4.11.2012

Less is More



Or so they say...but is it really true?

Rachel mentioned her thoughts awhile back; Rebecca shared hers around the same time as well (there is something about this time of year, yes?!); and now it feels like the right time to chime in as well, given all of the desperately-needed closet cleansing I've been doing (and still need to do!).   As I've tossed many things into donation bags over the last month or so, I cannot help but ponder this whole idea of less being more.  Is it true?  Is it true all the time?  Is it true sometimes?

I started contemplating why I am drawn to water and the nearby beach.  What is it that makes the experience so tranquil?  I concluded that it was the lack of material possessions mixed with the presence of a few stunning objects--beautiful, simple tokens from nature.  Being in a place completely lacking of any "thing" creates clarity and immediate relaxation, because there are simply fewer distractions.  This type of environment allows our minds to hone in on just a couple of things, instead of being visually and mentally spread thin.  Once I nailed down exactly why I felt this way, the wheels started turning in my head and I started thinking about my fairly recent decision to attempt to be as cautious as possible about the stuff I bring into my life.



I've observed over time that an attachment to material objects can become unhealthy.  Sometimes the need to be surrounded by "stuff" is indicative of discomfort in other areas of our life.  It is so easy to ignore the true issues at hand if we continually pad our lives with things.  Have you ever felt that in purging a closet or garage or drawer that you also experience clarity regarding other areas--likely unrelated to organizing--in your life?  It's a crazy effect, but it really does happen.

"Less is more" doesn't just have to do with purging--being more careful about consumption is a forward step as well.  Lately, I am trying to be very mindful of my purchases.  I find that if I think long and hard about buying something I come to one of two conclusions--either that it is a purchase worth making or that I can do without (usually it's the latter).  The ironic thing is that saying "pass" on something feels good too.

Now some of you may read this and say, 'Gah! But I have kids and that is a game changer', to which I'd reply `yes, it is!'.  Children = stuff.  This I know!  But moderation in all things, even kids' gear/stuff, is a good mantra to consult when sifting and sorting.  When our renovation in France took an unexpected amount of time, we found ourselves living for months without a supply of toys.  We had a couple (literally 2 or 3) on hand that the kids purchased at vide greniers, but that was all.  I was surprised at how well they entertained themselves with other things and it was a great lesson for my husband and I to learn--kids can survive without being entertained by parents and toys.  And not only do they survive, but they thrive!

Yet, when I go downstairs and peek at my kids' current rooms (which are usually messy), I confess I have a hard time donating certain things.  Also, I remind myself what a messy child and teenager I was (I used to wade through pools of clothes--no joke) and that this is all just a stage.  For me, the `less is more' gig is more for myself and the areas I manage.  I'll probably let my kids figure it out on their own (with a little prodding perhaps :)).  This is when it comes in handy to just shut the door :)

I realize this is a sensitive subject for some and I admit I do feel quite vulnerable penning all these thoughts and sharing them with you all...but there is no turning back now I suppose :)  What are your ideas on the matter?

image 1 - moi / image 2 - Nikole Herriott of Herriott Grace (gorgeous wares!)

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24 comments:

Rachael said...

My husband and I were just discussing this the other day; I am someone who really needs a clean and calm living space to feel calm myself (and with four kids and counting, that's a challenge!). I've found that as exterior stress in my life increases, there is also a proportionate increase in my desire to pare down and carefully curate the objects in our home.

Stephanie said...

Rachael, your insight is much appreciated...I think you and I are very similar. You know, I didn't realize that some of my external stress was affecting me that way until you left this comment. But I realize now that they were in fact related. Maybe organizing, purging, editing, curating, etc. is something we feel compelled to do when life gets crazy. It is something we can manage ourselves from start to finish.

Great thoughts Rachael!

Liz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisette said...

It is easy to fall under the guise of we are what we have. However, it feels great to fight against it by a good purging session.

Lori Cartwright said...

I have found that when I have less things, I have more room for what really matters to me...love, beauty, creativity, joy, knowledge, service, simplicity.

Darcy said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts! And Rachael's comment really hits home with me too. The more cluttered and messy my house is the more irratable and grumpy I become. It's amazing how our environments can impact us so much and affect our state of mind. More reason to purge and mindfully shop! So thank you for this post, I think I may just spend my day now cleaning out cupboards and organizing my bedroom! I think I'll be much happier after I'm done.

Mary said...

Oh I definitely agree. My husband makes fun of me and jokes that if something goes unused for too long, he knows it's soon going to disappear. I regularly purge and organize, but you're right - it's more than that - it's about mindful consumption too. Wonderful thoughts.

A simple and organized home does wonders for my frame of mind. Especially with kids, I've found it even more important, and there are specific parts of my house that are particularly important to keep clean (my dining room table, the kitchen counters, the front hallway).

And regarding kid stuff...that gets purged pretty quickly too. I rotate them and try to limit the number of toys that are out and available to my boys, because they otherwise get overwhelmed and struggle to choose what to play with. As you said, I truly believe "less is more" when it comes to playthings. My boys have more fun with a cardboard box, markers, and some kitchen supplies than they would in an entire toy store.

kathy said...

I completely agree. And as we have had our 3 boys, I have found the need to limit the clutter. I have also found there is not much need to really "decorate". If we choose the things we need/enjoy carefully, our home will reflect us and be more useful. I, too, am drawn to the sea. Going there for one week each year is so special to us. I have such a sense of peace when we are there. I feel so small. And honestly, God feels so big and mighty. I do think messiness is something some of us grow out of. I sure hope so because my oldest son has a bad case of it!

Cubic Zirconia Engagement Rings said...

I had these 6 fancy goblets I kept in my sideboard for over 2 years and never used them once! All because they right occasion never presented itself. All they did was waste space...so I agree...less is more!

Mair, Domestic Policy Czar said...

I totally agree with you. When it comes to "stuff around the house" less really is more. In my small home I don't have space for things that I like. There's only room for what I really love. And when my home gets to feeling cluttered so does my mind. It disrupts my thoughts. I suppose if God created the nature around us where the scenery is simple and beautiful maybe we were meant to live in spaces that reflect that philosophy too.

Molly W. said...

I totally agree. I am constantly purging and making good will runs. Less is more and when you de-clutter your life there is so much more room to breath, be creative, and rest!

Nora said...

Yes! Steph, you just gave me the extra push I needed to fill up some more DI donation bags with unused/unloved toys and clothes. Thanks. Simpler is better. And helps inspire creativity.

kalanicut said...

As soon as I saw the title of this post I got excited. "Oh, she's going to speak to my heart today!" I always love your posts about organizing and living simply.

Last night I had a moment where I realized that "things I love" does not always equal "things that speak to the authentic me." I see lots of beautiful things, but when I ask "does it represent the authentic me?" my perspective changes.

If I can live within this idealogy I think it would save me from making some of the purchases I've made that become things I never use.

We too have a favorite nearby beach and with almost nothing in hand but a camera, a towel/blanket we have had the best days of our lives there. It is a place where all problems melt away and there is nothing but pure joy and peace.

Thank you for inspiring toward the simple life. I always go on an organization/simplifying bender from April to July. You've helped me look forward to it.

Anonymous said...

"More" stresses me out, makes me anxious...we recently had a mishap with the second-floor bathroom overflowing for two hours (no one was home)...water everywhere...so most of our things in the living room and dining room, kitchen (even the basement!) were ruined (ceilings, floors, furniture, etc.). To fix everything we had to put all of our belongings into a Pod for two months and I came to realize that I LOVE less stuff...except we do need a place to sit and some curtains and a table on which to eat so now I am trying to find the "enough" point.

Stephanie said...

Lisette, you are so right. That is one of the biggest dangers of acquiring stuff--is identifying ourselves with it and not with who we really are.

Lori, I feel the same. A clean, more minimal palette allows more room for creativity and fun.

Darcy, good luck this afternoon!

Mary, I too have a few places I almost always have to keep clean for sanity. Others (like my kids rooms), I have to let go sometimes. The next time I try to clean out our playroom, I'll try to remember your tips on that--I tend to not let go of certain things in that area, even though my kids are also happy with a cardboard box & markers. I need to be better at that!

Mair, I love your analogy...I'll be thinking about that for awhile...

Molly, you're so right about it encouraging creativity...I feel the same!

Nora, I love the feeling of dropping off bags at DI! They even have one north of Seattle I occasionally visit. Just dropped off two bags on Saturday in fact. Felt so good.

Kalanicut, you raise an interesting thought. Not sure I ever thought about it like that. I am excited to see what fun projects you do between April and July!

Anon, I am so sorry that happened. What a huge pain that must've been. Ugh. But the good news is that you're starting from scratch and this time you can make sure you are surrounding yourself with things you truly love and things that work in your space as well. And I hear you on the couch/table gig. We moved into La Maisonnette when the plumbing was redone, but it was still a mess. We only had an air mattress and a few sheets. Oh and a portable crib. No chairs, no couch, nada. It was such a pain with kids (as a grownup I could endure almost anything) but I didn't allow the urgency to encourage bad decisions. I was on a budget and had to be super thoughtful about what I put in that little space. Since returns aren't really a thing there and there's certainly no Craigslist...you really had to be cautious. Such a great learning experience...I'm sure you feel the same. Good luck!

anna said...

We live in Texas - land of cheap real estate and big homes - and are moving out West and downsizing. We will have half the square footage and everyone keeps asking me if I am sad. But it is so fun and therapeutic to purge, to get down to the stuff we truly use and need. I can have things I really love in my home instead of a lot of stuff just to fill space. And then I can spend more time doing fun things with my kids instead of managing clutter.

Great post.

Stephanie said...

Kathy, how did I miss your comment earlier? I love what you said about surrounding yourself with things that you love and it will all come together. Such a great idea when it comes to "decorating" like you said.

Anna, I felt the same when we moved...when we lived in Boston we moved to SLC and had a larger home (cheaper place to live). Yet it felt too big for us. Uncomfortable. When we moved to Seattle and had to downsize, it felt good. I had no qualms, although people also asked me if I minded too. I love the excuse to pare down. It's so great. I'm much more of a location girl myself.

Janette said...

I couldn't agree more with your comment about surrounding one's self with "stuff" can be indicative of discomfort in other areas of life.
I also think blogs, pinterest etc...as inspiring and amazing as they are, can also help create an environment that enables consumption...not that they hold a gun to your head...but they certainly make it easy to justify!

Randi said...

As a lover of beautiful things, it's easy to feel like I have to collect all the things I find. I love it when I come across lovely things in unexpected places or when I find a good deal on something, but I'm learning to step out of the moment and decide if I truly need to own that thing or if I can just appreciate the fact that it's beautiful or a great find. It's so hard to do, especially as a blogger who loves searching out the perfect thing! In the end I feel so much better when I lovingly choose things that, while beautiful, serve an actual function in my life too.

Stephanie said...

Janette, It's so true--what you said about seeing so many beautiful things online. I have tried to be better at being choosey...being on a budget helps. Also, I make myself wait before purchasing anything, so that I know it's really worth it. Also, knowing my limits. I can only look at so many blogs or pinterest boards before I hit overload.

Randi, it's so nice to hear from you! I'm glad you popped in. I totally agree with your philosophy and have pretty much adopted the same mindset. It's okay to love something but not have it. That's why it's great to blog--you can share those things but not have to have them yourself. But perhaps someone, somewhere, will be thrilled you told them about it b/c it's actually perfect for their needs/wants. I almost never buy anything without knowing what I will do with it or where I will put it...this keeps things in check. Plus, it's just "stuff", right?!

Diane said...

I like this post! I went precipitously from a big house and big yard to a small apartment. At first it was awfully traumatic. But when I had the chance to move back to my big house, I took a pass and rented it out. I want to stay in the apartment. My friends say that my life is “simple” and “easy.” My life is the same--same marriage, same kids, same activities--but my surroundings are simple and easy. Being free from stuff, even lovely stuff, has given me room to imagine and dream about the things I want to do more than care for belongings (like travel and writing).

Laura said...

we live in a material world. we place our value in the car we drive, the size of our home, and the amount of stuff in it. people remodel homes over and over again...we want everything bigger, better, newer. we are a super sized generation.

as a former material girl, who married a struggling actor and went and had four children, and had to learn to live a life free of "stuff" I learned a most valuable lesson. The more I filled my life with things, the more i tried to find my happiness through these material items. shopping equaled happy. A new dress? SO happy! but after a few days...i was empty again. and so I would think of what i "needed to buy" next. and so it dawned on me....a path of material goods...a path that relies on a bigger house, or bigger boobs, or more toys for my children, as a means of happiness will never be fulfilled. It leads to nothingness. Emptiness. It only has me looking forward to the next opportunity to improve my life via things. And the high you get from shopping? it doesn't last. what does sustain? what does last?filling myself with God. The true happiness.
And making a difference in another persons life.

I do love things. I love a trip to Anthropologie like no girl does. And if I want to be happy for one afternoon, then Anthro is a great thing. Would I like wooden floors and new furniture?? Absolutely! And that would make me happy...for a month or so, until I thought up something else I wanted to change in my house. But lasting happiness??? Well for that, I need to empty myself of all things, and make room for what really counts. God, and my family, and the kind of life I want to lead.

I agree with you. I agree that the beach calls us because it is a place of no distraction. And really, isn't that what things are all about? We buy stuff when we are sad...it distracts us. We fill our lives with stuff...it keeps our mind off of the BIG things. We give ourselves home improvement projects...it keeps us from dealing with the people and relationships in our home. We complicate and busy our lives...it keeps us from hearing Gods whisper.

Less IS more.
It's just not always easy.
But I believe in keeping life simple.
There is genius in simplicity.

lynne said...

Yes - this is so excellent!

I find that I can be SO distracted by pretty things - but agree with other commenters about the emptiness that inevitably comes from focusing too much on stuff. I love the thoughtful balance that your beautiful watercolor baby shower reflects: so beautiful, but a beautiful that is thoughtful and simple and motivated by a desire to do something meaningful and lovely for someone you love. That is a great way to live!

Martha said...

can't wait to come back and read all the comments when i have more time. love this subject. i have thought of adopting one of those crazy lifestyles where you own like 20 things, or whatever. but, really, i like having 3 frying pans instead of 1. i use each of them all the time. but, i don't need, say, 5. so, that works for me. i just try to clean out as much as i replenish. i actually just spent the evening writing a blog post about feng shui and this is part of it ... living with only the stuff that gives you warm, fuzzy feelings. it's all about that positive chi flowing in your life! and our stuff has everything to do with that.

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