How much stuff should you own? The answer is simpler than you think.

by Kristen on January 23, 2013 · 93 comments

in Simplicity

Owning the right amount of stuff (and the right amount of house or car) is something that probably occupies your mind if you’re trying to be more frugal or more conscious of your footprint on the planet.

Sometimes I feel conflicted about this when I read about minimalists or about those who have chosen to live in super small dwellings. Do I own too much stuff? Is my house too big? Is my car too big? Do I have too many kitchen items?

But the other day, something occurred to me.

The right amount of stuff = the amount you can fully and regularly use.

Yes. That feels just perfect.

This principle prevents living in excess but it’s still flexible enough to allow for the many and varied situations each of us lives in.

Trying to adhere to some random minimalist law is sort of silly, after all. Not everyone can live well with 100 belongings, you know? On the other hand, none of us really need to own eleventy billion items either.

So, somewhere in the middle is where most of us will end up. And thinking about your capacity to fully use your stuff will help you find the right place in the middle.

I don’t have a tiny house, but I don’t have anything approaching a mansion either. I think it’s just the right size, because our family uses pretty much every square foot of the house every day. There’s not a room that is untouched.

I know I own the right number of dishes because at the end of the day, almost all of them have been used.

I know I own the right number of pots and pans and Pyrex because none of them ever sit in the cabinet long enough to collect dust.

I know I own the right amount of clothing when everything has been worn over the course of a season (if I reach the end of a season without wearing something, I usually get rid of it.)

I know my kids own the right amount of clothing when their drawers get a little bit empty if I put off laundry for a while (if you can go for days on end without doing laundry, you’re probably not fully and regularly using the clothes you bought for your kids.)

This thought can be applied to all sorts of things.

Your yard is probably the right size for you if you can use the whole thing.

Your car is the right size if it’s full most of the time (single people who commute in Hummers might not be in the right size car. ;))

Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to have a full-blown case of lifestyle analysis if you have an empty cabinet or a piece of clothing you forget to wear one year.

But if you’re trying to find that sweet spot on the owning-stuff spectrum, just ask yourself how much you can really use. I think that question can help you to avoid feeling guilty about what you own and use and also will assist you in knowing what you might want to get rid of.

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How do you decide how much stuff is right for you?

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Joshua’s 365 post: What happens when I have a little too much fun with editing software?

Leave a Comment

{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephanie Lynn Stevens January 23, 2013 at 7:41 am

This is so good. I struggled for years with clutter and the curse of “too much.” Then my family had to walk away from our home and nearly al, our possessions because of hidden toxic mold. Starting from scratch has given me a much more realistic view of what we really need…and it has been surprisingly freeing!

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2 Cheryl S. January 23, 2013 at 11:11 am

I really appreciate you posting this comment. I have read several articles about people who have lost things or everything unexpectedly and how freeing although initially shocking and sad it ends up being. This fact has been the single biggest motivator in my life for downsizing…

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3 Becca @ Live Simple Natural January 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I was just going to post a regular comment then read yours and my husband and I were nearly in the same situation as you!
We had to walk away from our home in September and we chose to move across the country to be closer to my parents. We had to get rid of everything except what we could fit in our Corolla with our 2 kids, dog and cat.
It was so hard to let go of everything, but it REALLY makes you realize just exactly what is important in life, and re-evaluate what you really NEED to be content and frees you up that much more. Blessings to you, Stephanie!

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4 Karen January 23, 2013 at 3:22 pm

So true! My apartment was gutted by fire two years ago — it was hard losing photos and crafts from my grandmothers which could not be replaced, but honestly, it was quite a freeing experience after I got over the shock. I was living with too much stuff and would never have de-cluttered to that extent, but in hindsight it wasn’t the disaster I thought it would be. Now I have much less and it’s way easier to keep clean.

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5 Elizabeth January 23, 2013 at 8:03 am

We live in a house that’s too big for us. There is unused space inside and out. We don’t own in but someone in the family does so we’re here a while. We have very few things stored away because I feel those things (unless they hold important memories or have a definite future use) could be used better by someone else. The kids donate to our church rummage sale things (clothes, toys) that aren’t used-i never make them part with more than a few things at a time. I don’t buy everything I want for my kitchen or the house in general because I couldn’t possibly use everything. I think it’s about finding a balance that works for you.

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6 Renee CA January 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm

We also live in a too big house. I have two bedrooms as guest rooms and just close the doors and pretend they don’t exist until guests are coming. I admit I’m pretty happy to have them then. If you have unused rooms, clean them well and close the door. Instant “smaller house”!!

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7 Sarah January 23, 2013 at 8:10 am

Kristen, thank you so much for posting this today! I have been praying a lot about some life changes and believe God directed me to it this morning….I usually don’t read your blog until Friday! Such a perfect sentence to remember ‘The right amount of stuff = the amount you can fully and regularly use’. Just what i needed to hear today!

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8 RuthS January 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

Love this!

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9 WilliamB January 23, 2013 at 8:34 am

I like your rule of thumb but I think it’s missing one factor – known but irregular needs. For example, entertaining gear. I’m not a fancy entertainer but occasionally I have a very large party or a dozen houseguests. I want every guest to have a wine glass and not a plastic cup, 1-2 blankets for each sleeping surface, and other such items.

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10 Kristen January 23, 2013 at 9:59 am

I did think about that, but opted not to explore that in this post. My home isn’t nearly large enough to house a dozen houseguests or to host a large party, so I don’t need to own much entertaining stuff. But if yours is and you know you’ll keep on doing that in the future, then owning your party/houseguest supplies is wise, I think.

Seasonal items are another thing I thought about…for instance, I own a pair of skis, and it’s not like I use those every week. And of course, we don’t use Christmas stuff every week, but as long as we use and enjoy it every Christmas, I think it’s fine to own. If I had too much Christmas stuff to really enjoy and use every year, though, I’d think I owned too much.

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11 Kris January 23, 2013 at 10:21 am

I agree with both WilliamB & Lili. I also have found that there are seasons in life in which we (literally!) shelve some items but hopefully we will be able to reintroduce them at a later point–for instance, my flute and my husband’s art supplies. Currently we don’t have time to pursue old interests but we may have more time later.

That being said, I find myself several times a year sending on items which are no longer of use to us, especially kid’s clothing which has been outgrown. This may seem obvious to do, but I know of at least 2 families who held on for years to their children’s clothing only to find they had a mess on their hands. My own rule of thumb is … if it’s something I definitely am not going to use again, it needs to go out of my home! Pronto!

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12 Stephanie January 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

My girls are two years apart and I try to get rid of stuff soon after the youngest is finished with it- I have been ill and got over a year behind. It was a giant mess that took over the guest room and took a solid few months (15 minutes at a time) to deal with. I still have a bag of baby items to deal with and all the current toddler stuff but instead of 15 bags of clothes plus gear without new homes I just have two bags and a baby bathtub. Everything else is gone or waiting to be picked up by friends.

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13 Lili@creativesavv January 23, 2013 at 8:47 am

My two rules of thumb are these, 1)if I’m spending too much of my time “maintaining” my stuff (dusting, it, moving it around, searching through it, organizing it), then I’m not truly enjoying those belongings, and there’s likely too much stuff. And 2) if my belongings are causing me to not be able to do something with the space I have (like get the car in the garage), then there’s too much stuff.

But I’m far from a minimalist. Stuff serves a purpose for us. It makes us comfortable, serves as tools, gives us beauty and enjoyment, and just makes life more pleasurable in general.

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14 Ellen January 23, 2013 at 9:13 am

I really like this too – if your stuff is not allowing you to use something for its intended purposes – you can really apply that principle to so much of your life. That’s a great reminder to have.

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15 ks January 23, 2013 at 9:07 am

Maybe we don’t own enough stuff. Some of our closets are half empty.

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16 Elizabeth January 23, 2013 at 9:59 am

I sympathize. Except for the Christmas decorations and empty canning jars our entire unfinished basement is empty. I have no idea what we would put down there.

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17 Kristen January 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

Oh goodness, I’m not saying you should get more stuff to fill up empty spaces in your home. =P

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18 Elizabeth January 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm

I’m definitely happy with my empty basement. Having things I don’t use just collecting dust isn’t something I would want. I’m sure that as my kids grow and get into activities we will accumulate more things but that is the natural cycle of things I think. We will also likely get rid of things that we no longer need…

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19 WilliamB January 23, 2013 at 10:11 am

“Nothing” is a fine answer. Maybe rather than too little stuff, you have too much closet and basement. Try this for a test: is your perceived lack of stuff holding you back? If not, then stay strong and let those spaces be empty.

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20 Elaine in Ark January 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I have a partially empty kitchen cupboard, and I’m thrilled! Can’t wait to purge the rest of my stuff, and keep what I actually use & love.

It’s my dream to have empty-ish spaces. Much more calming.

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21 newbiefrugalgal January 23, 2013 at 9:11 am

What a timely post, was only thinking about an impending overseas move and what needs to be packed and thinking about clothes for my children. At the moment they have way too much stuff and I need to get that level better.
I have overflowing laundry basket and cupboards and drawers which can’t close. The shipping boxes are only getting what is essential.

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22 Sharon January 23, 2013 at 9:19 am

We use most every room in our home too, and I.love.it. I know eventually it will be too big for us as the kids leave, but for now it’s just right.

I usually purge stuff several times a year, most recently was a kitchen purge which makes it so much easier to find things. If something was not used that year, I re-evaluate the need.

Great post Kristen!

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23 Jo@simplybeingmum January 23, 2013 at 9:23 am

This has been a question I’ve been asking myself since New Year. In fact I was rather hard on myself in my post Drowning In Stuff a couple of weeks back. Because I’m not…drowning. What I have found is that my tolerance level to ‘stuff’ has reduced. When I first started reading blogs 4 years ago, I found 2 areas interested me the most. Minimalism and frugalism (is that even a word? haha!). I thought I was an aspiring minimalist – but have discovered I’m not, I own 36 spices for goodness sake. And that’s the point – I own 36, and use 36. So enough stuff for me is what I use. My kitchen cupboards are packed to the rafters with equipment, but whenever the Hubby empties them onto the kitchen floor (which he’s been known to do from time to time in frustration at not being able to put away the dishes to his liking ;-)) – there isn’t anything that isn’t current. Yet my wardrobe, now that’s minimal! Guess it shows where my priorities lie? Rather than a minimalist I’m just a simple uncomplicated gal.

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24 newbiefrugalgal January 23, 2013 at 11:11 am

I don’t know how your settings work and when clicking on links on your blog they open on the same page. (I don’t want to go off your page but always interested in others links) Can you change your settings to they open in a new window? (not a complaint just something that might help)

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25 Mairsydoats January 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm

On my pc, I conntrol-click to get the link in a new window. You can indeed control this yourself. :-)

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26 Kristen January 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Gosh, that’s weird. Whenever I make a link, I always make it the sort that’s supposed to open in a new window. But yes, like Mairsydoats said, if that’s not working for you, just do the control click thing.

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27 newbiefrugalgal January 25, 2013 at 9:34 am

thanks will do – just didn’t want you losing readers to other sites and not returning.
:)

28 Renee CA January 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Jo – you read my mind!

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29 Barbara O January 23, 2013 at 9:28 am

Great post, lots to think about! We only recently have an ‘extra’ bedroom in our house, but, surprise! it gets used fairly regularly for guests, music, grandchild (!!). I never had an ‘extra’ room and have done fine for 30 years, but now-well, no one sleeps there every night, but we still use every inch of our medium size house.
I thought about this subject a few years ago when my son got married and I hosted a large rehearsal dinner in my backyard. It was cheaper to purchase tablecloths, and I did, but to make them ‘worth owning’, I’ve made them very available to friends and acquaintances to use for their special functions. Although I don’t plan to own a lot of ‘extra’ stuff just to loan out, I have been pleased with this one item to be able to be a blessing to so many. They are used regularly, so I don’t feel that they’re excessive.
Purging is a good thing, as long as I don’t do it when I’m so frustrated that I’ll throw out the tart pan I use only on special occasions, only to disappoint my family when their ‘special’ desert isn’t available! Thoughtful and honest purging needs to be a routine around here!

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30 Joyce January 23, 2013 at 9:51 am

That’s my problem. “as long as I don’t do it when I’m so frustrated that I’ll throw out the tart pan I use only on special occasions, only to disappoint my family when their “˜special’ desert isn’t available!” I have done this with the purse I use for “dress up” and with some kitchen items. I must learn “thoughtful purging”.

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31 Melissa January 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I think you’ve come up with a good equation for stuff. I have too much right now and I am constantly getting rid of items but it seems like the process is so slow.

I’ve reached a similar guideline in my mind, I want enough stuff that I can properly take care of it all and still have time for the more important parts of life.

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32 AFS January 23, 2013 at 8:42 pm

me too:(

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33 Becky January 23, 2013 at 9:33 am

Great post Kristen!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot just recently, about how much stuff I need, about the emotional attachments that we have to ‘stuff’ and how to manage the stuff that we do have! I’m in the middle of a HUGE effort to remove stuff from my home (I joined a challenge to donate, sell or gift away 2013 things in 2013!), and am finding it inordinately liberating. It’s been interesting to see the areas that are easier (clothes) and then areas that we struggle with (books and paperwork!)

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34 fran January 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

true and concise– I’m working on it.

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35 Becky January 23, 2013 at 9:37 am

Great post Kristen!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot just recently; about how much stuff we have/need, about our emotional attachments to stuff, and about how to better streamline the things that we do have. In the middle of a major organizing of my home, and have even joined a challenge to donate, sell or gift 2013 items in the year 2013 (just for fun!!) I’m finding it inordinately liberating to let go of the things that we’ve held on to for so long, and it’s lovely to see our home slowly emerge from beneath all the things.

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36 Dawn January 23, 2013 at 10:12 am

We have 7 people in a fairly small house. It’s a constant challenge to maintain balance. 7 people=lots of stuff. Especially right now–we are in a deep freeze, and I’m drowning in 7 people’s worth of boots, coats, hats, mittens, scarves, socks, etc. etc.! I so understand what Jo@simplybeingmum says about her tolerance level to stuff changing. As time has gone on, I’ve had to learn to let go of what we don’t use just for sanity’s sake! And Lili@creativesavv–what she says about how much time our stuff takes up–I like that. It is so much easier to keep fewer things that you really like dusted and tidy than it is to try to keep up with lots of stuff everywhere. It frees up so much time that can be put to so much better use. Now to get back to purging the filing cabinet :)

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37 Ruthie January 23, 2013 at 10:16 am

This is excellent.

It is truly a breath of fresh air when you can look at a trendy idea and say “That is a compelling idea, but this is how I can apply it to my life,” instead of — “Oh I must follow everything that person did.”

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38 Kathy January 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

Great points. As a baker, though, what do you think about Bundt pans, springform pans and the like that are used very rarely? And my food processor, used very once in a while?

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39 Renee CA January 23, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Found I rarely used a food processor as well. Got a stick blender that has a small processor you can attach to it. I use it much more often.

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40 Kristen January 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Well, I do own a springform pan and a Bundt pan. I generally use them just a few times a year, but they are for much-anticipated birthday and Christmas treat foods, so I feel like they are worth the space they take up in my kitchen.

As far as the food processor goes, I’d consider how essential you feel it is for the tasks you do use it for. I don’t use mine every day or even every week, but I do like to have it for a few specific tasks. So, I keep it up in a slightly out of the way cabinet, whereas my Kitchen-Aid sits out on the counter at all times.

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41 Meagan Francis January 23, 2013 at 11:32 am

Love this! When we redid our kitchen, I heard a lot of “opinions” about our choice of open shelving. People insisted stuff on the shelves would get dusty and dirty. But I’m not keeping fine crystal up there (oh wait…I don’t *have any fine crystal!) It houses my collection of Pyrex bowls, some pretty Jadeite liquid measuring cups, stuff like that. And they get used almost every day! I’ve never had to worry about anything getting dirty.

My house is 2500 square feet which, when we bought it, seemed pretty modest for 7 people. But there are rooms in the house that almost never get used! It’s the layout, not the size, that’s the problem, in this case. Next time I’m looking for a house I’ll be much more concerned about how the rooms function than the pretty French doors.

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42 robbiekay January 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm

“Next time I’m looking for a house I’ll be much more concerned about how the rooms function than the pretty French doors.” Funny!

I think my complaint is similar to yours. I moved in to DH’s house when we married. It’s about 1500 sq. ft. and I feel we use only about half of that space. The problem is, the rooms in the house that we do use are so small–wish we could exchange some of that unused space for a larger kitchen, laundry room, baths. So I understand “It’s the layout, not the size” problem.

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43 Lori January 23, 2013 at 11:44 am

This is a great post. I’m bookmarking it because I’m sure I’ll want to read it again.

The biggest place I struggle with how much stuff to have is with toys for my kids. It seems like, after three kids, we just have TONS of toys and are always accumulating more: gifts, hand-me-downs from friends, etc.

My kids don’t really play with most of their toys, and the toy clutter drives me nuts. However, I’m always hesitant to get rid of them because 1) it invariably happens that as soon as I give away a toy, one of my kids immediately and desperately wants that toy, even if they hadn’t thought about it for a year (they have some sort of mom-gave-my-toy-away ESP, I think!), 2) their interests are always changing, and I hate to get rid of something (like a train set) that nobody is playing with when somebody might want to play with it in a few months, and 3) I sometimes host playgroups or small groups at my house, and it’s nice to have a lot of toys for kids to pick from.

Still, I hate the toy clutter, and figuring out the “right” amount of toys is one of those things I never seem able to do.

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44 Dawn January 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Periodically as my kids were growing up I would go through their toys– when they weren’t there, if possible. If you are particularly worried about whether they might miss something, do you have a place to put it away out of sight for a length of time where they wouldn’t find it? If after a bit they haven’t missed it, you might feel better about getting rid of it. (I’ve done that with their clothes on occasion, too.) Sometimes I would rotate toys, putting some away in the attic for a while. When we got them back out, it was as if they were new all over again. Sometimes they just had to deal with the fact that some things had to go for room’s sake and sanity’s sake. After the toys stage, it will be another, and then another. My kids are teenagers now, and we still have to work together to figure out what is good to keep and what is good to get rid of. I feel your pain!

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45 Ruth January 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Lori, two years ago we were in the exact place as you with the toys. A few weeks before Christmas we took a whole Saturday (time well spent) and brought all the toys into one room, let the kids choose 10 toys each, and then we decided what to sell or donate. The things that were left were thing we knew the kids liked and we weren’t comfortable with getting rid of (we had one still <1 at the time), so we filled about 3-4 totes with toys and games to rotate out every few months. To stay on top of things, we keep an eye on what never gets chosen to play with and get rid of those things as birthdays/Christmas bring more into the house. It has worked so well for us, and although the kids never seem to pick up their toys to our complete satisfaction, we've made it a lot easier and more manageable for them.

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46 Karen. January 23, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Someone suggested rotation to me when my son was little, and it’s worked well. In fact, several months ago, I put away the (relatively small) Duplo set “” it seemed like all the kids were doing with them were dumping them to make a racket. A week ago, I switched out wood blocks for Duplos and wow, what a few months did for my son’s imagination. He’s actually building stuff now. Rotation of quality items is very valuable.

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47 Julie January 31, 2013 at 7:32 pm

My motto is out with the old and in with the new! Every six months I participate in consignment sales to rid our house of unused items. My son has to choose a few items for each sale to get rid of. I don’t pressure him very much in the Spring sale but come Fall he has to really choose some “big” items to pass on because his birthday is a few days after Christmas and the boxes get full again! If it won’t close (his toy boxes/rubbermaid lol), something has to go!

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48 Misty March 4, 2013 at 8:59 am

http://www.thismamamatters.com

Lori, we were facing the same issue. We have 4 girls now and another on the way. At some point, family members give the same types of things over and again. How many dolls does one household need? A special one for each girl, sure, but a mountain of them? We went through (with the girls), ignored the fact that the littles will grow up to want them (they don’t, they want what their older sisters currently think is cool), sold or donated what we could. We then requested (which took getting used to…and still is from certain people) that people give ‘experiences’ or consumables to the girls instead. With a few exceptions, such as DVDs that are stored one way, or an outfit that replaces another they have, this has been successful. To combat the gifts they do still get, my husband and I have resorted to making sure for their birthdays and such, WE are the ones initiating the experience giving…with only minimal or small tokens, such as a favorite chocolate bar, a roll of fashion duct tape (crafts), or something similar. As soon as I realized that I was the one holding the sentimental thoughts to their belongings or holding on to them to pass them down, it was easier to filter. They really liked the idea of the items going to other little girls who maybe didn’t have anything and could use them even more if it was all they had. Good luck!

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49 Louis January 23, 2013 at 11:46 am

I’m the type that likes to prepare for the worst, in an emergency I’m the guy you want as a friend. I’m trying to find the right degree preparedness, I’m not so extreme that I own a gas generator while living in a condo, but I do probably have one too many maglites, and candles.

Any suggestions?

I like the rule of thumb, about use but can’t over one this one issue.

Also, a good exercise is to take the stuff you want to get rid of, and sell it on eBay. I’m in the process of doing this and I’ve sold roughly $5k worth of stuff (what I paid retail), for $545 after all eBay and PayPal fees.

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50 Alyssa January 23, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I love this post and reading through the comments! My husband and I both aspire to live simply, but how that looks is a little different for each of us, and a lot of the points in this post will be very helpful for me to hold in my mind the next time a disagreement comes up over our closet full of camping gear :)

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51 Gretchen January 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Here’s my debate: when I do realize we have too much, what is the best way to get rid of it without being wasteful (financially or by contributing to a landfill.) Case in point: My husband wants to get rid of 3 pairs of khakis which are in perfectly good shape, they fit fine, but he rarely wears them. It is not a space issue – he just figured he could spare them. That’s fine, but won’t we need to buy him some new khakis in the next few years? Wouldn’t it be better to just save these than to fork over $40 or so a year from now? Obviously we will stop and think before buying more clothes, but what about the “extras” we have right now?

My other challenge: avoiding the temptation to save things for Justin. Do you know him? Last name CASE?

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52 WilliamB January 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I know Mr. Case very well. He keeps all his stuff at my house. Up to and including several boxes of 8″ floppy disks. (I’m sure my roommate would nominate some of my stuff as belonging to Mr. Case as well.)

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53 Anne January 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm

I also know Mr. Case, and my dilemma is in the realm of hosting. If we host friends (either just for dinner or over the course of days) who have smaller children, shouldn’t I try to provide them with some basics like a couple of toys, a pack ‘n play, etc? When I’m a guest, I sure appreciate traveling as light as possible if hosts can provide these things! We live in Boston and city living has a way of limiting accumulations to a point, but if we do move, I’d like an extra room to be able to host guests (we do this several times a year through our church). Same idea with a car…living in a community with lots of families, if we had a a slightly bigger car, I could actually offer to carpool, and thus save time & money for others. So it’s a balance of stewardship–using blessings to be a blessing, I think, without overindulging for ourselves.

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54 Mikki January 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Last year I officially became an empty nester as my last child moved off to college. One of the first things that hit me was that I now had more house then I needed or wanted so I decided it was time to down size. Before I put my house on the market I thought it would be a good idea to go through my entire house and have a mini de-cluttering of my whole house. The idea being, if I got rid of the things I don’t really, want, need or use it would be less stuff for me to have to pack and move into a new home.

Over three months my “mini de-cluttering” turned into an epic purging. I EASILY threw out or gave away 70-75% of EVERYTHING I OWNED!!! I love the result! I never gave it a though before, but now that my house is pared down to just what I need and use I love the simplicity it’s brought to my life, and 10 months later I haven’t missed anything I’d purged.

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55 Marianne January 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I agree with Jo. Last year we were drowning in “stuff” our house is to big for us (but 2 kids just moved out and it was not to big when they lived here) so we had 3 garage sales and if it was not something we used/will use/one of the kids will take, then it got sold. We really purged a LOT. Felt good…but then again this year I am in a stock piling mood…I need to quit.send.help. Most of the stuff I am stock piling due to great prices (t-paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, dish detergent- all non food items) will go to my son when he gets married in May, this will give them a little stock pile so they can spend their money on other necessities. All the stuff we “kept” because they will be taking it will go in another garage sale if they find it is not something they will use or need. Less is more in my book. My mind cannot deal with “clutter” anymore.
With no kids at home anymore next year I will probably sell the bulk of my Christmas decorations, I sold all my Easter & Halloween decorations already.

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56 Sara January 23, 2013 at 1:54 pm

What a great post! We have moved twice in the last year–once from Las Vegas in a 3,000 sq ft home to a 1300 sq ft home in Baltimore and most recently into a 2500 sq ft home in San Antonio, TX. We had waaaaaayyyyy too much “stuff” for the home in Baltimore so we purged, and purged and purged and then stored the remaining items we didn’t have room for in Baltimore (we knew we’d be moving from there and would again use those things). However, now that we’re settled in a place where we know we’ll be for a while, we’re still realizing that we have too much stuff! Having those items packed away for a year meant that we got used to not needing/wanting them. Some of these items are sentimental things, but the stuff that isn’t is slowly finding new homes–craigslist, goodwill, and (only a small amount) trash. It feels great to be moving towards a simpler life, but we’re still far from where we want to be….one day at a time. =)

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57 Atsquared January 23, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I agree with you 100%! I don’t want to have things just for the sake of having them… I want to have them because I love and use them. I actually like the little scratches in my mixing bowls because it shows how many times they have been used. Earlier this year we moved from a really big house to a lovely moderate-sized one. One of the reasons was that the big one was just too big. There were rooms we never used! I’m so much happier in this house. :)

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58 Hope :) January 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm

This is such a timely question, since we’ve been going through a (wonderful!) decluttering phase lately. I tend to agree with your way of thinking — I want what I do own to be well-used and well-loved. In our tiny townhome, we haven’t the space for items that don’t fit that description! (Though I admit that we do have many items currently that DO fit that description in one way or another — hence the decluttering.)

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59 Linda Sand January 23, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Those few of us who live in recreational vehicles have an added measure. How much of my vehicle’s carrying capacity have I used? I am pleased to be able to say I am substantially under mine yet have discovered I have things not to bring with me next winter since I haven’t used them at all in my first three months on the road. Getting rid of those excess things will also improve my fuel mileage. Double bonus!

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60 Beth January 23, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Very very true, I am building a tiny house because with no husband, and no kids I have no need for a ‘ normal’ house with bedrooms etc. Most of my music students are taught at schools, so no need for space to teach them and my friends and family are seen outside home. I’m sure if any of the above changes ill sell the house, or use it for another purpose. But right now it’s right for me.

It’s easy to get caught up with the legalistic mindset, especially when we compare ourselves to others and the ‘ I’m not doing enough’ comes into mind! But there are no rules. I love Paul’s words ‘ everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial’ I know it’s out of context but I need to judge what’s right for me!!

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61 Sarah January 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Awesome. This is why I read your blog.

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62 Erin January 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Somebody, somewhere, once said, “Keep nothing in your home that you do not find either beautiful or useful.” I probably didn’t quote that word for word, but the idea is so consise and true. Some things I keep because they are useful, other things because they are useful. For example, I keep my set of stemware simply because it is beautiful (I only use it for Christmas and Thanksgiving). Same with the set of Blue Depression Glass that is packed away in my basement (waiting for a china cabinet). Then there are the things I use every day.

My kitchen is so small that I cannot afford to keep anything in there that is not useful! Recently I was at a Pampered Chef party and very tempted to buy a cookie scoop, but I decided not to because I felt it was a specialty item that would just take up space I don’t have!

I think that your “rule” of stuff is a good one, because it is flexible enough to apply differently to each person, and to each season of life. The key being, have as much as you regularly use. I really like this rule of thumb!

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63 Michele January 23, 2013 at 5:11 pm

This is such a great post. I have such a hard time with this! We live on a farm, so I feel like we need farm clothes, casual clothes, work clothes, church clothes and shoes! For all 4 seasons. For 6 people. That equals too many. Also… entertaining. We do entertain fairly often… but really… paper plates are fine. I need the most help with the clothes though… laundry is my nemsis!

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64 Emily January 23, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Love that philosophy! About house size – it’s really hard to live in a “tiny house” when you have a little boy who needs space to run. Yes, there is the great outdoors, but on rainy/cold days, what are you going to do?

I know our ancestors pulled it off somehow, but I think if you have the choice, make the best choice for your sanity! I would really love to live in something like 600 square feet, but we have to be realistic and consider the needs of the entire family.

Thanks for the neat thoughts! :)

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65 tereza crump aka mytreasuredcreations January 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm

This is a down to earth post. Thank you.

Most people who write about being frugal or a minimalist greatly exaggerate. I like how you put it simply: you use it you keep it. :)

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66 janknitz January 23, 2013 at 5:55 pm

We have plenty of clothing because we believe that it saves money, electricity and time to do laundry just one day a week. We do five big loads for four people: whites, lights, darks, towels, and jeans. It’s done, folded, and put away all in one day. It does take up most of one day, but it’s not constant work–a lot of things can be done in between.

I like not having to feel that laundry is a never-ending chore, day after day. Because we do big loads we save water and electricity. We remove things from the dryer sometimes still damp and let them finish air drying before putting them away if necessary. Everybody participates and has a job–sorting clothes, loading the washer and dryer, folding, and putting away. Even little ones can help. And we keep spray bottles of stain remover near the hampers, so stains are treated before they are put in the hampers.

I think the fact that our kids attend school and we work outside the home makes a difference in wardrobe, also. We probably need a little more variety to “keep up appearances” than your family. I rarely buy clothing for the kids–they are on the small side and the recipeints of hand me downs from family and friends. I’m not a big shopper for myself either. I wear things for as long as they last and look good–not a slave to fashion. I shop thrift stores and discount stores primarily. Kids outgrown clothes get passed on and if clothes are no longer wearable they become cleaning rags.

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67 robbiekay January 26, 2013 at 4:19 pm

That sounds like how I gauge how many clothes I need. I don’t want a lot of clothes, but I also don’t want to waste water and electricity doing small loads. So how do I know when I need to buy more undies, for example? When I find myself needing to do a load of laundry in order to have clean undies, but the load doesn’t fill up the washer. I remember another blogger mentioning that she only had something like four pairs of socks. I envied her minimalism, but seeing how I sometimes wear two pairs of socks in the summer and three in the winter, that wouldn’t work for me–I’d be having to wash socks every day or two! :)

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68 Canadian Budget Binder January 23, 2013 at 11:59 pm

When stuff sits we know that we have to ask ourselves, do we need it. If we haven’t used it in months we sell it or give it away. There’s no point collecting stuff for nothing. I often see people who have double garages filled to the top and they park their vehicles outside in the dead of winter. I often have to question do they really need all that stuff and why are they not using the garage as intended rather than a drop zone. It’s personal, but we hate crap around.. so it gets tossed. We don’t buy alot either, we are very simple people.

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69 Julia January 24, 2013 at 5:54 am

Good questions, interesting suggestions. Great advices can be found also from
Sandra Felton’s book and newsletters. To remind myself of these short moments when I can turn the wheel of everyday life cluttermess around,
to get encouragement and moments of smile. Too serious this cannot be, but sure it’s true that life quality gets to another level with those who don’t find stuff everywhere at their homes. Thanks for asking!

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70 Sarah January 24, 2013 at 9:14 am

How did I miss this?? Yesterday, I went through my closet and drawers and eliminated anything I hadn’t worn in over a year, did not make me sigh with happiness when I saw it, or did not make me completely comfortable when I put it on. I now have about 75% less clothing – and it still looks like I will be good without doing laundry for about two weeks. My goal for the month of January is to de-clutter my home. I’ve lived here for 7 years and the accumulation of stuff is embarrassing. Goodwill has no idea what is about to happen to them.

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71 Diane January 24, 2013 at 9:36 am

Such a timely post!
I just got married for the very first time. Husband is a widower and both of us have smallish and full-ish homes. We are house hunting because we need to move his mother in, plus his son is still at home and attending a local college. MIL is a recent widow and is in the early stages of dementia. She has not one, but two rather full houses. We know we need to purge, but where to begin?
I joke that if I knew I wouldn’t need something again it would be much easier to part with. Recently, we hosted 24 family members on less than a day’s notice. I was thrilled to be able to serve everyone a sit-down meal using my own tables, chairs, silverware, dishes, glassware and serving dishes. (I am so in your camp, William B!) Also, I have recently retired, but still sit on a couple of boards. How much of my working wardrobe will I need? So much easier to defer these decisions.
Our tentative plan is to find the right house and then fill it with only what we need. We will then host as many garage sales as it takes to make the rest go away. I’m excited and dreading it simultaneously. I think your “aha” statement is going to become my new mantra. Thanks, Kristen!

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72 SarahD January 24, 2013 at 10:46 am

I might add that limiting one’s possessions to the things that you can regularly use AND MAINTAIN is something to think about. We were reading chapter in a book geared for boys who are growing into manhood recently that it’s so much easier to obtain stuff ore create things than it is to maintain them, at least in our culture. That struck a chord with me too, not just my boys. So often we’d rather get something new because it’s easier than take care of, fix and maintain the things we already have. Which means we really should not have so many things that we can’t reasonably take care of them.

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73 Rachel January 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm

very true. That is what I am trying to do, get rid of things I do not need.. which I was doing great when I was pregnant with number two. .but once he came along, I lapsed :( Now he is in preschool, I am back rockin’ and rolling on getting rid of things and not being a dumb big spending and only using what I need. Same goes for kid clothes, and groceries and things for myself. I am doing what I can with my stockpile with couponing — but not overdoing it.What we will use withing six months to a year. That way my bills will get less and less and less. Kids clothes 2x a year, but only a few things. It is fun being smart about not constantly spending on things when you see a sale because sales happen often.

and now I enjoy saving that nickle and dime, it becomes a mental game for me, how much I can save each month. And I try to ‘out do’ myself each month too :) by doing that, I spend less and less on things.

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74 Kyle | Rather-Be-Shopping.com January 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm

The right amount is the amount you’ll actually use, love it! So true. I find that when you have more than you’ll use you don’t appreciate what you have. Instead you stockpile all this crap and your life gets cluttered with stuff you don’t appreciate.

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75 Sarah January 24, 2013 at 7:08 pm

How did I miss this?? Yesterday I went through my entire wardrobe. If I hadn’t worn it in a year, it didn’t make me melt with happiness when I saw it, or wasn’t completely comfortable when I put it on – it went bye-bye. I may have gotten rid of over 75% of my clothing. I still probably have two weeks worth of outfits, but my closet and dresser look fantastic! Goodwill was a little shocked when I pulled up this morning!

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76 Allotment Adventures With Jean January 24, 2013 at 7:43 pm

An interesting post. It makes absolute sense to me.

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77 Raleigh Accountant January 25, 2013 at 9:46 am

Great question. As a personal accountant, I deal with a variety of business owners who manage both small and big businesses. Often times, I’m asked “how can I save money?” and I tell them to cut out all expenditures, but defining an expenditure is different from person to person. So it’s really hard to judge…

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78 teresa January 26, 2013 at 11:37 am

I wonder if the fact that I am single makes it easier to keep control of clutter. Fewer distractions and no other people bringing in junk. I also moved around for my job when I first started and tried to keep things to a minimum. However, that made it difficult to set up house when I finally decided to settle. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy anything! It seemed to disturb friends and family. I rather enjoy a good clearing out, and sort of live in fear of having lots of stuff that I might lose track of. I kinda give myself ultimatums on keeping fabric and craft supplies that I think I am going to use sometime. I tell myself that I have until___ to use it or it goes! I am currently prepping for another clear out in February.

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79 robbiekay January 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm

As someone who didn’t get married until she was 38, I can say that yes, indeed, it is easier to control the clutter when you’re single! You get to make all the decisions–you don’t have to ask anybody else about throwing something out–if you want it out, out it goes! My husband brought a lot of Stuff to the marriage, but he was worth it.

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80 teresa January 27, 2013 at 8:32 am
81 Lauren January 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm

This is a great post! I just went through my kitchen last week and got rid of everything that hasn’t been used in awhile. It was quite rewarding! The other rooms in the house are next!

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82 Leah January 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Surprisingly our less than 1000 square foot, nine room house is way too big for just the two of us. I have two rooms I might not even set foot in weekly! Way too much room, but perfect for the family of three we hope to be. If it’s meant to be. We’re selling my car because we got tired of seeing one car always is the driveway. We’re using the money we get selling it to give my husband’s car a tune up and saving the rest.

Here in a couple weeks it’s decluttering week at the B household. (No way affiliated with William B. Although hubby is also a William B.) I don’t need three springform pans, a bazillion cookie sheets, and six muffin pans. And some of my canned goods are going to my local food pantry.

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83 Heidi of Operation Organization January 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm

What a great mantra! Totally agree. Would also add that one needs to consider the amount of space they actually have as well. Even if you think you would probably use a certain number of items, you can’t increase the physical space you have to stow/contain it. For example, a person with several hobbies, works from home, AND shares their space with several other people, may need to narrow down to a fewer items due to spacial restrictions (even if they might use it) :)

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84 Funny about Money January 26, 2013 at 11:28 pm

The books. They need to go…all five eight-foot-tall bookcases full of ‘em.

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85 eemusings January 27, 2013 at 12:38 am

This is brilliant! You would not believe how many dishes we go through in a day with just two people. At one stage we only had three spoons (and no teaspoons) taking minimalism a bit too far…

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86 teresa January 27, 2013 at 8:30 am

I’m ashamed of the amount of dishes I go through in a day and I’m the ONLY person! Sigh.

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87 Pauline January 27, 2013 at 10:13 am

I have a similar philosophy. I got rid of the stuff I hadn’t used in 5 years, then 2 years, then a year except seasonal items. All those things I had “just in case” are out, the emotional lightness is worth having maybe to buy another item in 5 years because I didn’t keep those things.

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88 Denise January 27, 2013 at 10:17 am

Loved this post. You may just have inspired me to purge. It has been the coldest winter in years here, and so we have spent more time inside with our “stuff”. It makes me feel confined when there is too much. I read a post on another blog that said something about organizing being tidy hoarding! I have been referring to my ‘craft’ room as my McGuiver room bcause it holds stuff I might need some day. I don’t need as much as I think. I will begin to clear out tomorrow–I am also a procrastinator–using 15 minutes at a time.

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89 ali thompson January 27, 2013 at 6:50 pm

what a great post with great reminders. seriously need to evaluate a lot of “things”! thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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90 Tracey February 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Love your perspective – and am thankful that I recognize some of these same signs in our lifestyle!

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91 Shannon February 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm

My husband and I are slowly updating each room of our house and in that process we are ridding ourselves of a lot of unneeded items. We’re getting rid of things we’ve held on to for no other reason other than “we might need that one day” or “I don’t know where this should go, so let’s put it in this drawer.” I started to follow the rule that if I haven’t used it, worn it, or needed it in the last six months, it goes in the trash. And I must say, there were boxes and boxes of junk thrown out, it was quite a relief to give myself permission to rid myself of those items. It’s clutter that not only clutters your home but your mind as well. Every one should go through a cleaning out process every six months or so. It is quite freeing.

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92 Allotment Adventures With Jean April 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm

This makes so much sense. I am in the throes of going through every cupboard in my home and this has helped me to make the decision – does it go or does it stay! The biggest challenge is the garage where I store ‘useful’ things. But I’m working on it.

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93 Chantal April 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm

It’s always a pleasure to read you. I’m just in that scenario: I’m trying to downsize my belongings. Ouaip! That’s not that easy. I have decide already to don’t buy new stock except if it’s absolutely something necessairy. I have give a big part of what I had over as plates, bowls and all those things.

I suppose that little by little I’ll fine my way there!

Chantal from Québec province, Canada ;-)

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