My Family Had Way Too Much Stuff. Here's How Becoming Minimalists Changed Our Lives.

"Once we got rolling, it became intoxicating. After we finished a room, I would gaze at the pile of junk and shake my head. Why hadn’t we done this years before?"
The author's kids read a book together.
The author's kids read a book together.
Courtesy of Christina Crawford

Until recently, my family’s house was overflowing with stuff and we always had a packed schedule. We spent our days wading through all our clutter and racing from one activity to the next. I was constantly overwhelmed and starting to feel suffocated.

Then COVID burst onto the scene and everything came to a screeching halt.

The day the world shut down served as a line of demarcation for my family. We were forced to stop and when we did, we decided to take inventory and reprioritize life as we knew it. The pandemic brought tragedy, division and destruction for so many people, but also provided a catalyst for an epiphany for our family. All of the chaos and uncertainty gave me clarity to see we needed to simplify and rid our home and lives of the things that were weighing us down.

It was time to make some serious changes.

We decided the best way to tackle all of the superfluous things and events in our lives was to adopt a minimalist way of thinking and living. Minimalism puts an emphasis on function and purpose and involves eliminating everything that isn’t necessary until only the basics remain.

We started with our house.

We owned a monstrous amount of (mostly broken) toys thanks to my, ahem, spirited middle child who has a fascination with pulling things apart to see what’s inside. I realized the kids weren’t playing with (or appreciating) most of the toys we owned, probably because there were just so many of them, and we were constantly adding more. So, with the kids’ help, we bagged up the bulk of them.

Inspired by our toy purge, I started on the rest of the house.

At first it was hard to assign a label of “essential” or “nonessential” to everything we’d collected over the years. But once we got rolling, it became intoxicating. I chucked out or, when possible, donated useless or underused items, like a zucchini spiralizer that, despite my best intentions, sat idle in a drawer. The deeper we dove in, the easier it became. The more we identified what truly mattered, the clearer it became what didn’t. After we finished a room, I would gaze at the pile of — for lack of a better word — junk and shake my head. Why hadn’t we done this years before?

“The deeper we dove in, the easier it became. The more we identified what truly mattered, the clearer it became what didn’t.”

The closets were next. Seeing all the clothes I hadn’t worn in a decade taking up valuable space was maddening. It was also enlightening because it forced me to let go of my preconceived notions about what my life as a working mom would look like and come to terms with my current reality. I am a work-from-home writer and mom who mostly rocks athleisure wear; I have no use for the pencil skirts and power suits I used to wear at my corporate job 10 years ago.

Minimalism is not just about owning a scarce number of possessions. Yes, it involves a “less is more” aesthetic, which we’ve embraced, but at its core, it’s really about spending money and energy on only what you truly value. For us, minimalism is living a lifestyle rooted in intentionality. This includes physical items, but also relationships, activities, and even time. I realized that decluttering our house was great, but there were other areas of our lives that needed purging as well.

Our family consists of three kids and two working parents, so our days were jam-packed with sports, extracurriculars and school events. We needed to pare our schedules down to only the activities we truly found fun and fulfilling. Each kid chose their two favorites and we cut out all the rest. This allowed them to focus on what they enjoy the most and, it turned out, they felt relieved to not be spread so thin.

I took some serious stock of how I was spending my own time. Previously, I subscribed to the notion that being a “good mom” meant being highly involved in the PTA. Truthfully, the drama and politics were exhausting to me and my lack of craftiness made me feel like a failure, so I decided to skip the sign-up this year and I’m so glad I did. I’m still involved with my kids’ school, just in new ways that feel more productive.

I also realized some of my relationships were unhealthy and decided to work on some and to end one that was irreparably dysfunctional. It took our family’s new minimalism to make me realize that there was nothing good left in this friendship ― only toxicity ― and it was time to set us both free.

The author's husband's entire wardrobe after their family's move to minimalism.
The author's husband's entire wardrobe after their family's move to minimalism.
Courtesy of Christina Crawford

I hope that our kids learn some important life lessons from our family’s reprioritization. I want them to understand that just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean that you should buy it. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to. I hope they view happiness as an internalized condition instead of something that can be purchased or earned.

Advertisers work hard to sell us a version of the American dream that would have us believe that we constantly need to buy new things to be happy. This consumerism so many of us have bought into seems to be rooted in our natural human desire to always want more and to ensure that we’re keeping up with whatever our personal version of Joneses is. But what if we left the rat race and gave a giant middle finger to the societal pressure that’s been ingrained in us to keep amassing more stuff?

Living untethered from so many material possessions is mentally freeing and it saves money, energy and time. Plus, donating all our underused household items, outgrown kids’ clothes and toys to a domestic violence shelter was hugely gratifying.

I realize this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Our houseguests are constantly perplexed when they show up for a playdate. “Uh, where is all the kid stuff?” they inquire suspiciously. I gesture to the three buckets filled with toys, puzzles, art supplies and books and they seem even more confused. “You have three kids, and that’s all you have?”

I was a little nervous about how the kids would react. Initially, they were horrified to see so many of their items boxed up to donate. But over time, the kids adapted surprisingly well to our new way of life. They really don’t seem to miss the endless toys. I think eventually everything normalizes and you just get used to what you have, whether that’s a toy room bursting at the seams or a limited number of toys.

Now the kids spend their time building forts, playing ball and chasing each other around the yard. They’re not deprived in any way; they still have plenty to play with and read. It’s my hope that they’ll not only appreciate what they have but they’ll also be inspired to get creative.

“Our adventure in minimalism has taught us a simple, yet invaluable and poignant lesson: People and quality time matter more than things and being busy just to be busy.”

Going forward, we’ll try to focus on experiences rather than gifts ― a special trip to the zoo, art classes or tickets to see a game of their favorite sports team. My 8-year-old loves Elton John (he’s an old soul), so, for his upcoming birthday, we are taking him to see the singer’s farewell tour.

Our adventure in minimalism has taught us a simple, yet invaluable and poignant lesson: People and quality time matter more than things and being busy just to be busy. All the extraneous stuff we’ve all accumulated over the years was mostly meaningless garbage, and so many of our activities weren’t bringing us joy, just stress.

I would love to tell you our lives are now completely stress and worry-free, but that’s not true. We still face many of the same challenges we did before, but the difference is now, we have an effective filtration system in place that allows us to weed out the proverbial and literal junk. What remains is what we deem indispensable; those people, activities and objects that we could not imagine living without. Because we’re less bogged down with clutter and anxiety, it’s easier to let go, pivot and experience our lives with purpose. When we removed everything that wasn’t important and kept only the essentials, we could concentrate on aligning our lives with our values and we stopped compromising to make room for the excess.

Christina Crawford is a writer, guacamole enthusiast, and a hypochondriac. She lives in Dallas with her husband and three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical), being utterly perplexed by technology, muttering obscenities, and trying to mitigate the damage to her sanity. Her words have appeared on Newsweek, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford.

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