What Do You Do When Simplifying Isn’t So Simple?

What Do You Do When Simplifying Isn't So Simple? Has the stuff creeped in to your home, even through your efforts to minimize and simplify? Is it threatening to take over, the way it is at our house? Is it overwhelming you and causing you stress? This is for us!

By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

Too many times over the past year my husband and I have looked at each other in exasperation and exclaimed, “TOO MUCH STUFF!”

It happens when…

…our laundry pile has stopped fitting inside the hamper and has, instead, exploded over the top, down the sides, and all over the floor of our room.

…our kids seem to have dumped out every container of toys that they own and then whine and complain when we tell them it’s time to clean up.

…we open a cupboard door in the kitchen and things spill out on top of us when we’re trying to just remove one item.

Maybe you can relate? Has the stuff creeped in to your home, even through your efforts to minimize and simplify? Is it threatening to take over, the way it is at our house? Is it overwhelming you and causing you stress? It is for us!

I’m pretty sure our family is not alone here. Despite the fact that simplifying and minimalism seem to be popular buzz words around the web these days, I can’t help but think that one of the reasons these ideas are so popular is because simple living is really not so simple for many of us.

And yet, that simplified lifestyle is something that is so very appealing.

Our Story

When our family moved to our current home just over four years ago, we got rid of about half of the stuff that we had at our previous home. We were downsizing and feeling the squeeze of having too much stuff. We said that we wanted to keep our stuff under control and not let it get out of hand the way it had at our previous house.

But that’s definitely easier said than done. Over the past four years we’ve added two more kids to our family, and our little house now feels like it is bursting at the seams.

We do try to be careful about the amount of stuff that we bring into our home, and we also clean out and purge on a regular basis. We have had a garage sale every summer since we moved into this house, and we also regularly sell stuff on Craigslist and Facebook groups, as well as take trips to the thrift store.

Yet, somehow, the stuff just keeps on piling up.

For example, our three kids share a room. Our house is an older home with tiny closets. My husband recently made a really awesome built-in cabinet for our kids’ closet to help store their clothes, but during the change of seasons from spring to summer, and trying to figure out how to fit three kids’ clothing into one small space, things got just a little out of hand.

Let me be real here: this was what our kids’ room looked like for a few weeks.

Yikes! That is not pretty and something I’m definitely not proud of. In fact, it’s totally embarrassing. But yes, plain and simple, we had too much stuff in that room!

One of my personal issues is that I am easily overwhelmed. When things look like this, I don’t even know where to start. I think one of the first rules of organizing is just to get everything out, right? So that’s what I ended up doing – I took everything that wasn’t necessary out of the room. Sure, I still need to go through that box and get rid of at least half of the stuff, but at least my kids can live in peace in their room now.

Ahhh! Much better, especially the cute baby! But the kids still have a ton of clothes (especially the baby – that’s her cubby on the top left!). That’s still something we need to work on!

As we have realized that we have too much stuff, we have also realized that the solution isn’t to move into a bigger house, the way that some people might. It’s not an option within our budget right now, and, really, we just need to get rid of our stuff. We have too much stuff!

But honestly, sometimes “simple living” and “simplifying” and “minimalism” seem like grand ideas that don’t really work for real people living real lives with real families.

How much stuff should you keep? What about stuff that you’re saving for the future or “might” need later? What about stuff that I know I don’t really need, but I really want to keep? Do you ever feel this way?

So my husband and I are trying to figure out how to take back control of our stuff, our house, our life, while still maintaining our real life and our real family. Let’s face it: there are some things that are just pretty necessary when you have kids, as much as you might like to get rid of them! (Anyone else ever daydream about throwing all your kids’ toys away?!)

And despite all of the touted benefits of minimalist living, and our true desire to live with less stuff, I still feel like it can be hard to take that initial step and really start getting rid of stuff and making a dent in the amount of stuff that we have.

Cleaned Out Closet

Where to start?

As I mentioned, when you have too much stuff it can easily be overwhelming and you can be unsure of where to even begin getting rid of things. Before we started, my husband and I were discussing in circles where to start getting rid of stuff in our home. We each have different ideas about it.

One of us thinks we need to start in the basement storage room, where we tend to toss stuff that we don’t use on a regular basis, but we don’t really want to get rid of. This person believes that once we have the basement clean and organized we will have a place to move stuff and put stuff away from our regular living space.

So, every once in a while, my hubs will go down there and spend a whole day organizing and putting stuff away, and it will stay nice like that for a while, but then we just add more stuff to the newly-cleared floor!

The other one thinks that we should start with the things that we use and affect us every day – paring down our clothes so that our closet isn’t so stuffed and our laundry doesn’t pile up so high, scaling back the kids toys so they’re not so overwhelming to pick up, clearing out our kitchen cupboards so they’re not bursting and spilling out onto us all the time.

After some healthy debate this past month, my plan won, and we spent some time cleaning out our closet and getting rid of a lot of clothing that we hadn’t worn in a long time! We also removed most of our kids’ toys from their room to an upstairs playroom, but we still need to go through and get rid of more of them.

And we still have lots of areas to work on, like the kids’ clothing, the kitchen cabinets, the hall closet and the bathroom cabinets. Oh, and of course, there’s the basement, too.

But, the progress we have made, even though it may seem small, helps us to see how living with less is really better, and motivates us to keep going on this journey toward simpler living and getting rid of more of our stuff. Now, when I open my closet and see that my clothes have space around them, and I know that I can actually wear everything that’s in there, it makes me want to tackle the hall closet and guest room closet, and every other closet in the house.

When I look at my kids’ room, instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel empowered to get rid of more stuff so their room can stay that way.

And I want the rest of our house, and our lives, to match the peaceful and uncluttered feeling I get when I walk into their room. It’s contagious!

It may be a long journey for us, and it will probably be something we will continually have to work at to keep the stuff from piling up again. But I really think that it will be worth it. And when we look back, we will be so glad that we made the decision and took the steps to live fuller lives with less stuff.

What about you? Do you long to live a simpler life, but have a hard time actually getting rid of your stuff?

Is minimalism appealing to you, but it feels like the steps to get there are overwhelming? How do you get started with digging out from under the stuff that has accumulated around your home? And how do you keep yourself motivated? 

About Emily McClements

Emily is a blessed wife and mama to three little ones. She is passionate about caring for God’s creation and people by being a good steward of the resources He has provided. As part of her journey towards living more “frugally green” she blogs about the things she is learning and the changes she is making at Live Renewed.

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  1. Yes minimalism appeals! I first learned of it about a year and a half ago. I realized how much stuff I had, and that it didn’t make me feel good walking into the garage or closet full of stuff. I was very motivated to make a difference and declutter my stuff–i left my husband to do his stuff if he wanted. We were moving in three months so it was a great excuse. Fast forward to this year March… And we felt that living in an rv full time was a life we wanted. We paired down, sold, and donated so much stuff in the two month window before we had to move for my husband’s job. It was crazy busy but we did it. We both were finally on the same page, wanting to live simple and small. We only have few boxes at our family’s house (pictures, artwork–im an artist) and the rest is with us in our 37′ fith wheel. We live simply. We made it possible. We are almost debt free. Its an amazing feeling to have dreamed about something and then just go for it. We spend less time on the interent since we have limited data….no cable or Netflix…its quite amazing how much more time I’ve found to be with my husband, create art, and cook good food. Its liberating. We don’t have the same shopping habits or desires for things as we used to. Its a new life. We love it.

  2. I, too, have issues with this. My fiance jokes that if anything ever happened to him, I would wind up on that hoarders show. In all honesty, he is a total minimalist, and I struggle with not letting my things get out of hand. I have recently made big strides with this and have started purging. It feels so good to get rid of the things that I don’t need. It is just difficult to start the process. I stumbled upon this verse when reading my bible one night. I go back to it frequently for inspiration: Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things and revive me in your way. Psalm 119:37

  3. Wow. I’m totally struggling with this too. This was the post I needed – with a healthy dose of reality in it. Too many times I see ‘organizing’ stuff and it just looks so impossibly far-removed from where I’m at. Thanks for sharing some ‘messy’ pictures too. That’s what I need to see to feel like you have something to speak to ‘the rest of us’ (the non-high-achieving-type-A-always-organized types).

  4. Montanamama2013 says:

    Thank you for your post, Emily – I completely relate, especially the feeling overwhelmed part. I get very easily overwhelmed when my house is a disaster and have been working on not stressing out no matter what.. anyway, my husband and I have been trying to simplify as well. We have been blessed with three children. One of our biggest problems in trying to declutter, particularly the children’s toys and clothes, is that we get loads of gifts from their grandparents. At one point, the children had over 60 stuffed animals ! – and no sooner do I get rid of 15-20 toys, when a box comes in the mail from grandma with more toys, clothes, or stuffed animals.. I feel terrible but sometimes as thankful as I am for their throughtfulness, I feel overwhelmed at yet another toy or even shirt/outfit that they just don’t need. What to do?

  5. it’s true! simplifying isn’t simple. We wanted to clutter down our living room but it seems that it is next to impossible. If you think about it, it seems so easy but in reality it isn’t.

  6. Yes, I agree that there is a balance between realizing that having kids means you can’t have that tidy house and that decluttering looks different for different families. I also agree with the comment that it appears that “minimalism” seems to be the trend these days. I’d like to offer a different perspective on managing clutter. I am a naturally very organized person, so for example, in my home clothes only belong either in a drawer, on a hanger, or in the laundry hamper. Bedrooms are always picked up before bedtime, etc. Having lived with various roommates prior to marriage, I know that other personalities struggle with organization and that clothes get tossed onto the floor instead of being put away. Think Myers-Briggs “P” versus “J” on the personality profile. However, even those not inclined to natural organization can develop new habits. (British educator Charlotte Mason speaks a lot regarding habits in her writings.) Another idea is to balance your weaknesses with the gifts that others have. I have one friend who struggles with organization and clutter. She and I trade in that I go over and work alongside her to organize, purge, sort, etc. She is a massage therapist and gives me massages. Win-win! Organizing actually gives me a high of sorts. So I guess I’m saying that I think a key to managing stuff is mastering organization of it. There are a lot of helpful websites and blogs out there to help in home organization. One tip I’d recommend is simply make it a habit to have all clothes, toys, school stuff, etc. picked up and put away before going to bed. (And, for what it’s worth, if opposites marry, then that happened to me and my husband is the exact opposite of me. His clothes end up in a pile on the floor three feet away from the hamper. It’s not because he needs less clothes, it’s because he chooses not to put them in the appropriate place. That’s another topic though.)

  7. LOVE this post!!
    I am a naturally very organised person, so I love tidiness and efficiency.
    I got married 2 weeks ago, and creating our own home is a mental challenge for me – I picture a few months / years down the track, cluttered spaces full of things that we really don’t need. For me at this point, I think I need to relax a little more (otherwise I will drive my husband crazy!!), but remember to just keep an eye on things as I go.

  8. Love this! I totally get overwhelmed when I think about simplifying. I *want* to do it, but where do I start? Thanks for your thoughts!
    Your comment about “you can’t really throw away all the kids’ toys” reminded me of this post on another blog I read: http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2012/09/14/why-i-took-all-my-kids-toys-away-why-they-wont-get-them-back/

  9. Stephanie says:

    We are struggling with this very concept right now but I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I started with our laundry making a reasonable number limit on how many items to have. I have about 8 shirts and 4 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shoes, two dresses. Think capsule wardrobe. I also reduced the kids wardrobe to about the same plus two pairs of outside clothes. It’s been awesome! I no longer have to struggle to keep up with the laundry! One load each day and much easier to keep put away. Then, I started on the rest of the house. If it doesn’t get used regularly it went to the yard sale. I appointed one box for each child for my keepsakes and everything else gone! Organized what actually gets used in the kitchen and bathroom and only the toys that fit in the toy box got to stay. I am so excited! Now it only takes about half an hour to spot clean the entire house! The garage and office are next on the list. I have realized though, that I’ve really started thinking if we need something before I buy it. If it’s not a need or able to multi task or have a place it can call home, it doesn’t get brought home. This has helped so much. I mean really, how many jackets can we actually wear? How many pizza cutters do we really need? Etc.


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