Journey to Minimalism: Internal Clutter must be FIRST.

prioritylistSo it’s been a couple of months since I turned the corner on making major changes in my life. Not sure I like the word minimalism, though. It sounds like I want to live in a tent, without electricity. While I do love to camp, my lifestyle changes feel more dramatic on the inside rather than dramatic on the outside.

What made me want to change my life? This summer we didn’t take a family vacation. Busy schedules and budget restrictions kept us close to home. My 8 year old daughter suggested we just go to a hotel for a couple of nights. The idea sounded wonderful to me. But then I thought, why does that sound so good? My home should be more comfortable, with a pool nearby, a large screen tv, reliable internet… As I thought about the appeal of going to a hotel, I realized what sounded attractive was being somewhere I didn’t have piles of stuff dragging me down. That pile of mail on my kitchen counter. The pile of laundry needing to be washed. The pile of magazines overflowing on my desk. The pile of photos waiting to be put into photo albums. The pile of clothes in of my closet that slow me down as I look for favorite clothes to wear. Hotel life seemed simple, un-cluttered, and free of distractions. So I thought…how can i have that at home?

Then I read a transformational book by Joshua Becker called Simplify. And then I started reading his blog I wanted a life more intentional. I wanted less stress. I wanted more contentment. At age 49, I felt a lightbulb turn on inside my head.

The external changes that I’ve made so far are few but significant:

  • Removed over half of the items in my closet and gave to the needy.
  • Did not renew some of my magazine subscriptions that came up for renewal.
  • Removed items in my kitchen that hadn’t been used in the last 2 years and that held no sentimental value.
  • Had a garage sale that helped me get rid of extra bedding and unused household items.
  • Started exercising consistently 5 times per week at CrossFit.
  • I still feel like I’m surrounded by clutter, but I’m encouraged. It’s a huge first step for me and I feel significantly lighter. I’m learning to let go of things, where I used to cling to things for who knows what reason. Hanging on to stuff because I might need it later was like an anchor to me. And not an anchor to keep me steady. An anchor that was pulling me down to the bottom of an ocean. Yes, I still have sentimental items like my grandmother’s cookie jar, or funky shawl my mother crocheted for me. But that vga cable for a computuer monitor I no longer have? It’s in the give away box. Friends, that’s huge for me…

But I assure you, I had to make some internal changes to be able to start on the external.

While at a dinner party a few weeks ago I learned that one of my neighbors was receiving chemo for breast cancer. I was so sad to learn this as she has a child the same age as my youngest. But even more intriguing was the news that when this neighbor woman learned the news of cancer, she bought a new Range Rover. Of course this is speculation that she bought the vehicle as a result of discovering her new battle. It may just be a coincidence. But what does remain is that many people who face a critical challenge do react in different ways.

When discussing the news with my close knit group of neighbors, one of my dear friends sitting at the table said “That’ll be me! If I find out I have cancer, I’m getting a new fancy car!” We all laughed and most agreed. As I sat there I pictured myself facing a potentially deadly disease…

I softly stated “Not me. There’s a whole lot more things more important to me than a fancy car. I think I’d be spending as much time as possible with my family.” It got quiet around the table. Then almost as if on cue, practically in unison, the group agreed they’d be doing things with their kids and their spouses. The shiny new car just didn’t seem very important when facing death.

A few years ago one woman from our close group of neighbors battled against cancer…twice. We all rallied around her, bringing her soup, hats for her bald head, candles, books. We all pitched in to help with the kids. She survived cancer for a second time to come out a changed woman. None of us faced the sickness or struggle, so we don’t have a perspective that she has. None of us are even close to understand what she went through. But we were all extremely shocked when once in remission, she packed up her things and left her husband and two young children. I won’t dare judge, because I too once packed up a few belongings and my 12 year old daughter and left a marriage of 15 years. I was harshly judged and ridiculed. I would never want to face that torment ever again. But when the heat gets turned on, impurities rise to the top. It’s not a pretty sight to see the imperfections pooling at the surface. Our inside values become revealed. We make decisions or changes when our perspective on longevity changes.

I think if I were to receive news of a disease that could kill me, the first thing I’d do is hop in my car to go see my son Clayton. I would hug him so tight and remind him of my unrelenting love. Next I would seek out my ex-husband and tell him I’m sorry. Then after a trip to see my parents, I’d cling to my daughters Holly and Maddie and my wonderful husband Randy, spending as much time as possible…building memories.

I think that we all have a tendency to collect treasures here on earth. Whether it be a nice home, nice clothes, expensive cars, fine jewelry. I was so excited when I purchased my first luxury car. I loved my beautiful house on the hill in the million dollar neighborhood. My idea of a good time was shopping. During the latest economic crash, a few things have changed. I no longer drive a Lexus. I’m driving a car with 275,000 miles, and a few dents and scratches reveal its age. It’s gone through 3 college kids in our family. We now live in a modest rental home.

At first I really struggled with the downgrades. It’s obvious I was chasing happiness with a home, a car, and pretty clothes. What happens when you base your happiness or your identity on material goods or a successful career and it all comes tumbling down in ruin?

The financial mess in the auto industry left my good friend and neighbor Lance without a job. He was upside down on the mortgage on his house. His entire identity was tied into his career and his ability to provide for his family. What did Lance do? He shot himself in the head and left behind his sweet wife and beautiful son….left them alone without a husband or dad. He chose death over his family.

I’d rather live in a shack and have no car than live without my family. Working myself to death so that I can drive the latest and greatest doesn’t make much sense anymore. What good is an expensive car if I don’t have time to see my kids. The smell of new leather doesn’t smell as nice as my children’s hug. Not that some people don’t get to have both…. But given the choice, I choose my family. If you were told you would die in 6 months, what would you do?

Here’s my list:

  • impact as many people I can
  • seek forgiveness of those I hurt
  • get rid of my junk so my kids and husband doesn’t have to
  • love on my kids
  • love on my parents
  • love on my husband
  • I wouldn’t buy a car. I wouldn’t put in a pool. I think the above needs to be my priority list regardless do how long I live.

I believe that putting a short term perspective on your life helps you refine your priorities. Once your priorities are refined, things that used to matter, seems less significant. I want to remove the unnecessary from my life to make room for the important. I don’t want to be distracted by things that really don’t matter. I want to stop being so busy, so I don’t miss building memories with my family.

So if this is minimalism…I’m in.


  1. It sounds like your journey is off to a fantastic start.

    It was the death of a close friend, who was waayyy too young to die, that made me take stock of my life. From there it has been all about being happy and helping others.

    Keep up the great work!
    Terry @ Path to Simple recently posted…Declutter – the 6 month ruleMy Profile

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