Real Life Minimalists: Rhiannon

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.

Today, we hear from Rhiannon, who tells us how the birth of her son helped her finally conquer her clutter.

Rhiannon writes:

My cousin and I have joked about how the hoarding gene runs in the family. It is not a joke so much as a sad reality. My mother is a compulsive shopper who could never get rid of anything. My step-father was a compulsive “collector” who could never get rid of anything. The large house we lived in was full of things and a total disaster. The 2 car garage was rarely able to hold one car. The last time I was in that garage, it was so full I had to brace against the ceiling for balance as I climbed over the piles.

My desire for less stuff was born in that house. My room was always tidy and neat, I had the least amount of stuff out of anyone in the family. At 16 I moved to my dad’s house and into a much smaller room. I got rid of more stuff and better organized. In college, I started collecting things; books, hobbies, movies, trinkets. One of my roommates teased me about all the stuff I had in my tiny room of our tiny attic apartment. I didn’t like the fact that she was right. When my brother and his family moved back into the country, I was able to give them all my household stuff. But I still held onto a lot. Each move I made I didn’t get rid of anything.

And then I got married.

My husband lived in California. I lived in Minnesota. Begrudgingly, I got rid of some stuff, stuffed my car full, and drove out West. We bought a huge bookcase for all of our books and trinkets and lived a steadily more cluttered life as well-meaning relatives gave us all kinds of odd gifts that were shoved into the Room-of-Doom (storage room).

And then I got pregnant.

Suddenly we didn’t need a Room of Doom so much as we NEEDED a nursery. That huge tippy bookshelf looked extremely dangerous for a baby to be anywhere near. Out it went. With it went almost all of our books. We have books on our phones now, so what was the point of hanging on to all these books that would never be read again? (I saved a few favorites that aren’t available on e-book.)

As my due date grew closer, all the things I had and all the time spent dealing with everything seemed very silly and unimportant. More stuff went out the door.

After our son was born and we got a real understanding of what it REALLY meant to have a baby in the house, the last of the superfluous stuff left the house. Most of my hobbies and their accessories went out the door. We didn’t want anything to distract us from the joy of just spending time with our baby.

When we bought a house a few months ago, we picked the smallest house that we could find (almost 700 sq feet smaller than my mother’s cluttered house) in the area that we wanted. We didn’t run out to buy STUFF to fill it with. We looked at how we actually wanted to use the space and arranged our furniture accordingly. My husband and I talk about what we don’t want to buy or how we can get better organized.

I have less personal stuff now. Everything that I own could fit into 3 bags. We do have a surprising amount of baby things, but nothing that won’t be sold after he out grows it. We have been able to avoid getting more useless gifts from relatives by suggesting that they focus on the baby. I have found homes for 2 of the 3 sets of china that my husband and I inherited from our families. (My husband informed me that we are stuck with the last set of china. He says that being in a family means that you hand down useless stuff that nobody wants to the next generation.)

I may never live in a mini house, although I adore them. But I love the house that I am in. I like that it is easy to clean and I know where everything is. I don’t have to dig around for anything anymore or worry about what my toddler is getting into. When we have guests come over, I am often invited to their houses to de-clutter.

Moreover I love the peace of mind I get from just having a clean, well-organized, and useful space.

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

28 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Rhiannon

  • Diane

    What a wonderful story of discovery and change. I found it interesting that your husband considers the handing down of the china “useless stuff that nobody wants to the next generation”. I was left with two sets of china by my mother but kept the one she purchased when she got married (the other set wasn’t as extentive and she had bought it years later) and it means a lot to me, as well as other knick-knacks that her mother gave to her. Your son may not appreciate it when he’s older but I’m sure if you had a daughter that she would. I’ve downsized considerably as well and my home is now filled with just family heirlooms which bring me joy everytime I see them and I hope to leave them to my niece one day. What your son is “handed down” is bring bought up in a clutter-free and well-organized house, and lots of love, of course :)

    • Eleanor

      Oh please don’t burden the daughters with the responsibility of taking the family heirlooms (-:
      I’m female and I’m dreading one day having to clear our my parents cluttered home and being expected to take the “heirlooms”. I guess some women will want them and some won’t.

      I’m constantly fending off my aunts attempts to give me her stuff, just because she owned it doesn’t mean I have room for it in my house. With a few exceptions, “stuff” is usually just important to the person who owns it…Diane, you are very lucky that you really like your heirlooms (-:

      I only have sons, and have accepted that they aren’t at all interested in my belongings.

      • Diane

        Eleanor, it’s not because of “luck” that I like my heirlooms. I love my mother very much (as well as both my grandmothers) and I am reminded of their love each time I look at the heirlooms, which I treasure. Unlike you, the fact that they chose it or inherited it means/meant a lot to them and to me and I find it an honour to now have these items in my home. There is other “stuff” I would get rid of that has no history and that I feel no attachment to. Some people today still value tradition.

        • Eleanor

          Diane, as I said below, I wasn’t criticizing those who like to inherit family belongings. I do, however, feel a certain amount of criticism aimed towards those of us who don’t want to accept such things; it is taken personally when it shouldn’t be.
          I too love my mother, but don’t feel I need her things to remind me of her. If that means I don’t value tradition, so be it…maybe there are times when tradition is over-rated anyway.

          • Diane

            How sad is that!

            • Eleanor

              That comment Diane, is exactly the sort of implied criticism I mentioned above…
              I/my situation is definitely not sad, I just happen to have a different view on inheriting things than you do…

            • diane

              Yes, Eleanor, you were criticizing and that’s seems to be a common thread on this site. I give up! No more blogging on this site for me!

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      Diane – so girls like to inherit stuff and boys aren’t interested?
      I’m sorry but I think that is sexist nonsense.

      • Diane

        Wow, little did I think my comments would stir up such emotions. Speaking from experience, It’s not “sexist nonsense” because generally speaking, most boys aren’t interested in their mothers’ china and other things; my father wasn’t nor is my brother or any uncles. However, all the women on both sides of my family are. So if you know boys who are interested, well, good for you.

    • Em

      I agree with Eleanor above. My mum is a hoarder and my gran as well. They both have their houses full of crap I can’t even look at and all my attempts to get them to declutter failed. Now I know one day it’s all gonna come to me and my brother and we will have to deal with all that rubbish. Not just physically but also emotionally it’s going to be the hardest thing I can imagine. How do I throw out little things that my gran kept the whole life even though they were just little porcelain things or plates and cups? How do I just sell what I’ve been looking at my whole childhood, every weekend I came over? And it’s going to take ages to get rid of my mum’s broken things “that could still be used if someone fixes them” and so on. I think it’s not very thoughtful of a parent to leave this to their children and even if it’s just few bits, like family china set or something, I’d want to be asked if I actually want the thing. Because it’s a massive burden if you don’t actually like it. Your grandpa wanted you to have his ugly old coat and what do you do now?

    • js

      I’m female and personally don’t consider that sort of stuff meaningful. To me, it’s useless stuff that people place unnecessary importance on. If one is to consider any sort of material item meaningful, it should be at least attached to very significant memories related to that person when using the items. But even then, it’s disposable. Meaning is something intangible, other than maybe photos and words, which nowadays is or can be digitized.

  • Well done Rhiannon. I find it’s the gifts from family and friends and inherited/sentimental bits that are always the hardest to let go of…but I also know it doesn’t make sense to keep things that don’t fit our life. (I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff heading out to a yard sale next Saturday!) Glad you’ve created this wonderful, safe environment for your child.

  • Flor

    I love that every event in your life, gave you more knowledge and wisdom on how to let go of stuff. It is really a good practice,for someday you will have to let go of your child, as I have, mine are adults now. Seems like you know what you are doing and cherishes what’s essential.

  • Em

    Lovely article! I’d think that once you have a baby, clutter comes in and not out :) It’s very inspiring.

  • Bianca R.

    A friend’s grandfather did a very kind action for his family. After his wife passed away, he asked all his children to see what things they wanted from their family home – everything from mementos to household items. At the time, some of his children were starting out in life and benefited from many useful household items. After his children had chosen what they wanted, he sold the rest keeping just a few items for daily living. He also sold the family home and moved into an apartment. He lives simply and gets to enjoy watching his children (and eventually grandchildren) use and enjoy items from his old home. I am sure that when it comes to him taking the next step in his life’s adventure, his family will not be unnecessarily burdened with dealing with his things, and can focus on remembering his life and the special moments spent with each other.

  • ‘Easy to clean and knowing where everything is’ Life is so much less stressful with less stuff! Lovely thoughtful filtering of your things Rhiannon and what could be more important than more time with your baby?

  • Rhiannon

    The 2 sets of China that I got rid of are from my side of the family. My family is huge so it was easy to find someone to take it. The last set is from my husband’s mother’s side. He doesn’t have any cousins on that side so we are stuck with that.
    I don’t have a daughter yet (everybody keep your fingers crossed for me) but should I have one I really hope to teach her and my son to have their own lives and experiences and to value being out and seeing the world and not stuff. I would rather they eat new and exotic food on their travels then off of a fancy plate from 1880.

    • Eleanor

      I like your values Rhiannon.
      I wonder why the family china is so often the item which raises such heated opinions in familes? I suppose 50, 60, 70 years ago the china set was a treasured wedding gift. By the time I got married 30 years ago, things were changing, I didn’t receive any china as a gift.
      My parents have 2 sets which have been in a glass cabinet for over 50 years, never used. Thinking practically, their family members spent money buying them that china, and it has been unused all these years! What a waste, and I’m sure not what the givers intended.
      And yet…even though my parents haven’t ever used it, they expect me to have it next?

      It can be hard to be the first generation to say No! I’m not taking it…it can hurt feelings, and cause guilt by being the person to let family items leave the family.

      So you keep the set of china which your husband doesn’t want…and then your children don’t want it…then what?

      (btw, I’m in no way criticizing those who do want to inherit family things, I just find it stressful that there is an expectation on me that I WILL TAKE IT!)

      I don’t own a set of any china, I have a real mish-mash, some plain white and blue, and some old fashioned flowery plates. And probably too much for our needs, you have inspired me to clear out my cupboards this weekend!

    • Diane

      “I would rather they eat new and exotic food on their travels then off of a fancy plate from 1880.” Why can’t they have both? Minimalism isn’t about extremes nor choosing this over that.

      • Chloe

        Great point, Diane. Travel is nice, but not everyone wants to be a nomad or eat “exotic” foods. I am perfectly content to let my children live their own lives, which they do, as individuals. I have given them the space to grow and determine who they are and what they want to be. The quote about the “plates from 1880” seems a bit off to me, but hey, we are all different and that’s ok:)

        • Chloe

          I guess what stirred my response about this was that I personally know some of these “world traveler” types and they have lots of cool stories and photos of their adventures, but 4 of them also have contracted some sort of parasite/intestinal worm(s) from eating some “exotic” foods in some 3rd world country 20 years ago and they are routinely bothered by recurring symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, etc. I cannot imagine a more disturbing “souvenir” from one’s travels. One friend also lived in England during the “mad cow” scare, so he is forever barred from donating blood to the American Red Cross. Don’t get me wrong—I have traveled, visited about a dozen countries, but at the end of the day, there is no place like home:)

          • Diane

            To each their own. My brother is a scientist and travels to conferences around the world once a month and has never contracted anything!

  • I come from a line of women who love their stuff. They also love to “donate” whatever they don’t want anymore… to me. It would have been easy to fall into the trap. But I haven’t! I like a simple life with few things. It makes me happy. And when I’m old and the younger generation need to move me to a nursing home, hopefully it will make it easier on them! :-)

  • Well done Rhiannon. I’m not sure we have a hoarder gene in our family, but it’s pretty close. I usually call it the clutter gene. It’s hard to break the cycle, it takes a lot of self inflection and effort. Like you, I am trying to break free from that. We downsized from a 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment, and in the process got rid of a ton of stuff. It’s a constant effort to keep new stuff out, but the results make it worth the effort.

  • Tina

    I gave away most of 5 sets of china and never got any for my wedding. What’s important is very personal to each family. My daughter in law really uses her fine china, good silver, etc. That’s great. When my mother in law died I kept 3 pieces of her furniture because I use it everyday. Each of us lives with the things that make our home comfortable and unique, not stuffed. I think that’s the message here.

  • Tina

    I keep hearing about hoarders who have to be cleaned out. A cousin just died in his hoard. I clean out recycling every day. We have things we need to give away as soon as the bags are full again. I just sent my younger son home with more of his clothes. Hopefully, he will take another load of books soon.

  • Tina

    My sister and her son can’t sort papers so there are big stacks everywhere. I get rid of junk mail as soon as it comes, and sort everything else right away. 2 more bags of clothes and shoes for Goodwill, ready to go.

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