Todd Johnson replaces a chain saw carburetor in my newly organized shop.

Step 3 – Downsizing for the sake of up-sizing our lives

A simplified life is not necessarily an easy life, it is just a better way to live.  In fact, often the simplified life takes hard work. The difference is, you’ll be working at the things you love to do, the things which give your life joy and satisfaction. Once you decide a simpler life is worth pursuing and have a vision concerning what this new life could look like, then it’s time to take the first physical step.

This first step is to downsize. Downsizing means getting the clutter out of your life, which will require a mega-house cleaning and possibly a garage sale or a few trips to the Goodwill. A life of simplicity is a life of freedom. It’s a life where you control your possessions instead of letting them control you.  Try to remember the feeling you got the last time you majorly cleaned out a closet or garage.  I don’t know about you, but when I get unnecessary junk cleaned out of my life and start to feel organized, I experience an exhilarating feeling of liberation. For me, a cluttered life is totally overwhelming, so overwhelming I sometimes become emotionally paralyzed and don’t know how or where to start.  Even something as simple as a cluttered closet can actually cause low-grade depression. Every time I open the closet door, a small nagging voice reminds me over and over again that I really should do something about it. Procrastination is generally my response, “Oh yes, I know, I’m too busy right now, I’ll get to it later,” but I don’t.

When our lives are physically cluttered we become emotionally drained.  That’s not living the simple life; it’s living a deeply frustrated one which has a way of robbing our vision for bigger and greater things. It robs us of the productivity we need to accomplish our dreams.  What I’ve found is that it’s sometimes harder to think about cleaning things up than actually doing it. The first and hardest step is to get started.

This past winter Nancy and I both got bad colds. They were so bad we didn’t leave the ranch except for an occasional trip to the doctor or to pick up a few supplies.  It was cold and snowing outside and rendered us housebound. Neither of us were bedridden or so sick we couldn’t do things, but we were sneezing and coughing and had limited energy. Out of boredom, Nancy decided to use her time to clean out our closet. When she finished, she felt exhilarated and tackled another one and then moved to the laundry room. Pretty soon the car was full of black bags and boxes of clothing and unneeded household goods. Her accomplishments motivated me to take on my shop and the barn.

I built a cabinet which held two large plastic parts boxes and filled their drawers with all types and sizes of screws, bolts, nuts, washers.

For several years, I’ve had a five-gallon bucket of miscellaneous screws, washers, nuts and bolts which were given to me by an old friend.  Every time I needed something, I found myself dumping out the entire bucket on the shop floor and rifling through the pile in hopes of locating a certain type of hardware.  Many times, even though I knew the part I needed was probably in the bucket, I would instead drive to Home Depot and purchase a bag of new items.  I could never find the time to sort out my bucket and because of that, I wasted time and money either dumping out the bucket or driving to the city and paying for things I already had.  This winter, I dumped my bucket one last time on my work bench and took an entire day sorting things into organized piles. I built a cabinet which held two large plastic parts boxes and filled their drawers with all types and sizes of screws, bolts, nuts, washers and other miscellaneous hardware.  It not only was a functional thing to do, but my effort gave me a feeling of real satisfaction and accomplishment.  This first step broke my procrastination cycle and motivated me to continue organizing the remainder of my shop. But it didn’t stop there.

Then came the bigger things– the toys or (in my case) the farm implements that had been cluttering up the place and were rarely used.  For many, it might be a boat, a camping trailer, an ATV, or snow machine which is used once or twice a year for recreation and, in some cases, still requiring monthly payments. These are the things which, when first obtained, seem like a good idea, but actually have a way of putting us in a kind of bondage.  Once you own them you feel like you have to use them to justify their existence. It’s a type of bondage because you no longer own your toys but instead they own you. If this rings true to you, then I’d say it’s time to make some hard choices and call Craig’s List. Your junk can be another man’s treasure and the money you make can now be put towards your vision for getting out of debt and living a more deliberate life.

Pursuing a more simplified life takes discipline and sacrifice. It demands living a “deliberate life,” which will be the next challenge and our fourth step towards a sustainable/simplified life.