Want More Time, Space, and Money? Try This

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I took a long slow walk in the rain after reading Rachel Jonat’s new e-book, The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: How to Save Time, Money and Space. I wanted the ideas to sink in.

Even though I had contributed a chapter (“The Only Three Things You Need to Get Your Baby to Sleep (and One is Free)”) to the book, I had never read about what minimalism really looked like for a family.

A Story of Overconsuming to Pared-Down Peace

When Rachel was pregnant with her first child, she bought every piece of gear, nursery decoration, and bundle of clothing that we are made to feel are necessary. She was stressed from work, her husband was traveling a lot, and she tried to make herself feel better by buying more and more stuff.

After finding herself in big-time debt, Rachel and her husband decided to get rid of half of their belongings, including their car. By stopping the buying cycle, they paid off $82,000 worth of debt in less than two years, cleared out lots of time once spent cleaning and organizing and maintaining, and have reclaimed a new sense of serenity.

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This book really struck a chord in me because here we were with a big old house, but it was a lot to take care of, and there was so much to do to make it a real home for us.

My Clutter Problem: The Basement was Just the Beginning

For one thing, the basement was becoming the catch-all for storage boxes, bags of clothes to give away, furniture we weren’t using, outgrown toys, and random household stuff that worked in another house, but not this one.

Every time I walked by all those jumbles of stuff on my way to the laundry room, I felt anxious. I wanted to be able to sort, organize, and either sell it or give it away to various causes. But given that I now have less time than money, every time I walked by those boxes and bags and piles of unused stuff, I felt more overwhelmed.

And to add urgency to the matter, my kids had been begging us for weeks to set up the TV down there so they could watch the Lion King and other favorite movies.

So the weekend after reading The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year, I went on a kind of minimalist rampage. In literally one hour, I had packed our car with household junk and bags of clothing, DVDs, small furniture, and toys for Goodwill. I didn’t worry about money wasted. As Rachel pointed out, the money is already gone.

Sometimes Just One Will Do

Fueled by the easy success I’d found in the basement, I attacked the kitchen. After reading that Rachel only has one bib and one sippy cup for her son, I looked in my drawer in found over 20 bibs. Most of them stained, ripped, too small, or never used. I tossed most of them.

Then I looked into other drawers. Random parts, top-less containers, and cloudy plastic cups all went into the trash or the recycling. While I didn’t have the heart to give away a bunch of old tablecloths my mom had given me, I stored them up high and created a few empty spaces where we needed them.

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In the always topsy-turvy library/playroom, I gave away kids’ books we never look at, and I threw away board games with missing parts, broken toys, and stale craft projects. I even created enough space to store our coats, boots, hats and mittens. I used to think I had to buy a big expensive piece of entry furniture. By clearing out stuff we hardly used, I realized we had plenty of space.

These are Not Clutter Solutions

Bins, baskets, and labels are not clutter solutions, Rachel points out. How true! More furniture and organizers just mask the chaos, but it’s still there, and it’s still creating anxiety, guilt, and stress.

After clearing out the basement and feeling a huge sense of relief, my husband and I lugged down a couch, a rug, and a table. We hooked up the TV and some cozy lamps. That very evening my kids were curled up watching a movie together. In just a couple of hours I had created space for my family, relieved a ball of stress, and realized the huge payoffs of streamlining.

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Everyone wants more money, time, and space, as Rachel points out. Getting rid of stuff — and slowing down the buying cycle — can give us all of these things. I am so grateful for the way this book has helped me let go and move on with my life. (And I’m proof that it’s not just for new moms.)

Because I think you will love this book too, I am helping Rachel spread the word. If you buy a copy ($9.95) through the links you find in this post, half of the funds go to Frugal Mama.

How I Am Not Minimalist

There are many things about my life that are not minimalist.

This is not minimalist.

These guys are not minimalist.

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And even though we bought them used with cash, neither are these.

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What I Can Do

But here is what I am doing to keep life as simple as possible, so I can enjoy the time I have on this earth:

  • I did not take home one item of schwag at the Marketing 2 Moms conference in Chicago where I was a panelist. All those goodies are free, but do I really want them?
  • As much as I long to, I am not ordering any more flimsy books from those nostalgic Scholastic flyers that come home in my kids’ backpacks.
  • Every time I see a toy that is irrevocably broken or missing its parts, I toss it.
  • I make cash donations to the elementary school, instead of buying overpriced yet cheap gifts and wrapping paper from the fundraising catalog.
  • When we needed a new printer, I researched product reviews and ratings first. “Buy it once,” says Rayna of The Suburban Minimalist.
  • When I realize that a piece of clothing bugs me or that I hardly ever wear it, it goes in a bag marked Salvation Army.
  • I just say “no” when my daughter pleads for a pet. Guinea pig, kitten, crayfish, or worm, we don’t need more to take care of and clean up after.
  • I avoided Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Sales make me want to buy things I don’t need. When I figure out exactly what I need or what I want to give, I’ll go looking for the deals.
  • Just because something is “good” (read: expensive, nostalgic, pretty, high-quality, fun), doesn’t mean that I need to house it. If we’re just not using it, then someone else should have the pleasure.

You don’t have to be expecting a baby to get a lot of mileage out of The Minimalist Mom and her Guide to Baby’s First Year. It’s hard to keep our lives from being crowded with more and more stuff. It’s a constant battle, believe me, to keep the waves of stuff from washing in.

But there are plenty of things we can do. And the most powerful thing is to be able to say, I have enough.

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18 comments

  • laura December 2, 2011, 12:15 pm

    I love all these ideas! I was inspired by my sister-in-law, Carole, who has the same rule as Vanessa’s idea here about moving out at least one thing for every thing that comes in.

    I added a little twist that works pretty well for me. I try to move 10 things out a day. This helps me keep momentum, so it never gets so bad that I suddenly have a breakdown and have to spend the whole day/week/month purging. It also makes it all a little easier — the sentimental pair of earrings that I haven’t worn in years may not make the cut Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but by Thursday I’m ready to part with them. And it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small — one day may be 10 old pieces of clothing, another day it may be 10 extra notepads in an already large notepad pile. It doesn’t matter the size, just the “cleanse”.

    Reply
  • Beth December 1, 2011, 3:19 pm

    Such good advice, Amy. I have been going thru the house since my grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving and bagged up all the toys,etc, that they didn’t play with…and it’s a lot. Off to Goodwill. Yesterday I started on the kids books. Last year I hauled off a huge amount of Christmas decorations the week after Christmas and this year I am giving a lot more to my children who were just her. Feels so good.

    Also, I was glad to read that you have kept your mother’s tablecloths. Fortunately, I saved mine,too, and adore getting them out now. However,I gave away my white table linen cloths(wedding presents) years ago in a recycling rampage and for the past several have been buying worn damask tablecloths when I find them at the Thrift Shop as replacements! Large family dinners are marvelous set on white linen with the “good” china,etc. and the dinners get larger as you go. So if you are fortunate enuf to have an 8ft damask cloth, store it on the hi shelf. You will use it someday.

    Reply
  • The Suburban Minimalist blog December 1, 2011, 6:39 am

    Oh, gosh! So much to comment on here. First, Rachel is a so smart. The maxim about the money already being spent is so helpful. I’ve never held a yard sale and don’t regret it one bit. What I didn’t get in cash, I got in serenity, and that’s what really matters!

    “Yes” to the bit on bins! “Yes” to donating cash instead of bringing home more Girl Scout cookies (or you can donate them to the military, I read somewhere).

    And thank you for the kind mention. The “Buy It Once’ thing came courtesy my brother-in-law who told us not to cheap out on tools at Lowe’s because we’d end up buying twice if we didn’t choose wisely first.

    Great post!

    ~Rayna
    The Suburban Minimalist blog´s last post ..Minimalism á la TSM, two years on

    Reply
    • Amy December 1, 2011, 2:55 pm

      Hi Rayna,

      I so agree — serenity is what really matters!

      Thanks for all the inspiration you provide,
      Amy

      Reply
  • Amy December 1, 2011, 4:07 am

    Hi Gayle,

    I’m so glad the book and its ideas struck a chord with you too!

    And I am totally with you on not getting rid of books. I will sometimes with kids books, that have a limited appeal, but I think it would be hard to have too many books. In fact, I think they look as good as paintings and other decor. They add a warmth and richness to a house.

    Thanks for writing in!
    Amy

    Reply
  • Gayle November 30, 2011, 10:33 pm

    I love this post! Wow. And I am buying the book. I have been on a streamlining tear lately and still have a long ways to go. The one place where I am not mininalist is in books – I love keeping all of them.
    Gayle´s last post .."The Forgotten Waltz" by Anne Enright

    Reply
  • thefrugallery November 30, 2011, 12:06 pm

    What a great article! I have recently started purging items that we don’t need. I’ve sold $500 worth of things on EBay, and honestly, if I wasn’t the one who shipped them, I’d have no idea what was missing from our house! The money is sitting in my PayPal account for a rainy day–or more hopefully a vacation! I’m done buying “stuff” that I don’t need!
    thefrugallery´s last post ..Tips for Selling Items on EBay

    Reply
    • Amy November 30, 2011, 12:57 pm

      Hey there,

      So funny about how you say you wouldn’t have noticed things being gone if you hadn’t been the one to ship them out. I totally know what you are saying — so much stuff that is cluttering our houses we barely touch. But we keep it there “just in case.” Well, you know, if that “case” comes up, I can borrow one, find it free on the internet, buy another one, or find another solution.

      Things that we wear out are the best.

      Thanks for the tips on your blog about selling on eBay,
      Amy

      Reply
  • Vanessa Jubis November 29, 2011, 9:31 pm

    What a great post and reminder to keep things simple. I’m a HUGE fan of de-cluttering the things you don’t truly need or are simply NEVER used. I’m going to read the book you contributed to! One of my favorites is ‘Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui’ by Karen Kingston. My rule is one thing comes into the house and one OR two things ‘must’ go out. Great job with your basement! I need to desperately tackle my garage…sigh… Your post just got me wanting to get it done! Thank you, AGAIN :) Love reading you!

    Vanessa :)

    Reply
    • Amy November 30, 2011, 12:52 pm

      Hi Vanessa,

      I love your rule about moving one or even two things out each time you bring something in. We have to do something like this, or we’d be stuffed to the gills! Thanks for the recommendation of the book by Karen Kingston, and for reading The Minimalist Mom’s book.

      I always love hearing from you!
      Amy

      Reply
  • Michele November 29, 2011, 9:31 pm

    I am reading this on a break from setting out my Christmas decorations….how very timely! This year we repainted our living room so the room has a different feel. I realize that I put the same things out in the same place every year out of habit in part, and out of sentimentality for what’s gone before. So, I am touching each and every piece of STUFF I have in the many bins labeled CHRISTMAS and consciously deciding if it should stay or go. It is early enough in the holiday season that a donation of decorations to the Salvation Army store will be well received and recycled into memories for another family. I must admit I feel uncomfortable with this whole process but your post has inspired me to listen to the little voice inside saying “You don’t really need all of this”….that and the voice of my husband, dear saying the same thing. I will keep the things that make me smile when I walk into the room and tiptoe into holiday minimalism.
    Watch out basement–you’re next!

    Reply
    • Amy November 30, 2011, 12:50 pm

      Hi Michele,

      I love the picture you paint of you tiptoeing into holiday minimalism. I know it’s hard, and it’s especially difficult with things of sentimental value, but people who have gone through this before (including myself and The Minimalist Mom) do not end up regretting a thing.

      The important thing, as you mention, is being conscious — mindful — about every piece of stuff we have. And of course every piece of stuff we bring in.

      In terms of Christmas, it’s always helpful to get out that bin BEFORE we hit the stores. There is so much tempting glittery stuff out there, and we forget that we already have a bunch of it.

      Come back and tell us about your basement decluttering — go Michele!

      Reply
  • Jen @ Jen Spends November 29, 2011, 6:08 pm

    I love how your books are organized by color! It adds some extra style and makes your collection look more organized.

    I am most definitely not a minimalist at heart, but I do appreciate simplicity and nice neat spaces, so I have been getting rid of a lot. We own very few books and either use our iPad for reading or take advantage of the library. I am terrible about collecting things that either hold sentimental value or look pretty to me, like several sets of china that I never use and various tchotchkes. I think my natural tendency is to create the type of house that is fun to visit, but not relaxing to live in and maintain (if that makes any sense at all).

    Reply
    • Amy November 29, 2011, 8:52 pm

      Hi Jen,

      My husband still laughs at me for the way I chose to organize our books! It seems so anti-intellectual, but actually the juxtaposition of a book about classical Greece against a book about starting a writing workshop makes each one pop out more.

      I know what you are saying about having a hard time getting rid of sentimental and pretty things. Those, plus things that were given to me, are the hardest, I think. But it’s amazing how, once I get over that moment of pain, I feel relieved.

      I find it hard to believe that your house is not relaxing, but I do understand how it might be a lot to maintain. All those cute things give us more to dust, don’t they?

      Take care,
      Amy

      Reply

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