“I’m looking for less stuff to take care of.”

This phrase is something my friends and family would hear me say when I was deep in the role of being the primary caregiver for my mom on top of working full time, raising two children, spending time with my husband, and taking care of me. Oh…and my husband was his mom’s primary caregiver as well so we both felt like we were drowning in stuff to do.

It became crystal clear to me that I had way too much on my plate. I feared something important was going to give or drop whether I liked it or not so I needed to be mindful of what I could sacrifice. It felt heavy to take care of so much stuff and difficult to keep so many plates in the air.

While I know I needed to be focusing in the moment, I was constantly distracted by worrying about all my other plates. When I was with my mom, I was thinking about my kids. While I was at the office, I was thinking about my mom, and whenever I was taking some time for me I felt guilty. This nonstop feeling of being needed and not feeling like I could ever do enough reminded me of a mother robin tirelessly feeding a nest of hungry baby birds. I wrote more about this frustration here.

Does this sound familiar to you?

less stuff equals happiness

A Quest to Simplify Stuff and Focus on What is Important

I think it’s very common that a significant life change or experience can spark this kind of introspection. My wake up call or really shake up call came when my husband and I started caring for our parents. For others it may be getting married, divorced, losing a job, receiving a health diagnosis, or traveling to a third world country,

My life change of becoming my mom’s primary family caregiver prompted me to be fascinated by people simplifying their life and becoming happier. I wanted to watch and learn their secrets.

Less is More Quote

My Obsession with Tiny Houses

I have several variations of Tiny House episodes on my DVR. I’m infatuated with these TV shows. It’s so fascinating to see what these people have selected as their most important stuff. I especially love watching them with my husband who questions the whole time how a family of 6 with 2 dogs can make this work. For many of these tiny house dwellers, flexibility and living within their means is a motivator. I can definitely respect both of these core values.

Inspired by the Minimalism Documentary on Netflix

Home alone one day, I recently watched a Netflix documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. This documentary primarily focused on two friends who questioned the American Dream and wanted something more…or is it less? I love how they stated that there isn’t just one template to achieve the American Dream. Both of these men were headed to supposedly having it all and were completely miserable. They had a disruptive way of thinking and it’s working for them. There were other examples of people who had carved out their own path and were ultimately happier.

The message in the documentary wasn’t that consumption was bad. These minimalists were suggesting to watch for compulsory consumption behavior and just be mindful of the potential consequences. The takeaway message for me was to value quality over quantity. I recommend checking out this documentary. I would love to watch it again with my kids and husband.

How might our lives be better with less stuff?

There are many people that dream of having a second place – perhaps a mountain cabin, lake home, or condo on the beach. Not me. Well, actually I have one already. My family actually has two places in Michigan – a 15 hour drive from where I live or a $400 plane ticket per person. Don’t get me wrong I love spending time up there and it’s been a huge part of my life and my kid’s life. But there is a part of me that would like less stuff to take care of.

Would our special place be just as special if we rented a place for the week? What would it be like to simply visit our happy place and all enjoy each other 100% without worrying about the maintenance of these two homes? Or, would family members make less of an effort to reunite every summer there?

In the last few years of my dad’s life, I remember the stressful calls he would have with me. Dad was often tired and overwhelmed with taking care of everyone and everything. Sometimes his frustrations led to fights about how my siblings and I didn’t do enough to help care for everything – especially the places in Michigan.

Both of my parents achieved what many would call the American Dream. They worked hard and they achieved and acquired many possessions, including a  beautiful beach condo in Florida and two homes in Michigan. Mom and dad have a strong family legacy including 6 kids with 11 grandchildren. They had money to live comfortably and hire out services they longer wished to do. They wrote and published books.

What they didn’t have in their golden years was their health and perhaps their happiness. To me, their ‘stuff’ got in the way of their health, their relationships, and their desire to travel. To my parents, they see their lake home as part of their family legacy and of course I want to honor their wishes and so have accepted that maintaining these places is part of our new normal.

Minimizing my Mom’s Stuff

After my dad passed away in 2014, we had just a couple weeks to pack up and move my mom. We couldn’t leave her six hours away from any of her family so we moved her to Atlanta. I wish I had kept a journal of all the things that took place in those couple weeks. It’s mind-blowing when I think what my siblings and my mom had to do all while grieving the huge loss of our dad. My parents had a 3 bedroom condo. My mom wasn’t mobile so we would have to take batches of things to her and ask her to make quick decisions about all of her cherished possessions.

Much of my mom’s possessions included books – she collects first editions. She honors each book but understood that she couldn’t keep them all. I’m so proud of her for the work she did to probably purge at least half of her books. She offered them up to all of us and anyone that came in to work with us.

Mom also had to sacrifice much of her framed art. She had several originals of hand-drawn and painted birds. Her cozy Assisted Living two room place wasn’t going to be able to house many. We each took one or two for our homes and the rest were donated to the hospice where my dad spent the last week of his life.

moms bird painting

Keeping it Real

One of my strengths is organizing my time and creating time for what is important to me. I enjoy teaching fellow family caregivers how to do this. Be sure to click here to get the ‘Help! I need more Me Time’ resource if you need help in this area.

However, I have a confession to make…I struggle with my desire to minimize my stuff.

Shopping is so much fun! I especially love to to find a great deal. Up until this weekend, my closet was full of deals I couldn’t pass up.

This weekend I purged my closet and selected by current wardrobe capsule because I was  inspired by Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I learned about her mission on the MInimalism documentary. I’m fascinated how she stuck to 33 articles of clothing in 3 months and inspired a tidal wave of women across the world to do the same. My wardrobe list is not quite as strict as Courtney’s. She counts shoes, jewelry, outerwear, sunglasses, and her purse as part of her 33. I needed some baby steps into this less is more wardrobe approach so I limited myself to 5 shoes, 5 bracelets, 5 necklaces, 5 earrings. Courtney gives permission to adapt her project so I’m feeling no guilt. Also, never fear, workout clothes and house-only wear doesn’t count so I won’t be walking around or crawling into bed all stinky.

project333 surplus hangers
The surplus of hangers just from my closet after tackling my first Project333.

Another struggle with stuff is around home decor. I want my home to look like one of Joanna & Chip Gaines Fixer Uppers. In fact, as I hit publish on this post, we are just about to kickoff a complete kitchen renovation that will maximize our space, update the kitchen with the times, and put us in a better position for resell when we eventually become empty nesters.

So the quest for adopting the ‘less is more’ approach to life and ‘stuff’ continues…

Take Action

  1. Prior to making any purchase, ask the question ‘Does this either have value, serve a purpose, or bring me joy?’
  2. Ask yourself this same question when starting small purging projects around your home. Start tiny. Maybe pick one drawer or one closet and weave room by room tackling one area a week. If something is in perfectly good condition just not for you – sell or donate it.
  3. One of the suggestions in the Minimalism documentary was to consider meditation as the antidote for compulsory consumption. Meditation has helped me become more mindful…and present. It was about a year ago that I started  incorporating meditation as a new healthy habit. Click here to read more about this.
  4. Join me and my sister for a modified Project 333 where we are drastically reducing the size of our wardrobes! Check out the before and after closet pics on my Instagram.
  5. Encourage your caree to let go of some things as well. For many in the generation of our parents they saved everything. In most cases, the majority of these things will end up being your things. If you can, enlist the help from your caree so you have an idea of what stuff is the most important and valuable to them? Remind them that these are great items and there are many people in our communities that would be thrilled to have and use them.
  6. I focused on putting the health back in your kitchen in this post. Click on the image below for a checklist that walks you through the steps to take back control of your kitchen space.

Free Kitchen Purge Checklist

 

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