“You may pick three toys and one stuffed animal to keep,” I told each of my children as I began tossing things into boxes.
“But I want all of them!” the kids cried in unison, protesting the packing that had been going on for several days now.
Eventually, they each managed to pick three of their favorites. As they helped me pack up everything else and tape the boxes shut, they understood that we wouldn’t be seeing the contents inside for (what felt like) a very long time.
At least this time, the situation was different.
Six years ago, I went from being a stay-at-home mom to a single mother. My husband left us, and I had no money in our bank account. I sold nearly everything we owned just to try and keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our bodies. Toys, furniture, dishes, electronics, jewelry, books, DVDs, computers, bicycles, winter jackets … gone. All gone.
I remember coming home each night to a very empty house, feeling as if I was living a very empty life. Everything I had worked for was slipping away before my eyes, and what was left behind appeared to be nothing, quite literally.
Yet over time, I began to realize that although the rooms appeared empty to me, they were far from empty to my kids.
“Mom, we are so lucky that we have all this dancing space in our dining room!” my 5-year-old daughter exclaimed one morning after breakfast. That was the day we started pajama, pancake, and dance parties, which we still do every Saturday morning.
“We are the luckiest to get to pillow fight all over the house!” my son announced not long after. I mean why not? It’s not like there was anything left to break.
It wasn’t just the space that my new little family was falling in love with, however; it was what we were doing with the newfound space in our lives that we began to adore.
For me, less clutter meant less time cleaning — and more time to do the things that I loved.
Fewer toys meant more creativity for my little ones, as they giggled under the fort they had built out of our few remaining chairs and the sheets right off of their beds. I actually loved seeing them get back to the childhood I had wanted for them, before the playroom had taken over.
It also was nice not having to worry that sippy cups were spilling on the “good pillows” or that an errant ball might be bouncing precariously close to a breakable lamp. Just as it felt amazing to tuck the kids into bed, look around at the nothingness to clean, and call a friend for an overdue chat. Not only that, but on the weekends, we were forced to get out of the house and enjoy the town, since there was no “stuff” demanding our attention at home.
I soon came to realize that in simplifying my home, I had simplified our lives. It really is amazing how, when you lose everything you thought that you needed to survive, you suddenly find the freedom to truly live.
Still, the stuff crept back into our home.
It appeared with a new marriage, and with the addition of a new baby. Then, before I knew it, I was agreeing to buy a bigger house that would better hold all of our newfound stuff.
However, it wasn’t until we learned that there would be a three-month gap between the time we moved out of our old house and into our new one, that I began rifling through all the stuff we had accumulated again and realized just how far I had come from the life I had been enjoying. I felt overwhelmed, smothered, and as if the walls were closing in on me.
So, I decided that the next three months would be a “simplification vacation” as we waited for our new house to be ready. I decided to leave the clutter behind, taking only essential things with us like several changes of clothes, a few special toys, our family members, and our time.
Originally, we moved into a hotel. It had all of the comforts we had come to depend on, but at the end of the day, not much around us was ours — except each other and the memories we made.
Now, we are four months into our original three-month timeline due to a building delay, and are still looking at several more months to go. So, we moved into an unfurnished apartment last week to get a little closer to the kid’s school. We aren’t able to get our stuff out of storage, so we’re sleeping on a collection of borrowed futon mattresses and sheets. My friend’s mom sent us some dishes and a lamp that looks like it’s from the ’70s, and we bought a card table that we don’t mind if the kids color on. We don’t even have a TV.
If you were to come over right now, what you might see are several empty rooms and a few kids running around. What I see, though, are the little imaginations pretending they are zoo animals, with room to run and play. I see myself, having just cleaned the whole place in five minutes, now writing — a job that I love. I see my husband sprawled out on the floor with our baby, having nothing that needs to be mowed, because we don’t have a yard.
I see our family, and I love it.
Our new home should be ready in December and will have quite a bit of space — but I’m honestly not sure how much stuff I will unpack. I’m busy, after all, with growing babies and giggling children, who don’t seem to miss anything except the snack they’ve been bugging me about for the last hour.
We already have everything we need, even though we have almost nothing that we own.