Living With Less: How to Live Simply

I spend a few minutes searching for minimalist ideas and find thousands of pictures of clean, sparsely decorated homes with bright white walls and empty countertops. I’m irresistibly drawn to those stark images. I subscribe to minimalist lifestyle blogs and scour the Internet in search of advice about purging my possessions and living with less. That’s where I first learned about tiny houses.

“There’s a tiny house convention coming to town,” I tell my husband. “Have you forgotten you’re over six feet tall?” he asks with a bit of a smirk. Of course, I haven’t. I show him pictures of tiny houses with lofted ceilings that could easily accommodate homeowners up to 6’7”.

He has good reason to be skeptical. Being tall has many advantages, but squeezing into limited space isn’t one of them. Actually, those beautifully maintained, minimalist homes aren’t the ideal option either, at least not in this phase of my life with two small children and lots of toys and other possessions.

Perfect Minimalists and Pinterest Worthy Images

The truth is I am not striving to become a perfect minimalist. In fact, I recently discarded the Pinterest-worthy images in favor of realistic and achievable goals.

How many of us are really willing to live in just 150 square feet of space or to purge all but one hundred of our most prized possessions? The Internet is full of extreme images that capture our attention, but most of what we see doesn’t resemble anything close to the world in which we live.

There is a huge gap between those pictures and where I stand right now. Maybe minimalism isn’t even the proper word. Perhaps living simply would be a better name for what I’m attempting.

How to Live With Less

How can we learn to live with less? I consider myself to be a minimalist at heart, a minimalist in training, or perhaps just someone who dreams of living a simple life. I prefer clean walls, open spaces, and clear horizontal spaces, but my home is not devoid of stuff. I don’t live in the perfect, cookie-cutter version of a minimalist home.

My children like their toys. They own a lot of them. We clean and declutter the stash regularly, but as soon as we clear the shelves, new gifts arrive from well-meaning relatives.

We’ve learned to focus on the toys our kids truly love. Pay attention to the toys your children pull off the shelf every afternoon. Those tried and true favorites remain in the toy room, while everything else makes its way to the consignment shop or donation center, but make no mistake about it, the shelves are not empty.

My husband and children like to keep things around, and I wouldn’t be a very good wife and mother if I just tossed out all of their material possessions.

In this phase of life, with two small children, I cannot be a perfect minimalist. I don’t even want to be one. I simply want to enjoy living with less.

That doesn’t mean tossing everything out. It means accounting for the material things that matter and removing anything that causes unnecessary work or background noise.

Living With Less Stuff

living with less stuff

I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of living with less, so I can fill my heart and mind with the stuff that truly matters. This isn’t a new goal. It’s one I’ve been pursuing for over two decades. So far, it hasn’t required a tiny house or a home with little to no furniture. It simply involves changing my mindset and my beliefs about the things that truly matter.

My first encounter with minimalism occurred eighteen years ago. It all started with a cuddly, longhaired cat that came to live with us shortly after graduation.

The Unconventional Start to Our Minimalist Journey

 “A cat?” you ask. Yes, a cat.

Just after college, my husband adopted two kittens from the humane society. We had them both neutered and did everything in our power to create a perfect little home for our fur babies. Then one day, one of our fluffy little kittens began spraying our house.

We tried everything to get him to stop. We spent hundreds of dollars on medication and pheromone products, but alas, nothing seemed to work. Every day I came home to find another piece of furniture destroyed. The carpet was the first thing we threw out. Two lamps, three living room chairs, and an ottoman quickly followed. We couldn’t place anything on the ground for fear it would be damaged.

My husband and I didn’t have the heart to get rid of our sweet little ball of fur, so we did what any reasonable human beings would do. We removed everything from our house that we thought he might mark.

I removed clutter from every room. I cleared the counters, the shelves, and the floors. Every day I drove bags of items to the donation center before he could spray them. 

I’ve always preferred clean spaces, but I didn’t equate that desire with owning less stuff. As long as items were neatly tucked away, I figured I had everything under control. Our cat radically changed my mindset.

As I purged the house, I never felt regret, not one single time. The house became more and more empty, but you know what, I didn’t miss a thing. It wasn’t an easy way to declutter the house, but it worked. I had too much stuff in my life.

Envision Losing it All

That’s when I realized I needed less than I thought I did. Imagine a fire raging throughout your house. At that moment, all of your prized possessions incinerate before your very eyes. You and your family escape safely, but everything else is destroyed. Imagine the worst scenario in your mind, and you’ll suddenly realize you wouldn’t miss as much as you think you would.

Thankfully we didn’t have a fire burning through our home, but there was an urgency to remove as much as possible before it could be destroyed. I could have locked it all away in closets or in the garage, but instead, I walked it right out the front door and dropped it off at the donation center near my home.

It felt strange to repeatedly gather my possessions and dump them into the hands of perfect strangers, but in those moments, I recognized the need for less stuff. I also realized when I owned less; I had less to lose.

What would I miss if a fire took over our home? I would miss a refrigerator stocked with food, a comfy bed, warm blankets to sleep in, and the teddy bears my children snuggle at bedtime. The rest of it didn’t provide a whole lot of extra value.

The first step to living with less, is to try the experiment for yourself. Walk around and point to random things or ask a family member to point to them for you. Then ask yourself if this were gone from my life, how much would you really miss it? If you won’t miss it, then it doesn’t really matter. As I walked around my house, I realized almost everything could go.

Living With Fewer Possessions

Sit down in a quiet place with a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down the things in your life that you truly value and love. Think about things that make you feel joyful, peaceful, accomplished, or satisfied.

My list would include my children, my husband, my family, and my friendships. It would also include various poems and stories I’ve written throughout the years.

How many of these can be purchased in a store? Not a single one. Yet, how much time have I spent buying and accumulating all of the stuff in my house?

Most of us don’t need more stuff in our lives. We need more time with those we love doing the things we love.

When I purged the house, I didn’t feel any differently about the place I lived or the people that lived in it. In fact, I didn’t feel a difference between owning those possessions and not owning them.

As I emptied my house, I realized most of the objects I brought home had little to no impact on my wellbeing. With each trip to the donation center, I found it easier to live with less. There simply wasn’t a spiritual or emotional benefit to owning more.

Living with fewer possessions didn’t make me feel deprived. It made me feel more fulfilled than I ever would’ve imagined. Each time I decluttered I made room for real joy.

You Already Have Enough

Many of us think we need more. We want more money, more success, more toys, more square feet, more vacations. We want more of everything, but in reality, most of us already have enough of what we truly need.

We have enough food to feed ourselves, enough warmth and comfort, enough caring and loving people in our lives to see us through bad moments and cheer for us in good times.

In order to truly appreciate all that we have, it helps to remove the stuff we don’t need. Somehow all of that excess distracts us from the truth. For some reason, when we have less, we can find more of the good things. 

Living With Less Stuff: Minimalist Living

When I thought about minimalism, I thought about living with a lot less stuff. You know the physical objects that take up space in our cars and homes. Minimalist living initially meant purging all of the unwanted possessions from my house.

Does stuff make you happy? Does it fill a special place in your heart? Sometimes the answer is yes, and that’s a perfectly fine answer.

When I was a child, my grandmother gave me a little Hallmark box with a paper teddy bear inside. When I lift the lid off the box, the teddy bear’s arms open wide. The words read, “open this anytime you need a hug.” I treasure that box. It is a sweet reminder of my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago.

Of course, I own plenty of other items that don’t provide that same feeling. In fact, I probably own hundreds of items for everyone that provides that same deep-rooted emotional connection.

In the beginning, I purged anything and everything that my heart didn’t tell me to keep. Minimalist living became a life goal. I weeded out the unnecessary stuff and didn’t allow anything new to trickle into the house. 

Over the years, I donated hundreds, maybe thousands, of items from my house, but after the death of my cat, I forgot about my minimalistic ways for awhile. Over time new objects slowly but surely trickled back into the house.

In fact, my passion for minimalist living didn’t return until after my first child was born. Once again, I found myself downsizing my possessions and eventually convinced myself to stop buying stuff.

I revisited the exercises and techniques listed above and cleaned out my home for a second time.

How to Live Simply: Living with Less Overall

But as I began to purge unwanted items from the house, the scope of my simple living dreams expanded. In addition to physical objects, I wanted less drama, less emotional labor, less technology, less paperwork, and less financial stress.

The minimalist focus on objects only solves one piece of the puzzle. We can’t open our hearts to the things that matter when we spend so much time and energy on the stuff that doesn’t. We have to learn to let go of some of our possessions to spend less time cleaning and maintaining our stuff and more time enjoying our lives.

Fewer Gifts

If you want to prevent more stuff from coming into your house, then now is the perfect time to set up new gift-giving expectations. Not only do we need to remember all of these events, but we also need to find the perfect gift for those we love.

If you want to limit your possessions, talk to your friends and family about ending gift giving exchanges. Then create a Google calendar and add all of your friend’s and family member’s birthdays to it. Set a reminder to trigger on the day of the event and send a happy birthday email, letter, or make an old-fashioned phone call. That’s it.

Less Financial Headaches

I’m going to say something really crazy and radical here but consider getting rid of all but one or two credit cards. Don’t try to squeeze every dollar out of airlines and hotels. Keep one or two cashback credit cards in your wallet and stow the rest away or close them altogether.

Look through your expenses and purge those that are being underutilized. Maybe you subscribed to satellite radio when you were driving 60 miles each day, but now download podcasts well in advance. Close these unused accounts and remove your subscriptions.

Consolidate your bank accounts, roll your 401(k) into your IRA, and move your bank accounts to the same institution.

Sign up for auto-pay for any and all bills that offer the option. You’ll free your time and energy to focus on more important things.

Less Mail and Papers

less mail and papers

Process the mail every single day. On a daily basis, write down the names and addresses of catalogs, postcards, and any other type of advertising that comes through your mailbox. Email the companies and request immediate removal from their mailing lists.

Add your name to the do not call directory and ensure your phone number and mailing address are removed from direct marketing lists. Remove yourself from prescreening offers too. Save yourself time by stopping this paper trail before it ever arrives in your mailbox.

Subscribe to as many online statements as humanly possible. Then buy yourself a scanner and a system to back up your files. Scan those paper bills you cannot avoid and place them in directories where you can find them when you need them. Schedule bill pay as soon as bills arrive in the mail. Please don’t wait until you forget about them.

If you cannot afford to pay them immediately, call the credit card companies, banks, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and whoever else may need to collect money from you. Explain your situation. Ask for payment plans and for any financial help you can receive immediately. Don’t wait until you have missed payments. Take care of things as soon as possible so you can free your mind and move on to other things.

Focus Less on Negativity

Find joy. Search for it. Hunt it down. Please don’t give up until you can capture it.

Remember that we don’t love everything all of the time. There are things we like and don’t like about our jobs. That’s true for everything in life. Do you love everything about your spouse, parents, children, and other loved ones?

It’s even true of hobbies. I love to write, but I hate getting started. Once I begin, the words flow, but it can take a few paragraphs to get into the grove. Should I stop writing because it can take me a while to get started? Should I get down on myself?

The same goes for work. Focus on the parts of work you enjoy. Then figure out how to do more of what you love rather than focusing on the stuff you hate.

A Simple Life Requires Less to Maintain

Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Someone unexpectedly gets sick, we lose our job or get moved to new teams with really unpleasant bosses.  If you live simply, you can change your course of action more easily. You can quit your job to be with loved ones or decrease hours because you don’t depend on your full salary.

When things are good, you can stockpile away your excess funds. Your emergency fund grows, your bank accounts blossom, and before long, you have a substantial amount of savings that can weather any storm.

Bad stuff happens all of the time. When you live a simple life without too many expenses, you can easily adjust your sails. You don’t depend on the excess, so you don’t feel the impact when it disappears.

Learn to Appreciate The Simple Pleasures: Live Simply

When your schedule is less packed, you can find time to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. You don’t need to take a five-week vacation to Tahiti to unwind.

You can feel that same release on a short bike ride after work or while walking with your children to the playground. When we learn to live with less, we feel less need to fill our lives with mega-experiences. Over time the tiny pleasures can be much more meaningful than the big expensive ones.

My Plan for Living with Less

Every day I try to purge a little. As I stop wasting time, I free up energy that can now be spent on more important matters. I began this journey two decades ago, and I still have a long way to go.

Perhaps that’s the key to it all. It’s not just about removing a few objects from my house. It’s about removing the unnecessary stuff, time and time again.

Every time I make a conscious decision to live with less, I free myself from the things that don’t really matter. Then I can look around and decide what does.

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18 thoughts on “Living With Less: How to Live Simply”

  1. Loved this! You have very realistic expectations of minimalism. We’ve purged a lot, but our house not empty. It’s just less cluttered and easier to clean. I can live with that!

    • Thanks. I think it’s tough to live in this digital world where the images of what we want are so different from what we can achieve right now. So I’ve settled on doing the best I can with what I can. It sounds like you are following a similar mantra. Congrats on that!

    • Thanks for your article. I think I believed minimalist living was a one time process. It is encouraging to hear it is an ongoing process and something we can periodically work on.

    • Our cat never did stop spraying. Unfortunately, whenever we left town he grew anxious and began spraying everything all over again. It was a long eight years. We never found a cure for him despite our best efforts.

  2. As we approached retirement, I spent five years purging with the intent of going into a motorhome fulltime for a few years. Things that I couldn’t release in the beginning were very easy to dispose of later. It turned out that we never did the motorhome thing but I don’t miss the stuff.

    • Hi Judy,I found the same pattern in my own life. When I initially purged I found it very difficult to part with some things. I put them in a box and left them for another day. A year later when I reopened the box I had no problems donating them. I realized they hadn’t seen the light of day in over a year and most likely never would. Thanks for the comment.

  3. My husband and I really downsized a few years ago. From a 3,600 sq ft home to a 1,500 sq ft apartment! It was VERY freeing to get rid of a lot of things we had been living with for 37 yrs of marriage. I was so surprised when I had no problem getting rid of some things, family items passed down to me. Years ago I adamantly said I could never get rid of them, and it was so easy! I never thought that would be the case!

    • Thank you for such a beautiful comment Nancy. I too have been amazed at how easily I can discard things now than I could just a few years ago. As time passes it seems easier and easier to let things go. I think it’s realizing how little you truly look at something or use it. In the beginning you think “I can’t part with that” but over time when you reflect on the same item you wonder “how many times have I used this” or “how often will I use it again.” Thank you for letting me know I am not alone in this process. I wish you the best of luck as you continue to downsize.

  4. It certainly is a process isn’t it? I’ve been decluttering our house for the past two years and it brings me great joy. I too have a kiddo and after including him in decluttering his toys I was surprised at how little he wanted to hang on to. That’s when I realized I was carrying anxiety on his behalf that I didn’t need to. I was worried he wouldn’t want to let go of all his things. But I didn’t need to worry. He, like me, wanted to hang on to just the right amount of curated items. When I see one of his items around the house now, not “in it’s place” it actually brings me comfort and joy because I know it’s special to him . I like having his stuff around because it makes it a home, just not a bunch of stuff that he never uses. Great post and great tips! Thanks for the thoughtful content.

    • Hi Amelia, Thanks for your comment. I have found the exact same thing with my own children. I let them weed out their toys and pick their favorites and time and time again they astound me by creating a large pile of items they no longer care to keep around. We started this process when they were quite small, so that probably makes it a bit easier. I think they are used to it, but they never ask for anything we’ve discarded and seem so much happier when they have plenty of room to play with the toys they love!

  5. Hi Amelia, Thanks for your comment. I have found the exact same thing with my own children. I let them weed out their toys and pick their favorites and time and time again they astound me by creating a large pile of items they no longer care to keep around. We started this process when they were quite small, so that probably makes it a bit easier. I think they are used to it, but they never ask for anything we’ve discarded and seem so much happier when they have plenty of room to play with the toys they love!

  6. Beautiful!! You’ve eloquently captured everything I have been trying to do in my life over the past few years!

    I find it both rewarding and addicting! I do “clutter clears” of my house, and schedule regularly now, (Including our finances as you suggested!) and I find it brings a sense of peace and contentment to my life.

    Wonderful post!!

  7. Wonderful article. Thank you.
    Yesterday I was at REI and found an amazing deal on a down jacket. Bought it. Had this nagging feeling that I don’t really need it. We live in Montana and have cold winters. I spend a lot of time outdoors and love jackets. And I already have a closet full of them. All different weights and uses, some very old, but still plenty.
    I’m a minimalist at heart, mostly for environmental reasons, but jackets (and books) are my one big exception. Maybe because when I was young we didn’t have money and I didn’t have a warm jacket. But now that I understand the source of this “need” it’s time to get a handle on it.
    Your article convinced me to return the jacket. Thank you.

    • Hi Jane, Thank you for your lovely comment. If that jacket brings you utter joy and will continue to do so then you should definitely keep it. If it feels like another thing that will hang in your closet in addition to all of the other jackets you own then you might want to return it. I’m glad you found this post helpful. Thank you for dropping in to say hello.

  8. Hello from France !

    It’s rare I read a whole article like that, but I have to say I loved yours and yes like so many say in the comments, it is realistic !
    I also got rid of so many things and then accumulated again but as months go by it’s better and better and now I can say that almost everything we have at home has a true value which is amazing !

    Thank you for your article, it’s beautiful !



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