Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
I stood in my mom’s closet, her flashy clothes and fun shoes stuffed on the hangers and shelves around me. She had died two days earlier, and now I was struggling to pick an outfit that would best represent her one last time before we laid her to rest. I had a lifetime of memories with her, yet couldn’t find the clothes that encompassed her vivaciousness, passion, and kindness. I was in too much shock to cherish memories and “fondly look back at the good times,” as many friends and family members urged me to do. I clung to the things she last used, grasping for anything to keep her close.
The next spring, we finally hosted a garage sale of most of her things, with the family keeping our favorite mementos to bring us comfort. Sorting through someone’s stuff after they’ve died is a traumatic experience you cannot describe without having been through it. Yet with each item I passed along to its new owner, I was able to feel my pain and process it. It began to sink in that while these things and this stuff felt like my mom, they weren’t her. Overcoming that mental hurdle was the biggest challenge, but coming to that realization is what started me down the path to simplicity.
During college and as a young graduate, I moved six times in seven years. Each move was in July, with temperatures in the triple digits. Even after suffering through these tough moves in the hot and humid Texas summer, I still never cut down the amount of stuff I owned. Jewelry, clothes, bags, shoes, things, stuff…everywhere. I strived to be organized and clean, but I wanted all these things. The juxtaposition of my feelings often overwhelmed me, but I realized that what I had learned about my mom’s stuff applied to my own as well.
I began purging the clothes, shoes, and tchotckes that I had clung to for some reason and didn’t care for anymore. I took my favorite old t-shirts and had them made into a t-shirt quilt. It keeps me warmer than 25 individual t-shirts ever would. For every thing that I give away, I think of all the people who will use it more than me. I think of what my family would have to deal with if I died suddenly. I take a deep breath and enjoy the space that I create.
During this new simplicity era, my dad caught the bug. We never needed to vocalize it, but it’s clear that the trauma of my mom’s death and the garage sale pushed us both to get rid of what didn’t matter anymore to make room for what does. Additionally, my dad has a chance to process his memories as well. He finds old pictures and texts them to me, and we have a good laugh. By having less, we’re able to highlight those few cherished possessions that bring us joy every time we see them. By having less, we’re able to enjoy our time together even more–although I still haven’t gotten him to take a yoga class with me.
I’m still a simple living work-in-progress. I still love shoes and clothes; however, I buy far less than I used to, and I make sure everything fits well and is made well. When I bring something new into my closet, I get rid of one (or more!) things. Learning about simple living and putting my knowledge into practice has given me the tools to continue living a life of purpose.
Even though it’s been five years since her death, I still think of all the memories we have: all our inside jokes, the way she taught me to speak my mind and my heart with poise and grace, and how important it is to give to others. I know she would be proud of the life I’m creating for myself. And I know she would tell me to continue enjoying the simple things, and always look for the fun shapes when you look at clouds.
P.S. A new version of the Goodblog Project (a virtual workshop to help you do work you love) is coming this May. You can sign up here to be the first to know about the upcoming changes and offerings. If you don’t want to wait until May, learn more about how to work me when you are ready.