There is no “after” picture. Simplicity fail.

Struggling for simplicity. [Clean.]

Struggling for simplicity. [Clean.]

Struggling for simplicity. [Clean.]

"Before" pictures of my basement. As for "After" pictures, well, there are none.

Kathy at Bliss Beyond Naptime asked me to join her for a simplicity home tour she's hosting on her blog. I was invited to feature one wonderful space in my home, and share how simplicity has really made it a pleasure to use.

And while I love the concept, I politely declined.

Because the truth is simplicity is feeling rather out of reach these days.

I'm overwhelmed, discouraged, and up to my armpits in stuff.

And it sucks.

This revelation today is courtesy of two things, the first being a lost book (no big deal but still frustrating as I paw through the dusty corners of my house in vain), and the second a missing birthday banner.

Sage's birthday is this weekend. And last year he didn't want to use his bunting, but this year he does.

And I can't find it.

After a half-hour of searching I found the bag of birthday loot (the wooden spiral, the candles, and Lupine's bunting) but Sage's is no where to be seen.

What. The. Heck.

Yes, yes. I'll cut myself some slack because well, two years, one move, and two basement floods have come and gone since I last saw the thing, but still. Boo.

In the big picture it's not a colossal mothering failure to misplace a birthday banner.

I get that. But having just spent an hour digging through boxes and totes in the basement, the barn, the sewing room, and the closets makes me wonder where I took a wrong turn.

I'm nothing short of floored by all that we still have to do.

Because we still have so much stuff.

And loads of it has been boxed or half-boxed/pawed through since we moved.

In November.

Why oh why is this stuff still here?

Because It's epic.

That's why.

Because it's messy and uncomfortable and letting go can be hard.

Because there are memories and trinkets mixed with random papers. Because there are things to toss and things to keep all jumbled together and sometimes it's hard to know the difference.

And if I get really honest it's because I'd rather garden or sew or knit or cook or can or scrub my toilet or do almost anything instead of stand in my basement sorting boxes of I-don't-even-know-what.

And yet it needs to be done. I want it to be done. And I haven't made it happen.

I've stalled out.

And simplicity is not someplace you arrive at and then stay there. It's like dishes or laundry. You have to keep at it or it starts to unravel again.

I guess I've fallen off the simplicity bandwagon. And I didn't stick the landing. 

It's high time I climb back on. As in: right now. Even if it's uncomfortable. Even if I'd rather be in the garden.

Because I want my life to be clean and ordered and real. Not strewn with boxes and bags of forgotten treasures to walk around.

Keep the good and let go of the rest.

And be ruthless with it.

So yes, friends, I have too much fabric and too many old pictures. We have too many bicycles and too many vintage suitcases. Too much camping gear and too many ski boots.

We have. Too. Much. Stuff.

It's time to dig out.


Will you join me on this journey?

Thanks for your non-judgement, for your reflection, and for your companionship along this road.

And thanks for listening.


39 thoughts on “There is no “after” picture. Simplicity fail.

  1. says:

    Aww, I’m disappointed. Turns out you’re human, after all :). Keeping it simple is an ongoing struggle in this land of plenty. One box, one day, at a time. You can do it!!!!


  2. Kelly says:

    Oh girl, I hear you! We have been in the new house for almost 3 years and *still* simplifying…And it’s much the same stuff you seem to have kicking around! We have taken literally a hundred bags *at least* of stuff outta here and still…I think a late night purge might be in order 😉

  3. Merrit d says:

    Once again, you’ve been walking around in my mind! Thank you for the brilliant and gentle kick in the arse! I will join you. All of your I’d rather be doings, right on.

  4. Fräulein Rucksack says:

    I love your honesty. Always. You had so great simplicity posts I read and reread a few times. No doubt you’ll make it!
    I haven’t stopped being on that trip. And I ask myself everyday if I need this and that. And why ist there so much. And every bag for the charity feel so good for the soul. Also we manage to sell or trade things from time to time and that’s a bonus!
    Thanks for the words!

  5. Casey U says:

    JOINING YOU in all kinds of ways. My dearest hubby has taken wholeheartedly into foraging…but that means that our basement cool rooms are being taken over by enormous bins of acorns, walnuts, windfall apples, and soon hazelnuts, beets, etc. In the meantime, there are PILES and BINS of clothes and stuff that I needed during pregnancy and early postpartum days and no longer have a use for, or at least not for several years.

    Let’s dig out.

  6. Jenn says:

    I feel you! I too have way too much stuff and it is overwhelming to sort and shuffle and try to let go.
    Sometimes it’s easy to be ruthless, and seeing piles of stuff being donated feels great! But other times the ties are too strong for whatever reason.
    Keep your chin up! We can do this! 🙂

  7. Stacy says:

    It is hard to unload but so refreshing and satisfying to do so. I tackled one overwhelming closet yesterday and plan to go through another ridiculously overstuffed closet soon. I hate to get rid of blankets, books and clothes. I have found that searching out individuals who are truly “in need” of certain items and donating directly to them helps a lot. It motivates me to be more generous and less of a clutter junkie.

    Good luck to us all!! And, all too soon, the snow will return to our beautiful state and there will be bitter cold days where there is nothing to do but sort (and drink a glass if wine- which always makes sorting easier!)

  8. Amber Jackson says:

    the other day I was reading a book about sex and the author said, have only clothes you love and make you feel fabulous all the way down to your underwear and lingerie, this struck a cord with me in so many ways, as I have spent so many year neglecting this aspect of my life, and I had this realization that sometimes what we need is to look at life in a clearer image of how the inner desire for it to be does not match the outer image and then attempt to make it match. I heard a good way to get rid of piles of crap is to go through them then to fill the spot energetically with a creative endeavor whether it be from you or kids, hubby, and this felt good to me. My oldest just started school and I spent an hour this morning searching for four folders and two notebooks that had fallen behind the freezer in my haste, I did eventually find them, but oh the stress, ugh. If my house wasn’t so full and messy what would my life feel and look like, what would I spend my energy on if not on worrying about the mess or more accurately avoiding the mess by being absent often, such a great topic. Thank you!

  9. valerie says:

    I’ll join you for sure! I’ve been down this path and I still am, in some ways. I got rid of so many things in the past years! It took me ages but it felt great and good things happened to me while doing it. I threw away, I gave, and I repurposed, sometimes. Now that I’ve been through the hardest part and that the useless junk is out of the way, I’d say that the most important is to finally decide that you HAVE to declutter; also, stuff keeps coming back. Really: I took so much out of my house and basement, and still, it keeps refilling, even if I pay attention not to be a mad consumer. I keep decluttering regularly, and I find it a very healthy process! I wouldn’t be surprised if you loved decluttering, once you’ve started doing it 🙂 Let us know if you do, right?

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is awesome. Thanks for sharing. Life is busy and chaotic for us all. I have often thought it would be great for bloggers to post pictures of their messy spots!

  11. Kara says:

    I went on a major cleaning binge last month while the kids wee at the grandparents. I started grad school on Monday, and not having to worry about piles of stuff that I should be sorting through.
    Best of luck on your return to the quest for simplicity.

  12. Christy Austin says:

    You will totally be able to do this! Do you have a friend who is good at this kind of thing? I always find it so much easier to help others with their things because I’m not attached. Of course with my own things it is so much harder. Maybe the friend could come over and give you a hand…you make the decisions and she puts the outgoing in the trunk or garbage and the keepers where they go. I’ve been there. I am still there. I am trying to dig out just as you are. It is constant but you can tackle this! One box at a time.

  13. Carole Payton says:

    We just moved into our first home, and nothing creates a better opportunity for a good purge like a house move.
    Or so I thought.
    I waxed lyrical about how much space was in the new house.. Before I actually moved our stuff in and filled every cranny. I have no idea how we did it? We moved from a small, two bedroom unit to a spacious, two bedroom house with ample cupboard space, a large garage and a huge section. How did we fill it up?
    Thankfully, basements aren’t something we tend to have in New Zealand because you can guarantee if we had one we’d pack it to the gunnels.
    I will join you on this journey, we are on our newly married path, first home and trying to create our first baby. I want clean, ordered and simple as well. Even saying it out loud fills me with peace.
    Best of luck on your path to simplicity. Keep us posted!

  14. Amy says:

    I have felt that feeling before. I have gone the opposite way. I get rid of everything except a legal box of memorabilia. I regularly go through and get rid of things we have been gifted by well meaning people I just don’t like the anxiety from letting it gather. Something that has helped me is I take pictures of the items as I rid my home of them. If I want to reminisce I can pull the picture up on my computer. I also scanned all my papers, the kids drawings, old papers, old pictures etc. and have it on my laptop a thumb drive and my Google files. I wish I lived near so I could help you go through it all.

  15. susan says:

    This has been overwhelming me lately, too. And I am ready. But I am slow. And we keep putting off getting rid of too much because we’re only renting, and when we find our place, we may just need ____ or ____. But I think about what to get rid of 1,000 times a day. And the question that goes through my mind is “if a fire burned down our house, what would I seriously miss and cry over.” Certainly not craft pompoms and piles of recyclables waiting for a purpose. Stuff takes too much of my mental energy and I think I want out of it…

  16. Emily says:

    Aahhh! Your basement looks like mine, only a little better all weighs me down, and the funny thing is I hardly ever shop! I always wonder where the heck it all comes from all the time.I frequently go on rants about STUFF.And I despise searching for things all the time. I often think about the way people used to live with the bare minimum and wonder what has happened to make us this way.Can`t wait to hear more..I will be right there with you!

  17. Jessica says:

    And that is why I love your blog. Your honesty. I think we are all there if we are homeschooling. For some reason the promise of fall makes me turn inward and look at our space and that inward gazing can be overwhelming. We’ll all get there. I hope you find the banner!

  18. ZingDay says:

    Thank you for being so transparent and such an inspiration. Yes, I need to join you because I’d rather be knitting or being outside with my kids rather than tackle such an overwhelming task too! I once heard the suggestion, throw it out if you haven’t used it in a year, which I apply on occasion but mostly I keep the junk because I’m afraid I will need it the following day!

  19. Johanna says:

    Well this is my first ever post on a blog but its fitting because this is the first ever blog I’ve ever loved!
    I can relate to EVERYTHING you’ve written but only because my husband hoards!
    Whenever I see things expanding in our garage I ‘cleanse’ and secretly throw out loads!
    And feel so much better…clearer!

  20. Vivian Perry Child says:

    I have just gotten over a breast cancer and almost a year of not being able to do anything. But I have known for sometime that the only way out of the mess is one box or one wall in a room at a time. Do not look a the whole room or at whole house, you’ll be over whelmed, take it slow one thing a a time and it will give you satisfaction and you will be able to do the next bit. Even if you only do one box this week, you’ll look forward to doing the next bit with pleasure. I promise.
    Lol, Vivian Perry

  21. carly says:

    we, too, recently cleared out a massive amount of ‘stuff’ from our home. and i feel like i am floating in the lightness and clarity of it all. a wonderful feeling.

    however, i still look around my home and see more ‘stuff’ that we could probably do without. it is absolutely an ongoing journey, possibly without an end destination, me thinks.

    hope you find the bunting!

  22. Amber Paris says:

    2 years ago my family of 4, for the first time mo9ved out of the itty bitty apartments we’d grown used to and into the country- 6 bedroom farmhouse/homestead.
    Ahhh, such space! and man did we fill it. Free piles along the road beckoned- I mean think of what I could do with that, or that, oooo, or that!
    3 months ago, on the same day, we found out hubby lost his freelance gig and that I was (shockingly) pregnant.
    we searched desperately for work in our area- wanting to stay so badly in our space, but in the end we found work a couple hours away.
    another whirlwind search of desperation for a house and we found a lovely place nestled in the woods- full of charm and only 2 bedrooms.
    And so pregnant, exhausted, stressed, with 2 kids underfoot and having to radically down-size and pack our life in a short amount of time, we purged. We purged like crazy.
    Toys that hadn’t been played with, gone. Fabric I was unlikely to ever use, gone. Yarn I was unlikely to use, gone. Extra linens, gone. Too big/small clothes, gone. etc etc etc.
    We’ve only been here a few weeks, but I can honestly say I do not miss one single thing we got rid of. They were all extras. We still have a lot of stuff- far more than most of the world’s people, but we have less than we did just a few months ago, and that’s a start.
    happy purging and I’m sure that banner will pop up…somewhere!

  23. Holly says:

    Funny. I was watching a TED Talk last night about this very thing – which spoke to my problem 110%. Basically: get rid of the stuff and make room for experiences. I also would rather garden or cook and all the other things you’ve mentioned. I have things I hang on to from loved ones that are gone, stuff the kids made, papers! all kinds of stuff that I tell myself I need to keep. But.. it’s time to start taking pics of the stuff (if i have to hang on!) and then putting it on my front lawn with a FREE sign on it – at least the stuff people could use. I am also guilty of picking up freebies off the side of the road for crafting projects. It all adds up!
    I’m going to do one box – maybe two- per day. I could have written your post, today.

  24. Bianca says:

    I’m right there with you. We are currently in a house purge and it’s gotten ugly. Kinda stalled after working on the garage and kitchen. There is so much stuff! Baby steps, right? Instead of tackling the whole living room I’ll do one cabinet or shelf and call it good for now. As we know there is still plenty of other stuff to keep up on.

  25. Melanie says:

    Oh, my sediments exactly! I’m having a brief panic about getting through some stacks, closets, and laundry baskets (yep, that’s my trick for quickly decluttering ‘crap island’ by sweeping it into a laundry basket…voile, clean counter!) before lessons and homeschooling start up in a week or so! I know it will feel fantastic to bust it out….but alas, yes I would rather be knitting sweet, little Solstice socks for the bunch!;)

  26. Kristen- Marinade Designs says:

    Oh my gosh! I so know this feeling! We moved into our (tiny, 1000 sq ft) house almost 2 years ago and I still have areas that are a work in progress. I keep telling myself that as nice as it is to be organized all the time and live in a perfectly clean and tidy house, it’s nicer to not constantly be cleaning and worrying about how your house looks. It’s nicer to spend that time doing things you love. I’m trying to let it go. But some days are harder than others. 🙂

  27. Efi Maryeli says:

    I just finished cleaning up two basements and I know what a satisfaction that can be. On the other hand, though, while cleaning those basements and spending time out in the farm to gather the last harvest of summer, my home is becoming a pig-sty. Please, don’t be hard on yourself. Simplicity is good, guilt is not. We’re just humans after all and the power of entropy is enormous. Hang on, we can do it.

  28. Sarah G says:

    I live in a 700 square foot house with my new husband, and have spent the last few months starting to TRY to simplify my surroundings. I am so skilled at acquiring items for projects, sentimental trinkets, books…and am trying to change my space so that we have more breathing room. Simplifying is a process rather than a destination, and I have to keep reminding myself of that!

  29. knitting mole & atomic vault says:

    I can top this! (not that that’s a good thing) But somewhere in our basement boxes from our move in May 2012 are my wedding rings! No clue which box they are in, but I know they are tucked safely away in the pretty velvet box they came in because they have not been on my then-chubby fingers since I was about 6 months pregnant with my soon to be 3 year old! We’ll get to them eventually…right now we’ve got an extra layer of vintage goodies that need to be listed for sale on our Etsy shop to be dealt with first

  30. Julie says:

    I will join to reorganize. I emptied every room by 30% this time last year. I’ve been smart about what I’ve bought since, but I know it’s time to reorganize again. One room at a time, 15 minutes a day…

  31. Michelle says:

    I am drawn to your blog for your honesty. There are plenty of blogs showing us pretty pictures of perfection, and while I do find them inspiring, frankly sometimes I would like to know the truth of what goes on. The struggles. Because in honesty we all struggle and we can learn and grow a whole lot more if we are honest with each other.

    And thank you for reminding simplicity is not a destination,it requires constant diligence.

  32. Stephinie says:

    Ugh. I hear ya.
    Though I must admit I have no intention of taking on the leftover hodge podge boxes until we’re into winter. It’s still just too nice to be inside. And *so* much of my time is being spent doing other things. We moved this spring too, from Louisiana to Massachusetts. I did purge a ton before we left….. but the last bits of lots of boxes got poured into other boxes and now there are stacks of totes downstairs in the basement to go though. It isn’t totally terrible, but it does need to get done. I’ll be revisiting these posts after the holidays when life has a natural lull and it’s cozy to be indoors….. unless I get distracted by knitting. Which also possible….. hehe 🙂
    Looking forward to seeing the spaces you create! Especially the home school room. I just talked the husband into turning our dining room into such a space. Yes, we eat in there…. but we can eat in a room full of maps and art supplies, right?

  33. Beth says:

    Sign me up. I too want simplicity but….I’d rather than “sort”. Sigh. If I have incentive, I’m inspired. But with no regular routine to “sort”, we are drowning in stuff…mostly projects that we will get to “some day”.

  34. Emilie says:

    I feel you sister. Was just getting ready to let go of a bunch of baby stuff, my baby is 3.5, then I found out I was expecting! While there is still a ton of stuff to pass on and non-baby things to get rid of, I’m a bit thankful for my lack of motivation or else I’d be buying up all the stuff I just got rid of! The hardest area for me is school stuff, mostly books, workbooks, activities strewn about with a plan to do but often forgot. My mom, bless her, is a teacher so she is constantly passing on materials which I always accept but then they just add to the chaos of our basement school room. Time to simplify, I’m down to go at it with you!

  35. Jenifer says:

    Thanks for this post! I was just in our basement looking disdainfully at a pile of boxes from my husband’s childhood that my in-laws almost gleefully brought us on Tuesday. It just added to the mountain of things that already needed weeding through. Overwhelmed and uninterested are my best descriptions of myself. Like you, I’d rather can, sew, cook, garden, even clean than go through them. You’ve inspired me to look at the entire situation in a different perspective, though.

  36. Alison says:

    I really loved reading this post, Rachel! I can relate 100% after moving into our house OVER a year ago and basically putting all our “stuff” into the basement. I’d love to tackle it week by week while our new baby sleeps but that is so totally unpredictable… I’m almost to a point of just throwing it all away, but there are a few sentimental pieces hidden somewhere within all of that crap. Trying to simplify, simplify but first need to put in the work. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  37. Emilie says:

    I have a question for you…..How do you go about getting your kids on board with decluttering? Mine have such attachment to everything it seems. When I ask them why it is they want to keep it the answer usually is something like “it might be useful one day.” So much of it is broken or scraps of this and that, so much crap. I try hard not to interfere with their stuff, but we have a super small house with three kids in one room and a baby coming…..all this stuff is driving my crazy. The rest of our house is rather simple, the kitchen is very minimal. Every time I go in the kids room I feel like I going to suffocate with every surface being covered and stuff shoved everywhere. I also try and explain that with less stuff they have less to pickup and put away every night, which is the constant complaint coming from them, but I guess they would rather have the mess then not have the stuff.

    Maybe it’s the fact that it’s still winter and I am nesting for the baby but I would just love to purge the house before the baby comes, without a second thought, and most likely will with the exception of the kids stuff. I would really love to go through all the kids stuff on my own and get rid of everything I find there is no need for, but I won’t do that cause it would break the hearts of my babes. No matter how hard we have tried to teach them that we don’t actually own anything in this world, that everything belongs to everybody, they just love to hold onto everything they can.

    Any advice anyone?

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