The Ugly Underbelly of Decluttering

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Living a smaller life in a smaller house is something I’ve idealized in my mind. We worked hard for months preparing our large house for sale, and we knew, once we moved to our current smaller house, it would be necessary to pare down our stuff.

We cut our home’s square footage in half—from a little over 2,000 square feet to just under 1,000 square feet. So it would stand to reason that we had to get rid of half our stuff.

It’s easy to say those words, isn’t it? “We’re going to get rid of half our stuff.” Doing it, however, is a dirty, ugly job. There is no easy way around it than to dig in and start pitching.

We practically wore a groove in the road between our house and some of the Goodwill and other thrift shops in our area. Stores in our area received boxes of books, dishes, clothing and shoes from our family. Furniture was carefully loaded into the back of the car and dropped off for donation.

My husband did the bulk of this job. He rolled up his sleeves and dug in. He had the sore muscles to prove it.

“I think I’m going to rent a dumpster,” my husband told me late last Fall. Our house was already on the market. By that time, we had decluttered our house significantly, and “staged” it to appeal to potential buyers. Although our house was the least cluttered it looked in years, sadly, most of the extras had landed in our garage.

I was against a dumpster from the start. We didn’t have that much junk, did we?

Um, yes. We did. The dumpster was delivered to our driveway, a few feet from our garage. Within three hours, it was filled.

A few months later, just a week before our move to our little cottage, we got a second dumpster.

I am not proud of this fact one bit. I’m not proud that I was storing so many non-essential items in our home and garage. It was hard work, not only the physical lifting and dealing with every item, but also the emotional burden of opening boxes and finding old letters, painful memories, or items that held an emotional burden.

I took a photo of the second dumpster as it was hauled away:

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The feeling of weight being lifted from my shoulders was indescribable! I hope this is the only time in my life I need a dumpster. I hope from now on, I will not keep things that are no longer bringing me joy. Better yet, I hope I don’t acquire them in the first place. From here on out, I will try my best to acquire things that don’t need to be dusted or stored: things like experiences, memories and friendships.

Back in Whack

We had to face the facts: we were out of whack.

We were getting by, but we were struggling financially, and it was robbing our peace of mind. My husband and I have jobs that we love, and four children that we love more. We knew we had to make more money so that we could build our retirement while also saving for the kids’ college funds.

Oh—while also paying for music lessons, soccer and ballet.

But even after completing Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and paying off all our debt except the mortgage (YAY us!!), we couldn’t keep up. All it took was for a surprise auto repair or an unexpected medical bill, and we were struggling again and sliding back into debt.

Which is why we got to a point in 2014 where we knew we had to make a change: we either had to work and earn more, or pay less. We definitely didn’t want to work more—if anything, we wanted to play more! And we had already cut back on cable, groceries, clothing and eating out. If we were going to cut back, it was going to have to be in a big way.

So we sold our house.

Despite loving our home, and making many precious memories within its walls with our babies, we realized that our house of thirteen years was a beautiful albatross hanging around our necks. While it was providing warmth and shelter and beautiful space for Thanksgiving dinners and backyard shindigs, it was punching us squarely in the gut each month when we payed our mortgage bill.

The past six months have been a time of learning, of letting go, of re-evaluating what is important and what we were willing to do without. We started a journey that we’ve called “unwanting,” because our new version of the American Dream involves wanting less, so that we can live more. This is not an easy task. For one thing, it’s completely counter-cultural. Many people who will hear what we’ve done will say, “That’s fine for you, but I could/would never do this.” Today,  I am starting this blog on the other side, inside the cozy cottage we now call home, and I can tell you that we are no longer out of whack.

We are completely in whack, baby.

In April 2015, we moved from our 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home of over 2,000 square feet to a cozy 2-bedroom, 1-bath home, coming in just under 1,000 square feet. We have half the space and half the bathrooms, but we also have half the mortgage payment and half the worry.

We still have four kids and a dog. You may think we’re crazy.

Maybe we are.