Our house isn’t too small. We just have too much stuff. And not just any kind of stuff. We have too much stuff we don’t use. That’s the thing. Our house is the perfect size for our people, and the things we use all the time. Perfect size, I tell ya.

Unfortunately, a lot of other things have crept in over the years. Some of these items were well used in the past. Now they are in the back of a drawer, back of a closet, or on some shelf just taking up space. They are adding to the burden of ownership without giving back any benefit.

So here is what we set out to do.

Touch everything.

Every. Single. Item.

We asked three questions.

  1. Do we use it?
  2. Do we need it?
  3. Is it earning its keep?

These seemingly easy questions were in fact quite ruthless in their honesty. Take stuffed animals for instance. Are they used? Well, yes I suppose. They all have a spot on our kids’ beds. They each get held occasionally. But we are talking about 100 of these furry beasts. So do my kids need 100? Sure they each need maybe 5, 10 at the most, but 20 each? 5 stuffies (as we call them) would easily earn their keep. They would be played with and loved enough to earn a spot in our home. But if we spread that love over 20 per child, the stuffies start to look a little lazy. We have room for them to each have 5 well loved, hard working stuffies. But we don’t have space for 20 lazy stuffies per child.

Books are a weak spot. Do I use it? Well, I read it once. Skimmed it twice. Do I need it? Hum. Will I need it in a pinch, or could I check it out from the library? I tend to hang on to books I need to reference quickly. But a casual read? Is it earning its keep? If I don’t read it at least once a year, and can easily pick it up at the library, maybe not.

It’s tempting to think that these items are doing no harm, even if they aren’t used. But everything is a small burden.

  1. We dust it.
  2. We sort it.
  3. We look around it to find something else.
  4. It takes space.
  5. It adds visual clutter.

Some things are well worth their effort. The things we use every day and are so helpful. We joyfully want those things in our home. We have room for those things. They make life easier. They add fun.

It’s the things we don’t use that are the problem.

The tea light candles that have been stashed in the back of my cabinet for 3 years. The 5th pot for boiling water, when 4 is plenty. These things aren’t really earning a spot in our home with the benefit they provide.

Our home can’t become a sanctuary for barely used things.

They need to move on. Someone else might be able to put them to work. I hope my old hiking backpack sees 500 hikes with its new owner. It has the ability to be a hardworking backpack. I hesitated to let it go, because I saw it’s potential. But at our house: it wasn’t used, wasn’t needed, and wasn’t earning its keep.

Moderate minimalism looks a little different when you’re a family of 7. We aren’t going to count our things. We own way more than 200 items. We don’t live in a tiny house. No magazine will be knocking on our door to photograph our home.

But I see the progress. We donated 50% of the kid’s toys. They are each allowed to keep 1 toy (or set of toys like blocks) in the toy room at a time. The rest of the toys are in the laundry room waiting for their rotation. There is actually floor space in the toy room. Space for the kids to play and create. That alone resolved 90% of the flights over toys. Oddly enough, our kids love it! They hated cleaning up before, and now it takes them literally 3 easy minutes to have that space perfectly cleaned.

I wrote about the struggle of letting these items go. But after the struggle, we are finding the benefit.

1. Emotionally

I feel more relaxed. I don’t look around and see piles of things that need to be “dealt with.” We all have goals and dreams we want to work towards. But the clutter or the abundance can steal our emotional energy.  Trying to find the right outfit in a sea of clothing, only half of which fits properly takes time and energy. If we feel worn out by the end of the day, finding areas of our lives that can be simplified will create the margin we crave.

2. Free Time

It takes less time to find an item. It takes less time to clean up our house. The kids can actually clean their own spaces. (That is one of the rules: they can only keep the number of things they can clean up in their rooms. Folks: that alone revolutionized my life! I should write a whole post about it. Mom doesn’t pick up toys! Coming soon….)

3. Financially

This was a surprise. We really thought we needed a shed. We do a lot of remodeling and have no garage or storage space. But after getting rid of 50% of the items in our basement/laundry room area, all our tools fit just fine. Getting rid of things we don’t need meant we didn’t need to spend $5000 on a shed. Let that sink in for a minute. We were about to pay $5000 for a shed so that we could hold on to stuff we rarely used. Now it’s easy to criticize folks for paying specifically for storage space.  But I see so many people buy bigger houses just so it will hold all their stuff. Or pay more for a house that has a garage so it can hold all the extra stuff. When people are hesitant to get rid of things because, “It’s not costing me anything to keep it, and I might use it one day.” I wonder if all the barely used stuff was a factor when they picked that place to live, and will be a factor in their next home.

What amount of financial freedom are we trading for things that rarely get used?

My suggestion is to take is one small space at a time. One closet, one pantry cupboard, one shelf or one kind of item. Do your best to honestly discard things that aren’t used, aren’t needed and aren’t earning their keep.  Ask if it’s honestly giving back to you much benefit.

Give that space rest for a couple of months. Then go over it one more time.

Discussion questions:

  1. Is there an area you are trying to pair down?
  2. How do you balance a desire not to waste money, with wanting to reduce the clutter?
  3. How long will you hold on to an item that you might use? 6 months, 2 years, 10 years or forever?