A Simpler Life

When I was young, moving was so simple.  When it was time to move, my husband and I would box up our stuff and then enlist the help of our friends to haul everything to our new home.  In return for their free labor, we would supply beer and pizza.  (We learned the hard way not to offer the beer until after our belongings were safely in our new place.) It was actually a pretty good system, and one that was used by all our friends because none of us owned very much.

You have no idea how much I long for “the good old days” when moving was such an easy process.  Although my husband and I have no plans to relocate, we have spent the past several weeks helping my mom prepare for her upcoming move to a retirement community.  And since that means she’ll be downsizing from a spacious house to a one-bedroom apartment, we’ve had to sort through all of her possessions in order to help her select just what she plans to take with her.  And trust me, she has a LOT of possessions…..most of which are now in need of a new home.

9JO1EVwaTaGfjiDVqJJCcAPicking the furniture she wanted to take was the easy part.  But once we moved on to her books, kitchen stuff, china, photos, towels, holiday decorations, clothes, keepsakes, etc., thing became much more complicated.  No one wants to part with precious family heirlooms, but trust me, after you’ve “discovered” the fourth box filled with old dishes that some distant aunt brought back from her trip abroad, you really begin to rethink just exactly what is precious and what is not.  Especially when you know that your mom’s new home doesn’t have room for most of it.

Don’t get me wrong, we did discover some family “treasure” among Mom’s boxes, and I couldn’t be happier about that.  But the main thing I’ve discovered in the past few weeks is that most of us have far too much stuff.  In this country, you don’t have to be rich to be able to fill your house with things that you don’t really need and may not even value.  And even the things that are valuable in your eyes are probably things that your family and friends don’t really want.

So my advice is this:  resist the urge to amass great quantities of anything.  And I do mean anything.  Because the time will come when you will either have to move somewhere smaller, or you will simply leave this life altogether, and some poor person is going to have to go through your stuff and try to decide what to do with all of it.  And the longer it takes them to do so, the more tired and crabby they will become.  Trust me on this.

The simple truth is that when it comes to material things, less is more.  Always.  Please think about that the next time you go shopping for something you don’t really need, or feel obligated to bring home yet another souvenir from your vacation.  Remember it the next time you’re cleaning out a closest and decide to keep something you haven’t used in ten years “because it just might come in handy some day.”  Not for you, it won’t.  Which means it’s time to donate it to someone who really can use it.

I know the process of cleaning out Mom’s house won’t last forever, and when we’re finally finished over there, I’m turning my attention to my own house.  Because there’s no two ways about it:  it’s time for me to practice what I preach……

112 thoughts on “A Simpler Life

  1. This is a subject that is close to my heart. My parents didn’t have much worth saving, but that didn’t stop them from holding onto everything.

    My cousin told me her friend moved from a big house to a smaller condo, afterwhich she vowed never to give a gift to anyone that wasn’t consummable. (That’s another reason I so appreciated your throughtful gift to me on my birthday—I love movies and the gift certificate was perfect.)

    You’ve heard me say that I’m not in the “investing” stage, but rather the “divesting” stage.

    The move to Ireland, the return, and then the move to our new house has pretty much helped us rid ourselves of stuff; but I’ve got to keep my eye on things to keep us from piling things on that our kids will have to take care of after we’re gone.

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  2. That is great advice, Ann. When my grandmother had to move into a nursing home, she had spent a lifetime filling a six bedroom, three story with cellar farm house with her ‘valuables’. Somehow I got saddled with the job of getting everything ready for an estate auction. I spent 5 days cleaning, sorting and organizing for the sale. It took 2 auctioneers 8 hours of non-stop selling to complete the sale. It is very kind of you to not want anybody to endure that chore for you.

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    • Thanks, Larry! I guess I have just learned that when most people have to go through a loved one’s stuff, it’s because that loved one has either died or has to move to a retirement community or nursing home. And that is hard enough to deal with, without spending countless hours dealing the their material possessions. Trying to cope with all that “stuff” just makes a bad situation even worse! We’re just lucky that Mom is excited about her move, so that is the bright spot in all of this.

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  3. You share so much wisdom here. It is better to start early and make a dent in getting rid of stuff. Truthfully, we feel so much better when we clean out a junk drawer, or organize a closet. When we are done, we feel like we have accomplished something and it is a good feeling. And you make a very good point…someone out there could really use the things we have no need for. Or we may have outgrown our need for the things and we should make room for new things…like time spent with the people we love, or visiting a place we always wanted to go to. Clutter takes up our time, and that is a something we do not want to waste.

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    • I agree, Linda! I think we feel good about decluttering because it really is an accomplishment, especially in this day and age where it is so easy to acquire too much stuff. And I also agree that it selfish to hang on to something we’re not using, when someone else really could use it. Thank you for your kind words!

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    • Actually, we’re only done in getting the stuff together that she’s taking with her. And then we have to clean out the rest of the house, so it will be a bit longer. But it will end eventually….at which point I’m going to tackle our basement! As for your turn coming, I’ll pray for you to have strength!

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  4. Three years ago my wife and I learned your valuable lesson on downsizing in a dramatic way. Our old house literally falling apart had to be demolished to make room for a manufactured home our son had ordered for us. For three months we had to make do living in a small trailer. That was OK. But the big problem was, what to do with all our stuff collected over a forty-year period. So it was a golden opportunity to get rid of a lot of things. Now in our new home, the same problems begin to resurface. Thanks for the excellent advice, Ann! Everyone should read your post. Have a great week!

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    • Thank you so much, Peter! I think it is only human nature to want to acquire things, possibly in our genes from when we had to hunt and gather to survive. But now we live in a very different world, where stuff is plentiful and cheap, so we gather too much. All we can do is realize it and try to cut back on the acquiring and to donate our belongings as much as possible!

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  5. Having emptied my parents house for sale several years ago, I have been working diligently on our house ever since. Fortunately, my husband and I are on the same page so it’s not too much of a struggle. Slow and steady, taking our time. We hope that we will have many, many good years ahead, but no one really knows for sure. In addition to the desire to leave less stuff when we are gone, living day-to-day without clutter is freeing.

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    • You are right, it is so freeing to finally declutter and get rid of stuff. I’m so glad you and your husband are on the same page. My husband is a saver by nature, but he’s been helping so much with Mom’s move that he’s now “seeing the light.” And I’m so glad!!!

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  6. I couldn’t agree more! Next Saturday we start clearing out my in laws home. Its amazing the stuff we really dont need. I am definitely going to reevaluate all of my things..well except the ephemera. 😊 I hope you finish soon and you get your mom all settled in.

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  7. I hear you talking to me. A few months ago I had started up a rule because I had too many clothes. It was : don’t buy anything else if I don’t first give away or get rid of some things. I also try not to buy clothes online anymore. (I’ve only ever bought two or three pieces but that’s enough.) As for papers, books and craft making items, well…one day when I get more strength.
    All the best with the rest of your sorting and moving. I find that having happy songs on in the background can make some things less of a chore. Just try to check everything before getting rid of them.

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    • It is so hard, but I believe we do have to think about what kind of burden out stuff will be on others either when we are gone, or if we need assistance in moving to a smaller place, they way my mom does. Because that old saying, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” is absolutely true!

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  8. I think I’ve said before that my mum doesn’t have too much clutter as her house is quite small anyway. She was also very proactive herself when my dad died and went through all his belongings and papers then getting rid of most of them. That seemed to be her way of handling the grief rather than hanging on to everything. However, she has started to say plaintively “I hope this doesn’t just get chucked out when I go” about all sorts of things that neither I nor my sister will want – tastes change over the generations. But I would never chuck anything away before trying to find a good home for it first.
    Your advice about doing the same in our own homes is very sound. I know it’s true and I’ll start someday. I really will …

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    • That’s so sad that your mom is already telling you she doesn’t want her things thrown away. Although, you’re right, there is a big difference between throwing something away and donating it, so that should make you feel okay about donating her things when the time comes. And good for her for going through your dad’s things herself. As for our own houses, it is very hard to get motivated to do that….I only hope my good intentions last!

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  9. After helping my aunt and mother downsize, clearing out their things after they died, and downsizing from my large suburban home to a smaller place in the city, I know the truth of what you’re saying! I’m trying hard not to accumulate more stuff. Good luck with your mother’s move.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ellen! Those are hard ways to learn the lesson that less is more, but I guess we can look at it as a learning experience that we can pass on to others. It’s hard in our society not to keep accumulating things, but all we can do is try.

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  10. Great advice Ann. I cleaned out my in-law’s house after my mother-in-law died, and there was china in the attic that hadn’t been unwrapped since 1950. It’s really a burden to hang onto so much stuff, both for the people who do it and their relatives who must sort through it when they’re gone.

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  11. Such great advice Ann. We too, have been sifting through a home of 57 years of my in laws and it has certainly taught us a lesson in that next on the list is sifting through out own home. We are on a mission to not leave this daunting task to our children!

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    • Good for you, Lynn! That’s exactly why I want to clean out our basement. It’s hard enough to lose someone or help them move into a new situation (as much as Mom wants to go to the retirement home, it’s still a transition and she has reached the age where transitions are hard), without throwing in the extra burden of having to sort through tons and tons of stuff on top of it. I think sometimes we just put too much importance on things.

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  12. I’m glad that the stuff that I collect is desired by my sons. I caught son#2 telling a former girlfriend that “someday all this will be mine” as he sifted through all my hammered aluminum to find a specific serving tray. Even so I have too many clothes!

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    • Oh, you are SO lucky that they want what you collect! That way you can keep it, and even add to your collection with a clear conscience. As for clothes, trust me, those are the easiest things to get rid of, so I wouldn’t worry about that.

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  13. Ann, I really feel for you. The once-a-year massive Christmas clean up we do here is tiring enough for me; I cannot imagine how you’re coping over there. I suspect you’ll be pretty vicious with yourself when you begin your own downsizing.

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    • I really will! When I begin to think “that’s too many photos” (as I have in recent weeks) you know I’m getting very serious about the need to pare back possessions. For now, I just cheer myself up with the thought that Mom will be very happy in her new retirement home, and my daughter, who is going to buy Mom’s home, will also be very happy there. That helps!

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  14. Wow, Ann! This one really hit a chord! At 78, I’m one of those elders whose kids will probably have some of this responsibility some day. And I’m acutely aware of that. Fortunately, I have had to downsize so many times in the past 14 years that the amount of “stuff” is much more manageable. But you’d be surprised how much one can still get into a one-bedroom, 720 square foot apartment! I’m working at the downsizing a little at a time – and hoping that I’ve gotten rid of enough by the time this would become their problem.

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    • Oh, I think you’ve already done your kids a huge favor just by moving into a smaller apartment. No matter how full it becomes, you’ll still never be able to have the same amount of possessions that someone with a huge house, or a normal-size house and several garages and outbuilding full of stuff can. (As we experienced with my in-laws.) Still, I think it is very caring of you to actively consider you kids when you are making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of!

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  15. When we moved to our current house we were downsizing, losing about half the space we had. We had to get rid of a heck of a lot of stuff, but now I do find the house too small for the basics let alone the ‘stuff’ we then generate over time. You’re right, less is more. I love a good clear out and declutter because there’s something very cathartic about it, but at the same time I do find it hard to get rid of a lot of things when I get the ‘you never know when that may come in handy’ thing is in the back of my mind. I hope your mum can find and keep the most valuable and important that she needs or is emotionally attached to and feel a freedom in letting go of the rest. I think the changing seasons are a good excuse for spring clean. Good luck!!
    Caz xx

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    • Thanks, Caz! And you’re right, the tough part of downsizing isn’t really just getting rid of stuff, it’s deciding exactly what stuff to get rid of. Because we all have things we really value and can’t bear to part with, and other stuff we could throw away easily. But we ALSO all have stuff that falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, and that’s where it gets hard!

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  16. My parents were of the Depression era so they saved every potentially usable thing they ever had. It made for so. much. stuff. to go through when it was time to move mom out of the house. I wish I’d learned your lesson from that experience, but instead we kept on acquiring things– not saving stuff [like they did] but creating collections of things. Now we’re to a point where we’re starting to rethink our lifestyle and much of that stuff has to go. I feel like all I’ve ever done is deal with stuff… and things… and more of the same… again.

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    • You know, Ally, I honestly think that we humans have an instinct to acquire stuff, probably from our ancestors who lived in a time where life depended upon having enough firewood, food, appropriate clothing, etc. Add on to that those who have lived through something like the Depression, and it’s easy to see who acquiring things become second nature. I think that’s what makes downsizing so hard! It goes against some of our deeply held beliefs that we need to make sure we will always have “enough.”

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  17. So true, Ann, I’m with you 100%! You’ve probably seen George Carlin’s bit on American’s need to collect “stuff”. When we can’t fit all of our stuff into our house any longer, we buy a bigger house. Then we can buy more “stuff”. I long for the simpler life too, Ann.

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    • I know! I love how old houses have small closets….we complain about them, but really, the people who lived in those houses knew a basic truth: we don’t need a huge closet full of clothes! Personally, I love the idea of just a few items of well-made clothing, but actually doing that is so much harder. Still, the simple life is my goal, and I’m working toward it!

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  18. Agree! I know we have too much “stuff.” Plus “treasures” from hubby’s parents and aunt, and oh my – wayyyy too much stuff! When we move, it is going to be very cleansing! Some day! 🙂

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    • Exactly, Jodi! Those moves force us to deal with all our stuff, and if we’re smart, to get rid of a lot of it. That being said, I have found several boxes in my Mom’s basement that were clearly labeled with the address of the house she lived in several moves ago. Which means that those boxes were simply moved from one house to the other without even being opened! I guess not everyone purges when they move….LOL!!!

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  19. I couldn’t agree more! I was amazed at how much stuff I had a year ago now-I donated two truck loads, and shamefully, had a truck to be tossed! I have been extra careful since. I have to say, that china and books were the hardest to part with. Best wishes and keep preaching!! love Michele

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    • Thank you, Michele! And I know what you mean about the stuff that has to be tossed. What we’re donating doesn’t embarrass me, but it’s going to be hard when we get down to the stuff that no one wants and we have to simply put it in the dumpster….. Hopefully, that won’t be too much!

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  20. Ann, After reading your post and the many comments from your enlightened readers, I think that the divestment of excess stuff must be a unanimous belief. Then, I got to thinking about those poor hoarders, who can’t even get rid of their junk mail. I must admit that I sometimes find pleasure in looking at some of my own stuff, but derive even more satisfaction from donating unused items and striving for an efficient uncluttered life.

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    • I think most of us have more stuff than we want (much less need) and that’s why this post struck a chord with people. But you’re right, we do hang on to some things because we truly enjoy them, and I think that’s just fine. It’s all that other stuff that we don’t really want but can’t seem to get around to getting rid of that trips us up, I think. Donation is definitely the way to go then. That way, we get to de-clutter, and our stuff goes to someone who can actually use it! Thanks for the comment, Joe!

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  21. I totally agree and I have two comments: 1) Having grown up in an older family, I’ve seen this process waaay too many times. I honestly think once we hit a certain age, we should begin downsizing for ourselves, because it’s us who know what is valuable and what is not (most of the time). 2) I was reading another blog about how we can help the planet. One way was to not buy ANOTHER thing…NOT ONE! And I agree with that too. The premise was that we should return to the times when we reused something like 50,000 times before deeming it useless. But also, we just don’t need more stuff.

    Okay. I’m done with my rant. Thanks for sharing this. Oh, and I’m not sure if you know but used linens can be donated to the Humane Society.

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    • That wasn’t a rant, that was just common sense! I do think a return to the time when people had less things would be a good start. My grandmother, for instance, easily kept all her clothes in a small closet she shared with my grandfather and in a dresser. She had less clothes, but they were better quality clothes than the ones we have now mass-produced overseas. Not shipping our goods in from another country would help climate change a lot!
      And as for the humane society needing linens, YES! Thanks for pointing that out. The shelter can always use linens of almost any kind. I have neighbors dropping their off on my porch and I take them down with me when I’m heading down to walk the dogs. Animal shelters are an excellent place to recycle used linens!

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  22. I still have nightmares about clearing out my in laws house… It really is a challenge for your children who are grieving and making decisions about what to throw out. The Scandinavian concept of ‘death cleaning’ is something we are starting.

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    • A friend mentioned that Scandinavian custom, too, and I think it is a very good one. Because you’re right, it’s hard enough to grieve without also have to make decisions about what to do with someone’s stuff, especially the things you know they valued. Or wondered if they valued! That is a good thing about my family being able to go through Mom’s things while she is still with us. We can actually ask her about her things, where they came from, etc. And now we know that we won’t have to go through a whole houseful of stuff when we do lose her…..

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  23. so many have already commented with their stories and I echo all that you are saying – try to get rid of your own stuff. I cleaned out the house after my dad died and he didn’t live locally so it took several trips. We even found a few boxes that had never been unpacked since they moved into the house in 1984 – 29 years. It’s a process. I now have several boxes of stuff that my dad wanted to pass along to someone – but you are right, most folks don’t want this stuff at least in our family.

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    • Oh, I’m so sorry! It’s so hard to have to clean out a parent’s house, especially when you are grieving and the house is far away. My sisters and I have also taken a few things that we don’t really want, but that Mom really wants to “stay in the family.” I think of it as a gift to her. But we’re lucky that it’s just a few things, and not a whole houseful. Thanks for the comment!

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    • You and me both! And the sad thing is, I’m a minimalist at heart. But it is just so easy to accumulate extra stuff, and my husband is a “saver” so every once in a while, we have to be intentional about haviang a clear out. Thanks for your comment!

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    • Thank you so much, Sheryl! She moved in last Tuesday, and it went well. Yesterday we took her back to her old house to pick up a few more things that she had room for, but now she is well and truly settled in. Now all we have to do is finish clearing out her house, but that will happen in time.

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  24. When I had to wind down my home for 17 years and relocate to a new country last year, I had to fit everything I wanted into 8 suitcases. I sold some stuff, donated a lot, left my books at my parent’s place and stored very few items in a small corner in the house itself. It was a lot of work. Something that made me realize how much of junk I had collected over years.
    In my new house now, I only have what is needed. It is a conscious effort to buy only what I need and that is working so well for me.

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    • There was a time when I would have looked at the kind of “downsizing” you had to do as a hardship. But now, as difficult as all that work must have been, I view it as a blessing! Life is so much easier with less stuff…And once we get rid of something, we rarely miss it!

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      • This summer, when I visited my old house, I thought I would bring back with me some of the stuff that I had left there. But then, I went through them, I hardly picked up anything. I lived for an year without them, rarely missed them and so now, I did not want them anymore. I felt strange to accept that feeling, but, that is the reality of life, I guess!

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  25. I couldn’t agree more with you, Ann! It’s amazing how much stuff we fill our homes with. I think part of keeping the things instead of parting with them is that we get tired just thinking about having to clean them out! 😂 So we keep that for another day. 😉

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