Reader question… “I have become extremely interested in trying to live in a more simplistic manner and I am totally on board with your ideas about spirituality and nature, finding balance and the other things you write about. However, I am totally turned off by two aspects of simple living that I keep finding mention of in other articles I have read. The first is the extreme decluttering or purging that seems to be rampant. The second is the idea of needing to buy everything used. Does a person HAVE to do these things in order to live a simplistic life? I have noticed that you have not written about either and I have wondered if you would share your ideas about this.” –Amy

Like most other concepts, voluntary simplicity means different things to different people, but I have to agree that for a lot of people, simplicity seems to be centered around purging and decluttering, and these people do advise going through your house and ruthlessly getting rid of everything that “you don’t need”. This practice often starts with children’s toys, then snowballs on to include other items throughout the house. Very little is considered off limits with the sole guideline being that if you’re not using an item on a regular basis RIGHT NOW then you should get rid of it… and somehow these people believe that this purging will create a simpler life.


Sweet william (Dianthus barbatus)

So what does simplifying really mean? Personally, I don’t think it means to empty your life down to the barest minimums just for the sake of the purge. To me, simplifying means eliminating anything that is a drain on your time, energy and soul while giving nothing back in the way of enjoyment, contentment or peace. Use this idea as your guide when deciding what things (if any) should be purged. It helps to remember that simplification, like frugality, is a tool as well as a goal. The ultimate aim is not to just make your life simple, the goal is to make your life balanced, happy and fulfilled. I don’t understand how throwing away the majority of my possessions or alternatively, giving them away or selling them, could ever accomplish that.

An idea that seems to go hand in hand with purging is the practice of purchasing items second hand at yard sales, garage sales and thrift shops. Ironically, many of the same people who have purged and decluttered their own homes so ruthlessly seem intent on filling them up again with similar items that other people have discarded. On one hand it does sound very frugal to buy everything second hand at prices that are always far lower than you would pay if you bought new, and if the person is happy with their purchase, that is fine with me. However, the blanket condemnation of buying things new is difficult for me to understand. Just because someone wants to be the first owner of a particular item and prefers buying new doesn’t make them materialistic or morally wrong, it just means that they have a different point of view. Having the stewardship of your home means that it is your responsibility to create a home environment that is comfortable, serene, and happy as well as functional. Your home should feel like a haven for you and your family. Anyone whose only aim is to make their house as bare and “simplicistic” as possible is, I think, missing the point.

It goes without saying that relationships are always more important than “things”, but that’s really not what we’re talking about here. I suppose for anyone who likes the bare spartan look, extreme purging may be the way to go. But I think in your e-mail you are asking me if it is OK not to purge if you don’t want to, and my answer is a definite yes. By all means, keep anything that is important to you (whether you “need” it or not) and continue to enjoy the warmth and character it brings to your home and to your newly simplistic life.

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elizabeth

I agree with you here. I am all for purging stuff that doesn’t add value to my life but there are things that I will not get rid of – whether they fit the “bare minimum” or no – because they are important to me, well-used or well-appreciated, and add value to my life. To me, getting rid of them would not be simplifying. As my mother keeps saying, “It makes no sense to get rid of something if you’re going to replace it or need it.”

Kevin

Well, purging just to purge is silly, but I’ve found that when I’ve had to leave most of my stuff behind for a while (living abroad for 3 years, for instance), I did find that I really didn’t even miss those things I thought were meaningful. Fact is, we are freer with less and less, however much we want to hold on to stuff.

(and simple ≠ simplistic)

another amy

It’s funny that I used to want so many things, whereas now I’m totally annoyed by having random items that I would never use. How this change came about, I am really not sure but once I started throwing things away it became kind of fun and liberating. Now, if something cute in a store catches my eye, I just think “Oh, that’s adorable and someone will really enjoy owning that. Just not me!” It’s a feeling of freedom for some reason. Your money adds up while your chores (Cleaning, dusting, repairing) go down, so it does make life a bit simpler in that sense. But, if you don’t feel the urge to purge, then just skip it!

There are still a few items in my home that serve no other purpose than “I like it. I want it”. And that’s pretty simple right there.

Bret

Great response and comments!
The less material items you are responsible for, the more freedom that can come with that…but this depends on what kind of lifestyle you choose – say if you tend to pick up and move from place to place more (simplicity does not necessarily mean you are stationary). I know that a house that has very few things in it feels open and I enjoy moving around in it more…a cluttered home feels more confining because the space is taken up by things.
On the other hand, if you are throwing away stuff that you occasionally need, it does not make it more simple for you if you have to go out and buy it again.

Ileen

I have seen on some of those decluttering shows where they make people get rid of books they haven’t looked at in a while. It shows a total lack of understanding about how beautiful a room full of books is. I would be showing them the door. I do pass on books that I know I won’t reread to friends but anything else on my shelf is a treasure. I could get rid of most of my stuff but I must keep my books.

Stephanie

Even though I’m trying to cut back on some pack rat tendencies. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I can sell off my comic book collection.

Rich

I have been going through a major decluttering effort. For a while, my bible was Peter Walsh’s “It’s All Too Much”, which encourages people to ruthlessly purge. I have gotten rid of so much stuff, it’s unbelievable — stuff that had no meaning, random papers and dead batteries and the like.

However, I have several old comic books and pulp fiction magazines — while I’ll scaled back my buying to near-zero, I haven’t made the effort to get rid of the ones I already own. I figure that as long as they’re on bbokshelves (where they belong) it’s okay to keep them. It’s when they start congregating on and over the coffee table, and appearing in stacks on the floor and the closet, that maybe it’s time to sell off the one you really don’t want.

I think Peter Walsh and others secretly know that unless they encouraged us to get rid of EVERYTHING, most people would get rid of NOTHING. It’s the old “Give An Inch” proverb … encourage people to keep the stuff they really want, and they hang onto everything, even if they’re home looks like a landfill. Encourage them to get rid of everything, and people determine what they really value.

M.L.

This is a great, moderate approach. As for many, I don’t like clutter because it makes me feel confined, but I do keep things I like even if they have no other purpose than my enjoyment, which is a good reason. I tend to pass along those items that don’t touch me on a deeper, personal level; things that will never be missed. I like to have things around me that “are me”; things that are really a reflection of who I am. Sometimes I like to keep things because they are reminders of ways in which I want to grow, but am not there yet. For example, I have a banjo that I’ve had for several years because I want to learn how to play it, but I haven’t found someone yet to teach me how to play it. Even though I never use it, just having it is a constant reminder that I WILL learn how to play it someday, and not to give up on that dream.

Claire

Sometimes people purge stuff that DOESN’T BELONG TO THEM.

Like I have four kids and a husband; it’s easy for me to see what they aren’t using that is just “clutter” but somehow I can always find excuses to hang onto my own “stuff.” How hypocritical, right?

Hubby’s DVD collection is “just junk” and my fabric stash is priceless? Right! lol.

The kids, on the other hand, are all still small enough that they really can’t be responsible for organizing/curating their own collections, and coupled with three very generous grandparents, this spells disaster without agressive top-down management.

So I don’t feel as bad about summarily purging their stuff. I’m just saying, it’s easy to cross the line there.

sw

it’s easier for me to purge more cltter w/another person’s assistance but it is so hard to find the right person. Some don’t understand that something means something to you that wouldn’t to them and they want to just thow it away. They need to listen why it’s important then help decide best – keep or toss. I can get rid of more if it’s going to someone who will use it rather than just trashing it. I don’t keep what I cconsider trash. I keep what I like or what still has life in it (even if I’m not the one using it at the time.) I have stuff in my car going to various places (church thrift store, goodwill, consignment, storage,,etc) I’m trying to use freecycle.org also.

Dream Mom

I am a Professional Organizer so I find this post interesting. The key for me is to keep things that have value to you. It’s not just about having space for things, but about the time those items cost you to store them, clean them, etc. There is often a concept of enough. What I find more often than not, are hobby rooms filled to the brim with supplies but nothing is ever created. A scrapbook room and nobody takes the time to scrapbook, and stuff like that. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t collect anything though-it’s about choices and limiting things. I liken the analogy to a woman getting dressed-an elegant woman knows just how much jewelry to put on meaning it’s not how much jewelry you wear but knowing when to stop. That’s the difference between looking elegant and looking cheap. It’s the same with homes. You can have a small but elegant space by limiting your possessions. That doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful and it doesn’t mean you have to live in one of those tiny homes of 100 square feet or less (God Bless you if you do-I just need a little space to blow dry my hair without smacking my elbows on the wall, lol!)

Amy

Two days ago, I went to my grandparents’ house with a few other family members, and we dug through and picked out things we either wanted or needed.
Me, I only took what I needed. After moving so many times over the years, I have lost necessary kitchen items and other completely random things you don’t think you need … but you do.

Two things I took were wire whisks. Simply because they were sizes I didn’t have. But when I got them home, I was shocked. (Well, not really b/c I know this to be true, but…) I had my boyfriend come and feel the whisk we already had. And then I had him hold one of the whisks from my grandma’s kitchen. Major difference! Huge! The whisk we already had felt like you could crumple it up in one hand and the older ones are beyond sturdy. They’ve lasted decades and still look the same as the newer one.

On top of older things being made better, I also like the idea that these things have a history. Whether they are from my grandparents or not (who are still alive, by the way … just in a nursing home and selling their house), there’s something cool about having something that means something, rather than buying a new item because it’s pretty.

That’s actually one thing my b/f and I disagree on. He hates that I love antiques. We’ve somehow managed to make his newer purchases fit in with my older stuff (I won’t allow the purchase unless the new item meshes in some way lol), and it’s kind of a cool combination, but I also adored my house how it was when it was just my stuff — furniture and lamps and tables and such I got from my family because they didn’t need the items anymore and I desperately did.

Sorry for the long comment, but I just wanted to throw out a different reason for buying older things — they’re cheaper (sometimes…) and they’re made better. Why NOT buy them? I don’t want to spend more money on something that will fall apart sooner…
Anyway … I’m done now :)

aw

Thank you for the article, I think age may have something to do with the need to discard. I feel like when my children were young and I was young I spent all my time trying to accumulate, wealth, material possessions, home, car, status, now that my children are older all I want to do is to live with as little as possible. Clean, clutter free, simply. I eat more simply, I buy less things, I am constantly getting rid of things that I used to think I couldn’t live without. My new motto is a room should have rugs, books (not too many) pictures, flowers and a comfortable place to sit…

dianna

I have two basic guidelines for items in my house. I keep what I use and I keep what I love. My items all have a “place” which keeps my home organized and clutter free!

SUSAN

I can totally see how people become hoarders (of stuff, not garbage, that’s just nasty!). I have stuff that I think would be useful for someone and just tossing it doesn’t feel right. Selling it is too much work for a couple of bucks and people don’t seem to want the small items. Of course broken stuff is trash, and I do donate what I think is wanted. I just cleared out the kitchen sideboard which became the home for everything (hubby is a stuffer, clean surfaces but chaos underneath). I found things like a West 49 watch which my kids don’t want anymore, old (but not antique) cameras, 2 packages of kiddie party loot bags. Ended up putting watch in a bag to collect for my son’s grade 8 elephant sale (he just started grade 7), putting cameras back in the drawer, and threw out the party loot bags. I did find 5 Lang calendars with beautiful pictures that are perfect for folk art crafting that I posted online for free and someone is coming to get those today. But I had other things too that I ended up tossing but seems so wasteful.

Joe S

I am going through a “purge” of belongings that no longer fit my lifestyle and am amazed to have made $924.00 so far off items that sat in storage for years.I have also gained valuable space in my small house.This really works. If you are contemplating reducing clutter and simplifying your life this blog is a great resource.By the way I don’t get rid of anything untill there is peace with the decision to unload it.