Simplicity in Action: Brooke

Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.


Sometimes, in the journey towards simplicity, time is the missing ingredient.

I discovered minimalism when I was at an incredibly dark point in my life. I was scared, angry and so unsure of my next step. Then I stumbled upon Zen Habits and discovered minimalism. And I clung to it like a life-preserver.

I instinctively knew that living with less stuff, less debt, less clutter and more presence, more joy, more mindfulness was right for me and my young family. I just knew.

Within weeks I had decluttered wardrobes, cupboards, the store-room and garage. I ruthlessly tackled the kitchen, the bedrooms and the office.

Over 10,000 items were given away, recycled or thrown away. We held two garage sales within three months and filled 5 enormous skip bins with stuff.

It was intense. Immediately I began to feel better. Lighter, freer, happier, calmer. I was a better parent, lover, friend, sister and daughter. But something was off. I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was holding on to a lot, and I knew it, but still I resisted letting go.

I couldn’t let go of:

  • Thousands of pieces from my defunct designer jewellery label
  • Boxes and boxes of baby clothes
  • Piles of childhood memories – school work, awards, trophies
  • Sentimental items from my grandparents, aunts and uncles.

And do you know what I did to rid myself of that stuff? Nothing.

I let the rhythm of simplifying take over. Instead of pushing it, stressing over it, making life miserable for myself, I trusted the process.

Whenever I felt that familiar frustration growing, the feeling of overstimulation, I took that as my cue to reassess:

What was feeling cluttered? And I decluttered it.
What was feeling complicated? And I simplified it.
What was nagging me, that was just not quite right? And I addressed it.

I never pushed these things. I understood that all I needed was time. This was no longer a competition with myself to see how much crap I could get rid of in a weekend. In the beginning, approaching it like that was easy. There was just so much stuff. It was now an exercise in mindfulness. In finding balance. In discovering limits and then gently testing them.

And over time, the rhythm played out perfectly.

Those things I couldn’t imagine being without – the jewellery, the baby clothes, the childhood memories, the sentimental items – they became easy to part with.

I learned that they were not my past, my future, my successes or my failures. They were just things. And more specifically, they were things in boxes that I never looked at, never used, never wanted. And over time, they left me.

Now, more than ever, I am closer to where I want to be.

Turns out I just needed time.

Read more from Brooke McAlary at Slow Your Home and read her book Destination: Simple – Rituals and Rhythms for a Simpler Daily Life


  1. says

    When I discovered minimalism I felt the same way – that here was something that could help rebalance my work-orientated life. Minimalism rescued me too and I may not ‘there’ yet but I know I’m heading in the right direction. This account is very reassuring and inspiring – thank you!

    • says

      Pleasure, Claire! I think our gut instinct is a very valuable tool in life. Often we instinctively know there’s something off, but it’s a matter of luck, timing and listening to ourselves to find a better way.

  2. Kathy Mader says

    Wow, that was excellent. You are such a great writer, Brooke. Thank you for this common sense approach.

  3. Sarah T. says

    Wonderful! Great approach. I too found the initial purge easy and immensly satisfying. As the simplification continued, it became harder and I missed the “purging high” I received from vast amounts of discarded stuff. This gives a great perspective- don’t force it. As you continue to change inwardly, you will continue to change your surroundings to reflect those changes. I love that you were in tune with what was bothering you to be able to address the root of the problem and make changes from there. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Thanks, Sarah! I know what you mean about missing the purging high. That’s where my ‘why’ came into its own. Once I reminded myself of the reasons I was pursuing a simpler life, it became much easier to move beyond the decluttering en-masse stage and move towards the more balanced, contented life I was looking for.

      I love this too: “As you continue to change inwardly, you will continue to change your surroundings to reflect those changes.” SO great. x

  4. says

    Awesome post Brooke. Time is exactly what my journey into minimalism is taking. But, step by step, I will get to where I want to be. Thanks for sharing and I’ll check out your blog!

  5. Lisa Aherne says

    I am slowly going through the process of decluttering and freeing up calming space. The more I do the better I feel. Through links on twitter, her blog, website and email contact Brooke is inspiring me and I am deeply appreciative of her help. Thank you.

  6. says

    I’m starting to declutter my life and I was doing well until I got to my wardrobe: the amount of clothes I have that I don’t wear (but they still fit) I’ve collected the past years is INSANE. I’m taking it one thing at a time, and I am sure that time will take me to a better life.

  7. says

    What I love about your story, Brooke, is how you pointed out your desire to make it happen right now, but worked through that to acceptance. When you really want something to happen – the next big project, a great relationship, etc. – it is hard to wait. I love how you pointed out that it is ok, even essential, to just be ok with that!

  8. says

    This is the first post I’ve read at your site Courtney; your obvious mindful tranquillity permeates your writing – it was a pleasure to read.

    It is so strange how the human mind seems so intent on immediate change, immediate results; even though it’s counterproductive and creates such emotional discord. Accepting change as a continual, gradual process – of kaizen – is like you say the key. Live with that ethos and our goals move forward naturally, positively and with ease. You illustrated that beautifully in your post.

  9. says

    Great post. Brava on moving at your own pace. If you know where you need to be, it may not matter how long it takes to get there as long as you are taking actionable steps each day. How cool is the internet?? All these blogs at our fingertips that can forever change our lives.

  10. says

    I loved this, thank you for sharing! My own journey to getting rid of stuff has been similar, chipping away slowly, but it adds up quickly!

  11. says

    I can completely identify with this. Well stated! I have things that I can ruthlessly weed out, and then there are things that I need time to sit with before I let them go. But just as you said, over time, it does become easier. So it is ok to give yourself a little grace when you feel very sad or confused about letting something go. Set it aside and focus on the easier things. And then be willing to come back to it when you aren’t feeling so overwhelmed and when you seem better able to grasp just how happy you are with less.

  12. says

    I can relate to having strong emotions and then calming down the more order and clear space appears at home, and I appreciate those tips for when you’re overstimulated.

    Excellent post!

  13. says

    Yes to what Sarah T. said!! Just found you this morning and you told me some things that I really needed to hear. Now I will hesitate and meditate before i really begin….is that just other words for ‘procrastinating’? lol