1. You’ve shared a bit about how your thinking shifted just from “organizing” to “simplifying,” a shift I experienced as well when we were moving for the fourth time in five years at the beginning of our marriage. Can you share some of the initial changes you made in your own life as your perspective began to change?
I really love to organize and create a space for everything—however, as my home, my business, and my life continually get busier, I’ve realized that simplifying is really the way to go.
When I simplify something, I remove everything I don’t need, use, want, or love—which ultimately means less stuff to organize, less stuff to clean around, less stuff to maintain, less stuff to keep track of, and less time and energy spent doing all of that!
I’m definitely not interested in a minimalistic lifestyle, but I have drastically reduced the amount of clothing and shoes owned by everyone in our house. I have purged almost all seasonal and holiday decorations, and am proud to say that I actually have empty drawers, cabinets, and shelves in almost every room and closet in our house!
Simplifying is an ever-evolving process that I work at daily. I always have at least 2 donation boxes or bags going at all time (one upstairs and one downstairs) and make regular trips to our local thrift store to drop off our unneeded items. This regular purging helps assure that things don’t get totally out of control and really helps me keep tabs on everything in our home.
2. Many people automatically assume that simplicity means “less,” but you and I have talked about the idea that it really doesn’t necessarily mean less of something but rather making choices intentionally. Are there areas of your life where people might be surprised by your “more” given your focus on simple living?
Almost any time someone new comes to our house for the first time, they are usually surprised by how many decorative items we have displayed throughout our home. I think they assume that since I’m “organized” and love simplicity, my house will be mostly empty with nothing on the walls, no decorations, completely bare countertops, and very minimalist spaces… but that’s not the case at all.
Although I have purged almost all our seasonal and holiday decorations, I love filling my home with beautiful things I enjoy, but might not serve a functional or practical purpose.
I definitely keep things clutter-free (even more so after kids) but it sure is hard for me to resist a good primitive antique or a black wooden frame I can add to my massive barn-beam shelf full of pictures.
3. Your initiation into motherhood included a baby with high needs, and you’ve shared a bit of your struggles during her first two years. Can you share a little bit about how your approach to simple living helped you survive that time when she really needed even more time and attention than other babies and yet you still had work to get done, food to prepare, chores to handle, etc.?
When I think back 3 years ago to when our first daughter was born, there is absolutely no possible way I could have managed to care for her, keep up with basic daily chores, continue working full time from home, and push forward with all our house projects if I hadn’t already implemented a variety of “simplified systems” within our home and life.
Even as a tiny newborn, she almost never slept unless someone was holding her or she was in her stroller. She has many other ‘sensitivities’ as well, but the non-sleeping aspect was such a massive blow to my ultra productive, extremely efficient self. I battled anxiety and depression for months, thinking about everything I loved doing and could no longer do.
Obviously, having a very helpful spouse was crucial for me—both emotionally and physically—but the fact that I had my home and life organized before hand was almost asocial for me!
I had a freezer full of meals and baked goods, an organized pantry with everything we’d need for weeks, my home was neat and organized, we had all those basic baby necessities ready to go, my work schedule was simplified for the first several weeks of her life, and every other aspect of my life was as simple and as organized as it could be.
My type-A personality knew that while there was no way I could fully prepare myself for being a mom, I could prepare and simplify every other aspect of my life so that the unknown craziness of taking care of a tiny human was hugely offset.
Because I already had systems in place, I was able to stay on top of my meal plans, my house work, and my business even in the midst of a very difficult and exhausting period of my life.
4. It seems like your husband, Dave, is very much on board with a simple lifestyle. Have you all always seen eye to eye, or has that been a process? What advice do you have for other people whose partners may not agree with the idea of simplifying, whether that means getting organized, decluttering or saying no more often?
Let’s just say that Dave is very easy-going! That said, he does prefer organized, simplified, and scheduled over crazy and chaotic.
He very much appreciates the fact that I am diligent about keeping things neat and organized—and the fact that when a system stops working, I’m quick to find a new way that works better for our stage of life.
So yes, we’ve always seen eye-to-eye on the fact that we appreciate clean, organized, and simplified; however, it took a bit longer for him to actually learn to help me with that process.
I can remember when we were first married and I “hinted” that the dishwasher was clean and the trash was full. A couple hours later, his dirty dishes were pilled on the counter next to the still clean and full dishwasher, and the trash was still overflowing. I got upset and accused him of “never” helping around the house (totally not true)… to which he responded, “but you didn’t ask me to do anything.”
After talking about it for a bit, we made a deal that if I wanted him to do anything around the house, I had to ask—like physically write out a list. He explained that he was happy to help around the house but wasn’t good at deciphering my “hints” and instead, just wanted me to tell him what to do.
Almost 9 years later, I’m still making him lists, and he is now extremely helpful around the house—vacuuming, washing dishes, making beds, folding laundry, taking out the trash, etc.
I’d still prefer him to just realize what needs to be done and the do it; however, I also know that’s not going to happen, and my lists are a great compromise!
I guess, what I’m trying to say is that you really just need to sit down and share why simplicity and organization are so important for you to feel comfortable living in your home, talk about any frustrations you have regarding the situation, and then try to work out a compromise so everyone involved (kids included) feel like their opinions are heard and valued.
This won’t necessarily be easy, and the change certainly won’t take place overnight, but it’s the best way I know of to find that balance.
5. Do you ever find yourself in a position of having to defend your simple living choices? How do you deal with criticism or mockery, either in real life or online?
One of the things I value most is time. Maybe it’s because I wear so many “hats” each day—but I am extremely aware of how I use my time, and I go to great lengths to make sure I maximize the time I have.
For me, proper time-management is essential to simple living; and because of this, I will regularly say ‘no’ to events, committees, and other opportunities outside the home that are not worth it for me at this point in my life.
I do get a fair amount of pushback when we say ‘no’ to various events and opportunities—especially because to someone else, my life might seem very boring. But working full-time from home with 2 little kids and a husband who often has hours of at-home work to do each night, we don’t have many hours of free time. We need to be very intentional with how we use our time otherwise we all feel burned, out, over-worked, tired, and cranky.
For the most part, I’m not bothered by the pushback or criticism. It might sting a bit at first, but since Dave and I both prefer to be home more than going out, I know our whole family is happier if I say ‘no’—and I’d rather please our family than someone else!
6. In one of the great paradigms of life, as you shared, simplifying often takes more energy and time upfront than living with the status quo. What advice do you have for someone who is struggling with “perfection paralysis” or just feels so overwhelmed by everything they need to do to simplify that they can’t take that first step?
Friends will often joke that I must be a perfectionist since I’m able to keep my home relatively clean and organized even while working full time with 2 little kids running around… but in fact, it’s just the opposite.
My house IS relatively clean and organized almost all the time—but the only reason I’m able to manage that is because I’m so far from a perfectionist!
Although I’m not proud to admit it, I regularly cut corners and multi-task because I’d rather just have something done right away than done perfectly.
Perfectionism is one of the biggest hindrances to getting organized and living a simple life because perfectionists almost always get hyper-focused on one tiny piece of the puzzle (like the fact that their sock drawer is disorganized) and spend so much time and energy wondering how to perfectly organize their socks, then second-guessing if there might be a better way, and then re-organizing everything when one pair of socks doesn’t fit perfectly.
If you struggle with perfectionism, my best advice would be to set a timer (maybe only for 10-20 minutes). When the timer goes off, you must wrap up what you are doing and move on—even if you aren’t finished yet. Otherwise you’ll end up spending hours and hours on a simple project and never get around to the bigger projects that most likely need more of your attention!
7. And finally, can you share just a little bit about your policy of moderation? How do you avoid becoming a slave to your lifestyle of simplicity? Where have you relaxed your standards or goals over the years?
Over and over again in my life, I’ve seen how implementing strict, legalistic rules almost encourages us to break those rules… so when it comes to my own life and raising my family, I’ve decided “moderation” is how I’d like to start out.
My kids watch TV every day because I just need a break. We eat some processed foods because I have no desire to cook everything 100% from scratch. I use disposable diapers because I simply can’t bear the thought of washing them. And we don’t recycle nearly as much as we should because our trash company just jacked up the price.
These are intentional choices I’ve made to drastically simplify my life—and although they might go against what many others believe, this is what works for me right now. I absolutely must abide by my motto of “all things in moderation” unless I want to go crazy with everything I could do each day.
Along with moderation, I try to step back and think about the big picture on a very regular basis. If something is not morally or ethically wrong, if it will not significantly impact someone’s life in a negative way, and if it will not harm or upset anyone, then in my opinion, it’s probably not worth worrying or stressing about!
For example: Is the fact that I haven’t cleaned the bathrooms in 2 weeks gross? Yes… but will it drastically reduce the happiness of my life or negatively impact my family’s long-term health in anyway? Probably not.
Is the fact that I forgot to defrost dinner for tonight really frustrating for me? Yes… but is it the end of the world if we splurge on fast food once—even though I know it’s horrible for our bodies and bad for our wallet? No, I don’t think so.
Do I feel slightly bad for saying ‘no’ (yet again) to the committees that are continually trying to recruit me as a new member? You betcha… but I volunteered many, many hours before kids and I will certainly volunteer more once our kids are older. For now, I need to realize that saying ‘no’ is the best thing for our family.
I thrive on structure, order, and routine; but I’ve learned to give myself a lot of grace—especially if no one is in imminent danger due to one of my decisions!