Holly’s story of shedding the excess stuff

  • Name: Holly Pennington
  • Location: Seattle area
  • Occupation: Healthcare executive / physical therapist, mom, writer
  • Blog/site: Dreadlocks and Goldilocks

Tell us one way you are simplifying your life.

We are reducing unnecessary stuff in our house, one possession at a time. Every day during the month of August, each person in our family of four discarded one item, so that by the end of the month we would be 124 items lighter.


We’re not stuff people.

I can count on one hand how many times we go to a mall in a year. We celebrate and reward with experiences, not things. We buy toys for our children for birthdays and Christmas, rarely in between. A breakdown of our budget would show that our spending money goes to traveling, family outings and date nights.

Because we’re not stuff people.


This girl who is not about stuff counts 212 items in her closet. This family of four, who prioritizes doing over having, lives in a house with 71 pairs of shoes. 323 books. 204 toys. And we’re not stuff people?

So, we decided to face this gap between self-perception and reality with a new kind of “cleanse”: every night after dinner throughout the month of August, we would each select one thing to get rid of. The only rule was the chosen item had to belong to you (an important distinction when four and seven year old sisters are in the mix.) The only purpose was a simple one: get rid of stuff.


What were the obstacles?

Like most new things,it was an exciting addition to the evening routine for the first week. We all easily found things to part with, and it felt good to get rid of unnecessary things.

Somewhere around week two, excitement morphed into something that looked more like resistance. “But I might use it again someday,” was a frequently whined phrase after dinner. While my daughters whined the words out loud, I fought the same words in my head as I debated about which shoes to discard, wondering if I would regret my choice later.

Oh, how I cling to things out of fear – fear of regret, fear of being without, fear of the unknown. Even silly things like shoes.

Weeks three and four were tests of endurance, because as the number of things that were easy to part with dwindled down, so did the enthusiasm.

So, August 31 was met with more relief than satisfaction. Although we are now 124 items lighter, we have not been transformed into minimalists. We still have more than we need and wear and play with and use.


How has this simplified your life?

Getting rid of stuff opened up space in our playroom, which means more gymnastics and Ninja Warrior obstacle courses. 31 days of discarding things created a new hesitancy to acquire – we no longer stock up on groceries,for example.

We have met a new kind of peace, a simple one that comes from being able to see everything in the freezer. And,when a catalog with cute new fall clothes arrives in the mail,the number 212 comes to mind. It’s not hard to pitch the catalog.

It makes me wonder if sometimes we just have to start shedding – shedding things we do not need just because we think we will be better without them. Just because we need to try life without them. No grand plans for the future needed: just shed and see what happens.

Because we all want a life of alignment, not gaps. Whether it’s stuff, schedules, habits or relationships, we may need to eliminate before we can be aligned. Before we have a plan. Before we can see the new doors that will open. Before we know what life will be like without.

What inspires you?

• Any sunny day in Seattle
• Washington ferry rides
• My two daughters
• Traveling with my husband
• Writing
• Just about any words written by Madeleine L’Engle, Ann Voskamp and Anne Lamott
• Boulder, Colorado;, Zihuatanejo, Mexico; and Whistler, British Columbia
• Christmas in Ohio with our extended family
• Stories of redemption and overcoming
• Gratitude

Share a favorite quote, guiding motto, or perhaps your life’s purpose statement.

“In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.” – Madeleine L’Engle

“Thanks makes now a sanctuary.” – Ann Voskamp

“What story do you want to tell?” – Andy Stanley

How do you celebrate everyday successes, no matter how small or large?

We try to avoid celebrating with food, but it’s hard! We primarily celebrate with family outings. We do everything from walking out to a local restaurant for dinner (see? the food thing!) to going away for a long weekend. My husband and I recently went on a B&B/wine tasting getaway to celebrate a career milestone.

Thank you so much for your words here, Holly.

Want to share your story about one way you’re simplifying life? Head here.

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