Someone tell me what simple living is because I don’t know yet

Minimalism is the word du jour. Actually, it’s more like the word de l’annee.

Thanks to Pinterest, increasingly popular food and lifestyle blogs, Marie Kondo, and several other influences, white walls, clean lines, and the complete absence of clutter comprise the in style of space these days.

Never mind that no one’s space really looks like that, and never mind that as long as you have a child or pet, it never will. Every time I scroll past all that on Instagram, I try to remind myself that all those photos have clutter outside of the frame. Pizza boxes, dirty clothes, dog-hair-littered rugs.

It’s annoying, but only because I envy that frame. I know it’s not real, but I still envy it. I envy it because I know that stuff is stressful. It reminds me of how much we accumulate for the sake of just having things, it would seem. I once came across a beautiful quote by the artist and textile designer William Morris, credited with starting a British movement that would become the American Craftsman movement, and he says:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I instantly recall the boxes and piles in my basement. The clothes I don’t wear, but still give space to because they came from such and such and it makes a good story. The knick knacks and random things that don’t have a place. Clutter drives me up the wall. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is the way I look at the world, and if you don’t have a place, you better find one soon, or you’ll end up in the Goodwill pile. Stuff weighs me down, and I do not feel like myself in a cluttered space. I know that means a losing battle lies ahead of me until the last child moves out of my house, but clutter is a sign of unfinished things. Ongoing projects. Things that don’t have a place, but supposedly will find one soon. Things we don’t need but cant bring ourselves to throw out. All of those things are unfinished processes, and I am not hospitable to unfinished processes. Unanswered questions. That’s all they are. And that’s what really drives me up the wall.

I believe that painful practices may sometimes be necessary in order for us to thrive as humans. That may include difficult diets if we have bad relationships with food. It may also include purging our possessions. When I die, none of the things in my home will mean anything to me. I won’t take it with me, and I won’t come back for it. No matter how many family hands it passed through, no matter who gave it to me, no matter where I bought it, and no matter how much money I spent on it – at the end of the day, it’s all stuff.

I’m not all that sentimental, really.

I believe that examining our relationship with our stuff, and sometimes being brutal about it, is necessary for simple living. And while I don’t know that I’ll ever attain an ultimately minimalist lifestyle (mostly because it’s trendy, and won’t be all that much of a thing in 20 years), I do very much believe in simple living.

I believe in – for the most part – not buying things unless you have a need. I absolutely believe in splurging, but my personal preferences for that include experiences like massages, pedicures, eating out, concerts, vacations. Also books, that’s my main exception. The reason I have this way of thinking is because I know that for every pair of shoes I own, there are thousands of others who don’t have any, whose feet become blistered and diseased because they have no protection from the ground or weather. You see, I’ve always been taught that God has provided enough resources for all those living on the earth. I’ve been taught that it’s not that the earth is overpopulated, it’s just that resources aren’t distributed fairly. So does that mean that if I have two coats and someone else doesn’t have any, that I’m stealing from him? Does that mean that if I have more money than I have need and someone else doesn’t have enough money for their needs, that I’m stealing from her? It makes me sick when I think of all the stuff we have, buy, consume, and accumulate while so many others have nothing.

I believe simple living absolutely starts with our basic needs – our clothes, food, choices of travel.

However, with all that being said, I do still love my stuff. I love that I don’t have bare walls because I have so many talented friends and family members who know how to art. I love that my furniture is dark wood and not white because it was handed down to me by my family. I love the amethyst bud vase that my mother passed down to me. I love the blankets that my friends knitted, crocheted, and quilted for me. I love the full shelves of books because it reminds me of all the stories I’ve lived. I love the teapot that belonged to my great-grandmother. I love our collection of records. I love the ceramic tumblers that my sister gave us for our wedding that were handmade by her art professor that were being sold at the local community arts center as part of the month’s exhibit.

But I’ve still had to make some difficult decisions when I felt that my stuff was starting to own me. I got rid of a few brown mugs that I thought were just the coolest things and that I found while cleaning out my grandparents’ house. They did belong to my grandparents, but I have no memory of them being used. They were hiding in the back of a cabinet somewhere, and with me, they were taking up space in a home where only 50% of us were coffee drinkers who only drank coffee 50% of the time. I didn’t enjoy getting rid of something I liked that supposedly belonged to my grandparents, but what purpose did they serve in my house? They were small, and not at all equipped to accommodate an American’s caffeine needs in one sipping, plus I had other, more practical coffee mugs that had their own special stories. And you know what? I don’t think my grandparents care one bit, wherever they are. I don’t think that when we are reunited at the end of all things, they’re going to tell me it really hurt their feelings when I gave away those mugs.

Stuff is stuff is stuff is stuff.

So I’m trying to find that balance of owning better things instead of  a lot of things. I’m trying to find that peace with the fact that my house will be a house filled with children and dogs, and not at all white and bright. I want my things to have good stories, and I want my messy house to have a good story. I do believe that stuff absorbs our energy, but I also believe that striving for an image that isn’t real absorbs our energy even more.

And I’ve decided that turning my house and my life into the simple and sustainable house and life I want to have isn’t something that’s going to happen in a time frame. It will be an ongoing journey of learning to need less and learning to be content.

My old pastor once asked in a sermon, “How many of you wish your life was more complicated?” No one raised their hands. “How many of you wish your life was simpler?”

Everyone. Everyone does. And it starts with a good cleaning. Not to bare your walls or empty your drawers necessarily (though for some, that may be necessary), but to learn to have a loose relationship with your stuff so that if you lost everything, you would still have what you need.





is the Director of Development for Dismas House in Nashville, TN and likes to write in her spare time. She lives in Old Hickory with her family.