Less is more

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About Emily

Emily Walker writes about making your home a haven, and is a stay at home mom to two littles. While she and her husband have fixed up their 1960s ranch home, Emily has learned lessons along the way in do-it-yourself, making do with what you have, simplifying, and living life to the fullest. When she's not busy bossing her husband around on remodel projects, Emily blogs at Remodeling This Life.

It has been nearly 8 years since my family sold our nearly 3000 square foot, three story Victorian home with a big basement and lots of closets in New York. When we chose to put our home on the market and I put in my two-week notice at work, I had no idea the kind of journey we’d be on.

I knew that I wanted to be home with my baby and I knew that my husband was sick of the snow and cold. So, we made the most fly-by-the-seat of our pants move of our lives so far and gave up the grind of long work days, lots of bills, and more house than we needed, and chose to find a new path somewhere sunnier.

For months, we flailed around trying to figure out where we wanted to live, what we wanted to do with ourselves and how to find a simpler way of life. We lived with friends in Maryland, followed by living in a hotel for months in the town we have now settled down in on the coast of Florida.

The days were long, scary, and full of the unknown. The one thing we knew was that we wanted a smaller and simpler home and less to worry about in our lives. To get there, it took buying a really ugly, outdated fixer-upper, and spending 5 years transforming it into what we can proudly call home today.

Looking back

Looking back, it’s easy to say “Wow! That was fun and not so bad!” but really there was so much not fun, so much bad, so much ugly. We could’ve given up and decided that what we’d hoped would be at the end of the tunnel – a much better way of life – wasn’t worth the years of blood, sweat, and tears.

But we knew day in and day out that despite the projects, despite the upheaval, and despite the agony of the process that we were already living better – more simply – than we were before.

I was home with my daughter, had given birth to our son and was able to be right where I wanted to be – home with them – in a place that was not yet perfect but had afforded me such a luxury that I wouldn’t go a day without appreciating. Sometimes we forget that it’s the ugly, messy, scary unknown that teaches us about and brings us life’s greatest blessings.

One of the hardest parts of the new path we had chosen was going from having more of everything – space, stuff, paychecks – to having less of it. Even after a huge garage sale before we moved, I had boxes and boxes and bags and bags full of things that we just didn’t have the luxury of keeping simply because we had space for it.

It was as I unpacked those boxes of too many extra sheet sets, extra pots and pans, overabundance of clothing, too many toys that I realized that the stuff we had accumulated had gone unnoticed simply because we had the space to shove it away somewhere. I realized how I had unknowingly become a person with way too much stuff – stuff that I obviously didn’t even appreciate, seeing as I didn’t even use it.

With no basement, garage, or storage closets we slowly became accustomed to having only what fit. We now actually have two of four bedroom closets that are essentially empty. In our old life, we had a basement, garage, attic and seven closets shoved full of stuff. We may have had more of some things, but we had less of everything else; less room to breathe, less time to spend as a family; more stress, and more things that just didn’t matter.

It wasn’t easy. I was unaware until it came time to part with things how attached I had become to simply having things – even the ones I never used and that never came out of boxes. But with time, that shifted to a true appreciation for the things I did have.

I take better care of things now. I don’t want to buy more things for my home, so I try to keep what I have and appreciate those things for their usefulness even if they aren’t the most beautiful or trendy things.

Today, there is so much less stuff in our home that is half the size of what we lived in before. What you see is what you get. We live now – our family bigger than it was back then – in half the space with not nearly as much stuff.

But now we have more of the things that matter – more time, less money overall but more money for things that we actually want to spend it on, more space to play outside, more room for family life and love.

What began as a scary journey into the unknown world of moving, fixing up, and raising a family all at once, has become a story we can look back on now that we see the good, wonderful things that came from it. I am back to work these days – part time when my kids are in school. Every day when I walk into my home with my husband and kids, I am thankful for the small, the less, the simple and ever so thankful for the wonderful unseen blessings that have taken the place of big space and more stuff.

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Comments

  1. Ooooookay, I seriously love this. It all rings so very true to me. You said it beautifully, Emily.

  2. Lovely. I can’t relate to the downsizing, we’ve always had little because we can’t afford more. Yet, I am in the process of learning to appreciate “the less” and to not constantly want more. Your post assures me that the grass in not always greener…..thank you.
    Mel@TheDizzyMom´s latest post: Spaghetti Fun

  3. What a great story. And shamefully I just added bigger filing cabinets in my office. But I am hardly a pack rat. But without pause this post made me think about what I really do have. Two awesome healthy sons, a hopefully soon down the road daughter in law with a heart of gold, a wonderful husband and my daddy and mommy are still here so that I can call them whenever I am homesick.

    What a great journey and thank you for sharing yours.
    Momma aka Pam
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  4. I LOVED this post. It was like reading fresh air. I’m reminded of an old article I read somewhere – it was basically a list of kitchen essentials for people who love to cook but live in small kitchens. No huge pan or knife sets – it just boiled it down to what you really needed.

    I wish someone would write an article like this for the rest of the house. Whenever I try to clean out (and we’re actually pretty good) I get stumped by things like extra sheet sets (sometimes we use them for forts?) random holiday crap (trick or treat bags, Easter baskets, etc) and gosh – even art we no longer like ( but was a present), paper party supplies that seem wasteful to toss, etc etc etc. It’s overwhelming. I realize everyone is different, but I’d love to see someone’s keep/toss list as a starting point!
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    • I’m not as good as I could be about getting rid of stuff, but that kind of “borderline” stuff is easier when you get an outside party’s opinion.

      For example: Artwork you don’t like – are you going to keep it on the wall? No? Then find a way to sell it or give it to someone else who might like it. If it’s hand-made by someone dear to you, but you just don’t want it taking up space anymore (kid’s artwork, anyone?) – take a picture (or lots of pictures), and then get rid of it.

      Holiday stuff: Is it worth it to hang on to it all year to use it for one day? In some cases, YES. But when it’s not worth it, maybe you could repurpose something else to do the same job, without being as holiday-specific? ie. use tote bags or the old standby pillowcases for Halloween, use pretty baskets in your house year-round that can be emptied out and repurposed for Easter.

      Extra sheets: I’m particularly bad about this one, but honestly, how many sheets do you need? 2 sets for each bed (maybe as many as 4; 2 flannel for winter and 2 cotton for the rest of the year). Add a few more if you have kids at the bed-wetting stage. A guest bed (or sleeper sofa) DEFINITELY doesn’t need more than 2 sets at the most. Sheets that are old and holey or ripped – I used to hang onto these because we could use them for forts or outdoors, but now I’ve whittled it down to ONE not-so-great sheet to keep – if we need more, I’ll raid the “nice” sheets and wash them when we’re done.

    • We moved overseas and took almost nothing with us. The few things I missed were: A few favorite books and cookbooks (I re-bought them!), and some of our Christmas stuff!! In fact I had my mom send me a box of Christmas stuff, despite the fact it cost a fortune, because I felt very homesick at that time! So–you don’t need a lot–but I think a few “traditional” holiday things are important! I know for my daughter, she likes “her” Halloween bucket, and our christmas stuff, as well. Also on my “must have” list would be scrapbooks and photos, a few special bedding/blanket items that feel familiar, and my favorite cooking tools and pans, a few favorite framed pics for the walls. And I honestly do wish I had saved a favorite outfit or two from each baby. I’m not a “saver”, and once in a while toss things that I regret.

      As for the rest of it–most was sold at a yard sale and I didn’t miss it at all!

    • As far as paper party goods: as soon as the party is over, stash them with your real dishes and napkins, and then USE THEM UP during your regular meals over the next day or two. There. You haven’t been wasteful, you’re not storing extra junk, and the party spirit continues for a few days more. Plus, not as many dishes to wash!

  5. Thank you for the post. We had moved from more space to less space 4 years ago. I remember the movers asked, “you moved from a big house?”
    I never thought I bought a lot of things but with the extra storage and rooms, I just did not realize how much we had. Not as dramatic as your story, we moved from 2,000 sq ft home as a family of 4 to our current rental of 1,400 sq ft rental and became a family of 5 in the process.
    Now, I have finally grown to realized Less is More and am emotionally ready to let go of things. But I am still faced with the problem of actually getting rid of the overwhelming loads of stuff. I hope, I could manage this tasks before our next move!
    Messy Wife´s latest post: Focus is What I Need!

  6. avatar
    Anna Rounseville says:

    Hi! I love what you did. It reminds me of those simplicity books. We live in an 1890 colonial house in a village with urban density but rural towns all around, lots of farmland etc. We have more bookshelves than bedrooms and have lived here for 15 years. Every now and then it feels like we need just a little more room or a little less snow :D. I’m thinking a vacation to California just to see what its like out there.
    I love how readable your post is. It just flows. I’m learning. Anyways your story is remarkable for how brave and radical a choice you all made. I’m glad you found your perfect fixer upper, sounds like a place with a lot of heart.
    I look forward to checking out your books, and other posts. thanks for sharing. :D
    Sincerely, Anna

  7. Thank you for sharing. I know I also need to reevaluate how much stuff I’ve accumulated, and don’t need. thanks for the reminder.
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  8. I love this post. It’s beautiful and simple-much like I’d like my home to be (that’s a work in progress). With 3 little ones and Christmas looming on the horizon, I am trying to make grandparents and aunties understand that the kids don’t *need* any more toys or “stuff”. I’ve started to talk to Miss 4 about what she can give away to other children who may not be as lucky as she is. I am delighted that she is very open to the idea of giving things away. I am trying to teach my kids from a very early age that less is more.

  9. Love it! We too took a leap 10 years ago an moved thousands of miles from our childhood homes, to an area of inexpensive housing and living costs that would allow me to stay home with our children and homeschool them. However our new home has an attic that like the author said is a place to shove stuff! I have been working on cleaning it this week and this article is just what I need to keep me working at decreasing what is up there. Thanks
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  10. That’s so timely. We have just started taking the nessessary steps for our big more-to-less move. It’s good to see someone else’s description of how theirs went. Thanks for sharing!

    Also, at the moment we’re thinking of getting a bigger house (we do need more space if we are to start a family), but your words reminded me that I will have to be very careful not to over-do the upgrade.
    Ewa´s latest post: Travel Light, Enjoy the Freedom

  11. We still have things stored in boxes from our last move – four years ago – and I honestly don’t think I would even notice if they vanished. Lately, I have been on a path to ruthlessly purge our home of the unnecessary. It’s so freeing!
    Gina´s latest post: simple homemade granola

  12. So beautiful, Emily. And convicting.

  13. We have been trying hard to downsize our stuff. It is actually kind of fun for me now, to keep looking for stuff to get rid of. We still have quite a large house – and that won’t be changing anytime soon due to the current market conditions, but having rooms that are empty is something I really enjoy now :-) Plus, when I need a break from the craziness of life, sitting in a room with only a chair and a lamp is exceptionally relaxing :-)
    Heather´s latest post: {31 Days} Intentional Living – Day 31

  14. I loved this post! It is still our dream to move somewhere sunny and make a drastic change of scenery. We are on our way with the downsizing part but there is still so much that could disappear. We paid for two giant storage sheds for over five years during previous moves, and when we finally bit the bullet and went thru it all most of it got donated. It all seems so silly looking back on it.

    I’m so glad you’re happy with how things ended up. It gives me hope for our future journey!
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  15. Thank you for this post! My husband and I left — err, more like ran away screaming — from our life in the big city to a more simple life in the country that is closer to family and friends. We too have less these days. Less money, less stuff but also fewer headaches and more time with our family. It is terrifying to take the leap and it can be ugly at points, but I know that the decision was right for us, even if we do live in a construction zone!
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  16. I can totally relate. As we have moved a lot, I have given up a lot of “things,” but I have gained so much in the process. Less is most definitely more.
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  17. Love your perspective…especially about enjoying and appreciating what you have even when it’s not the trendiest. I’m learning that right now.
    We’re relocating right now and realizing that we can afford much less of a home where we’re moving to (but unfortunately more expensive!). I’ve always found it freeing to simplify our belongings and love the “space” that it gives me in my home and my mind, but if I’m honest, I’m a littler nervous about all 7 of us in a very small home with little yard.
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  18. We moved from a similar situation, except we’ve never had more money. LOL! We moved from a huge farm house to a small, cramped space. I have whittled my “stuff” down over the years, but somehow still feel like there is too much. I have a hard time dealing with all the paper that comes from school., That would be my nemisis. That and all the stuff that comes from church and in the mail. I try to keep on top of it but it really adds up. Then you have the kids, who don’t have all that many toys but seem to always have them everywhere but where they are to be…oh wait. I’m describing normal. LOL! Anyways, good post! You have inspired me to dig deeper and get rid of more “stuff”!
    Marcy´s latest post: Do you want the good news or the other good news?

  19. Congrats Emily and discovering what it take others a lifetime to discover. Sometimes less is more. You and your family’s happiness are what are most important. It is up to us to style the life we want to live. You are a great stylist. :-)
    Lisa-The Domestic Life Stylist´s latest post: 10 Things I Love About Fall (Nashville, TN Edition)

  20. We have just sold/donated most of our things and plan to travel in an RV for the next few years with our family. It was hard deciding what we needed now versus what we might need later when we settle in one place but ultimately we said goodbye to almost everything. It’s hard at the time but feels so freeing later on!
    Bryn @ Away at Home Mom´s latest post: Who are these people? Trying to be good at the grocery store.

  21. avatar
    Kimmy Zahirniak says:

    This sounds like a great idea, but I’m not sure how eadybitviavto accomplish. I think it’s wonderful that you guys were able to do this, it’s amazing! But was your husband the breadwinner? Was it hard for him to fin a job in florida? That’s my biggest fear, not being able to provide the basics to my family.

  22. This is really inspiring- thank you for sharing it! I would love to hear any suggestions you have for getting to this point. It’s a constant struggle for me to declutter- I’ve been consciously working on it for the past year now (since right before my baby was born) yet I still know we have way more stuff than we need or use. Thank you!

  23. I love this. For years we lived in small european apartments–and had weekends free to do things as a family, not just yard work or working on the house!! Then we moved to America and bought a house–not a “huge” house, about 2000 sf plus full basement–with a large yard. And now I feel overwhelmed by stuff, and always “behind”. I don’t like it and want to downsize–but the rest of the family is not so sure!

  24. We have been streamlining our ~2500 sf 3BR home since we moved in over two years ago. It’s not tiny, but it’s not massive. There are six of us here, two people per bedroom. My only concern is what life will be like when they are all old enough to need a place for studying and quiet. My oldest kids are both 9 and my youngest is 18 months. My 9yo twins are getting to a new developmental stage where they want some quiet and space. And they’ll probably be gone to college by the time my youngest gets to that age, but I do wonder how these issues will play out in the next nine years. Any veterans out there with suggestions?
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  25. Wow! I could not tear myself away from reading this wonderful story! You’ve encouraged me so, and your post has given me that little bit of extra motivation I needed today to clear some of this clutter. My husband and I, too, long for a simpler, less-cluttered home. And I find it exhausting sometimes to both fight to keep new clutter from coming in while simultaneously shoving the old clutter out. But thank you for reminding me that at the end of it all, we will be able to breathe!

  26. Amen! To be shaken out of complacency and go somewhere new was good medicine for us too.

    Simplification involves pain first, then joy!
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  27. LOVED this, Emily. This especially stuck out to me: ” I realized that the stuff we had accumulated had gone unnoticed simply because we had the space to shove it away somewhere. ” so true, for me! Thank you.

  28. And here we are doing the opposite. I agree, I am a huge advocate of having less “stuff” and we don’t have a lot of clutter in our home now and I don’t intend on starting to acquire it because we are moving to a bigger home. We bought our home when it was just me and my husband, we were young, it isn’t small but the layout is so weird that raising a family in it is proving difficult. So we are moving to a large home (I hope we don’t come to regret the decision) but again we don’t keep stuff. During the packing, if we don’t use it, it is disappearing!

  29. It’s funny how we feel more secure somehow with more ‘stuff,’ but having less helps us appreciate it more, and leaves more room for the important ‘stuff’ of life! Beautiful post!
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  30. We have recently moved into a larger home with a lovely playroom… that our kids spend very little time in because they’re in daycare, so we both can work… to pay for the larger house. Irony?

    We have been talking about what it would take to get us down to one income and likely that would mean downsizing the house. I’m actually starting to get really excited about the idea of moving into a smaller place. =)
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  31. We’re having the opposite situation. When we met and married, we lived in a very high cost location on the east coast. Our first house was around 980 sq feet. Our next house (with two kids) was around 1200. We then moved to a much lower cost area and ended up with a significantly larger home. It feels so empty without at least some “stuff” so I’m trying to get things that are meaningful and useful while also making it homey. It’s more challenging (in my opinion) than having the smaller house!

  32. My husband and I (and more recently our 2 year old) have moved 3 times in the past 5 1/2 years (that includes us moving in together when we got married.) 3 months before the last 2 moves I would start room by room culling through our belongings. As a military family choosing to live on base, we have no say in the size or layout of our homes. The awkward (for us) layouts can be more difficult to deal with sometimes than the actual size of the rooms. We move again in 3 months. Moving has been a great influence in not accumulating lots of things, but I still think we have too much. It’s such a process and as soon as I finish in one area, I have to restart again in another.

  33. Wow! How inspiring! Was it on this blog that I read: “Use it up, Wear it out, Make do or Do without”? We need to keep on reminding ourselves that material things really are not all that important, and make more space for the things (read: people) that really are!
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  34. Well said. Yes, we appreciate more when we have less.
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  35. I know the second half of your story well. We live in a (relativity) small house, at least for our area, and sometimes all I can think about is all the things we don’t have, because we don’t have room the them…All the big toys, the holiday and special occasion dishes, art and crafts supplies…I will literally stand in Target with something I really want in my hand and think of where it would fit in my house… and then I put it back on the shelf.

    I do know all the amazing, wonderful things I have in my life, my kids and my husband, but thanks for the reminder!
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  36. I totally relate and am going through my own phase of ‘less is more’.. I just realized we have WAY too many things in our kitchen cabinets, and this is after we’ve decluttered regularly every month.. Thank you Emily for this reminder.
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  37. Thank you for this! It’s perfect timing for me to read your words on this topic – in a couple of weeks our family of 6 is moving into my in-laws’ basement in order to gain more financial freedom. Our current house is not big – just over 1,000 sq ft, with a basement – but it is amazing how much we’ve accumulated as our family has grown. Now that we’re moving into a much smaller space we are evaluating every single thing before we pack it up, and I’m excited to live only with what we truly need and love.

  38. avatar
    Elizabeth Kane says:

    Beautiful story, Emily. It’s a courageous journey, even a little emotional – downsizing what you have to what you need. It was definitely like that for me. Creating our own story is tough, and not for the faint of heart. I’m glad you’re enjoying a simpler life full of love with your family!

  39. I loved reading this. i’m in the middle of a massive declutter at the moment, trying to get rid of everything that doesn’t make me happy. Less is definitely more and reading this has encouraged me even more. Thank you! xx

  40. This is a breath of fresh air. Our house is on the market as we prepare for a cross country move. We have made endless trips to the thrift store, trash pile and scrap metal place and it’s like our house can finally breathe! I am so relieved we won’t have to unpack boxes of anything we don’t use and love.
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  41. Yes, the process can be rough … thank you for saying so!

    We’ve been doing this for the past 4 years, and it hasn’t been fun or easy to sell a lovely home and rent while building towards the future. We’re setting up a family ranch (with extended family) a few hours from our hometown, trying to do it without debt. Not an easy process, but we’re hoping that makes it all the more appreciated in the long run.
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  42. So true! We are in the third year of a life downsize, and I am learning that it is a journey to lessen the dependence and pull of stuff. We are living small in order to be good stewards of what we’ve been given (financially and kid-wise!), and I must rely on God’s joy and faithfulness daily to stay in a spot of contentment. Thanks for sharing this– less is truly more.

  43. That is definitely an crazy journey but moving can change lives. A lot of responsibility and scary life changing decisions are involved. Thanks for sharing, now I don’t feel so scared to move to a new place.

  44. I put in my two-week notice at work, I had no idea the kind of journey we’d be on.

  45. This story is familiar. I gave up my teaching job to stay home with our three little girls. We lived in an old farmhouse house that we totally gutted and rebuilt..what an adventure we have had! But raising the girls at home was the best decision we ever made! Dianntha

  46. We are currently in small house (1,100 sqft, for two adults, a 3 year old and a baby) and I struggle against clutter constantly. I try to be ruthless about what stays and what goes, but there never seems to be enough space for what we need, let alone any extras that we like. I would like a house a little larger, or at least the space divided up a bit differently in the future, but I don’t want to go too big because I fear filling it up with stuff. Sometimes I want to get rid of everything I own and just start over one piece at a time because decluttering can be so overwhelming, especially with my packrat husband.
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  47. Beautifully put, wise and simple thoughts. Thanks.
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  48. We raised four children in a small, 4-bedroom ranch-style house. I never worked more than part time while raising our children, so they were never in day care. My husband and I just retired this year with no house payments and a home that is perfect for the two of us. We have friends with large homes that still need to work because of their large mortgages. So to all you young families, enjoy these years and have a ball with your little ones! You are teaching them life-long values—”stuff” is not important.

  49. I knew that my husband was sick of the snow and cold.

  50. You did it beautifully. I think this will inspire more people to take stock of what they have, appreciate their value and be happy with them. Living with less stuff is more fun, as your story proves. I know how to move to a scary unknown. such as a lonely house in the middle of nowhere and how to transform this to a haven by sheer will power. We are one of the lucky ones, as you are.
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  51. I need to declutter my space, thanks for the post!
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