It wasn’t a pretty picture. Not only had a rather misplaced fear of not having enough money led me to work at a job that I didn’t love for the first five years of parenthood–years that I had always intended to spend at home with the children, but a fear of not having enough space for our growing family spurred us to buy a home that we now realize has more room than we could possibly need. Don’t get me wrong, I love our house. We built it, chose every detail of it, and still think it’s awesome. But it came with a price–a mortgage that kept us feeling like I needed to work when we both knew what was best for our family was to stay home.
With all this great space, our natural tendency to accumulate kicked into high gear. When we furnished the new home, we didn’t get rid of the old furnishings. We just moved them downstairs to our big unfinished basement. Rather than look at the boxes of stuff that we’d moved from the old house and barely touched in three or more years, we could neatly stack boxes in the corner and forget about them.
We decided in June that I wasn’t going to go back to work when my contract was up at the end of the month. We realized that with very few changes–including a massive reduction in preschool fees from Gabriel starting Kindergarten and Lily only needing to be in school 9 hours a week since I wasn’t working–we could live just fine on Matt’s salary and I could finally stay at home with the kids.
So we got to work. The first thing we decluttered was our budget. We sold our second car, realizing that Matt could easily take the bus to work most days and that on days when he needed to drive, I could get the kids to school by bike or walking (one of the reasons we’d moved to Lyons in the first place!). Although we didn’t have a payment on that car, we were able to reduce gas, oil changes, insurance, and registration costs, and also make more room in the garage for our bikes and gear.
We also set up some recurring payments to speed up pay-off of our last student loan and to put money into the kids’ college funds each month. Although this increased our monthly outflow instead of decreasing it, I count it as decluttering because instead of always worrying that we weren’t save or paying things off faster, we did something about it.
Then we realized that our biggest money-suck was buying “stuff” for the house and garden. It’s fun to decorate a house, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but if the cost of buying one more gallon of designer no-VOC paint is stress and worry, it’s time to make a change. We created a list based on Get Rich Slowly’s 30-day Rule to track household things we wanted to buy. Before buying anything from the list, we’d give it 30 days to make sure we wanted it, and to save up to buy it with cash instead of credit.
Once we felt good about our budget, we started reading The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, and began to purge. I’ve since discovered The Shed Project, which is another great decluttering resource with a goal of helping us reduce our clutter by one third.
Holding to the Feng Shui tenet that clutter reduces the positive flow of energy (qi) in our home, we set about getting rid of anything that we didn’t love, need, or use. Once we got going, it was hard to stop! We had a garage sale. We took 6 car-loads of extra towels, pillows, clothing, and household items to the victims of the Four Mile Fire. We gifted everything from crystal wine glasses and decanters to toys the children had outgrown to friends and neighbors. We sold close to $3000 of stuff on Craig’s List.
In the midst of all of this, we decided to move to Helsinki, Finland, so that Matt could pursue a wonderful job opportunity. The decluttering that began in early July accelerated to fever pitch as we realized that our household goods, spread nicely across 2500 square feet and an additional 1500 square feet of basement and garage space would likely have to fit into a 50 square foot storage closet and a 1400-1800 square foot apartment.
This lead to one of my favorite decluttering activities, which was scanning in our filing and pictures. A five-drawer file folder and countless boxes of old photos that I was never going to scrapbook (having decluttered my scrapbooking supplies earlier this year) reduced down to two Evernote accounts of electronic filing.
I think we’ve easily shed 30% of our stuff and I have to admit that the only thing I miss as I type this is my dog (who would not make a good apartment dog and has therefore gone to live with some friends) and my houseplants, which I wouldn’t have decluttered if we weren’t moving. As hard as it was to start to let go of the clutter and momentos we’d accumulated over the years, once we started, I realized that I could let go of the physical object without letting go of the memory that it generated for me.
I relived quite a few fun memories from high school, college, and our early adult years. Then I let them go. To say I feel free is to understate the import of this experience for me. I don’t know for sure that I’ll never accumulate things I don’t need–after all we’re leaving the land of Target for the land of Ikea–but I now know the emotional & financial toll that accumulating takes, and look forward to avoiding it in the future!