What Happened When I Simplified Our Lives

I’ve been attempting to de-clutter our house for the last couple of years.  Seriously.  It hasn’t been working.  I’d get one little spot cleaned up, and then another room would be cluttered and disorganized.  I’d get rid of one toy and three more would take its place. It was frustrating.

Recently I realized I’m dealing with post-partum depression and anxiety again.  I won’t get into all that too much right now but, after reading a bit over at Honest Mom, I know I will write about it at some point.  Suffice it to say, I had some really, really dark days.  About a month ago I finally figured out what was going on and I got some help.  I’m feeling a lot better (although there are still ups and downs) but I’m taking it one day at a time.

All that to say, feeling overwhelmed at home hasn’t helped me deal with the depression and anxiety. I decided I needed to eliminate as many things that were overwhelming me as possible.  Going places was stressing me out so I canceled all our plans for a week.  The constant battle with clutter was overwhelming so I decided to eliminate the clutter.  We have so much stuff that is not used–so many toys that were getting dumped on the floor every day…

So, after re-reading Simplicity Parenting, I decided I needed a new strategy.  Starting about two weeks ago, every time I went in L’s bedroom I would grab an armful of toys, clothes, or books and drop them in the spare room/nursery.  Instead of picking through her box of miscellaneous trinkets, I just eliminated the whole box.  Unread books, extra dress-up clothes, almost everything with a character on it went into the other room.  After a day or two I spent a morning and finished removing the unnecessary stuff from L’s bedroom, the living room (where most of the toys live), and our arts and crafts cupboard.


The spare room, after our first round of sorting. This is the bottom layer.

I was able to do all this fairly quickly because I was just moving stuff to the other room (aside from throwing out the obvious trash/recycling items).  I wasn’t having to make decisions about what stayed and what went.  I knew it would be less stressful to do that later with my husband’s help.  Together we could decide what to trash, store, or donate/sell.

Having made such drastic changes so quickly, the impact was immediate.  I was worried about how L would react to having a good 75% of her stuff disappear.  But she didn’t say a word.  At first when I was just taking an armful at a time she didn’t notice.  Later she just watched.  Then she asked what I was doing.  When I explained that I was reorganizing, she jumped right in and picked out stuff to go in the other room.

When I was finished and everything that was left was put away, L spun in a circle in her room and said, “It’s a dream come true! Thank you for my new room mommy!”

No joke.  She’s a little dramatic but that’s really how she felt.  She was relaxed and happy.  She was excited to show J her new room when he got home from work.  She’s wanted to just stay at home and play, she hasn’t wanted to go anywhere.  But that’s not the only change.  Since the “big purge” (as I call it in my head), L has been a different kid.  She’s her old self again.

She’s happy.  She’s less moody.  She’s calmer, kinder, and sensitive to the people around her.

She’s eating.  She’s not hanging on me and whining to nurse all the time.

She’s sleeping better–she’s napped every day since the purge (nine days and counting!).

She’s interested, motivated, and focused.  She asked to help with cooking and cleaning and suggests games or activities or stories. But she’s also more content playing independently with me joining in occasionally.

She almost never asks to watch television anymore and when she does she’s easily redirected to read a book or play outside.

The meltdowns over character specific items have stopped.  She’s perfectly happy wearing flower underpants under her ball gown and isn’t demanding I help her find the Cinderella panties when she’s finished playing Sleeping Beauty and wants to be Cinderella.

She hasn’t asked for any of the removed toys, save for a backpack.  So, she has her Elmo backpack back.  But she didn’t say a word when I brought her the Elmo backpack, not the bright pink one covered in princesses.

She’s stopped changing clothes as frequently.  She still goes back and forth between play clothes and dress-up but she’ll put the same play clothes back on when she’s done playing dress up.

She’s cleaning up after herself without being asked.  She’s putting away toys and hanging up clothes.  Every now and then she needs a reminder but those reminders do not result in a meltdown.

Did I mention that she’s been happy and sleeping?

Simplicity Parenting discusses how too much choice can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed in kids (and adults).  I think we were both there.  I know I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff and trying to keep everything put away so I can only imagine how she felt.  Simplicity Parenting also talks about how kids attach emotional significance to their toys and when they have too many they can get stressed out trying to stretch their affection and keep track of so many special items. When L was carrying around four purses all crammed with little trinkets, she wasn’t having fun playing, she was just trying to keep track of everything.  She was stressed out and not enjoying herself.  Changing clothes 20 times a day?  She couldn’t make up her mind.  It all seems so obvious now.

The change has been so dramatic.  It’s been motivating.  It’s helped me to let go of stuff when I’m sorting through everything.  I find the hardest thing is my emotional attachment to the things I imagine she might have an emotional attachment to and the things I feel like I should keep just in case she wants to play with it some day.  And worrying that people who gave certain items as gifts will be upset that we got rid of them.

But it’s silly.  She wants to play with a very small number of toys.  She wants to read the same few books over and over again.  And that’s what she needs; The security of repetition and routine and the space and freedom to be creative and use her imagination.

In addition to purging all the excess, we’ve started a few other daily family activities to help build a little more rhythm into our days.  But more on that later.

Have you seen a noticeable difference in your family after cutting back on belongings, activities, or television?

emily sefcikEmily is a West Coast native who lives with her husband and two young daughters in South Texas. She is constantly striving to slow down, live each day with intention, and spend as much time as possible at the beach with her family. She’s a wannabe urban-homesteader who dabbles in gardening and sewing, and loves cooking with whole foods. Emily is passionate about building a supportive parenting community and is a perpetual over-sharer. She documents her journey to find balance and sanity through simplicity at S.A.H.M i AM.


  • I am in the middle of doing this right now. My sons’ bedroom is so crammed full of clothes and toys you can barely open the door (they sleep in our room). My mom is visiting and she will be helping me go through it all. The twice yearly consignment sale will help me make some cash off all this *stuff.*

  • Loved reading this. You touched all the bases…and reaffirmed my goal of de cluttering … My son and grandson (now 3 years old) once again are living with me in a smaller home and you have encouraged me to keep on my path of stress-free living. Thanks!

  • I cut back on tv from off and on all day and evening to a bit in the morning before mom gets up. the minute I come down tv goes off and we move on to other activities. namely breakfast and chores and then playing. we have seen little change in some kids and HUGE changes in others. It does mean they don’t sit and fight over what to watch. One kid in particular had big behavior changes. he is kind and playful. he plays with his siblings instead of fighting with them. He wasn’t watching violent tv, just watched a lot of tv. this kid could watch an entire infomercial for an hour and a half. he was snarly and snappish. he was sassy disrespectful argumentative and defiant. He still loves to be a bit of an instigator but the snotty argumentative defiant disrespectful behavior has greatly diminished! mission accomplished!!!

  • Very inspiring! I did a major de-cluttering the year after my father died. I’m feeling like I still need to continue the process. We haven’t missed the items we donated either. Such a huge burden lifted. Your post gave me the motivation to continue working on this on-going project. Thank you.

  • This is inspiring! We are moving from a 1600 sq foot house in FL to a 2400 sp foot house in IL. We downsized for the move but not as much little stuff as we should have and not as many toys as needed. I didn’t want my son to get too overwhelmed with the move and the feeling that I was getting rid of all his stuff. I am hoping I can unpack while hes in school and downsize the toys again. He has been with out most of his toys for months. I also hope to start following flylady.net again. She advocates “a little every day” kind of organizing. Also my motivation for getting rid of stuff for the move was a local “trade and sell” facebook group for moms in my town. It was a great way to sell toys, furniture and household item for a great price. I have found a couple FB groups like this in my new hometown. Hopefully I will be able to continue to sell items.

  • Thank you for this – I’m in the process – and I know it’s true – that we will be HAPPIER with less “stuff”.

  • Thank you! Very good for grandparents too as we collect even more, over the years!

  • Wonderful story. Would love to share it with my Facebook followers. Your insights apply to so many, not only parents, but I especially hope my clients with young children will find hope in your story.
    Oakland Organizer

  • Congratulations, Emily! I had been feeling depressed all summer and unable to face the mess. Now that my boys are away at summer camp and I have a few days to myself I feel that I have the space to organize. Yesterday, I spruced up all my plants and cleaned the surfaces under which each of them rested. I have been working away at the bookshelves in my room (the biggest challenge of all!) and can look at each one as it becomes neat and tidy and beautiful and I think – maybe I can do this! Today, my husband jumped in and we worked on the boys room. I realize that part of my difficulty in “letting go” had to do with suffering pregnancy losses. Now that those are a bit farther behind me I feel that it’s easier to let go – and it just feels so much better to have a live in a space that has a sense of order.

  • I had my sister help me declutter the kids’ room when she came to visit this past spring. We took 10 laundry baskets full of toys and clothes to a local charity. My kids ( 8yob, 10yog) have had the same reaction as your little one. They told me that they have less “chores” to do now. They are gaining confidence that they can keep their rooms clean by themselves.

  • what a wonderful post. your honesty is appreciated. this reflects some of my struggle in the past years (PND anxiety, overwhelm)
    what a great gift for yourself {and your family} that you could recognise and get help! well done you. small steps, moment by moment.
    I imagine your daughter is also responding to having her Mama back in presence.
    Blessings on your way
    ps. i am about to return to all my clutter in storage and your approach has given me some ideas of how to tackle it.

  • Thanks for the advice on this. I need to do the same!

  • A very inspirational article, thank you for sharing – and I agree completely. I have also written on this topic of organising, cleaning, helping children feel less overwhelmed (something I’ve been meaning to do for such a long-time) and your article put me in the right frame of mind. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve shared your article on my page and recommended my likers head over to your website. http://parentingenergy.com.au/2013/08/17/parenting-energy-house-matters/

    Kind regards,

  • I’m also in the middle of de-cluttering – must be the time of year maybe? 🙂 I also love the way the kids feel like it is a whole new room whenever I do it. Now to takle my own bedroom…


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