How I Try To Balance Minimalism With Frugality

I have a complicated relationship with stuff. My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression and instilled in his children–my mom included–the ethos of never throwing anything away. Of reusing, of finding good deals, and of making do with what you have. These were valuable lessons for me and they form the basis of my frugal worldview. However, the dark side is that this approach can engender a scarcity mindset. It can make me feel like I can’t get rid of anything because I might need it one day and so I should hold onto it just in case.

Frugality’s Tension With Minimalism

Our king-sized bed, which doesn’t require queen-sized sheets…

I wrote about my overall quasi-minimalist lifestyle a few years ago in Frugal Minimalism: Do Less, Buy Less, Worry Less, Live More, which delves into the concept of guarding how I spend my time, money, and energy. Today I want to talk more granularly about the minimalism of stuff.

I have three sets of queen-sized sheets in my linen closet: one a creamy buttercup gold, the second a deep sage green, and the third a rich burgundy.

They were wedding gifts eleven years ago and they’re barely used because my husband and I later bought a king-sized bed for–I kid you not–$279. Now, we only use queen-sized sheets on our guest room bed, which means we don’t need all these sheet sets.

Nevertheless, I refuse to give the sheets away because they’re in near-perfect condition and I might need them someday.

My girls in a rare smiling-at-the-camera moment

Those words, “I might need them someday” are dangerous. I imagine hoarders uttering this phrase as they create towers of empty Metamucil bottles next to their kitchen sinks. I’ve heard myself say this about those queen-sized sheets, about the heart-shaped mini cake pans in my basement, about the double umbrella stroller I got for free when I was pregnant with Littlewoods. I might need them someday.

What if–in a horrific turn of events brought on by my failure to complete classroom parent paperwork–I end up in charge of the preschool Valentine’s Day party and have to bake 10 mini heart-shaped cakes?!? What if we fly on a plane with both kids and need that double umbrella stroller in the airport?!? WHAT IF a volcano erupts in our guest room, destroying the set of queen sheets on that bed and then THANK GOD I have those THREE sets of unused queen-sized sheets in the linen closet (which somehow was not involved in the volcanic activity).

In the same breathless state, I can cite dozens of times when having stuff saved for the future was a boon. When having things stored away saved me money. When keeping was a wise decision. So I persist in this uneasy, liminal state of frugality-fueled saving and simplicity-driven minimalism.

Our Dumpster Rental

Barn before (well, one small corner of the two-story mess)

Last month, I spent $825 to rent a 30 cubic yard dumpster to clean out our barn. 30 cubic yards, it turns out, is a lot of yards. This dumpster could’ve swallowed our cars. Both of our cars. One of our cars is a truck. After years of pulling things out of other people’s dumpster, I found myself on the other side of the equation.

The previous owners of our homestead, and the owners before them, left behind piles of junk in our barn. Most of this inherited junk was stacked, overflowing, in a corner of the barn and most of it was in moving boxes that I guess the previous owners moved here and then never unpacked. Mr. Frugalwoods and I unpacked them. Each and every one of them. And tossed their rotted contents into the 30 cubic yard dumpster. Then we moved onto the upstairs of the barn–similarly junk-ridden–as well as the glamour shed and our front field (former site of a derelict camp trailer and sundry junk).

Here begs another frugality question: why did we pay to rent a dumpster?

  • Kidwoods + dumpster

    We wanted it done. My parents were visiting in June and they offered to watch the kids while we tackled the barn mess. Since we rarely have windows of time with both adults available and zero kids, we jumped on it. Before paying for a dumpster, we gamed out several different scenarios:

    • Taking stuff to our town trash drop-off site (we don’t have trash pick-up). We ruled this out real quick because our town charges $2 per bag of trash and we would’ve filled up about a zillion bags. Plus, there was a lot of large stuff (such as an old toilet) that wouldn’t fit in trash bags.
    • Filling up our pick-up truck with the junk and driving it to a dump. This got nixed because you have to pay per load of junk. PLUS, the dump is a 40 minute drive (each way) and we would’ve had around 12 pick-up truck loads, which very quickly becomes not worth it (gas, mileage, and most importantly, the TIME it would take to drive back and forth).
    • Doing it slowly over time. Since we’ve lived here for over three years and this was the FIRST opportunity we had to tackle the barn kid-free, we didn’t want to drag the process out for fear it would never, ever get done. We wanted it done this summer so that Mr. FW has the full barn available for his winter woodworking projects.
  • Dumpster outside the barn

    How we saved money on our dumpster rental:

    • We recycled all of the cardboard boxes (our town offers free recycling) and the cardboard ALONE was two pick-up truck loads! This saved dumpster space.
    • I donated the precious few usable items we found to save even more dumpster space.
    • Most importantly, I shopped around. While $825 might sound like a lot for a dumpster rental (with drop-off and pick-up), it was actually the cheapest price I found. As is usually the case, shopping around saved us money. The quote I received from Casella (the “name brand” dumpster company) was $1,219.92 for the same size dumpster. But I asked around town, I got some leads, and I found a locally-owned, small company that gave me this $825 price. That’s $394.92 less! For the exact same thing! Always, always, ALWAYS shop around.
    • The only downside with using a smaller company is that I couldn’t pay by credit card and earn cash back on the rental.

Don’t Be Owned By Your Stuff

Barn: AFTER!

Going through these discards, these once-treasured items was a lesson on the unimportance of stuff. We say all the time that “people are more important than things,” but I saw it unfold last month. I found the details of someone’s life in these abandoned boxes. There were mildewed clothes, a cracked dish drying rack, a water-stained painting of a fox covered by broken glass. I found vases and shoes. I found boxes filled with recycling: empty yogurt containers carefully rinsed out and depleted laundry detergent jugs.

It was a disjointed, un-curated, un-narrated peek into a stranger’s life. It was sad and uncomfortable–even though this stuff was left behind in what has been our barn for nearly four years–it felt voyeuristic. I never want to do that. I never want to have so much stuff that I lose control of it and leave it for someone else to deal with: my kids, an estate auctioneer, strangers.

Barn AFTER: so fresh and so clean

Years ago, I wrote about the idea of not being owned by your stuff. We–as a culture–spend a lot of time on stuff. We spend time researching and discussing it, we spend time buying it, we spend time talking about it and looking at it and using it. Then we spend time cleaning it, maintaining it, we spend time storing it, and ultimately, we spend time giving it away or throwing it away or re-selling it. This can create a cycle of reverse ownership.

Instead of us owning and utilizing our stuff, the stuff owns us and monopolizes our time, money, and energy. In cleaning out the barn, I could not get over the fact that the previous owners spent time, money, and effort buying these things, packing them up in boxes to move them, unloading those boxes into the barn, and then, abandoned them. Because in the end, stuff really is meaningless.

Or is it? Stuff also gives us a sense of place and context and history. Humans are collectors and appreciators of art for art’s sake and of couches that are nice to snuggle on and of necklaces given to us on our fifth wedding anniversaries. There’s a tension here; one that I feel all the more after this dumpster experience. The amount of stuff we threw away left me feeling simultaneously victorious (because: clean barn), and devastated (because: so much waste). This stuff sat neglected in our barn for so many years that mold and mice rendered it useless and unable to be donated or re-purposed. There’s a depressing undertone to that.

How Do We Combat This?

What can we do to make sure we don’t end up with a barn-full of stuff so decrepit no one can use it? One obvious metric is money. Stuff costs money and so, if we want to save money, we can decide not to buy stuff.

But this logic breaks down when things are:

  • Free
  • A super good deal (I’m talking $0.25 at a garage sale good deal)
  • A gift
  • An inherited family heirloom

Without turning our lives in storage units for stuff we never use or see or think about, how do we co-exist with what we need, but without too much? I don’t have answers or prescriptions, but I’ll share what I do, just in case you too find yourself trapped by this cognitive dissonance. I hope you’ll share your advice in the comments section.

My (Imperfect*) Four Steps To Limiting The Amount Of Stuff I Have

*because I still have too much stuff

1) Give Stuff Away. All The Time.

I’ve donated this baby swing (which I got at a garage sale)

I have a continuous cycle of giving things away, particularly as it relates to baby stuff. Once the baby outgrows clothes, toys, and jump-a-roos, I give them away. This is easy to do because it’s obvious when the baby outgrows stuff and I know a bunch of parents and parents-to-be who can use our hand-me-downs.

2) Re-gift Gifts.

I have a box in our basement that contains any new (in box/wrapper/tag-on) gifts we receive that we won’t be able to use. I re-gift them because it makes more sense to me to give them to someone who might enjoy them than to throw them away, let them collect dust, or hate-use them.

3) Thing in; thing out.

I never manage to do this, but I love the concept: when you get something new, you give away something commensurate. For example: if you get a new sweater, you give away an old sweater. Brilliant!

4) Follow The 72 hour rule.

I made this one up and I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with myself because it works so well for me. Here it is, excerpted from my full article about it:

Do not buy anything (except for out-and-out necessities like prescription medication) for at least 72 hours after you initially consider buying it.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

  • Next time you feel the urge to buy something, write it down instead (or save it in your online shopping cart).
  • Allow 72 hours to elapse (also known as three days).
  • During this waiting period:
    • Consider whether or not you actually need it.
    • Calculate what else you could do with that money.
    • Explore if you already own something that could suffice.
    • Ask yourself if it’s something you could find used for a much cheaper price.
  • After 72 hours, reevaluate how you feel about the item. Do you still want it? Or has the desire faded?

Impulse spending is the result of buying something in the heat of the moment, before we’ve had a chance to fully consider the ramifications of the purchase. By forcing yourself to wait 72 hours before making a purchase, you’re putting some space in between desire and action. Consider it a cooling off period. And if you still really want it after 72 hours, it’ll still be there for you to buy. And if you do decide to buy it, it’ll be with full knowledge of the implications of your purchase.

Saving Only What Matters

The empty Metamucil bottles I mentioned earlier aren’t apocryphal. My grandfather had them in a box in his basement (which my parents cleaned out after his death). They’re a family joke now–one my eccentric, brilliant grandfather would appreciate–but they’re also a reminder to me of the dangers of taking frugality too far.

Next to the box of empty Metamucil bottles were old family photo albums: pictures of the grandmother I never met, shots of my mom as a baby, her sisters as children, their house and garden, their dog Mike. What a treasure to have these. What foresight my grandfather had to keep those safe and ready for new little hands to marvel over. So, there’s the balance. There’s the eternal tension. Keeping what matters; discarding what doesn’t.

Basement AFTER!!! Sometimes I go down there just to revel in its cleanliness…

It’s often obvious to us what someone else should get rid of (ahem, Metamucil bottles), but it’s not always obvious to ourselves. Creating an internal metric for what matters and what doesn’t isn’t easy, but I think it’s important. I don’t want to leave a dumpster-load of junk for my kids to contend with. I don’t want them to find empty recycling in my basement. But I do want them to cherish the jewelry from their great-grandmother, the first communion dress worn by their grandmother and mother, the bouquet from their parents’ wedding.

Right now, I combat this fear through organization. Thanks to my manic pre-baby basement organization project, our basement is a temple to neurotic systemization. Everything is categorized, labeled and in order. I don’t pretend this is a perfect answer, but at the very least it assuages my guilt over owning–and saving–so very much stuff… most of which I didn’t buy, most of which was free, and most of which means something to me.

Keepsakes For My Kids

The artist at work

In this vein, I’m trying to save a representative sample of my kids’ stuff for them (or more likely me) to wax nostalgic over at their high school graduation parties after the guests have left and I’m sitting on our scarred hardwood floor with my third glass of Malbec wondering where 18 years went. I don’t want to save it all because I know what it looks like when someone saves it all. But I don’t want to throw it all out because I know what that looks like too. I need my daughters to have a sense of place, knowledge of where they’re from and what they did when they were two years old.

My 3.5 year old, Kidwoods, can bang out five paintings in one 30-minute painting session. I don’t keep them all. Right after she creates art, I hang it either on the refrigerator or the “art wall” (using a detailed and attractive system of taping it to the wall with scotch tape… ). Then, as new art crowds out old, I keep one painting or one drawing or one craft. I recycle the rest.

I don’t have a lingering attachment to every single thing she creates because for her, the joy is in creating it, not in keeping it. She likes to see her work displayed on the wall (via the super classy tape method), but she doesn’t need or want to hoard her art forever. It’s ephemeral to her.

Kidwoods playing a log as a guitar with the dumpster as her audience

During the phase last month where she drew the letter “T” on everything, I saved one “T’ drawing. The rest are recycled. This lets me remember the “T” stage without hoarding the “T”s. Also, to be honest, all those T’s kinda looked like a bunch of gravestones… I have a box of her artwork (in the basement, of course) and I put her name and the date on the back of each picture. When I went to add the “T” masterpiece last week, I was surprised at how few things are in that box. A full two years’ worth of art barely makes a dent. To me, that’s a good thing.

This way, when we sit side by side after her graduation party, she can look through this box quickly enough to appreciate each phase of her fine motor skill development, but be done in time to meet her friends for the after-party. I don’t want to burden or overwhelm my kids with how much stuff I expect them to treasure or keep. They deserve to not be laden with what I think they should have. They will form their own decisions about how much to keep and how to save and what to give away. I will not burden them with my near-hoarder past. Or maybe I will. It’s early days yet, but I will keep giving their clothes and toys away and I will continue recycling their art. I will keep those representative samples in the basement, even though I know my husband and I might be the only ones to ever sifts through them with misty eyes.

My Quick Guide On How To Save What Matters

1) Make decisions in the moment and have “keep” and “give-away” boxes at the ready.

Littlewoods at 2 months old! I saved this newborn onesie

One of the ways I get stuff done is by doing it in the moment. It’s like the “clean while you cook” philosophy, which my husband follows. As my youngest outgrows clothes, I sort them into two boxes: give-away and keep. I make the decision right there in her bedroom, the minute I can’t squeeze an outfit over her head. On the floor of her closet sit those two boxes and I toss the un-sentimental, utilitarian outfits into give-aways and I tuck the treasured clothes into keep. I limit myself on that “keep” box, but I’m also aware that since my kids are only 27 months apart and are both girls, they wear all the same clothes. Given that, the keepsake clothes belong to both of them

The other morning I pulled out a t-shirt that turned out to be too small and so, before I even got the baby dressed, I popped it into the “give away” box on the floor of her closet. By having this system in place, I don’t feel overwhelmed by a mountain of clothes–I’m just dealing with one t-shirt at a time.

When the give-away box is full, I transfer the clothes into a trash bag labeled “baby clothes to give away” and store it in the basement until I have a chance to take it to the thrift store or give it to a friend. When the “keep” box is full, I transfer the clothes into a plastic storage tote in the basement labeled “baby clothes to keep.” I have the same system set up in both of my daughters’ bedrooms (although I keep almost all of Kidwoods’ clothes for Littlewoods to wear in the future).

2) Limit yourself to keeping only a representative sample.

I kept one newborn-size onesie to remind all of us how teensy the girls once were. I kept one “T” drawing. This cuts down on the amount of stuff I’m storing, but also lets me feel confident that I can, in fact, pull out that tiny bitty little onesie to coo over.

3) Find people to give hand-me-downs to.

Kidwoods at 2 months old!

This is another way I motivate myself to give stuff away. If I kept all the newborn-sized onesies in a box in my basement, no one else would benefit from them. They might as well not exist for all the good they’re doing.

Conversely, if I give away all but one onesie, I’m putting clothes back into circulation and continuing the cycle of free hand-me-downs for who knows how many other newborn-sized babies! I received (and continue to receive) tons of hand-me-down for my kids and am grateful to continue that system of giving to other parents.

The cycle has a five-fold benefit:

  1. It’s cheaper for everyone
  2. It keeps stuff out of landfills
  3. It reduces our carbon footprint by avoiding the embodied costs of buying new stuff
  4. It creates community
  5. It eliminates clutter

The benefits of frugality, environmentalism, community-building and minimalism are all woven into the system of hand-me-downs.

Final Thoughts

I can’t live with nothing, but I don’t want to live with everything. How do we construct heuristics to guide our decision-making around bringing stuff into our lives? When is it right to save things for the future? When are we wise to let go? Twining frugality and minimalism isn’t always straightforward, but I think there’s a nuanced third way to carve out. Frugal minimalism must be about keeping what matters from either a sentimental or practical standpoint. Frugal minimalism must be about valuing good deals and taking free hand-me-downs, coupled with a commitment to giving stuff away. Frugal minimalism must be about being thoughtful and continuing the cycle of give aways that we often find ourselves grateful recipients of. Frugal minimalism is attainable, I think. Let’s keep trying for it and figuring it out together.

How do you balance frugality with minimalism? How do you decide what to save and what to give away?

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125 Responses

  1. Charlotte K says:

    This article is helpful because it shows your thought processes in dealing with an issue most of us struggle with in our deeply materialistic society. I’ve become quite good at not bringing in new things (except clothes, which I still need because of work) and I’ve started the process of thinking about giving away family items. I’ve decided when I’m 65 (not that far away) I’ll feel even less attached than I do now and can pass on family items. I find every year I grow less attached to things–and I’m only attached to family items. I’ve got a secret problem in my basement, which is a bunch of stuff I stuck down there when I moved in and promptly forgot about. Once the ghastly summer is over I’m going to re-read this piece and take my own plunge into disposal! (I’ll probably call a disposal company and have them move it all out since I’m a urbanite–no room for a dumpster!) I do think this post is a KEEPER! 😉

  2. Tim says:

    In Capitalist America – stuff owns you! 🙂

  3. Linda says:

    My grandmother’s mantra was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. She was a young housewife, just married as the depression started. I think about that as I look at all my “stuff”. I’m much better at NOT bringing new things in and “making do” with what I have. However (!), like Charlotte K above, it’s dealing with all that I already have and the challenge of getting rid of something that’s “still good” and “I might need this someday”! So slowly I declutter, and it’s a long, slow process…my goal is by 65, also not that far away.

  4. Kate says:

    My problem comes with the oft-repeated frugal mantra to “stock up when things are on sale.” Well, there’s only 3 of us now, as DS is living overseas. Plus, I’ve found that when I stock up, I forget about what I already have! So now I’m trying to use up everything before buying more. Not sure if that is frugal or not… but it sure keeps the clutter under control!

    • Katherine says:

      This is my problem also! I can’t remember what I already have! I started keeping an inventory of household basics in my planner. If I have 2 tubes of toothpaste, I put 2 boxes on that line. When I start to use a new tube, I check a box. Then when I’m at the store I can see that there’s only one extra tube at home. It’s only me in my house so it’s easier to manage than when multiple people are pulling out items but maybe there’s something in my system that can work for you.

  5. Caroline Bowman says:

    I know so many people who could just take that line about leaving their junk for some other person to deal with to heart, but of course never will. It’s never ”the right time” or ”I want to give / sell / donate the 30 year old whatever it is to someone who will *really appreciate it*”. They are outraged that charity organisations ”just sell stuff (um… yeah?) we give them”.

    And meanwhile… nothing gets done.

    Cannot. Bear. It. I don’t suggest throwing away everything you own is the answer, and yes, holding onto certain things because yes, they truly are likely to be useful one day is absolutely fine. Certain sentimental items are also great to hold onto, but remember that some stuff will mean zero to your kids. I had the endlessly sad task of sorting out my late mum’s things, and she was very neat, not remotely a hoarder, tidy, had downsized, kept very limited stuff, but there were certain things that I know meant a lot to her that I just… know nothing about, so…

    On the other hand, keeping only a very precious few things, letters especially, makes them very meaningful. Finding the letter my grandfather wrote to my granny from his RAF base when she had my mum was wonderful. Did I need every Christmas card ever received? No! I’m so glad she didn’t keep any of that stuff.

    • Alice says:

      ”I want to give / sell / donate the 30 year old whatever it is to someone who will *really appreciate it (aka nobody except family)” is the mantra of my elderly in-laws. All the kids dread the day we have to clean out their house.

  6. Linda says:

    My rule of thumb has become whether or not something is easily replaceable. IF I get rid of spare sheets, I can always replace them–whether from a garage sale or going to the store and buying ( even though I might begrudge actually spending the money). Things that cannot be replaced or duplicated, save. My mother was a notorious saver, and while I needed to get rid of a lot of the things she saved, I do really appreciate some of the things she saved that I continue to keep. For example, my grade school report cards. One of a kind, cannot be duplicated now in real time. My first grade class photo. I have kept my high school yearbooks, with all the handwritten notes from my classmates. Old photos of relatives from three generations before. I did throw out all the old newspaper clippings of some columnist she particularly liked, and all the empty margarine tubs. Then there were the Avon bottles which I had heard for many years “will be valuable some day”)— there was an estate sale, they weren’t valuable.

  7. Connie says:

    I like the “system” idea of labeled boxes to keep and to give. I keep a box to give away in my laundry room.
    I like the “one item in, one item out” philosophy. However, as like changes (and it always does), I don’t think they need to be in the same category. I also like the idea of “one item in, TEN items out”. And I live the idea of giving something away to a charity thrift shop that may light up someone else’s eyes when they find one of my discards that to them is a “treasure”. This thought keeps me putting things into that box in my laundry room😊

  8. Karyn Semple says:

    I have a box of baby memories in the basement that contains a few precious things from my babyhood, and all 3 of my kids babyhoods. Like you I also have a box to save precious part, school work or report cards. After I realized how much space was left in my oldest’s box, I started throwing both of the younger 2 kid’s stuff in the same box. But then someday we will get to go through it and remember when Avery liked drawing butterflies on everything, my most precious “Mortorses day” card, or when my oldest drew his own comics all the time. I’m from a family of pack rats, my nana is one of those people who lived through the depression and saved every blessed thing that made it into her hands, and my mother saves styrofoam meat trays in case they could one day be used for art. And yet I am a ruthless declutter. I have a harder time saving things than throwing them out. You will be happy someday to have saved all those queen sheets! I used to only have one set for my guest bed and then one summer when my nephew was staying with us the bottom sheet of that line set disintegrated and just tore right in half. Sheets wear out eventually, so those 3 sets you have might just be good insurance to never buy sheets again.

    • Allison says:

      Would the unused sheets eventually dry rot, though, if they aren’t used? Sometimes things fall apart if they just sit around. I think I would keep one extra set and donate or sell the rest so someone who needs them NOW could use them immediately.

  9. Kim says:

    What a great sense of accomplishment you must have on this project. Yeah for grandparents who gave you this opportunity. It must feel good to walk in that barn and see the fabulous place you now have.

  10. Kelly says:

    For my kids, I take a picture of every art project and save it on my phone. Then I take that file, upload it to Snapfish and make a book (I use the 12 pictures on a page layout to save pages). No wilted artwork to save and it makes it seem very fancy and like a real memento! Love all your other ideas. The after pictures of your garage are SWOON-WORTHY!

  11. Julia says:

    I follow the 20/20 system for items I’m keeping ‘just in case’ but which are taking up too much space – if something could be replaced for less than £20 and with less than 20 minutes of effort, it goes. Over 12 years of living a frugal minimalist life I’ve only had to replace one or two things that cost far less than £20. As a result of my frugal minimalism I’ve been able to live in very small homes, which has saved me tens of thousands of pounds. In crowded little Britain housing is very very expensive.

  12. Ashley E. says:

    We moved into our house a little over two years ago with hardly any furniture. Now two years and two kiddos later we have clutter everywhere! Our basement is overflowing – there’s a path through the mountain of stuff!! . I love the systems you’ve put in place ❤️ And I will be using them to tackle our overwhelming piles soon, very soon. Thank you!!

  13. Ginny says:

    My friends and I do fashion swaps once a season. We all vary in sizes but we also include houseware and books. It’s great finding new to me pieces and it has gotten all of us in the mindset of “am I not wearing or using this? Put it my box for the swap”. I don’t want to show up to the swap empty handed so I really go through all my things and decide what I don’t use. We bring unclaimed swap items to the thrift store or we post them on the “buy nothing” group for the part of Boston we live in on Facebook.

  14. We are planning to move in the next 6 months or so, so I’ve been going through our things to figure out what we can get rid of. I’ve sold a number of things on Facebook and have given a lot to goodwill. One thing I struggled with was what to do with my (beautiful) wedding dress? It sits in my closet, unwashed and takes up a decent amount of room. After thinking it over, I’ve decided to donate it to a non-profit that makes burial gowns from wedding dresses and other formal gowns to provide for family dealing with infant loss. It felt like the right thing to do, and one unintended benefit is that we’ll get a tax deduction out of it. I considered having my dress preserved – but then someday our son would have to decide what to do with the dress. I know my mom had hers preserved but I never considered using it – nor did my 2 sisters when they got married. Ultimately, my need to purge comes from wanting an uncluttered space and a desire to not burden our son with difficult decision – hopefully in the far distant future! My husband lost his dad 5 years ago and now him and his mom have slowly gone through his things. It’s not a fun job, even when most of the items aren’t sentimental. So we keep that in mind when it comes to holding onto things. If we don’t have a use for them any longer, they need to go.

    • Judy Welles says:

      I had my mother’s wedding dress and mine in boxes in the attic for decades. When my daughter got married, I found a seamstress who made a beautiful blouse from my mother’s dress (which I wore with a thrift store silk jacket and pants bought on sale) and a ring pillow from the same fabric and the lace from my veil. The ring pillow will hopefully be used at my niece’s upcoming wedding (because it’s made from her grandmother’s and aunt’s wedding dresses) and will become a family heirloom that takes up a lot less space than two wedding dresses!

    • Kristen says:

      Could you share the name of the non-profit you donated your wedding dress to? That is such a beautiful idea. Thank you!

  15. Mary says:

    This came at a great time. I am 65 and will probably retire in 3-5 years. I feel like I need to buy now so I won’t need to buy after I retire. I routinely clean out closets and drawers…year after year cleaning out the same closets and drawers. With this, I will think more about that thought process.
    Maybe someone can help me make sense of this other issue…I am a knitter and have lots of yarn to use up. I make dog blankets for the humane society and make other charity items. My dilemma is some charities require special yarn which is a cost to me and then I have more bits and pieces to use up. I like helping out, but cannot routinely purchase new yarn for projects the Guild takes on.

    • Clancy says:

      I’m a brand new knitter (I cannot believe I just typed that)! We just moved to a new town and, while looking for summer activities for my twin boys, we found a learn to knit group at the local library. We decided to give it a shot and now we are all obsessed with knitting! I’m wondering if such a group exists in your area so you can donate? I don’t know the first thing about yarn and it’s nuances but as a new knitter I would live to inherit it from others. Perhaps your community has the same opportunity?

      • Stacey Weiss says:

        I’m a knitter as well and it’s a challenge to keep my stash of yarn neat and manageable. I have allotted one small chest of drawers in my basement to yarn and knitting supplies. Once it’s full (as it is now) I onlyknit “stash buster” projects. No buying new yarn no matter how pretty, soft, or on-sale it is. I currently have some acrylic yarns in weird colors that I’ll probably never use along with many partial balls from previous projects. These will be offered to the local assisted living home for their art and craft activities,the art program at our elementary school, or our community thrift store.

      • Stacey Weiss says:

        I’m a knitter as well and it’s a challenge to keep my stash of yarn neat and manageable. I have allotted one small chest of drawers in my basement to yarn and knitting supplies. Once it’s full (as it is now) I will only knit “stash buster” projects. No buying new yarn no matter how pretty, soft, or on-sale it is. I currently have some acrylic yarns in weird colors that I’ll probably never use along with many partial balls from previous projects. These will be offered to the local assisted living home for their art and craft activities, the art program at our elementary school, or our community thrift store.

      • Judy Welles says:

        Knitter here, too. I have designated a knitter friend as the executor of my yarn stash (really! It’s in my will!), as she will know which yarns are valuable and should be carefully given to other knitters, and which can be donated to Goodwill or some other charity.

  16. Thom Wilson says:

    …….nature abhors a vacuum. Life in a smaller space can be self limiting for acquisitions.
    I am so envious of your barn/woodshop……i could fill it right up with tools & projects – HA!

  17. Diane says:

    I am totally unsentimental and a dedicated purger – married to a completely sentimental and dedicated hoarder (DH). His mother was also a hoarder – after she was moved to assisted living it took 4 large dumpsters, 2 small dumpsters, a moving van and several truckloads to clean out her house (that was already damaged by the sheer amount of “stuff” inside. She never threw anything away!!)
    I try to reason with DH, telling him that either he or our kids will eventually have to deal with it all but you can’t reason with a hoarder. I do insist, however, that he confine his “stuff” to the basement and his shed. He also clutters up his “den” but will tidy when I insist. If something happens to me then he will be full-on hoarding!

    • Morgan says:

      I too am completely unsentimental. Besides an wedding photos, 2 lovely pieces of furniture from great gramma, I just don’t have any desire to keep mementos or trinkets. Sometimes I worry that it comes off as uncaring, but I just prefer the memories in my head.

  18. Andrea McCulloch says:

    I completely agree with the idea of taking photos of children’s artworks and other ephemera. Can I also suggest taking photos of the baby clothes, held in your hand? You don’t have to keep the actual clothes, but a photo of them in your hand will bring back all the memories, with a reminder of just how small it was.
    If there is one very special outfit then keep it by all means to be handed down. My daughter has a beautiful dirndl that was given to her second-hand, and my grand-daughter also wore it. One day, my great granddaughter, or perhaps great-great-granddaughter will wear it.
    Keep anything that is precious, not ephemeral, and cannot be replaced. A painting my mother did is in that category. A print that was in my mothers house wouldn’t be. I could always buy another reproduction.

    • Shelby says:

      I kept the outfit my son wore home from the hospital because I simply couldn’t part with it. It is now proudly worn by his favorite teddy bear and my little guy gets lots of practice zipping and unzipping that adorable little monster hoodie. Double win! 🙂

  19. Laura says:

    Great post – such a tricky topic with aging parents and kids and all of that to navigate! Also amazing how our grandparents situations are still influencing us today. My grandparents also lived through the depression and right up until they passed, saved and re-used everything – string, tinfoil, elastics, twist ties, etc. etc. 😉 My Mom did the same and had a really hard time downsizing a few years ago. She did it though, but felt a lot of guilt for selling/donating/trashing stuff.

    I think it is important for us to have conversations with family members about the stuff parents think their kids will want. My Mom had all kinds of antique tea cups and knick knacks that just aren’t to my taste or my brothers. I’m more interested in hand-written notes, art and things that remind me of a special person or a special time. My Mom made me a recipe book with a bunch of recipes in my grandmother’s and her own handwriting – that is a special item for me.

    I don’t have kids of my own, so I definitely keep in mind that someday someone will have to go through my stuff that doesn’t have that close of a connection. It helps me keep things to a minimum and toss/donate/sell stuff that I no longer need.

    • Denise says:

      One thing that strikes me about hoarders is the amount of stuff which, when it’s cleared out, genuinely IS trash. But it never seems to occur to them that, since it’s going to be sent to the dump one day, it’s still trash today.

      I asked my hoarder best friend, when she was starting to realise that she was being strangled (figuratively!) by her stuff, what (if it was MY stuff), she would label mentally as “trash”. She listed a long series for items. I asked her “if it’s trash today, what’s going to change that to “valuable/ worth keeping” in the future?

      She started on that list the following week and has used the mantra of “if Denise had this, would I advise her to keep it? If so, why?” We have phone calls to discuss the “not sure” items. They usually go.

      • Karina says:

        I like your idea. I don‘t know if I an a horder, but I own a lot of stuff just in case that…I lose wight…. I gain wight….I will have time to paint… time to knit… time to learn an instrument..
        I will try the approache what I would recommend to my daughter

  20. NM Drew says:

    When I was younger and not a home owner, I thought my mother was nuts to say “You don’t own a home, it owns you.” She was very minimalist to the point, as a teenager, I resented not having a big enough wardrobe for more than a week of wear. Anyway, moving on to the future and several years later, I see she was right.

    We just fixed a wall taken out to repair a leak. The room had half its contents removed and put elsewhere. After the work was done, it was time to put everything back. Time to reorganize. Time to rethink. And, in truth, I have far too much stuff, too many things. Do I need all the sewing machines and cameras and yarn? Not really. I bought some of those things on a whim, and other things to learn from the actual object. How can you experience a treadle sewing machine if you don’t have access to one? How can you learn about box cameras or digital photography if you don’t have access to one? This is the dilemma – a desire to learn, no access, but then you can buy one. Over the years, there is stuff! Being the crafty / creative / make things person I am (and the SO is as well), stuff accumulates.

    This is a dilemma. Some things you use over and over again, you love using them for your hobbies and creative ideas. Some you have tried, and don’t like – those need to be gotten rid of – but finding the time and place to do it requires a bit of focused energy!

    So – perfect article for the morning after putting everything back and being surprised at all the stuff. At least we don’t have a barn to clean out!

  21. Linda says:

    I do something similar to your closet “keep/give away” system in y own closet. If I try on something and it’s uncomfortable, doesn’t fit, looks bad on me, I fold it and place it in a large shopping bag on the floor of my closet. Same for shoes, belts, scarves and jewelry. When it’s full I put it in the back of my car and it gets donated to the next thrift store I drive by. Also if I’m looking for something to wear and see something I haven’t worn in a year or two, I liberate that hanger and into the bag goes the item.

  22. Marion says:

    I have been paring down for some time now.
    Those family heirlooms you’re saving for the adult children in the family? They probably don’t want them. They are getting stuff out of their house too.

  23. Cindy says:

    I’ll have to try the 72 hr method you recommended! I went through the summer without needing to buy much for me or the kids. I bought the girls new summer shoes from Payless before the local store closed and some shirts but had made cut off shorts from all their hole in the knees pants collected during the winter!!! That was $$ I saved!! I bought a few shirts to update my own summer wardrobe, but will donate some old summer clothing that never made it out of my closet or the kids grew out of. We made huge headway into decluttering the basement-we gave some couches and a king sized mattress and box spring to our cleaning lady. Her husband and son came over and brought it all up and out of our basement which was a HUGE job and I feel better about not just dumping all that still useful stuff into the garbage!!! It pains me to throw out furniture that is still in good condition just because we grew tired of the style.
    BTW-You don’t need 3 sets of queen sheets, just donate one and keep the two you like best. Or get a queen sized bed for your older daughter to eventually sleep in.

  24. EFI says:

    We just went through this struggle in a big way when we downsized and cut our space in half. My partner very much likes to hold onto things “in case we need them” or because “that’s still in good shape.” This meant that we filled up any space we lived in – and we’ve upsized four times since we married – two apartments, two houses…larger each time.

    In our downsizing we went through three intentional phases of reducing stuff. It was tough, but coming out the other side we feel much better about what we still have. We definitely aren’t minimalists – there is still more stuff than two people need. Yet, we know that everything we have is purposeful and that feels great.

    Oh – and I’m a big fan of the dumpster rental for all the reasons you listed!

    • Denise says:

      You are a minimalist! It’s not sackcloth and ashes as a way of life – it’s applying a thoughtful “one size fits one” (thanks to Joshua Fields Milburn of The Minimalists for that brilliant phrase) approach to what William Morris advised – only have in your home what you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. The “useful” is “genuinely useful to YOU” (excuse the shouty words – no scope for italics or bold type for emphasis on my iPad). It’s not white walls and one wooden chair, just what strikes a harmonious balance for you and your family.

  25. Ana says:

    This post resonates with me. The first house my husband and I bought was owned by a widower who didn’t have the energy to empty out the place. He was a family friend so we offered to help out. You could barely walk through the house. There was so much stuff! Sadly, most of it had to be tossed out. I can’t imagine that living like that is mentally healthy for anyone. We salvaged photos and a few valuables for him.

    I save a few keepsakes and live with just what we need.

  26. ksmyth says:

    I use the watch & save to wish list buttons on eBay & Amazon, respectively, to delay and reduce impulse spending. Waiting >72 hours is even better, especially for big-ticket items or a personal spending threshold. Tonight I am going to surprise a friend with an official brand label for an article of professional sports team clothing whose costs outrages him, yet he still lusts for these items. I got it at a thrift store for $6, and he does not believe me when I tell him that these items are available for a lot less. It’s in pristine condition. I can’t wait to see his face when he examines the price tag.

  27. Jennifer says:

    After I read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up I got busy clearing out. I had the same thoughts as you. I don’t want to leave all this crap for someone else to deal with–namely my only son–after I’m gone. It’s not fair to him. It’s not fair to my soul to keep it all in the meantime.

    P.s. the after pics of your barn are beautiful!

  28. I keep my sheet sets for the following reasons…….bottom sheets eventually wear out before the rest of the set does. I recently had to purchase two bottom sheets because of this. I use the pillowcases on any bed and the top sheet to throw on the lawn when I repaint something or to protect something from dust or paint when working inside the house. It all eventually gets so thread bare that it has to be pitched but not until I have squeezed every possible use out of each piece of the set.

  29. Catherine says:

    I love this article. I, too, struggle with the “we might need it one day” mentality. But some of the stuff we won’t NEED (e.g. old paintings given to us for free….when will the day come when we NEED to put them on the wall?). I’m also struggling with mountains of baby stuff that I’ve received for my daughter (who is now 2). We’re planning on having more kids, so I’m hesitant to give things away, and my sister is trying to get pregnant now as well, so I figure whatever we don’t need, we can give to her. But there is just SO MUCH STUFF! I avoid our basement and the guest room closet because they are packed to the brim with THINGS. And now with a toddler, it feels nearly impossible to find the time to go through it little by little, since any “free time” is usually spent trying to catch up on regular household chores. And let’s be honest, if I do magically find a half-hour to go through the stuff, I’d much rather relax (glass of wine in hand) since it would be so rare to have that time to myself! Kudos to you for that amazingly organized basement and for clearing out the barn. I am seriously impressed. And inspired. Maybe I will try to tackle that basement….

  30. I did a massive clearing-out of all our stuff about 5 years ago over the course of a year, and I was able to get rid of about half of our possessions—I haven’t missed a single thing. I really like Dana K. White’s book How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind, and she has only a couple questions to ask yourself to know whether you should keep something. One that’s saved me a lot? “Would I already know that I had one of these if I were to need it someday?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across something I totally forgot I owned. Now those are a no-brainer—I can just get rid of them!

    Another big thing that’s really helped me with sentimental items that I don’t really want to keep/store is to take a picture of it. That way, I have a memento I can keep forever, but it takes up an infinitesimal fraction of the space of the real thing. For example, I lived in El Salvador for a year and a half and was gifted many trinkets before leaving, such as a handmade pillow (that clashed terribly with everything else I owned) and a gigantic (and I mean gigantic) stuffed animal. I took a picture of the pillow and the stuffed animal, and then I donated them or gave them away to people I knew would love them. Win win!

  31. Amanda says:

    We are foster parents & have held on to clothes, gear etc. My 3rd baby’s dress started falling apart at church 1 day & it dawned on me that it was almost 10 years old lol. My oldest girls clothes are purchased at garage sales or new (they wear the same size now) so I recently kept 1 box of the super nice things & brought the rest to a coworker. I’d be really bummed to find all those dry rotted or messed up in a few years. Also since the oldest girls wear the same size it’s really too much for the baby.

  32. Elaine says:

    My mother had to clean up after mother, uncle, and then her ex husband (my estranged father) in the last 4 years. My mother (bless her) is now using a combination of Marie Kodo and “Swedish Death Cleaning” with pare down own stuff. She knows that what ever is left behind will be mine to deal with because my sister is quite sentimental.
    We are fortunate to live near this wonderful organization (https://thewishproject.org/) – they take used clothing and household items to help families in need. So it makes in easy to donate because you know that it is going to someone who can use it.

  33. LongTime Frugal says:

    When my kids were young, we’d go through toys etc. prior to Xmas. Some were kept (heck, I still have some of my toys as does my Dad. Now they are antiques and some are worth money), some donated (child care, domestic violence centers, and local library), or passed along to friends/family members.

    Once your kids get to a certain age, garage sale is another option. Mom/Dad has veto power over kids choices of course but allowing the kids to keep some/all of the monies earned at the sale is a good motivator. Reusing school supplies (excluding gym shoes) helps keep clutter at bay. Never gave them all the monies saved their but did give them a percentage.

    As to keepsakes – when the kids are adults, they can go thru what has been kept. Again, Mom/Dad had veto power (well made in the USA toys for future grandkids/visiting kids). But I found my kids were pretty objective about what they no longer wanted to keep.

    The something in, something out doesn’t have to be employed with every “in”. But an “in” for a broken, non-repairable item means there should be an “out”.

    Guestroom sheets – three sets isn’t unreasonable. One set to be laundered, on one the bed, and a spare in case of an accident or longer than planned stay.

  34. KN says:

    Oh, your shed! How I wish I had a space like that. Thanks to your Uber Frugal Month, I’m now avoiding the expensive gym and making do at home with the occasional foray to the park district cheap gym. To me fitness is an investment and a beloved hobby and I could turn a space like that into my own little gym….

    My husband and I LOVE decluttering and we bring stuff to the donation center pretty regularly. I’ve been fortunate to get some nice baby stuff (due in December) on the Buy Nothing neighborhood group, and it’s motivated me to ensure to pass it all on for free when I no longer need it so I can pay that luck forward. The UFM challenge really helped me get my head on straight about what the changes upcoming in my life will be and how I can handle them financially and emotionally.

  35. frenchmama says:

    For me, I’m now living by the mantra of giving away rather than selling. I’ve been so surprised and grateful by multiple people handing me giant sacks of gently used clothes for both of my children. I could sell them, but I would much rather keep the cycle of giving going strong. I’ve now begun to give away baby clothes to parents of newborns since our youngest is growing into 6mo clothes already. Their amazement at just being given a complete wardrobe for their kids is just wonderful.

    For everything else, I had to free myself from the notion that I had to try to get my money back by selling them. The money is already spent. I could spend my time chasing a few euros, or I could pass on things to people who will want and use them. Most things I could or would sell (baby clothes, books, toys, dvds,) will only net a couple euros at best, whereas freely giving is a joy!

  36. Alexandria Scott says:

    My local Buy Nothing group has changed my life in the best way! When things are freely given and freely received it really helps you get out of that scarcity mentality so much more and is also helping me learn how to be a more generous person even or rather especially with a tight budget while maintaining space in our home, in our minds and in our lives! I do think one thing is missing from this article and maybe your previous posts as well- I am very on board with doing as much as I can to step off the never ending consumption train and be frugal so we can have the life we want. I do worry though that potentially in people’s quest for frugality it’s too easy to forget *why* we have such insanely inexpensive products and goods and *why* there is such an abundance of second hand products. People, women and children in particular, are often making these goods for next to nothing in terrible conditions. I am not willing to take advantage of someone else’s family so that my family can have luxury. My husband and I want to retire early and we’re *very frugalnparticularly for Washington DC where we live. But taking advantage of other people for the want of early retirement is not okay with us. Fortunately, there is 100% a way to be frugal and live as ethically as possible. Second hand is a great way to do this. If I can’t find it second hand and it’s a need, I purchase fewer, better made, quality and ethical things for our family. The only exception we’ve really made to this are my husband’s suits. We literally just don’t have the money to buy ethically made suits and he needs then for work/his job. This is where minimalism can tie in with ethical consumption and frugality though! Be I’ve worked hard to apply these principles to clothing and other goods like furniture, pots/pans etc and we’re now starting on working to apply these to food as well as there is a lot of labor trafficking and unliveable wages in food production in the US as well as elsewhere. I’d love to see a post about the marriage of these three principles.

    • Marlies says:

      I’m glad you wrote that. We too, try do make ehtical choices. And though that’s quite complicated enough in itself, it also sometimes interferes with frugality. Secondhand is good for both of course. As are, for example, the solar panels (though I only know a little bit about where and how there were made) and our vegetarian diet. And I don’t mind the extra spending on all the relatively small choices (food, clothes). And it makes investing a bit more complicated; if it weren’t for this I’d follow JL Collins advise (thanks so much for the recommandaties Mrs Frugalwoods! I learned so much) without thinking twice. Instead we’re investing in ESG adjusted index funds I hope will work out to the same effect.🤞
      But with the electric car we’re saving for, because we believe renewable energy is the only right choice for the future/our planet and its inhabitants, frugality and our ethics clash painfully…. So much for a consumer good….?! Still, I think we’ll buy a second hand one in a few years time.
      Thinking again, isn’t it beautifull we’re able to make that choice because of frugality? 😊

    • Sally says:

      Alexandria

      I agree with most of what you’ve written, but I think that there is greater complexity to the “exploiting workers in developing countries” issue. I have worked closely with the ethical trade team in a major low-cost clothing chain. They are:

      a) doing a huge amount in terms of auditing the factories which they contract with, including as to structural building safety audits, and forcing (where possible) owners to improve. If there is no (or insufficient) remediation undertaken, they take their (considerable) business elsewhere;

      b) the factories are very modern. I’ve seen them, in places like Cambodia and Bangladesh, and things have improved massively over the past ten years. Many owners know that safe working conditions are critical to them keeping their contracts: it’s good business practice to them;

      c) the cost of living in these countries is considerably lower than in so-called developed countries like the US and Western Europe, so what looks like horrifically low wages does have more buying power. I’m not saying that wages don’t need to improve much further, to ensure that the workers get a fair share of the money they generate;

      d) what happens to these workers if everyone stops buying clothes from these countries en masse? Regrettably, unemployment in many of these countries results in children being sold into bonded labour (i.e. slavery) and both boys and girls being sold into the sex trade. Women who can’t work and earn simply get killed. I know because we’ve identified it. Sadly, there needs to be incremental change, because sudden change in trading patterns will be catastrophic for at least a generation to come;

      e) the fast-fashion retailers use the same factories as many designer brands e.g. Ralph Lauren in Bangladesh. Price differentials are due to fabric quality, design complexity, lower order volumes (little economy of scale), overhead recovery (high end offices, high advertising spends etc.) and huge profit margins;

      f). finally- the corruption in these countries is a meaningful obstacle, which needs Western countries (government and businesses) to take a principled stance and be willing to force through change. I’m not holding my breath, given wider geo-political issues.

      It’s so complex that it sometimes makes me want to weep to find a great solution – but it’s too easy to label ALL of these companies as exploitative.

    • Kate says:

      Yes – we know we could cut our food budget a bunch shopping at Walmart but that’s not the right choice for us. We buy meat (the very little we eat) and milk from a local farm that preserves open space in our community and raises animals sustainably and humanely and shop at a local grocery chain that is not the cheapest but treats employees well and supports local growers when possible. We don’t worry about it because clothes are mostly always secondhand etc. I too worry that the frugal/FI community glosses over this sometimes (not the Frugalwoods specifically).

  37. Danielle says:

    How did you decide what to keep for baby #2? Currently dealing with this now and saving everything for our eventual 2nd baby, but it’s a ton of stuff!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I, uh, just kept it all… I got pregnant with #2 when my first was just 18 months old, so I really didn’t give anything away in between kids. Now, I give away everything the baby outgrows!

      • Danielle says:

        Ah, that makes sense. We’re going to wait until our first is about 3. Keeping 3-4 years worth of kids stuff sounds like probably too much!

        • Caroline Bowman says:

          It’s not too much!! We had 3 years between our first two kids. Obviously not worn-out things, but any bigger ticket stuff, all the new baby clothing, keep it…

  38. Laura in So Cal says:

    Just a note that you can use a larger flat sheets on smaller beds in a pinch. This comes in handy when your kid has a 24 hour virus that involves vomiting every 3-4 hours AND your hot water heater dies on the same day. At midnight, hear vomit noises from your 3 year old, run in to help them, one parents strips kids, bathes, and puts new pjs on, other parent cleans up vomit, strips bed, and puts new sheets on. Start laundry to wash the dirty sheets. Repeat 5 times. You run out of clean sheets pretty fast and bigger sheets work fine on a twin bed. Since you have 2 kids, double this. You might not worry about keeping a few extra sheet sets. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh mama, I see you speak from experience! Yep, I can DEFINITELY see that scenario playing out in our house…

      • Effie says:

        Another mum of 2 here, one day you will need those extra sheets; the double kiddo Norovirus.. happens to all families at least once. We have had it twice so far. Thanks to my mother in law I had enough sheets – my lord I was grateful for them.

  39. DIanne says:

    Great article. Now, I have to convince my husband that we can’t leave a basement full of “stuff” the kids will never want! It would be such a burden for them.

  40. Lucy Blum says:

    I wish I could purge stuff! As a creative maker (artist, sewist, quilter, photographer, crocheter, crafter) it’s easy it kept things (supplies) I “might” need to make something. I have more projects than I could ever complete!!
    And because I don’t have a basement things are stored all over my house. At least I don’t have kids at home so one bedroom is my sewing room/art studio.

  41. KW says:

    I’m also more into giving way outgrown kids items. When my husband and I had our first child (and 2nd) people were so generous with gifts and hand-me-downs. Now I like to pass on that to other new parents.

    Plus, I don’t like the risk of selling to strangers through FB Marketplace or Craigslist. I have sold a few non-kid household items on NextDoor.

    • Miranda says:

      I just wanted to comment that I’ve sold lots of items on Craigslist. I feel safe only because I always meet in a public place not in my neighborhood, if possible the library. Anything I can’t sell that way I donate.

  42. We just moved into our first home with a basement, and it is GLORIOUS to have ample storage space for the things that we don’t use very often but don’t want to get rid of for usefulness. My rule is anything that doesn’t get used weekly goes into the basement. This helps with extra office supplies, emergency food storage, next-size-up baby clothes, Halloween costumes, Christmas decorations, college textbooks (husband’s going back for his PhD soon), and gift wrap supplies. We went through the decluttering process when we left our first home and moved across the country, donating over 4,000 items. Now our stuff is all USEFUL, we just like to keep extras of things like consumables since we live in an area where winter road closures are common and stores run out.

    Have you read “Swedish Death Cleaning”? We tried to have “the talk” with my mother-in-law, that everything she owns will one day be in a landfill (whether it’s now or five generations from now), so she should begin decluttering now while she has the energy. That was a seriously depressing conversation and most of our parents are not ready to face that.

  43. Alexandra Taylor says:

    Two adults, two toddlers in an 850 square foot condo in Honolulu, here. We get rid of just about everything. Almost everything we own is a hand me down or from a consignment sale. Easy come, easy go. Even the kids’ cute stuff…I grew up in a fairly large house and my mom saved all that cute stuff. She made me go through it all four years ago and I literally threw everything away, including all my baby teeth and every report card from kindergarten to college. The only thing I kept was the baby book she made for me.

    I had to go through a house full of my pack-rat father’s stuff when he died. It made me a convert to the less-stuff ethos. Since I buy almost everything used, it’s cheaper for me to replace things than to store them.

  44. Jana Gregg says:

    I used to feel like I had to keep ALL the sentimental stuff. It does become overwhelming. Then, I went through a phase of get rid of almost all of it. I don’t regret that for the most part, but there are a couple things I wish I had kept. I try not to dwell. My dad is a hoarder, and would save Every. Single. Container. That had a lid! It was maddening! His reasoning was to send leftovers with people when he had a dinner, but I’m like, you don’t need two cabinets full of old butter and lunchmeat tubs! He now lives with my brother, so he is not able to keep doing that. l see this and try to make sure I don’t start that up lol. I think I’m fairly “normal” with what I have.

  45. Anon-E-Mouse says:

    It’s not in the Dale Carnegie course, but one of the best ways to win friends is to say “Do you want to put some stuff in my dumpster?”

    Seriously, one way to reduce the cost of your dumpster is to share the space with someone else who lives nearby. One big dumpster (per cubic foot) for two families likely is somewhat cheaper than a small dumpster for one family. Just don’t let their schedule prevent you from moving forward with your clean-up plans.

    I’m not very attached to stuff so I find it easy to let go emotionally. What I find hard is facing up to the fact that some stuff is going to end up in landfill. I try to donate quality items and recycle what I can, but I’m always left with some stuff that no one wants and can’t be recycled. Part of the answer, of course, is not to acquire it in the first place. But that doesn’t solve the problem of the stuff that’s already in my house (and the stuff that people give me).

    Environmental considerations are also one reason why I think the test “Can it easily/inexpensively replaced? (mentioned above) should be qualified. I prefer to follow the rule “Can it be easily/inexpensively replaced without foreseeable harm to the environment or other beings?” For example, the manufacture of new clothing and other fabric goods like sheets and towels damages the environment and often occurs in sweatshop conditions. So if I can replace something by purchasing a used product, then that’s okay but not if I think I’ll have to buy something new.

    Likewise, every product (food, textile, cosmetic, etc) that incorporates an animal product (like leather, wool or feathers) or was tested on animals required animals to pay to a horrible cost (their lives). This question doesn’t come up for me because I’m vegan, but I suggest that others consider it when deciding whether a product that is derived from animals can be easily/inexpensively replaced without harm to others.

  46. JD says:

    Excellent, excellent post, one near and dear to my heart for several reasons. And to prove your points:

    I have a friend and his wife who had a barn similar to yours, and my friend kept all of their cast off furniture, tools, decor, dishes, etc., so that their son (only child) could use it when he went off to school. Except his son used none of it. So then he kept it for extended family members starting out in their first homes/apartments. But no one wanted stuff like 1975 table lamps, imagine that. I kept asking him when he was going to get rid of it all, and he would laugh and say, “I’m not! That’s my son’s problem after I die!” Well….

    His workplace was bought out, he hated the new ownership, took a good job five hours away so he and his wife had to move, and guess who had to clean alllll of that stuff out of the barn all at once? Yep, him. I was so unsympathetic. I just kept telling him I had told him so, with his every complaint about taking another truckload to the dump, because none of it was in good enough shape to donate anymore.

    See, my mom and dad died together, so my siblings and I got the task of emptying out their home. Our parents both had the “I might need it someday” syndrome (they came of age in the Depression) and their closets, drawers, cabinets, end tables, behind couches, under beds, and utility shelves were crammed full. It was eye-opening and I made a vow I wouldn’t do that to my kids. So when my friend airily talked about leaving it for his son to deal with, I tried to make him understand how unfair that was to his son, who would want none of it and appreciate it even less. When he had to empty his barn to move, his son told him to carry all of it off; he didn’t want any of that old junk, so I was proved right, much to my friend’s chagrin.

    I am eliminating extra stuff in my house, a little at a time. Sometimes more creeps in somehow, but I have a goal of seeing some empty spaces, and by golly, I intend to achieve it. I will not stop de-cluttering until then.

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      It is UNBELIEVABLY selfish and mean to inflict this on one’s kids. I have family who like to talk about how wonderful their grown children are, how amazing how dutiful… and they live in a badly-in-need-of-work home, stuffed to the gunnels with… stuff.

      It is emotionally and physically incredibly draining and devastating to pack up a deceased parent’s things, as I know from personal experience. How much worse it would be to be dealing with a tsunami of rubbish, not wanting to chuck inadvertently things of value or worth, trying to do the right thing… absolutely awful.

      I am very grateful my mum was very neat, organised, not a pack-rat and though very loving, wasn’t *too* attached to every item she owned.

  47. Miranda says:

    I have found that the calmer and more peaceful I feel in general the less stuff I want or need. I think anxiety is a big reason we hold on to stuff or buy too much. I remember reading something that said holding on to something because you might need it someday means you feel afraid you won’t be able to get what you need when you need it. That helped shift things for me. I now trust that I can meet my needs, and that trust eliminates a lot of fear most people have about the future. I’ve also camped for months at a time, so I’ve seen how little we actually need.

    Years ago I started taking pictures of sentimental things before donating. I refuse to keep things sitting in a box unused. If it no longer fits my life I let it go. But if it has sentimental value I take a picture. Then I can put it in a photo album, maybe even make a few notes about it. It’s a lot easier to look through an album than go through multiple boxes to reminisce, which means I do it more often. The photo album also takes up less space. Both my parents died years ago and despite having very few items to remember them by I feel no fear of losing the memories.

    For most people their largest expense is housing. Less stuff means smaller housing costs. I will admit there have been a few items over the years I’ve donated that I ended up repurchasing later, but that’s rare, and what I’ve saved on housing more than makes up for it. Last time I moved everything I owned fit in my SUV and it felt wonderful. I feel so light, and that lightness provides a lot of flexibility. I’ve been able to do things I couldn’t have done with lots of stuff.

    • Denise says:

      Miranda

      What have you found to be your essentials- be it because of usefulness or because you love it? I’m always fascinated to get different perspectives to challenge my own and help me to clear out more stuff.

      Thanks in advance for any input.

  48. Lluviata says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m conflicted about stuff too – stuff is definitely not what life is about, but it can be a source of happiness when used prudently, and of course, sometimes it’s just plain useful!

    I love some of the ideas above – the 20/20 system, and the criteria of “is it replaceable” are great! Thanks, Julie & Linda.

    I’ve have two thoughts to contribute – the first is that I don’t want to spend a lot of time or effort on stuff. I was prioritizing sorting & organizing, and ignoring my other projects, when I realized – if stuff’s not important, why am I spending sooo much energy thinking about it? So that’s my first rule – don’t spend a lot of time deciding to keep/toss. If that means I make a decision a regret later, oh well, it’s just stuff.

    The second is that if something new doesn’t fit , it’s time to get rid of stuff! So if the closet I want to store X in is full, that’s my trigger to sort and re-organize. I tried the 1-in-1-out rule, but I’m not a quick decision-maker. So that just resulted in me agonizing over what to toss at least once a week, even if it was only for a few minutes to pick a thing to go ‘out’, and it felt like I was constantly thinking about stuff. Batching it instead works better for me so far!

  49. Deb says:

    I have slowly been decluttering from the attic down, room to room, to the basement for retirement purposes. I am almost done. I have been giving away a lot because when my neighbor lady died, her children put most everything to the road, saying we have our own things. I don’t want to burden my family with that chore. I took pictures of certain things for a memory. Gave the children anything they could use. I only kept enough furniture with a smaller place in mind. Decor is minimal but saved some seasonal/ holiday ones. I like the openness and organized closets and drawers. It is relaxing.

  50. Laurie says:

    It’s always bothered me that both my parents (two separate households) sit on their mountains of hoard, not using it, but unwilling to let anyone else make use of those items by giving away or donating them.
    It seems selfish and miserly to do so, and I’m not looking forward to their passing (for many reasons) as they will leave their items behind for me and my sister to deal with.
    It will be weeks/months for us to sort through. I have a full time job in a different city. I dread the burden.
    So thank you for this post, I hope that it speaks to many people BEFORE the hoard begins.

    • Denise says:

      I confess that, when my mother died last year, even though we had decluttered before she moved into a one bedroom apartment, my sister and I just emptied nearly everything into black refuse sacks and dumped it. Including stuff we could (and should) have donated. I kept six small decorative items and a few “useful” things e.g. her small set of screwdrivers. My sister took nothing. All of the “useful” stuff has since gone to Goodwill stores.

      We don’t regret taking only such small items (all of which I like).

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      this bugs me about various extended family members, the stupid, ignorant, wilful refusal to SEE what a nuisance they are creating, and their unwillingness to part with anything ”not for a good price”. Ancient, out of date clothes (well-made, not tatty) NO ONE WANTS, no, you aren’t going to get thousands for them! They won’t give to charity shops because ”they just sell them” (yes….)

      Drives me mad.

  51. Jean says:

    I know you like to read. You might consider a kindle paper white e reader. A 100 dollar investment but if you join book bub, many books are free or greatly reduce. You can read in bed with just the ereader light, not bothering your spouse. The book you are reading would have been about 10 dollars as compared to 20. Just a thought. I have one that is now 6 years old and has over 1000 books on it that have been 99 % free. I only bought a book when I became engrossed in the content of a book and wanted to read a second or third one in the series. I am cheap about books. So many of us get into the habit of saving stuff just Incase it is ever needed. We currently have a couple of heavy coats and a trench coat from years ago. Need to clear it out. Working on it. Our favorite charity has to do with animals. Most communities have a thrift store connected with animal shelters that totally benefits the shelter animals. The little forgotten ones that need so much help. Please consider giving to those organizations. Also please remember to treat those moldy areas. Stores tend to hang around.

    • cathy says:

      Jean,
      Are you able to check out e-books from your library? That’s where I download all of mine. Always free, and I’m never late returning them!

  52. Jean says:

    I meant spores.

  53. Sarah says:

    Your kids are probably not going to want the bouquet from your wedding – YOU might want it, but don’t save it for them.
    I recently threw away the flowers my dad got my mom for her 21st birthday. They were sentimental to her, but useless to me.

  54. Carol says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. Minimalism needs to be tailor made by and for the individual user, as does frugality, for them to be lovingly integrated into one’s lifestyle! I try to apply the 12R’s of zero waste [https://www.thegoodtribe.com/blog/2019/1/the-12-rs-of-zero-waste

    1. If you want your kids and grands to appreciate your special things, USE THEM!! There are ages and stages at which use is appropriate and becomes important for my grandkids.

    2. Consider repurposing, if the former use does not fit into your lifestyle. Family antiques and rrdinary packaging materials have found wonderful repurposed uses in our home, without additional expense..

    3. Tell the stories of the things you have and use to create intergenerational and historical linkages between the and the present. It is very sad to find lovely and obviously cherished items with no connections. Writing down the stories is as important as telling them. Writing can be “insurance” with regard to a fading memory. If you gift the item to a family member of close associate/friend, include the story with the item.

    4. If your family members express genuine interest in an object, put their name on it wi tape or write it in a special place. Consider that the gift request maybe time-bound, for it to be used and appreciated. Waiting 2 -3 decades to gift the item may make the request obsolete.

  55. Diana says:

    RE: making your kids deal with everything. I have a solution! My grandma had 7 kids and 22 grandchildren. She was a tidy person in a small apartment with good taste. When she died, her kids took turns choosing items from her home that were meaningful to them and in the end most of her kids ended up with a couple of small boxes that they shared with their families. I was in college at the time and was so grateful to get like, her pyrex cooking stuff. So, there ya go- if you have 39 descendants and they all adore you and you had good taste to begin with you’re all set!! 🙂

    More serious advice though- another vote for Buy Nothing Groups. Here in San Francisco ours is so great that you can give away REALLY SPECIFIC things to really grateful people. Like, there was a family with a 3 year old boy where dad was obsessed with a random college sports team, they managed to find a family with a 1 year old boy with a similarly obsessed dad to give all the outgrown baby jerseys to, in perpetuity. Or one time someone posted that they were helping a family furnish an apartment that is coming out of the shelter system and like a zillion people offer to bring over useful housewares. It’s really wonderful.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh yes, I am a huge fan of Buy Nothing Groups!! Much of our baby stuff came from there originally and now moves onto other families!

  56. Ilene says:

    I need advice…I am an my late 60s and have kept a journal since I was 12. I have boxes of them. Last winter I tried to read through and then recycle the paper but only worked my way through 3 notebooks! Help. I don’t want a stranger having to deal with this.

    • Anne says:

      What about hiring a teenager to digitize them (scan and PDF)? Then you could look through them at your leisure more easily and not have a huge amount of paper around. Or frankly, something like a Girl Scout might like to do it for history and community service.

      • Rowena says:

        If you have lived in a particular community most of your life, you may have a local history association or library that would be interested in them. In 100 years time, diaries of everyday life are invaluable to social historians, historical fiction writers and others. If you donate them, you can specify a period of no access until well after your passing to protect your privacy and that of the people you’ve written about.

  57. Carie says:

    I just want to offer up an idea for “saving” kids arts/school work without having to hoard 5, 745, 324 pieces of paper each month…when my kids bring home something or make a piece of art that is special to them (or us!) we take a picture of it with our phones and save it to a folder for that child with their age/grade (kid X Age 8 4th Grade). We back it up periodically but this way it’s much easier to “keep” much more and it’s organized in a way that will be easy to find stuff later. It’s also where we store photos we take of their entire year…And it takes about 60 seconds then we recycle the actual item!

  58. KaLynn says:

    My grandfather lived with my family from the time I was 2 years old and was a “Depression baby” as my family says. He found a purpose for everything. My husband laughs at me now and reminds me we don’t live in the Great Depression when I carefully open presents so as to reuse the wrapping paper (something we always did in my family).

    I really loved this post and want to link an NPR article about Swedish death cleaning which someone else mentioned above, https://www.wpr.org/death-cleaning-swedish-phenomenon-gains-steam-america. Since reading Marie Kondo I have felt the pull to pare down and organize our belongings while guided by the thought of, “I can’t take it with me” because truly, I can’t! I never really think about the things that I let go of if they are truly trash. I do think about things that I donate in a positive light, hoping it made a difference for the Habitat Restore, Humane League, etc.

    • Anne says:

      Our family switched to gift bags and tissue paper years ago, and we love it! Everything gets reused for years and still looks good, it is easy to store because they fold down flat, and it is SO much quicker than wrapping everything!

  59. Maria says:

    My fav post so far! Sooooo happy you cleaned out the barn!

  60. Tango says:

    Our rule was at least two things out for everything in. Didn’t have to be the same category. Then we had two girls and that rule went on hiatus. As they are now teens, it’s time for the rule to come back! Maybe three things out! 🙂 I also keep the large Amazon boxes and fill them with stuff to donate thru Green Drop who offers pickup and donates proceeds to charity I select. They send me a reminder every 4-6 weeks and I make sure I have at least one box to donate.

  61. Jane says:

    I like how you touched on the concept of the burden that keeping things with others in mind can create. Perhaps to add to this, it would be prudent to ask yourself the real reason you want to keep it with the intention of it becoming a heirloom or keepsake for others. I think that sometimes this reason can act as a disguise and/or excuse to pacify the giver but in actual fact cause anxiety or feelings of guilt for the receiver when they do not want to keep the item. For example . Keeping a whole wedding dress Vs. A part of it (like the veil).

  62. Frugal living doesn’t mean skimping on what’s valuable. Instead, it’s a way to maximize value in your life. Although, as you point out, determining value is the hard part. I like your approach of looking at things from a sentimental or practical standpoint. Generally, practicality easier to determine value… the sentimental side is the tough part. Either way, thanks for your thoughts on balancing minimalism with frugality 🙂 It’s a great journey trying to find the balance.

  63. Laronda says:

    Oh, what a timely and helpful article! I have struggled with this issue my entire life. For years it felt like every time I made considerable progress, something happened to throw us off kilter–new baby, new stage of toddler/kid-hood. I feel like we might finally have turned a corner now that our youngest turned 5–partly because there are just too many children with too much stuff and everyone’s old enough to understand that, and partly because our kids (5, 9, and 12) have grown up with periodic purges and now have the habit down pat. They know exactly where the donate box is and that it needs to be regularly filled. It also helps that they know which neighbors/friends much of their outgrown clothing and toys are going to–and which ones gifted them to us in the first place. I am also learning to be more gentle with myself in the process. My kids have a very stable, predictable existence, but I grew up a military brat never knowing when or where we would move or what beloved possessions would be lost or broken that particular trek. Plus, my parents always kept everything, so clearly there’s some genetic influence there, too! So I really wasn’t ready to let things go for a long time–things like the boxes my dishes fit into perfectly for each and every move as an adult. We were in our home 10 years before I could let those boxes go. Now, though, from practice, from experiencing a more stable lifestyle, and from wanting to teach my children how to keep possessions in their proper place, I’m finally getting there. And I’m so happy. We still have a bit too much in our house (we all create art, are big readers, kids all play sports/dance–minimalists we will never be), but we have some breathing room. And we’ve talked repeatedly about how good that space feels and how important it is to remember that most things can be replaced, and that we need to trust in God/the universe/our community to help us out if we do find ourselves in need, just as we help others. Now to convince my parents of this as I am dreading that clean-out. But I know I have three capable assistants when the time comes!

  64. Katie Camel says:

    My grandparents all survived the Great Depression, so many of those frugal hacks were passed down to me. Sometimes I wonder if I have a bit of a scarcity mindset as well. I’ve been weeding out a lot lately as I’m trying to embrace minimalism more and more, but it can be hard to let go of sentimental items. I FINALLY donated some of my favorite clothing from my teenage years last year. I figured it was time to let the tangible items of my memories go. And I’ve been discouraging everyone from giving me any gifts. I just don’t want them because I know I’ll eventually have to get rid of them.

    After discovering the Buy Nothing Project through your blog, I had to learn to decide what’s really worth accepting because it became too time consuming to coordinate pickups. I was accepting gifts for myself, family, and friends. My house was filling up with bags of clothes for friends’ kids, Tupperware for my sister-in-law, etc. Now I only accept what I can reasonably fit into my house and schedule, and I only accept things for myself if they’re things I would actually buy, not just sort of like because they’re free.

    But, yes, I’m right there with you on finding the balance between minimalism and frugality because I hate throwing away things I might need ten years from now. However, I am a keeper of sheets too. The only sheets I finally gave away went to an animal rescue.

  65. Kara says:

    I SO feel you on the sadness of dealing with strangers’ lives that they left on your property. We rented two dumpsters- one for the non-repurposable portion of a tear-down house, and one for four and a half tons of broken furniture, mouldy clothing, cds, bank statements and water bills, school pictures and knickknacks and broken dishes and cans of food 10 years out of date… It burned my soul to handle all that dusty mildewy mouse poopy stuff, some of which could have been useful to someone, some of which should never have been made. The only, only salvageable thing was a 4t skirt with only a tear, and I kept it even though my daughter was 8 months old and it came out of that disgusting shed, just so I didn’t have to throw away every single thing. I was sad and angry that someone bought all this, twice as much stuff as I ever owned since I was born, and then left it to rot (and in some cases smolder) on this beautiful land. I understand. They got evicted. They got elderly. They had a crisis and just couldn’t cope. But we are running out of raw materials on this Earth, and if my children grow up to a world where they go without because there’s nothing left to be had, it’ll be partly because of spectacular waste like that. I had to whisper continuously through my dust mask that it is my moral obligation to get all this dirty carpet off the ground, so the grass can grow again. It is my moral obligation not to spin the wheels of the stuff-generation machine any faster than absolutely necessary, and never cause a mess like that.

  66. Cindy Brick says:

    Huh — and I thought we had to spend a lot for a dumpster. Our Colorado price: $543. It was about the size of yours.

    But doesn’t it feel wonderful when that space is clear! I wasn’t even that upset when all this stuff went out.

  67. BB says:

    What an awesome article AND comments! Very learning-worthy. I started becoming more minimalist about a dozen years ago, and have been purging ever since. I’ve minimalized my wardrobe and shoes, only wear a few earrings and my wedding band, don’t wear makeup anymore, and I’m often weeding out some area or another in the house. One thing I want to do is weed through our photos, as well as the several boxes of photos also inherited from hubby’s parents, identify people and where the photos were taken (if possible), save the best ones and make the photos digital so I can have the digital books made for family members to see their family past, and have them for memory books.
    We’ve helped hubby’s mom go get stuff from her parents house (who had gone through the Depression years) when both her parents were gone in the mid-80’s, and the amount of stuff in that house made me NEVER want to burden our kids with that as we get older. Then we cleared out hubby’s parents house after both his parents were gone (in the last 4 to 2 years), and same scenario, different decade, and that re-cemented that thought of not burdening our kids with all that ‘stuff’. I look at stuff in our possession and wonder ‘why do we have this stuff, it isn’t even used nor looked at since we moved here in 2011 and even before?’ Sad case of ‘in case we need it’ or someone might want to use this if they go to _______ (beach, skiing, whatever). So not worth it. Give it away now when it is in its most usable, clean, not moldy nor mildewy condition and before some new gimmick comes out that will make any of this kind of item a ‘not wanted by anyone’ kind of item. Purge, baby, purge!! seems to be my mantra these days.

  68. Kellie Flower says:

    I LOVE this post!! The after photos make my heart sing with joy!! Oh the beautiful, uncluttered space! This comes at a great time as we’re currently searching for a home of our own. We can only afford a small apartment, so it’s going to have little space for storage, and that’s the way we want it too. Having travelled a lot and lived overseas a few times, we’ve had to downsize various times and start from scratch sometimes too. We’re down to very minimal ‘stuff’ now and sometimes that even seems too much. We know our most precious things (mainly my husband’s guitars, my hard drives with our photos on them, and a few small boxes of trinkets and Christmas decorations we’ve gathered on our travels). Just recently we were thinking we may move back overseas or at least to another far away state, and we downsized some more…especially after learning how much it would have cost us to send the items to our new country/state. Since then, we’ve decided to stay in our hometown after all but we’re still glad for the lesser items we have (especially when looking at 3 story walk ups…imagine having to lug box after box of STUFF all the way up!).

    There are a few situations I’d like to share. My paternal grandparents were like many other readers’ grandparents, from the depression era and they are, now that I look back, such role models for me. They were ultra-frugal, but also house proud and tidy and minimal. Just like me. They shopped very frugally and were careful with what they bought, but they also were not afraid to renovate or change their home for comfort and safety. I love all that. My Dad was also a tidy person (with that upbringing) but my mother is more on the hoarder side of things and I remember him getting fed up with the stuff every now and again, maybe every few months, and doing a massive clear out! I find myself doing exactly the same now as he did! Dad passed in 2012, and about 6 months after that we went overseas to live for about 4-5 years. When we came back….there were rooms at Mum’s house just full of stuff that had started to be piled up in there since Dad died starting with his medical items, walking stick, unused bandages…all that time….we moved in with Mum then and spent AGES getting through everything to get it all under control. Mum had at some point bagged up some of Dad’s old clothes, clothes that he was so particular about, so careful to fold and keep neat and tidy, and she’d thrown them into the garage. She’s not sentimental, and I believe a lot of her hoarding comes from laziness rather than anything else. In the years they sat there, the cat had gone in and slept on some, peed on some…critters had gotten into them. It was so sad to see them all ruined and having to be binned…instead of someone less fortunate being able to use them. That was fairly heartbreaking.

    As I mentioned, we’re viewing apartments to buy at the moment and one of the first ones we looked at belonged to an elderly lady who we were told by the agent, had had to be moved into aged care. Walking into her home, which she obviously loved and cared for, was sad. I wondered if she had put her reading classes down on the side table that morning and gone out for shopping and fallen or something…because everything was sitting as I imagined she left it, ready to come back to that afternoon. And now we were walking in and looking at her old home, full of her old things…that she couldn’t get to anymore or maybe she was so ill she couldn’t even remember them. I found that tremendously sad. That she had no one coming to take her precious items away. And that’s how we all end up. Some of course will have family to take care of those things, but then, what a burden that is. We don’t have children, and one day, I or my husband will end up the lone person with no one left to go through our things, and we’ll make damn sure there are very few things!

    On a more practical, upbeat note, we take photos of the stuff we discard. We weren’t always minimalist. I used to collect shot glasses from around the world (!!!!!) and at some point we realized they were a heavy, heavy anchor and took up so much space, so we took a photo of each and every one before donating them. We do that with anything sentimental that we decide not to keep, and that way we can always look back at those photos for the memories.

  69. Heidi Louise says:

    A friend described her way of deciding how many of a “thing” to keep: Decide how many you will need for the rest of your life. Then discard the rest. So she had six white shirt buttons to keep, not a hundred in a big jar. (Seriously, they don’t come off and get lost that often). Maybe two Metamucil bottles are enough. Pick four food storage containers, and don’t use the cracked ones to save the good ones. Use the good ones now.

  70. I’ve veered toward minimalism as well as frugality over the years, primarily because I think I tend to be happier with fewer things. In regards to the “what if I need it?” syndrome, I think Mr. 1500’s principle of planning for the most likely scenario, not the least likely, applies here. It’s not worth saving something for that 1 in a 100 what if scenario. Looked into the aggregate, the vast majority of those situations will never actually happen, and it doesn’t make sense to be weighed down with something that has only a tiny chance of being useful. And when that one in a 100 or smaller chance does arise, there almost always is a workaround or a low cost alternative. It’s the same principle as “I haul big loads once per year so I need a giant truck.” Nope, you need one once per year. In this way, I don’t think frugality and minimalism are in conflict at all. I do think getting the dumpster was a smart move. Take advantage of the time and situation and get it done. I did my own KonMari experiment recently and got rid of a ton of stuff. I can’t think of a single thing I’ve missed so far, other than a tiny scoop I’d saved for my BCAA drink (the less expensive one I found has large, unwieldy ones and I wish I’d saved the smaller one). But that’s only been an inconvenience, and us frugal folk don’t worry about the occasional inconvenience haha.

  71. Maria Keith says:

    Our daughter is an only child. When she was younger I made most of her clothes. When she outgrew anything it was passed down to her two younger cousins. Years later we found out that they would be anxious for her to pass down particular outfits that they really liked and wanted as soon as possible. For other things I have always kept a donation bag that goes as soon as it is full. I got a lot of my stainless and Corningware at thrift stores. I’m

  72. Mark Moore says:

    As I’m approaching retirement, the most useful winnowing question I’ve found is – does this thing/stuff belong to this season of my life?

  73. Aron Vesper says:

    Great article! Minimalism is also a great way to establish a path to financial Independence. When we become less reliant on “stuff” we have more money to save/invest. And with less “stuff” we have more time to spend with others. At the end of the day, it’s not the the possessions we have, but the relationships we built that matter.

  74. Mary L. says:

    If you have ever had to clean up and dispose of the ‘possessions’ of a hoarder, you might not become a minimalist, but you damn sure will stop keeping useless stuff. I had to clean out the house of my deceased half-sister. She had let things like the appliances and structure of the house go completely to pot. But she spent a fairly decent inheritance on ‘stuff’ and duplicates and triplicate of the stuff. She was also a compulsive smoker and gambler. Some was somewhat valuable (collectibles) shoes and clothes still in boxes and wrappers, etc. Others were useless junk bought on buying sprees. I donated at least 50 construction bags full of clothes and less valuable collectibles. I am going to sell some of the more valuable things and keep a few. I found a home for her family photos and records (I only met her once and didn’t know the people in the photos) with a cousin of hers. He paid me to ship them to him. I donated lots of old furniture to Habitat Restore. I know she was mentally ill and I try to have a semblance of compassion for her but geese I am ticked at having to do all this work and pay for stuff she should have been paying for like house maintenance and her own cremation. At this time, I have been fighting a battle with Chronic Kidney Disease and now with ESRD, so it has definitely taken a toll on me.

  75. Laura says:

    Perversely, there’s another side to “saving stuff” – DH is a pop culture collector, and has run across tchotchkes, magazines, books, records, games, etc. from Long Ago that could be sold for top dollar to other collectors. It depends on the condition and the item’s popularity, plus with the internet it’s harder to do (because more people do it) but he’s taken garage sale items and sold them for triple digits. He paid for several of our vacations this way.

    The real problem in saving stuff is that you don’t know what things are the ones you’ll actually want or need someday (or which will become valuable), and which are the ones that should be junked. I’ve given away outfits that weren’t worn for years, only to need that very outfit a month later. Since I was raised in a very poor family where anything lost or broken could not be replaced, it’s hard for me to let go of anything passably useable.

  76. Wow, I’ve had a hard time articulating that tension between saving all the take-out tupperware and wanting to be intentional with my life/space. You nailed it, and I think there are some really practical tips in here to help me find just the right take-out tupperware ratio 😉

  77. Meredith says:

    This is such a beautifully written piece about balance. So often when this topic is dealt with, it feels like you must make a choice between two poles, but as you point out there really is a middle ground.

    There are some really good lessons in here about guilt too. So often, we hang on to things we’re not using because of the guilt we feel about being wasteful. Rather than burdening ourselves with the past reminders of our over-consumption, we really should be channeling those feelings into accumulating less stuff in the future.

    I also totally resonate with the idea of not leaving a big pile of stuff for other people to deal with when you die/move out and leave it in a barn… My grandmother passed away recently and my mom and aunt are going through her things right now. My grandmother was an original frugal-minimalist type; possibly due to the fact that she and my grandfather moved constantly (they lived in and flipped 16 different houses in the same town by the time my mom graduated high school), and possibly due to their experiences cleaning out their deceased siblings’ homes (their older siblings were all children-of-the-depression-hoarder-types). In my lifetime they downsized houses 4 times; each time they sorted and purged their stuff down to the bare minimum. They also practiced the “if you’re not using it give it away to someone who will appreciate it,” which is how I ended up with two of my most cherished Christmas gifts ever (her pearl earrings, and the silver plate flatware from their wedding registry that I have loved since I was a child).

    Even with all of that giving-away, downsizing, and purging, going through their remaining things is overwhelming. There are dozens of decisions to be made about things that are both sentimental and valuable (e.g. of the 2 children and 6 grandchildren, how do we divvy up the diamond necklaces, sterling flatware, and her hand-made quilts? Who should be the steward of the original family photos and special documents? etc., etc., etc.). I can’t imagine the decision fatigue we’d all be dealing with if there were a lot of non-valuables in the mix. It really is such a gift to only have to go through the important stuff.

  78. “Hate-use it”

    This phrase is entering my lingo, what a perfect description!

    Similar to how you said Kidwoods art is about creating it, I once read that gifts are about the giving and receiving…both benefiting the giver. Receive openly and gracefully and then let it go!

  79. Ani says:

    This is all so true. I remember when local farmers who had lived through the depression died and the company hired to deal with the estate had to weed through bags in the barn labeled “old underwear” and “old socks”. There’s frugal and then there’s when it descends into hoarding. For them, there was always the fear that maybe hard times would return again.

    I too try to keep a balance between frugality and minimalism. I have seen far too many people who can’t part with anything be controlled by their “stuff”. And yes, the inability to discard outgrown kids clothing or any “art” they created will soon lead to a house filled to the rafters. Glad you’ve been able to find a balance and keep the stuff you treasure and only representative art-work. You will be overwhelmed once they start school so this is good.

  80. Kathleen says:

    As a mom of one girl who would like to have more children, I would love to hear what people do about keeping clothes for possible future kiddos. This is the area in which I struggle the most with the frugality vs minimalism clash. The frugal part of me wants to save the clothes I liked in case we have another girl, while the minimalist in me wants to only save cherished keepsakes and maybe items that could work for a boy or girl. I’ve put this decision off a bit by giving all of the clothes (except any cherished keepsakes) to my SIL who just had a new baby, but she’s already given back the ones that don’t fit and now I struggle with the decision to give them away for good or save them for a potential next kid. All of the clothes were hand me down or purchased by grandparents, so I can rationalize that if a second or third kid comes we can acquire clothing at low cost, but it’s still hard to part with! Any tips?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a tough one. I did save everything, but I got pregnant with my second when my first was only 18 months old, so it didn’t feel like that long to store the stuff (and we’re lucky to have a basement to hold it all). For me, I found it so easy to have the clothes already on hand and sorted into bins by size for my second. More than just the money saved, it saved me a lot of stress since it was just one more thing I didn’t have to do (find more hand-me-down/used clothes).

  81. Julie says:

    I gave away a ton of baby stuff a few years ago. One of the recipients grabs great-condition free baby stuff that she gives to needy moms when she finds them.

    Two months later, she sent me a 30-second video of a happy, happy baby bouncing in the exersaucer I’d given her.

    I think of that baby when I give away stuff I like but don’t really need. It won’t be trashed, it’s going to change the life of someone who can use it.

  82. Living with abundance is not having a lot of things, it is being happy with what you have. In my opinion the best way to live is to keep a simple life where you focus on the things that really matter (friends, family, freedom, etc.) instead of accumulating objects.

  83. Holly says:

    The barn looks fantastic! What a beast of a job.

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