May 23, 2011

Simple Living: One Room at a Time

Summer is when I tend to tie up loose ends in my life, reassess where I am going on my satisfying retirement journey, and tackle inside projects. Most folks think of summer as the time to turn off the brain, relax, and be outdoors as much as possible. BarBQs, gardening, hiking, bike riding.....almost anything that means leaving the house. Phoenicians, on the other hand, tend to look for reasons to stay inside and away from the heat. Think of it this way: our summer is your winter without the snow.

For the last few years my wife and I have been slowly decluttering and simplifying our living spaces. We have cut out things like newspapers and most TV viewing  that were not contributing to our quality of life. We gave away two bookshelves worth of books. We have expanded the amount of time we volunteer, but cut the number of organizations that receive part of our time. 

This summer I am going room by room thinking about what should go. Betty is actually leading the charge this year, looking to declutter with a vengeance. If you are a simple living convert, or leaning that way, maybe some of what we noticed will spur you into action. Let's take a closer look at a few rooms:

Not my office, but you get the idea

 My office and closet have become cluttered, full of things I don't use very often, and a dust bunny's heaven. Even though I gave away hundreds of books last year, there remain at least fifty that simply sit on the bookcase or on my desk. This is a no-brainer: more of the books must go.

I have a credenza that does one thing: supports a printer. There are six drawers that contain virtually nothing. So, do I get rid of the credenza or make better use of the drawers to clean off other surfaces? That will take some thought.

There is a clothes closet in the office (since it used to be a bedroom). Off season clothes, sports coats, dress slacks, and ties are kept in there. It is jammed. I have a hard time getting anything in or out. I own 14 sport coats and wear each one maybe once every 3 years. There are 15 sweaters in there somewhere. Each one is worn once a year. Two dozen ties hang in a corner. The only time in the last 10 years I have worn a tie is to a funeral or memorial service. Clearly this closet is destined for a major thinning out. I'll keep the best six sports coats, two or three ties and a few sweaters. The rest get donated.

I'm off to a good start.

Betty's office and closet are home to a woman with more projects, creativity, ideas, and scraps of paper than any human should have to juggle at once. A bomb couldn't create a bigger jumble than what is in there now. Just to use the computer mouse one must navigate around a few dozen sticky notes,  some yellow legal pads, stacks of papers, opened mail, and a few catalogs. Her closet has more art supplies, paints, papers, pens, clipboards, and bits of this and that than a well-equipped hobby store.

As I type this she is moving every single thing out of the office, down the stairs, and into the garage. Spackle and paint cans are about to be brought in. Ikea catalogs are consulted and trips to the Container Store happen with increasing frequency. Her office and closet are being completely reworked with the goal to simplify, streamline, and maintain only what is part of her life now. If something isn't going to be actively used over the next six to eight months it will not survive in this space.

The master bedroom has a nice easy chair and ottoman in front of a television. Big problem: the TV has been disconnected and the chair is used to hold yesterday's clothes before they make it to the hamper. Clearly, this arrangement makes no sense. There is a stereo with CD player and speakers for listening to music, but that almost never happens. The room is quiet and the chair is comfortable so this could be a great place to read, if only there was a place to put a reading lamp.

This is going to take some serious thought. We are wasting a nice piece of furniture, electronic equipment, and a quiet environment. Clearly the television set can go. It hasn't been on for 5 months. The stand it sits on needs to leave. But, what to do with the chair and the need for better light? At the moment, I don't know.

Just like the closets in our offices, too many clothes are jammed into too little space in the bedroom. A few days ago I looked at all my shirts-polo, Hawaiian, dress, and T-shirts. I realized there was probably a third of them I didn't like, were old and torn, or hadn't been worn in a few years. I knew if they were not there I would never miss them.


You have just read over 800 words and I haven't made it downstairs yet. I have targeted just three rooms so far, but have enough donated stuff to fill my car twice. Living spaces where Betty and I spend a good part of each day are being declutterd and simplified in a way that improves the quality of our lives and helps others in the process. This has been a good start to our summer.

How about you? Have you ever taken each room in your home, condo or apartment and made everything justify its continued existence? If your possessions could speak would they be able to convince you they should stay where they are...or would you only hear the sounds of silence?


  1. Do you have any grandsons? My son LOVES his grandfather's tie! Several of the nephews where Papa's ties to work in their 30's. Some things are so personal- and so loved by the next generation!
    Go for it. My daughter is coming soon. I told her we are hitting the barn with a vengeance. It sure would feel good to get rid of the things that we have had for six years and have not touched!

  2. Bob:

    Enjoyed the post. My wife and I are starting to downsize, and get rid of a lifetime accumulation of what I like to call "precious junk". It's amazing how little we actually need to live very comfortably. We're seriously considering transitioning into a significantly smaller home. When family or friends visit, we can rent a large vacation house. We've crunched the numbers and the long-term savings of lower property taxes, maintenance, and less for heating/cooling, etc., would be significant.

  3. @Janette,

    Your first morning without a blog! It was fun while it lasted, right?

    I do have a 4 year old grandson. Maybe when he is older he'll laugh at what I used to wear around my neck!

    A barn to


    We cut our house size by 45% when our daughters moved out. That was a major downsizing. The next move will probably take another 10% to 20% away. But, you are absolutely correct: we need very little to be comfortable and happy. Getting rid of all that excess stuff is quite liberating.

  4. My wife and I recently came to the conclusion that, rather than downsize to a smaller house, we would "declutter" our existing house - as in, pretend we are getting ready to move in a smaller place (but stay) and simplify and clarify what we really wish to keep and continue using.

    We do the zone thing for winter heating and summer cooling (space heaters and window A/C respectively), so utilities don't suck up as much $. And we would find it SO hard to leave our yard, garden, porch, deck, etc. We have figured that the issue is not so much the size of the house (not much more than 2,300 sq. ft.), but the amount of unused stuff that we keep re-arranging.

    So , this summer, we will be facing your present challenge. And, without the prospect of marketing, selling, new house-hunting, moving, etc., things feel so much more workable.

  5. Steve,

    With the housing market the way it is (and likely to be for the next several years), the idea of decluttering where you live is the option left to most of us.

    But, I hadn't really thought of down-sizing in your terms: downsizing possessions and stuff while keeping the size of the box the same. That is a very positive way to look at the process.

  6. This is exactly what I plan to do this summer. Go through room by room and get rid of stuff and use space more effectively. Cleaning out my office got me off to a good start. You are inspiring and the details you provided show that it really can be done!

  7. Thanks, Galen,

    Downstairs is still to come, then the garage and outside storage shed. Glad we are on the same page.

  8. Bob,
    I can't help asking why. I don't have any objection to decluttering but if you aren't moving to a smaller place, then why do it. There is room for the clothes you don't use often and the books you have read. Somehow an empty closet or bookshelf is depressing- like life is over. It it frees you somehow then fine. It's not like I have a real position on this. It just that everybody seems to agree that you should declutter without explaining to my satisfaction why it makes life better.

  9. Ralph,

    Good question. For me there are a few reasons. The closets I refer to are badly overcrowded. Clothes get wrinkled and are difficult to find or hang up after use. I see no reason to keep clothes I no longer wear. I would rather donate them to a thrift store so others can benefit from them. This house doesn't have a plethora (great word) of closets so we have to make the best use of the space we have available.

    Likewise, if I'm just holding onto books but aren't going to re-read them, they need to be stored and dusted. We decided to remove some bookcases that didn't really fit well in this house. Without the bookcases, the books had to go.

    We have several spaces in the garage that are holding several extra sets of china and lots of knickknacks that we are tired of and have no intention of using again. Betty's art stuff needs more places to go; these spaces in the garage are needed.

    So, I guess there are two major reasons: we'd rather someone else had the chance to use stuff we are just storing, and space is tight for new and expanding interests.

    Rest assured, the reasons are practicable, not esoteric (another great word!).

  10. Bob,
    Just so long as you don't end up living in an empty warehouse.

  11. Not going to happen! I like my creature comforts too much.

  12. Bob, It's always fun to get a peek into someone's home. I smiled quite a few times through this article.

    I don't buy many things, aside from books, but I still feel things accumulate and I need a better routine to keep my tiny funny-shaped office clear. You are giving me a boot and some inspiration. My husband is more the accumulator, being a Cancer, but I'm not going to haggle with him about it. Our bedroom has only a bed, two side tables and two we're still quite simple.

    Good luck! You are going to feel so great when you get through and thin out all the extra stuff.

  13. Hi Sandra,

    Glad I could help inspire you! It is so easy to accumulate things that no longer give you pleasure, serve a purpose, or simply take up space. Of course, it is also important to compromise with someone else in your life!

    As I type this, Betty has come home with a bunch of new organizers and storage units for her office. Progress, or just new stuff to replace the old stuff? I'll let you know.

  14. Congratulations to you Bob. I wish I were as successful at clearing out the clutter as you are. Wendy and I seem to have a hard time eliminating "stuff." But I keep promising myself that I'll get to it. Just today, I took a small (very small) load to the dump. And I've got a few items to take over to the Habitat store. But darn if we didn't just build a second garage... with a whole lot of shelf space... to house those treasures which we simply can't part with. Shame on us. Bill

  15. Hi Bill,

    When our girls were younger we lived in a 3400 square foot home with 3 car garage and attic, but still needed to rent a storage unit to hold all our extra stuff. Betty would spent one weekend a month rearranging the belongings in that rental so we could put more stuff in or get something we wanted out. It became downright silly.

    After downsizing we still have a storage shed on the side of the house for Christmas stuff and all sorts of things for grandkids. I guess the hope is when the three of them are older, we can donate all the toys and books that fill that shed.

    So, don't be too hard on yourself. We have a long way to go!


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