Simplifying and Stress

Simplify to reduce stress! We all know the mantra since simplicity is somewhat trendy in our consumer society. But did you note the exclamation mark? Sometimes “simplicity” can seam like a screaming, demanding, roaring brat.

Not our car, but the same simplicity-demanding model

These days I am experiencing the stress of simplifying. Simplicity may reduce stress in the long run (I hope so) but simplifying requires change and choice, both of which are inherently stressful.

For the past year I have fought an ongoing battle to get rid of “stuff.” Unfortunately, I still have far too much to show for my efforts.

Salvation has come in the form of a move from Massachusetts to Mississippi. I convinced my husband that it would be easy to only take what we really need if we only own what we can fit in our car. Good logic, right? Sure, we love our amazing $25.00 glider purchased through craigslist, but it is hard to justify trucking it across the country.

In any case, this is what I have learned so far about simplifying the low(er) stress way:

1. Go BIG. It may sound as if I am whining about the pressure of having to get rid of almost everything all at once, but the truth is that sometimes it is easier to deal with everything at once. As a child the month of May would find me  slooooooooly wading into the cold water of our pond while my sister jumped off the dock. I was sure that my way was better, but my sister would have fun in the water for a long time while I continued shivering slowly deeper. Over the past year I have found that constantly talking with my husband about eliminating little things is just about as fun as inching into a cold lake. It may be a shock, but jumping in is often easier in the end and simplifying dramatically is easier than simplifying in dreaded little pieces.

2. Go gradually. There is no need to “go big” in every way. When it comes to simplification, sometimes it is much simpler to make choices in phases rather than trying to decide all at once what one really needs. I have taken the past two weeks to go through my clothing at least four times. Each time I choose that which is most important to me. And each time I have found it easier to give away some items that I previously thought I needed.

3. Think small. Whenever I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff to be eliminated I find something small to accomplish. It is surprisingly invigorating to see one area cleaned out, even when it is small.  The cabinet above the refrigerator is  next on my list.

4. Think of others (those you love). It can be difficult to really eliminate everything that clutters one’s life when one is constantly thinking of the amount one is allowed to keep. Whether it is 100 things or a car full, when the focus is one what is allowed, one is naturally inclined to keep all that one can rather than simplify as much as possible. The best antidote for me has been to think of my husband. Sure, I could keep that extra pair of shoes since it will fit in my half of the trunk, but if I give it up my husband can keep an extra book. Thinking of how my choices will impact those I love makes decisions to give easy. I am not simply giving clothing to a local charity, I am giving simplicity to those who share my life.

5. Think of others (the underprivileged). Your parents’ reminder to “think of the starving children in Africa” may not have helped you eat as a child, but realizing that just about everyone else in the world lives with less should help you simplify. This past week I had the privilege of getting myself to Lawrence, MA at 5:45am to serve breakfast. My appreciation for hot showers and warm beds skyrocketed and my concern for keeping pie pans died completely. If the thought of giving away all the stuff you do not really need is not enough to inspire you, try giving away a little time to gain perspective.

6. Remember why you want to simplify. Simplicity, just like stuff, should have a purpose. Remembering this purpose will make simplifying enjoyable, if not easy. It will also require you to simplify in a certain way. I want to simplify so that I can really live well. I want ease of movement and I want meaningful time with others.  On days that I forgot my purpose and focused only on getting rid of stuff, I wanted to cry from stress. But when I remembered my purpose in simplifying I spent significant time exercising, praying, reading, and talking with my husband, and it was good.

7. Make time for simplifying. You will be stressed if you do not have sufficient time to accomplish your goal. Tossing out half of your belongings on a Saturday morning may sound great, but it might also lead to a panic attack as you try to sort through everything. Do yourself the favor of formally scheduling time to simplify, and schedule twice as much time as you actually “need.” My husband suggested that I give notice at work early so that I could have two weeks to dedicate to the move. It has made all the difference in the world in allowing me to be happy rather than overwhelmed. It does not have to take two weeks to reduce one’s possessions from filling a 2-bedroom apartment to fitting in a car, but having time has enabled me to enjoy living through simplifying rather than simply throwing out everything that we do not need.

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11 thoughts on “Simplifying and Stress

  1. Christine

    I really want to start the simplification battle but my husband is also quite opposed to it. It’s also really quite hard to get rid of sentimental things.

    I’m definitely staring this in my reader to come back to when I feel that I have a bit more time!

    1. Rae Post author

      Oh, I know that feeling! I still had piles of papers from high school and my husband had yucky old t-shirts that couldn’t be worn but had happy memories of childhood video games!

  2. Christy

    Good for you! I keep trying to simplify – although I don’t think I’m ready to go to half of a car yet. I’m slowly letting go of my childhood – the overflow stuffed animals, the skirts I wore when I was student teaching and haven’t worn since – but I find that I definitely still have too much. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  3. Kait

    Ah. I don’t WANT to hear you. I like my boxes upon boxes of sentimental crap. I like hanging onto a bunch of things I don’t need. (Not really, but denial is my dear friend.)

    Also– what about furniture (such as your bed)? A mattress will not fit inside a mid-sized sedan.

    1. Rae Post author

      You’re right about furniture. We still plan to live with furniture, but we will get more used once we’ve moved. We’ve been trying to keep things simple (cheap) so we currently sleep on a mattress on the floor, so it is literally only the mattress that we’re giving away, not a whole bed.

  4. Jennifer in OR

    Great thoughts! I have a friend in Dubai who always humbles me with how simply she lives, by choice. One set of utensils per person, five total shirts per person, etc. I have a long way to go, but am constantly working to purge my home of non-essentials.

    Blessings ~ Jen

  5. Kerri with a K

    I really appreciate this post. I, too, have uprooted everything and moved to Virginia. Plans fell apart, and things changed, but everything ended up working out so far.

    When it came time to move the actual STUFF into our new place, HUGE decisions needed to be made as to what would fit in the moving truck, what we could go back for later, what we would consider keeping in storage (which is nothing), and what we would just get rid of. It was hard to go through 27 and 40 years of memories (respectively) and decide what was important enough to take, but we managed to find a way to make it work.

    Good luck with your venture into simplicity. I’m sure it will be well worth it once all the stress of it subsides :)

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