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.

Family-photo-wedding

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.

But…

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.

big-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.

seattle-family

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.

Reading Time:

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21 Comments

  1. Steph

    I love the idea of picking one thing a night. This might help our stuff-loving five year old to let go more easily…

  2. jenna

    Funny how people who “shed extra stuff” are so darn pretentious about it. Maybe shed some of your attitude.

    • Karen

      Hey Jenna. So, I’m really not trying to be contentious or start a debate, but your comment left me curious. I enjoyed reading this and thought it was interesting. I didn’t come away from it feeling like it was pretentious or had attitude. I’m just wondering what about it left you feeling that way. 🙂

    • Guest

      I didn’t feel like the author was being pretentious at all. I read it and felt like she was actually kind of poking fun at herself for having felt like she wasn’t a “stuff person” and then realizing how much stuff she actually had.

    • Kathryn Woolley

      Interesting response Jenna! To share the revelation of a need to do something, can be encouraging to others! Humans are relational beings – and to share thoughts & ideas is a positive & productive thing to do! Having read the above – I, too, will possibly spend some time today – assessing whether I may be able to pass on to others- some things that can be more useful in their hands, than mine! Very encouraging! 🙂

  3. Debbie

    Love this, Holly. I say the same thing too . . . that I’m not about the stuff. And I try not to be. But then I look at how prone I am to instant gratification and even if I sell something to buy something else, at the root of it is still a big issue. So thank you for this and I’m tempted to use your family’s challenge for my own family!

  4. Ashley Rombs

    Great article! I love coming on this site and being so encouraged each day to simplify life. Thank you. 🙂

  5. lsg1378

    What a fantastic idea! Shed one item every day from your life … been thinking about this a lot lately … might be time!!!

  6. Tif

    Came across this article on FB while I was taking a break from downsizing my garage and and closets. How ironic! We are a military family and move every 2 or so years and we have accumulated so much stuff! I too think I’m living the simple life, but my closet and garage tell a different story. We are moving again next week and I am determined to get rid of all the things I (we) don’t need. It really makes no sense for me to hang on to suits I wore to work 7 years ago when I was a size 6-8 when I’m clearly a size 10 now! Thanks for your story! It motivated me even more!

  7. Barefoot Hippie Girl

    This is so practical. Each person, 1 thing, 31 days. It is too easy to accumulate and it is hard to keep the balance of in and out. This would be helpful.

  8. joanna

    What I like about this article is how she says she’s not a “stuff” person yet in reality has stuff. That is great honesty!!

  9. Angela

    Such a cool idea! I like to think I am not a stuff person either but a recent move showed me something different. We are a family of small things, rocks, little treasures, nail polishes. Even that sort accumulates and feel overwhelming. I think we may need a challenge like this.

    • Andrea Butler

      So true! A move or 2 will reveal quickly how much ‘stuff’ has made it’s way into our homes. I don’t want to get rid of stuff just because but to be able to focus on more important things like my faith, family, living life and our goals. More stuff requires more energy to keep it up and it never seems like ‘enough.’ We end up being a slave to what we own and we are the users rather than the tools being used by us.

      Thanks for the moving reminder. I might have to stage a ‘fake move’ sometime to remember what is actually needed after the 30 day take something away fun in the article.

  10. Chrissy

    Great piece, but you don’t stock up on groceries? That’s very surprising. I personally try to be very basic in the kitchen as far as gadgets are concerned, but I just think it’s very unwise not to keep a lot of food. What if there is an emergency, or epidemic? Most cities only contain enough food within their limits to sustain their citizens for 3 days. If it’s a nationwide emergency, there won’t be government coming to the rescue with MREs and bottled water. How long could your family survive on what you have at home? Also for everyday eating, canning and storing food is a very frugal way to eat local and organic. I know I couldn’t feed my family of 5 if I didn’t stock up on things when they’re cheap and store them for later. I’m all about the simple life, I even hope to build a tiny house in a few years. But it will have a huge pantry and root cellar, because that just makes sense.

  11. se7en

    What a great post, I love how you got your whole family on board… That in itself is a massive achievement!!! Let alone making it all the way through the month!!!

  12. Angela

    We’ve been working on simplifying life and getting rid of “stuff” too. We also recently put our house up for sale. It is definitely easier to keep the house clean when there’s less lying around!

  13. Prasti

    I think that we’re not “stuff” people either, but somehow we manage to accumulate more. I try to do a big purge twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring), which always feels so good! We also enjoy going out as a family to do things rather than buy things. And Holly, we’re also in Seattle. AND we also have extended family in Ohio!! How funny. I totally agree with you on sunny days in Seattle…it makes me happy too. Always so gorgeous here on those clear and sunny days.

  14. Esther

    We moved overseas a few months ago, forcing us to get rid of stuff. It was hard to believe how much stuff we accumulated in the 4 years we lived in our previous home. We’ve been very aware of purchases we make while living overseas as it will either need to be sold or brought back home with us. So, now we’ve switched to experiences instead of stuff which is wonderful!

    One other big change, at least for me, is not stocking up on groceries. I used to be a coupon clipper and buy multiples of an item when we lived back in the States. Now, we shop almost daily for groceries to be eaten that day–and perhaps the next. We keep only one extra of an item–like hand soap, dish soap etc.–on hand. It really is freeing to live a lifestyle so different than the one we had back in the US.

  15. Breanne

    We’ve just moved and in the process, we’ve gotten rid of at least ten rubber maid bins full of stuff. And we thought we were pretty simplistic before. I don’t even know what was all in the bins but I know that we feel lighter and we have more space to do the things we really want to do. Kudos to you guys for taking on that challenge.

  16. Holly Pennington

    Wow! Thank you, everyone, for your stories of shedding! I have loved reading your comments and appreciate all of your perspectives! It was truly an honor to share a story on this blog.

  17. Lee @ Modern Granola

    Great post. I love the Madeleine L’Engle quote.

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