, do we need to keep them all? I recently got a Kindle (I fought against e-readers for years!), and I’m excited about how much space it will save. Thanks for the motivation! Now I want to read your book! :)

    • love the kindle :) We probably need to get another one sometime soon because we all want to read it at the same time.

      Thanks for your comment! Good to meet you :)

    • Books is the only thing that has ever really been difficult for me. We LOVE to read and it’s such a worthwhile hobby! Even so, I’ve learned in the last few years to ask myself “would I really ever read this again or want my kids to”? If not, out it goes!

  5. I have some questions that I meant to ask you in the last comment I posted. What do you do with special cards and notes after birthdays, Christmas, and so on? How long do you keep them? And where do you store the special ones you want to save? This has been my latest challenge. I recently threw away the majority of cards and other sentimental items. But I still have some very special letters from my grandparents, parents, children, and friends that I truly cherish. My idea is to have a “Keepsake Chest” to store all of my old cards, my children’s school work, and art. And whatever doesn’t fit in the chest will need to be thrown out. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Amy,

      Yep, that is what I do. I posted about it here http://lovingsimpleliving.com/2012/04/the-turtle-is-gone/

      I have a tote that holds my keepsakes. A Keepsake Chest sounds much nicer :)
      I also have my wedding dress, lots of people say to make stuff out of it and not save it but I want to keep it for now. The kids have a box of artwork that I have saved as well.

      I think just having a personal limit really helps. Everyone will want to keep a different amount, but if we figure out what we are comfortable with personally (or family wise) it helps give us the push to not keep everything.

    • Amy, we use a shoebox per person. Every so often as it begins to fill up, we sort through it and reevaluate what is truly sentimental. It works really well! Another idea I borrowed somewhere along the line is to take digital pictures of most of the school work and art, only physically keeping a few that are truly special.

  6. i’m going to go think about this… hmmm.

  7. I loved reading this! I have never called myself a minimalist. But after reading your words, I see that I am certainly a minimalist. I only keep what I need and what I love. I live in a small house that my husband and I purchased 26 years ago, the year after we were married. Your writing inspires me to keep on this path of minimalism. My most recent post shares a little about my path of living a simple life with Jesus: “Finding Abundance in Simple Living” http://bit.ly/NlXksO

    Blessings!
    Amy

  8. So, I have to ask, (being a sucker for buying my kids stuff from the target $1 section- notepads, markers, tote bags): what is the criteria for items coming in? Do u simply not buy if u have something similar?

    • Liz, with the $1 section I have my kids buy what they want with their own money :) I try to encourage them to save up for other things that will be better quality but in the end it is their decision.

      With kids there is always stuff coming in, they collect that same ‘$1′ or similar everywhere they go. Church, parties, classes, etc. I have tried with lots of this stuff to help them understand that it is fun to play with but when they are done with it they don’t have to keep it. It can be a favorite toy one day and two days later they can ‘give it to someone else’.

      I also try to do other special things that aren’t tangible. We do treats or fun activities to celebrate or reward kids when we can. Kids love surprise, reward, or special things but I have tried to create those other places.

  9. We have been doing this to a lesser extent for a few years. My kids are really on board. I told the kids this week that I wanted to buy a couple beach balls to play with in the house for a change of pace. My 8 year old son adamantly argued with me – “Mom, we already have a bunch of balls, we don’t need any more! It doesn’t matter if they only cost a couple dollars” Ouch! Of course he was right and we went home and played with the ones we already have. I guess my message is getting through. :)

  10. Thank you for this post! I’m learning to let go of stuff. We have too much stuff, and it all stresses me out, but I have such a hard time getting rid of stuff and knowing what to get rid of. I keep thinking, what if I need it someday?

    What do you do with pictures & photo albums (from before everything went digital)???

    • Jill, thanks for your comment :)

      I understand the ‘needing someday’. Something that has helped me is realizing how hard it would be to replace it. Does it cost less than $10 if I need it, could I borrow it? Is it worth the space to store (especially if it is big) for the 10% chance I might use it a few years from now? Is there something else I could use instead?

      On the pictures I keep the best in a memories tub. (I think it is easy to get picture clutter digitally too but it isn’t as big a problem in the closet) I ask myself what I want to be able to look at 10 years from now. For example I want a good picture of my sons 5th birthday party, maybe of him blowing out the candles of his cake and I want a picture of my daughters piano recital. I want to remember these, but I don’t need 30 pictures from each. Digital came along shortly after our daughter was born. I have a few albums from our wedding (black and white and color) and a few pictures from my childhood. Now I keep a ‘best of’ folder of each year and try to keep the number of pictures to 100-300 per year.

      I hope that answers your question a bit. I have a memory’s ‘tub’ for all memories. There are pictures, kids first blankets, a few favorite baby outfits, a decoration from our wedding, a few things from when I lived in Papua New Guinea helping a mission family, and a few other things. I like the tub idea because it keeps me keeping the best. Gives it a bit of a limit. I think everyone’s ‘limit’ of how much memory stuff to keep is different but setting a tub or closet as a limit helps from keeping everything. I ask myself ’50 years from now when my kids go through stuff what do they want to find?’ I want it to be special and precious to them but not overwhelming.

  11. This is great. We live like this as well. I started about 2 years ago, but last year was our big push. We live in a 900 sq. ft. apartment, with 3 kids and no storage. Everything we own is in this apartment. I am passionate about helping other moms of littles be less overwhelmed and stress, and I believe that our stuff is one of the first places to start!

  12. Hmmm this really got me thinking! I feel like I could do a lot of weeding out; I get so tired of dealing with stuff all the time. I’m pretty quick to get rid of stuff as it is, but there’s a lot more I could unload w/o regret.

  13. It really is about taking it slow. We’ve done this 4 times over the last four years. Each time we get rid of more. Each time we think we’re done until 6-12 months later when we get the itch again. We are ultra careful about what comes in. It took a while for our kids to get on board but the key with them we found was in teaching its blessings. When they start having trouble cleaning their rooms they will now say mom I think we have too much stuff. I’ll ask if they want to go through things. They always say yes. Sometimes we only get rid of five small items. Other times we get rid of a box full. It has blessed our lives so much to have less stuff. We “hope” its so we can move and do so easily later this year but even if the Lord keeps us here we’re doing our part to be good stewards.

    • thanks so much for your comment. It is totally about going slow and keep going steady at it. I have gone through our stuff more times than I can count now while we have cut back and each time I get rid of more just like you said :) It is probably because it takes time to change habits or feel comfortable with something new.

  14. Wow! I would love to do this. The problem will be getting my family on board. I have 5 kids, so our minimalist mindset would be quite different. But I know we could do without a lot less. I go through our home and things on a regular basis and move it out. But downsizing makes you really evaluate what needs to stay and what needs to go. Then to maintain it by not bringing more stuff back in the house. Just curious about books. How do you handle books? We are book lovers and homeschoolers, so it would be hard to part with some of them. Even though I have thinned them out and swap books online, so I guess that is a start. I need to get your book. I would enjoy reading it very much. Thanks for the article.

    • Kathleen K says:

      Alicia, you said it well “our minimalist mindset would be quite different.” Each person is in their own unique situation….Our family tries to minimize “stuff” and we live in a less than 1800 sq ft home. BUT when it comes to books, I change my attitude…and build more bookshelves. We too, accumulate tons and tons of books. I don’t get rid of a book until the youngest child has had a chance to enjoy it. Once our youngest has enjoyed it I also evaluate it for future grandkids…and keep a limited shelf for that eventual day.

    • Alicia – thanks for your comment :) Minimalism looks different for everyone and looks different for each person different at different stages. We are huge book people and homeschool as well so I get what you are talking about.

      Before we cut down each kid had a bookshelf in their own rooms and then they each had a bookshelf in the playroom. It is so easy to get books for pennies at garage sales and getting a full collection is easier than it ever has been. My kids read all the time.

      When we started cutting down we pulled out all the books that were younger than my youngest and let them pull out any they didn’t want anymore. I figured I wanted to cut back to 1 bookshelf for both of them and maybe rotate the books that are out (to limit the mess and restacking). When the kids sold most of their toys they used the money to buy a kindle and we have purchased more and more books on there. As the kids have gotten more used to the idea of minimalism they have been ready to pass on books when they are done with them.

      Right now the kids own about 30 books a piece and have about 10 out at a time (we keep the rest in a box to rotate through. They each have growing collections on the kindle and we have a great library (with all the city libraries tied in with inter-library loans) that lets the kids take out up to 40 books a piece. We are there at least once a week and most of the books floating around our house are library books.

      I cut down my library over the past 18ish months to only about 5 or 6 books plus several on the kindle. I need my bible, and some natural medicine reference books but most of the other ones I don’t refer to often and I could borrow them from the library again if I wanted.

      For homeschool I have a full box of books. We do unit studies so most of the books we use for studying are from the library.

      man… I got a long comment… you got me started :) I love reading and our kids spend at least as much time reading as playing (probably why they have so few toys they wanted to keep). But with society and electronics where they are now we have more options.

      Like I said, minimalism will always look different for everyone, but this is what works for us with books right now :) oh, my kids are 8 and 5, not sure I had that in the article.

  15. Homeinsteader says:

    Yes, “less is more”! More time to do what matters when less time is spent maintaining “stuff”. No question about it. On the other side, however, is the belief to which we hold (and it IS Biblical – to “prepare” for coming “challenges”), that the “Stuff” is about to hit the fan and you’d best have everything you need for any response at any time for any reason ALREADY in place.

    Be careful that you do not “minimalize” so much that you do not have what you need to take care of yourself or your family when the SHTF (“stuff”), because, it soon will…and you can not drink or eat the walls. If you could, the neighbors would probably eat right through to your space.

    Do you know how to and do you have what you need to container grow at least some foods(tomatoes, potatoes, lettuces, etc.)? You can grow 100 lbs. of potatoes in a wire basket, if you know how. Do you have any long-term food storage? Water? When the power is out, the water stops running. Do you have enough clothing for every season to last as long as necessary? Shoes – comfortable walking shoes or even hiking boots – not heels! What will you do in a long-term grid-down with no water running? Do you have trusted people to whom you can go for support (assuming you CAN physically reach them)? To address these issues and be ready is simply wise living, as learned through many years of volunteer work with the world’s largest disaster relief organization. Is your area likely to experience a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake – or any natural disaster? Of course it is. Do you have what you need to ride it out? Because the Calvary will not be riding in, just so you know.

    I do hope your “multi-family living” experiences are better than the ones I’ve had; I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that we can not predict or control the behaviors of others; we can only respond as best as possible.

    Living in an apartment (or ANY multi-family property) is not a “safe haven” under the best of circumstances, and certainly not when the SHTF (Stuff!). I would hope you have a true “safe haven”, and that you will be able to get to it when necessary. Depending on the situation, you may or may not be able to travel by automobile, so, please keep that in mind.

    Yes, less is more – but be careful that you do not end up jeopardizing your own safety, health, and welfare, or that of your loved ones. Just a simple warning.

  16. This is so timely for me!! I just started reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker and it goes akong the same line. Thank you for sharing.