I come from a family of hoarders. Not the kind you’re going to see on TV–my mom didn’t save stacks of newspapers or collect stray cats. She did, however, keep dozens of old sheets and pillowcases, just in case they’d ever come in handy. (Most of them weren’t in complete sets, but that didn’t seem to matter.) My dad, for his part, held on to stray screws and nails, collecting them in baby food jars that lined the walls of his workshop.
Now imagine that same level of dedication to keeping things in every closet, in every cabinet, in every room of a house. My brother and his wife wound up being in charge of emptying out our parents’ place after they passed away, and you can probably imagine that it was no small job.
Mike’s family has similar tendencies. So, for the first few years of our marriage, the two of us pledged to each other that we would never own more than we could fit into the back of whatever vehicle we were driving at the time. We liked the idea of traveling light, being able to relocate whenever we wanted. Every time we moved, we gave things away to our friends, held yard sales, and made ruthless Goodwill donations. At one point we moved from Kansas to Idaho with only those things we could fit into the back of our Jeep Wagoneer.
By the next time we moved across the country, though, we’d downsized to a Geo Prism and increased our family size from two to three. Our back-of-the vehicle plan was no longer workable. It became an even more distant dream when we added a second car (and a second kid) to the family. The last time we moved, we required a team of professionals to make that happen.
These days, after living in the same house for 15 years, keeping our earthly possessions to a minimum is a daily struggle. And I’ve learned that streamlining takes on a whole new meaning, in the fullness of family time.
Here are five tips for streamlining your life:
1. No more than two sets of sheets for each bed in the house. If you live in a place where it’s cold, then one set of flannels and one set of cottons makes sense. But if you live in a warmer climate, as I do, you might need only one. Having an extra lets you change the sheets without absolutely needing to do laundry before bedtime that night, which is a nice bit of wiggle room, but it’s not absolutely necessary. (One exception to this rule: crib sheets. The more, the better. Give yourself a break.)
2. One coat, one hat, one pair of gloves, one pair of boots per person. We could generalize this to outerwear, if you like. Old coats have a tendency to accumulate in the closet when new ones make the scene. Lost gloves and hats reappear, and the replacements you purchased are no longer necessary–but still, they’re cluttering up the closet. Mike and I recently went through our outerwear and discovered jackets we hadn’t worn in at least 10 years. We’d forgotten all about them, shoved into the dark corners of a closet.
The end of winter is the right time to pare down to the bare essentials and donate or pass along whatever you don’t need. Again, the exception is small children–if you’re holding on to hand-me-downs for younger family members, just be sure you know exactly who they’re going to next, and be sure you aren’t holding on to duplicates. If you’re passing them along to a niece or nephew, get them out of your closet and into someone else’s before you forget that you have them.
3. Recycle those plastic cups. You know which ones I’m talking about: the child-size cups from restaurant meals, the giant souvenir cups from amusement parks or sporting events. If your kids are still small, there will be new cups in your life. (If they’re particularly attached to one, it’s okay to let that one stay behind.) If your kids are grown, no one is going to miss those cups. We had half a kitchen cabinet full of them when our children left for college. I have no good explanation for this.
4. Give away or donate whatever you don’t actually use. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s harder than it sounds. That ice cream maker, for instance–making homemade ice cream with the kids would be so much fun! But how many years has it been sitting there? How many times have you actually pulled it out and put it to use? (Can you even remember the last time?)
While it’s nice to have things when you want them, the fact is that they’re taking up space even when you don’t want them–which, for some things, is the vast majority of the time. Single-use appliances, like that ice cream maker, should be at the top of your streamlining list. If you’re not actually using them regularly, in spite of your best intentions, they’re just weighing you down.
5. Know where the clutter collects and manage those spots on a regular basis. I’m guessing there are end tables, or a particular spot on your kitchen counter, where things tend to accumulate. Mail. Permission slips. Coupons. Magazines. Etc. At least once a week–or more often, if you can–manage those hot spots. Sign the permission slips and get them into backpacks. File the bills away for payment. Put the coupons wherever you’ll remember that you have them. Flip through the magazines; keep what you want to read and recycle the rest. Do not move them to another hot spot, where they’ll just pile up and start collecting dust. Clutter is the enemy of streamlining, and whatever you can do to reduce it on a regular basis, the lighter you’ll feel.
I don’t know that I’ll ever return to the point of being able to pack my whole life into a single vehicle, but I’m constantly working toward making room for the things that matter in my life and clearing out the things that don’t.