January 14, 2013

By Amy Hackworth. Poster by Simon Evans.

Have you noticed all the talk of getting organized this month? I think it might be a natural response to the aftermath of Christmastime, a sort of decompression from the busy-ness of the holidays that makes us crave some order.

I’m feeling especially drawn to a simpler, more orderly life that allows me to honor the things I really value, instead of spending so much time managing clutter and dashing around at the last minute. For years I’ve listened as friends and experts have talked about the value of paring down our stuff. The more stuff you have, they warn, the more stuff you have to take care of. Since I’m not an outright hoarder, I didn’t really see the application in my life, but lately, I’m beginning to wonder if they were on to something… maybe I have too much stuff, and maybe that stuff is getting in the way of the more deliberate life I’d love to live.

So I’m tackling closets, boxes, basement rooms, and filing cabinets in an effort to lighten my load. I’m intrigued by (but not ready to commit to) the 100 Thing Challenge, an experiment in living with less—just 100 personal items. Founder Dave Bruno’s recent post about our modern longing for simplicity intrigues me, too, and offers an interesting motivation for simplifying. Modern people seek simplicity, he argues, because we want to experience life without so many modern distractions. The essentials of life have been the same for centuries, and modernity doesn’t change the value of laughter or the weight of grief. We crave simplicity because we crave life.

I’ve always loved the idea that clearing away the old makes room for the new, but I especially love the idea that by saying goodbye to some clutter, I’m making more room for real life. Who knows what surprises are waiting for me once those closets are clean?

P.S. Another favorite motivator is Clearing Your Clutter with Feng Shui, a fun and motivating look at lite Feng Shui and chock full of great advice. Also, Gabrielle posted about that amazing poster a few years ago and I’ve thought about it many times — it’s pretty perfect for this post. 

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Grace@ Sense and Simplicity January 14, 2013 at 10:25 am

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of wearing only 33 items of clothing, but like you I thought it doesn’t apply to me because I’m not a clothes horse with closets full of clothes. So instead I have decided that for the month of January I will write down everything I wear to see how many clothes I actually do wear. It should be interesting.


2 Design Mom January 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Grace, I love the idea of writing down every piece of clothing I wear for a month. Perhaps I’ll try it in February — Alt Summit will throw make January non-typical for me. : )


3 SarahBeth January 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

exactly! Thanks ;)


4 Amy Hackworth January 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I wonder what the results will be! Very interesting. A few years ago when I was feeling like my SMALL closet was particularly boring, I shocked myself by finding 4 garbage bags of clothes to donate. It was such a lovely feeling to only look at clothes I enjoyed wearing, instead of feeling like I was always searching through blahhhh.


5 Moitreyee Chowdhury January 14, 2013 at 10:44 am

I agree. But, you blog is about design, and beautiful stuff around us. I mean it in a very positive sense, and your blog is the one that I visit everyday. But, in its own way, I would, acquire more objects, of, for sure, desire, as I have seen them here. May be even create them. But to create them, also would, mean, acquisition of more materials.
For example, when I saw your clip about the movie night, I am thinking if I should get some special items like you did. I don’t have a tv. I feel now the need to get a tv, to do a family tv night. It makes me feel, I am missing out on some simple fun.

I am curious, how you would blog about well designed products, and sometimes, not really absolutely needed products, and stay within a certain limited number of objects. Would that mean, you would use, and dispose/donate?

And I stress again, this is just a mere thought. I absolutely adore your blog, and admire your zest for life. You are a favorite of mine.


6 april January 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm

This is a thoughtful response, not mean-spirited all, I think. I often feel the same way because I love beautiful things. But I have had so much happiness in the past year that I have finally gotten to a place where even though I love beautiful things, I am not compelled to own them, just to admire and appreciate them. It’s been a huge relief to have arrived at this point! That is not to say that I don’t still buy things-of course I do. But I am more thoughtful in my buying and try only to buy something of quality that will absolutely last. Happy New Year to you :)


7 Design Mom January 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I agree with April, I think your comment is totally appropriate. And I actually think about this sort of thing a lot.

I know it sounds strange, but I actually don’t actually spend much time shopping, and I own very few items that I feature here on the site. Most of the time, I get joy just knowing the items exist — even if I don’t possess them. I haven’t lived near a Target store in two years, but when I did, if I needed an end-of-day break, I would walk around the store and fill my cart with pretty things, but then put it all back when I had enough inspiration. It was enough to “own” them during my trip to the store.


8 Moitreyee Chowdhury January 15, 2013 at 11:40 am

Thank you for your responses. It is true about stuff. Today only I was discussing this with a friend. This is in context to a project that I am working on with a photographer, about photographs in digital and prints. It seems, the important tangible objects, such as photographs, hand written notes etc. are appearing less and less in our lives, and things that are meaningless appear more now.
I came to USA 10 years ago, with two suitcases. Last month I packed all the things that are in real sense important to me. Some books, some of my grandmother’s belongings, some art work that I have created. It was a liberating feeling. I feel, I am not held down by objects. I can move, flow, go places.


9 Amy Hackworth January 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Good points, Moiytree. I think Dave Bruno addresses this somewhere in the comments section of his site, but his emphasis is not on the strict counting of 100 items, but really being conscious about the items you choose to own. For me, the more important idea is that 1. I think I have too much stuff and 2. I want to own items that have real value to me, which does include supplies for projects and fun stuff for our family.

I love April and Gabrielle’s responses, too, about appreciating and enjoying beautiful things but not owning them.


10 SarahBeth January 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

Go for it Amy!

Our family has also been inspired by the 100 Thing Challenge, and we’ve made considerable progress in paring down our possessions. A famous wise individual said something about having possessions that are either useful or beautiful. Forgive me as I can’t remember who, but he/she is quoted in Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin. We try to live by this motto when it comes to things. Is it useful? Do we find beauty in it? And with children in the house, does it bring us/them joy? I also like Rubin’s idea that appreciating what we have allows us to feel less weighted by our possessions. All the wet winter boots piled in our hallway can easily drive me crazy, but if I look at them as vehicles of warmth, safety, fun and memories, they become much less of an annoyance. ;)


11 Design Mom January 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Is this the quote you’re thinking of?

William Morris is one of my favorite designers.


12 Amy Hackworth January 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Wow, thanks for the encouragement, SarahBeth! I’m so happy to hear you’re doing this with your family with success! I’m also a fan of Gretchen Rubin (and William Morris), and I love your perspective about all those winter boots!


13 Amy January 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm

All I know is that during the process of moving from a home where my husband and I had lived for 19 years (15 of those with kids), we were able to jettison boxes and boxes and boxes of clothes, toys, books, whatnots, as well as entire pieces of furniture that we had outgrown, did not need anymore, or never really needed in the first place. I started a mental inventory of how much money we spent on all those things and stopped because it was so depressing. We moved to a bigger house and have far fewer belongs and I think we are all a lot calmer, nicer to each other, and less frenzied when we get ready for work and school, pack for a trip, etc., because our space is almost always tidy, we know where things are, and our surroundings are more peaceful. I hope to keep it this way.


14 Amy Hackworth January 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Amy, this is inspiring! Thanks for sharing!


15 Valerie January 15, 2013 at 8:42 am

This post casues me to think about two very distinct views. First, I think we become comfortable with our surroundings and loose a clarity of vision of what we may have accumulated. After college I moved 8 times in 3 years and by golly about move 3 I embraced the “if I haven’t used it since the last move, I don’t need it rule.” When I moved from the first home I bought, I was astounded to see how much stuff I had aquired in that 10 year period (in some ways in made me feel very adult-like). We have now been in our current home for just over 6 years and it is easy to tuck the clutter and stuff away thinking you’ll use or need it again some day soon because let’s face it, who wants to clean closets on their day off? As much as I think there is value in embracing a one in, one out rule, I also think that every few years we need to try and bring fresh eyes to our home and posssions and be honest in assesing our need to retain them. As painful as it may seem because of the items original cost or the memories an item evokes – we evolve as people, couples and familes and chances are good that there are many former cherised items that can find new life elsewhere.
The second is I was responsible for packing up my parents’ home after my dad passed away and we had moved my mom, who suffers from a rare dementia, into an assisted living community. My dad had been career military and they had lived abroad and all over the US before settling in for 30 plus years in our current town. My parents had been married just a few months shy of 50 years when my dad passed away and I have to say that with so much stuff in their home I reached a point where I couldn’t give away, sell or otherwise dispose of another “memory”. The last 20 boxes or so were simply packed up and 5 years later continue to take up space in my sister’s garage. So, all this to say – as we age I think we need to be conscious of our footprint and who might someday become responsible for it.
And one last thought in this long ramble (sorry) .. one of my New Year’s resolutions was to sort and catalog the 4 very large boxes of family photos from my parents’ house. Up until the mid-2000’s most of us still regularly printed out film as opposed to having file upon file of digital photos. PLEASE take the time to go through your cherished photos and identify who, what and dates! And, share your photos, especially if you have “adult” children. I have come across some really phenomenal photos of my mom and dad from the 50’s that are so expressive and telling but there are no dates and my parents never shared them with us as kids or adults so we don’t know the story behind them.


16 amy January 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

I was responsible for going through my grandparents’ house after they died (my dad was their only child and he preceded them in death). They had been married 70 years, and lived in the huge farmhouse where three generations had lived before them! There was an astonishing amount of stuff. Fortunately, my grandmother had labeled most things, but it took me an entire years’ worth of visits to take care of it all. And, like Valerie, I reached the point where I could not throw out or absorb any more of their memories. The quantity of stuff pushed the possessions into the “baggage” category when it optimally should have been in the “memories” category.


17 Kate S. January 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm

What a coincidence; I just posted on this very topic today:

I’ve sort of reversed the 100 challenge, in that I do a major biannual clean out with the aim of removing 100 things from my life. I do believe we come to rely too much on things as a way to form our identities and provide for emotional needs, and that there is great beauty in simplicity. Thanks so much for this post.


18 Amy Hackworth January 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Kate, I think it’s in the air this month! Fun to hear that you were thinking the same thing. I believe I’ll easily say goodbye to 100 things this month, and I’ll think of you as I drop my things off at the thrift store.


19 Raquel January 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I am with you on the clutter reduction. I look at the amazing closets out there and for a moment I think I want them, but I realize that I really do not want to spend my time managing hundreds of shoes, sweaters etc…

Every year I try to live with a little less so that I can have more free time to enjoy the people in my life. Sure I bring stuff in once in a while, but I also purge items regularly. I am not ready to reduce to 100 things yet, but the challenge is inspiring!


20 Amy Hackworth January 14, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I’m not ready for 100 things, either, but like you, I find it inspiring. I love your perspective about stuff.


21 Cath January 15, 2013 at 2:22 am

I recently got rid of all the clothes that I wore that didn’t make me feel good – and there were a lot of them! I had a lot of jeans that were too big (bought immediately post pregnancy), too small (prepregnancy), t-shirts that were comfy and practical but always made me feel frumpy, shoes that were always going to be uncomfy…. and these were the items that I was wearing most day in day out! I feel much better for only wearing my nice clothes that now I am doing the same with my kitchen cupboards; getting rid of the chipped or plastic plates and cups that we always seem to end up using everyday whilst the nice ones lay unused at the back.


22 Jennifer January 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I am new to your blog (yay! loving it!) and I really am intrigued by the idea of scaling down, and living more simply. I like how it was mentioned about being more thoughtful about what one buys. One of my goals for this year is to give away /sell and to get organized which I feel will make my life more simple , organized and will = happy. I am not a hoarder, but we live in a 3 story 2800 sq foot house with two children and two pets and there is too much clutter and “stuff” that I don’t even know where to begin to put!
Now if I could only get my husband on board with this (his mentality is buying “something” makes him happy) SIGH..


23 julia [life on churchill] January 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I love this post. I just went through our basement tonight and made a sell pile, a donate pile, a recycle pile, and “bring upstairs.” Mostly toys and books. Its amazing how quickly things accumulate. I literally feel a bit lighter now.


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