The Life Simplification Act

“Overloaded thrift shops,” “pandemic purges,” “donation surges” – one of the silver linings of the pandemic is many thrift stores across the country have had record-breaking years in donations. Naturally, people have spent more time at home, and as a result, many have dedicated more time to tidying up. We’ve also been reflecting on what brings us joy – sparked by Marie Kondo, but now applied in a new way. We aren’t finding it in our closets, hanging on our walls, or sitting on our coffee table – we’re realizing that joy comes from being able to be with those we love and sharing experiences together.

This year, more than any other year, I’ve cleaned and organized my home and donated and sold plenty of excess ‘stuff.’ For me, that’s a real accomplishment. As a child of Depression-era parents, I tend to hold onto things incase I need them someday in the distant future. But now more than ever, I’ve felt the desire to lighten my load – a process which my husband refers to as “The Life Simplification Act.”

My home includes objects that I have brought in, in addition to things I’ve inherited from others as they aged and eventually passed. I moved my mother a handful of times and many things that were too precious to part with have found their home with me. I’ve shared items with my siblings, and reduced the many treasured items down to one large Rubbermaid bin. It’s a time capsule of the things that mattered most to my mom—family photos, her favorite sparkly shirt, a cowboy hat, and her ever-present high heels that she wore in her nineties.

I also have plenty of my adult childrens’ loved items: dollhouses, Beanie Babies, even wedding dresses! With six children, organization was necessary. I’ve put together a box for each child with well-loved stuffed animals, tween photo albums and address books, yearbooks, journals, and child artwork. Finally, I put out the call—please come collect your belongings!

And for those things I’ve bought over the years – and trust me, there are more than a few – I’ve asked myself why I’m keeping them. If they emotionally resonate in any way, I take a picture to remember their meaning in my life.

I’ve always described parenting as a gradual process of release. From the day a child is born, adults in his/her life prepare the child to go out in the world. Why would we view our ‘stuff’ any differently? It’s with us for a time to be used and enjoyed but eventually moves on to new owners to love.

This process of reviewing and releasing has been energizing for me. It feels good to lighten the load after a long, hard year and pave the way for the exciting, unknown path ahead. But it’s not just about the ‘stuff’ – it’s about taking a page from the Millennial playbook and shifting our focus from ‘stuff’ to people and experiences for the future.

Every item that we own requires care, which takes time. Every knick-knack, decorator item, and memorabilia piece creates a feeling of clutter to an encumbered and weary mind. Though complicated, people and experiences reward us repeatedly with emotions, something that a new sweater does not deliver over time. Think about it – you’ve probably spent more time with your ‘stuff’ this year than you ever have before, but chances are you still felt homesick for family and friends you couldn’t see or trips and experiences you couldn’t have.

As we continue to move closer to the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, there are some life lessons I hope we’ll remember when we finally reach the end. A big one brought to you by my very own “Life Simplification Act” – live more richly in the present with what is needed and nothing more – in other words, live simply so others can simply live.