I am so enjoying following along as my friend Leslie Hunley Sholly radically declutters her house. I myself was forced to declutter pretty radically about two years ago when finances dictated that we move out of our approximately 3500 square foot, old Victorian house with a full basement – a house that we had lived in for the previous decade and planned to live in probably forever – into a 950 square foot house. In order to make this necessary move happen, I had to simply jettison a lot of stuff, some of which actually meant a lot to me (like my great grandmother’s baby grand piano, which I simply hated to lose), while many other items that we gave away, threw away, donated, or in a few cases, sold didn’t really mean that much to me, so I didn’t mind saying goodbye to this category of stuff, even though the choice to say goodbye to it wasn’t really in our hands.
But anyway, we got rid of a lot of stuff in the move from our very large, old house into the tiny one, including J and E’s respective bedroom furniture since they were both living away at college by that point and the 950 square foot house had only two bedrooms. Giving up my two oldest children’s bedroom furniture was very tough for me. I always wanted them to have their own rooms when they came home to visit. But life had other plans so since we were moving into a 2 bedroom house from a 5 bedroom house, we bought a really good air mattress and that’s where J and E began staying (in the room with their little sisters) when they come home. They don’t seem to mind because they’re in the process of making their own homes, plus they also have the option of staying with their dad in his much larger house in the same town where we live.
Although we had to give up a whole lot of stuff in making this big move to the new, tiny house, the new house did actually have a big barn/garage in the backyard, so we boxed up quite an amount of stuff I felt like I wasn’t ready to part with, even though these items no longer actually fit inside the 950 square foot house. The stuff I didn’t get rid of in the move from the big house to the very small one included lots of beautiful hardcover books that are special to me for one reason or another, framed family photos that no longer fit on the available wall space, plus all of Henry’s stuff that I have saved. All of this really personal stuff went into boxes that went into storage in the barn.
Then, only 10 months later we moved again– this time to a house that’s about 2300 square feet. It’s a size that I feel like is absolutely perfect for us. I love it.
But since our landlords were leaving some of their own furniture in the house while they moved to New Zealand, we had to get rid of duplicate items that we had, like our couch, which I gave to my sister. So now, moving into this new, new place, I had to jettison even more stuff, although we still hauled my boxes of special items with us and have them stored them in this house’s full basement. Because this house does have quite a bit more wall space than the 950 square foot house did, I was able to take some of my favorite framed art and photos out of the boxes in the basement and hang them back on the walls.
Throughout this whole process of having no choice but to move out of the large house that had been our home for almost 11 years into a very tiny house and then move again into a wonderful house that I love, we probably gave up, gave away or sold half of what we owned. Knowing that we own so much less furniture and bric a brac and whatnot is both a freeing feeling but also a scary feeling. I still sometimes ache for things I can no longer have in my life – including big stuff, like the piano, but also very mundane, cluttery stuff like every trophy J ever won in equestrian competitions, which, with her okay, didn’t make the cut.
Overall, I like having less stuff. However, it’s a struggle to remain in low-stuff mode with little kids still at home. For example, the Barbie Dream House that Santa brought G this year is a full four feet tall and doesn’t even fit in G and C’s (shared) bedroom. Instead it lives in the living room and I’m okay with that. After all, the woman who wrote that book about minimalist living that everyone was raving about last year says that you should only keep the items in your home that bring family members joy. And I get a great deal of joy out of how much joy G gets in playing with the 4 foot tall, pink, plastic dollhouse in our living room.
As for other kid stuff, like all the artwork and school papers that G and C bring home every day, I know how ultimately ephemeral all that stuff is, even when it seems important to keep at the time. I know this because I have three other children who already went through grade school and who brought home bucketloads full of artwork that I couldn’t imagine ever giving up but now don’t even know where it is. So I am much more likely than Jon is to hit the “delete” button on that paper stuff that seemingly comes into the house day in and day out. He saves much of what they bring home in plastic bins with sturdy, sealed lids and takes them down to the statement for apparent safekeeping. This is A-OK with me because one important lesson I’ve learned through this fairly radical decluttering process is that you can never get rid of anything that your significant other deems too important to let go of. You have to be in agreement on what needs to go or the process would surely become a disrespectful standoff, which I would never want. I mean, Jon probably doesn’t see the value that I do in all those beautiful hardcover books from my childhood that we still have boxed in the basement, or even in some of Henry’s things that I find too precious to ever get rid of – things that I still have saved in their own basement boxes, but he’s never uttered a peep of unhappiness at my decision to hang onto these things through two moves now.
I never would have imagined it when we had to move out of our big, old, wildly impractical but much-loved Victorian house into a tiny, two bedroom house that we would actually end up less than a year later in what I can honestly say is my dream house, and the perfect place for our family. I simply can’t put into words how much I love the house we’re in now, and how healing and wonderful it’s been for all of us to live here. But we’re renters, meaning that the dreaded day will arrive when we get the news that we have to move out. I worry about that day every time I look out the window and see C pushing herself higher and higher in the backyard tree swing or watch G leading Leo up into the woods for a walk. I worry about it every time that I see C sprawled out on the sunny daybed in the kitchen with a good book. I’ve worried about it during the last two absolutely perfect Christmas seasons that we’ve enjoyed with all 4 kids at home in this wonderful house. I worry about it even now, as I sit happily at the dining room table (also belonging to our landlords) typing away on my blog. But that day will come and worrying about it won’t make it come any faster or slower.
Jon says I need to do a better job of simply appreciating every day that we get to live here instead of worrying so much about when the time comes that we can’t anymore, and I’m trying to do that. After all, I guess that ultimately, houses are just “stuff” too and sometimes we can’t keep them even if maybe we want to. But this house definitely brings us joy – a lot of it.