Real Life Minimalists: Deirdre

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details. (Note: the schedule is now full until December — but if you don’t mind waiting, feel free to send me your submission!)

This week, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Deirdre. In her story, she chronicles how her clutter accumulated, and how she was able to purge it from her life. Please visit her blog for more inspiration on living life simply and slowly.

Deirdre writes:

Like many of the readers and contributors I found my way to consciously minimizing my stuff as an adult (though I do remember as a kid trying hard to have a messy room like my friends, but it was against my inner nature and I could never pull it off…my mother had it easy in that regard!) I moved around a lot as a child and in my teens and then some more in my twenties and as result items would have to be pared down for convenience and often a box or two would get lost in the shuffle. When I moved in with the man who would become my husband, we shared a very small apartment and again as part of my nature, I tried not to fill it up with too much stuff so we could move around comfortably.

Later our daughter was born and with three, we outgrew that tiny space and moved into a house. We joked about how much room we had. Ultimately, we filled it up with our child’s things and after being settled for several years we did begin to accumulate stuff. By the time our second child was born we decided we needed more space. We more than doubled our living area in the new house. This too started filling up with the artifacts of four people, pets and years of birthday, Christmas and miscellaneous gifts from our well-meaning and generous families.

Then something began to shift. I started to feel overwhelmed, claustrophobic. The overwhelming desire to move struck me (was this related to my early life moving around so often and not gathering too much?) Then I began to downsize, slowly…I had a tag sale and unloaded a fair amount of our things. It was hard at first, my head brimming with thoughts like, “what if we need this someday?” I started to sort through my children’s toys and clothes and give away (to friends or donation centers) things that no longer fit or they had outgrown/become disinterested in. Another round of holidays added to what I surmised was an already ridiculous amount of toys and just things. Then I found this blog and others that pointed me to another way of living; one more suited to my inner nature and intended to relieve the pressure of all the clutter.

Last winter I took on the project of going from room to room, pulling everything out of each cabinet, drawer, closet, etc. and did the infamous, three pile strategy: keep, toss, donate. Nothing escaped my scrutiny. My husband joked that one of these days he was going to come home to an empty house…empty of stuff that is. I felt so liberated, years of dust covered, unused things could now be enjoyed by someone who may actually make use of them. We ended up with bags for donation and an entire trailer full to capacity of stuff for another tag sale. This also meant that as a parent and keeper of the house there was less to pick up, clean and organize. Liberated indeed! I got my hands on some books about feng shui and really began to delight in my home with its new found clear counters, tidy closets, entryways, the energy flowing freely through all corners of our home.

This summer, with some time on my hands I began to look for things to sort through with the intention of getting rid of/minimizing more. While that is possible (we could still downsize more) I began to wonder if I had become addicted? (Like Gretchen Rubin jokes about in her book, The Happiness Project- I could relate!) I contemplated this in the comfort of my spacious, airy and simple home. What was the underlying drive behind reducing the number of things we owned? I had more or less accomplished my goals of simplifying and minimizing, what was I missing, what else was there? It dawned on my that not only was it necessary for me to unload the actual, physical baggage I accumulated and carried with me for years, but it was time I also went room to room in my mental house and keep, toss or donate the old memories, guilt and baggage I carried around upstairs. That is my current project, you can take a peek at how I am transforming myself and my life at

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

17 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Deirdre

  • Great post. This is a great example how we are influenced by friends, family, spouses and media to go against our own nature. My oldest daughter has always liked her room without a bunch of stuff. In the last year or two I’ve noticed a change- it’s filling up!

  • I love hearing about families with children going this route. It seems like a lot of families want to get out from underneath their stuff but it just seems like too mammoth of a job, especially without much support. It was with my second child that “things” started getting out of hand too. We’re going through each room now getting the junk out!

  • Thanks for the support! Its tough going with family when everyone has different thoughts about whether less is more, but I guess that’s part of the journey!

  • Di

    Deirdre, what an awesome, inspiring, and motivating story. I especially like the challenge of decluttering our minds and not just our physical stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  • Decluttering is so freeing! I think it is amazing that you are doing it as a family! Good luck on your journey :)

  • Hey Deirdre, thanks for sharing your story. I’m not married or with children, so I can’t relate on that level, but I do know how great the feeling of not feeling claustrophobic with old/unused things is.
    I like how you use the term “mental baggage” and that’s something I think anybody that has held onto things for a certain amount of time has.
    Thanks for sharing your story with all of us.

  • Wonderful story that I can relate to. FUnny that my parents are big pack rats, but both my sister and I are minimalists, and each of us says it’s due to moving around so much (my dad was in a military, and then in my adult life, so far, in the last 24 years I happen to move every two).

  • Hi Deirdre; I’m on a very similar journey.

    I’m almost clutter free and moving further towards a more minimalist life, there is however, ‘stuff’ still cluttering my mind that needs clearing out!
    Thank you for sharing :-)

  • Your journey is exactly what we experienced as we got rid of everything we owned to travel the world. There is quite a bit of mental housekeeping that happens along the way, whether you like it or not. Today actually marks the 2-year anniversary from when we decided to do this, and I can’t believe how much has been accomplished in that time.

    When you take away the things that are cluttering your space, you open your life to new experiences and people (and close your life to the ones that do not add to your happiness). The same holds true mentally, and I applaud your efforts to document this for the rest of us. Good luck!

  • Myriah

    Great post, and so inspiring. Am currently reading ‘The Joy of Less’ and doing what you have already done — sorting through the bedroom and all its closeted chaos. Think I’ll go take some “before” pix to inspire me to make it beautious.

  • cami

    I could have written this myself! I can completely relate…I moved frequently as a child and young adult. I have been in this last house for 17 years and its driving me insane. I started getting into being a minimalist in the past 2 or so years, but I feel I have always been one at heart. I have been minimizing for those years and also feel like its an addiction in a way. I cant live any other way and love clean, open and uncluttered rooms. Unfortunately, my husband is not feeling the same and holds on to things for sentimental reasons. I don’t understand it, but I try to.

  • Tina

    I give away a big bag every week to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Nothing has come in except my mom’s clothes that are out of season because they don’t fit in her space at the nursing home. I love the empty space in the closets and drawers. There is so much we don’t need and maybe someone else can use.

  • Tina

    Another cubic foot of recycling left yesterday. More donations will go later this week. I watched a couple of episodes of a hoarding show and that always makes me look around for more things to get rid of. My mother, whose hoard included boxes and boxes of moldy old magazines, asked me why I got rid of them. I told her I could look up the topics on my phone.
    My kids read her some material when they visited the nursing home today.

  • Tina

    My mom was playing a word game and came across some words she didn’t know. Most I knew and 2 others I looked up on my phone. We don’t need encyclopedias or dictionaries because we have smart phones. My son says there is no office “know it all” any more because people use their phones.

  • Tina

    I was going through some decorating magazines I got from the library and the rooms looked very cluttered to me. I have some treasures in a small china cabinet and that’s it. I have one holiday decoration. If I wanted more, I would make paper chains or paper snowflakes.

  • I read an article today that people are spending more money on Easter. The Easter baskets don’t just have candy but now they have toys. I wonder how many people feel pressured to keep up.

  • We went to a backyard wedding over the weekend. About 40 people and dollar store settings. The food was simple and buffet. The kids played outdoor games. One of the nicer weddings we’ve been to because in lieu of favors, they made charity donations.And all the speeches were short.

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