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Downsizing to Happiness: 3 Women Who Discovered Less is More

Downsizing to Happiness : 3 Women Who Discovered Less is More :: Mint.com/blog

Less is more.

That’s the theme of these women’s lives—women who at one point had too much stuff and too much space.

These things brought them stress, so they turned it around.

And they are not alone. Decluttering, organizing and purging have become passions for many women.

Consider Vivianne Palmer, the Boulder, Colorado, mom who blogs at Process of Eliminating, where she documents her mission to purge 10 possessions each day for a whole year (she has three months to go).

Not yet inspired?

Read what these women threw out, and how it changed their lives forever.

Goodbye, accessories overload

Amanda Starrick, a senior lecturer at a state university in Decatur, Georgia, knew she had a shoe and purse problem when in 2000, she moved from her home state of Illinois to Phoenix and took more than 100 pairs of shoes and 25 purses with her.

Four years later when she moved to Georgia, the collection had grown to 150 pairs of footwear and 40 purses.

“I felt like having a lot to choose from was a good thing, but I never felt like I had enough to choose from, so I kept buying,” says Starrick, who describes herself as a “T-shirt and jeans or a corduroy and cardigan kind of chick.”

In 2009, she divorced and moved again.

“I was very worried about money and resolved to quit buying stupid stuff, especially since I was moving into a smaller space,” Starrick says. “Plus, when I looked at my collection, I saw shoes that I only wore once a year or looked awesome but were painful on my feet. It was just silly, shameful consumerism. Yuck.”

Purging your closet can help you prioritize your needs vs. wants.Starrick made a vow to limit her collection to no more than 25 pairs of footwear (including sneakers, flip-flops and house slippers) and seven purses.

Today, if she buys a new item, she also gets rid of one. She swaps out clothes in her closet seasonally, and each time reassesses her wardrobe.

Starrick sent an email to her closest friends declaring her resolution “as a way to keep myself honest.”

“If what I own for that season doesn’t fit in my storage chest, I purge and I don’t replace anything until the next swap,” she says. “As a result, I am much more conscious about making sure everything I buy will work with my other clothes.”

Purging excess stuff was cathartic, especially as Starrick started a new life after her divorce.

“I got rid of a lot of baggage literally and figuratively, and my seasonal purges feel just as good,” she says. “I still have more than I need, and the purges make me prioritize my needs versus wants and make me more mindful of consumerism and appearances.”

And her wardrobe is better than ever. “Today, I choose more wisely and invest in better quality,” she says.

Less house, better life

Two years ago when Honorée Corder and her family relocated from Las Vegas to Austin, Texas, they found they could get twice as much house for their money. So they did.

Their new 4,500-square-foot rental home “had space for everyone—and then some,” says Corder, an executive coach whose daughter is now 13.

The home had five bedrooms, a bonus room, office, workout room, vaulted ceilings in the dining room and a “man cave” off the master suite.

She says, “We chose that house because that is what society tells you that you need: to collect things and spend money.” Corder filled the colossal house with couches, end tables, lamps and accessories.

The family’s goal was to build their own home in the area, a plan that was turned upside down when their landlord unexpectedly sold the house and gave them 60 days to relocate.

Instead of finding another palace to rent, the family did an about-face and moved into a 1,200-foot luxury high-rise apartment development that includes retail and entertainment.

They have since abandoned plans to build a big house.

“Now the problem became: ‘How do we get rid of all this crap?’” Corder says.

The first step was to invite family and friends to take what they wanted. Next step: Make regular trips to the Goodwill. But there was a more personal evolution at play.

Because the downsizing was so dramatic, each and every possession was scrutinized, including a pair of crystal Tiffany votive candleholders that she’d received as a gift.

“I moved those candles from house to house to house for years, even though they were not practical or even particularly loved,” Corder says.

She held tight to their name brand and monetary value, despite the fact that they were never once lit—and weighed 40 pounds.

“They actually cost me money because I paid my housekeeper to clean them every couple of weeks, then paid someone to pack them up and move them multiple times,” she says.

There is no room for such impracticality in the family’s new home. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is “like an aircraft carrier.”

Everything has its place because space is such a premium.

Gone are the mounds of beautiful towels that were rarely used; today, each family member is assigned two towels, a hand towel and a washcloth. There is no dining set, as the family eats in the living room.

And having fewer square feet has hidden financial perks beyond the lower overhead.

“Now because there is less space, I am less motivated to shop,” Corder says. “I have always been a shopping person, and I would go to Stuart Weitzman and buy seven pairs of shoes. My thinking was, ‘Some is good; more is better.’”

But that thinking is completely gone now.

Limited space means each member of the family must think critically about where new purchases will live, and the smaller quarter brings everyone closer together—both physically and emotionally. “Now we hang out more together as a family,” Corder says.

Getting a hobby all tied up

Janet Perry is a lifelong needlepoint enthusiast, and for most of her life, the craft was a hobby with a reasonable thread collection.

But in the early ’90s, Perry’s passion grew, and along with it her thread stash.

“Until then it was reasonably under control,” says Perry, who lives outside of San Francisco. “But then for many years, I had a very high-pressure job, and I turned to needlepoint to de-stress. Some needlepointers buy a canvas as a souvenir or as a pick-me-up  like some women buy lipsticks.”

Typically, new projects meant buying a canvas along with all the prescribed threads, and Perry did not check her existing collection for duplicate fibers. The colorful collection multiplied.

A messy workspace can lead to stress and procrastination.

In the mid-’90s, Perry became ill with multiple sclerosis and turned her hobby into her career—designing projects, testing threads and teaching the craft. “Now that thread was a business expense, everything got out of control,” she says.

When her husband became upset upon discovering boxes of thread hidden in the garage, Perry was motivated to shop her thread collection before purchasing new supplies. But the dramatic downsize didn’t take place until five years ago when the couple moved houses.

The move was an opportunity for Perry to reconsider her thread habit. Before, her goods were stored in a 12-by-12-foot office. Today, she’s weeded the bounty down to fit in a 4-by-6-foot shelf.

“That really made me think of my stash in a different way,” she says. Before, loose threads were tossed into an “enormous” bag that then had to be rummaged through for her work.

Today, the threads are neatly organized in boxes. And current projects must be organized enough to fit in a small tote bag.

The change means that Perry is more efficient and much happier. “I’m much more creative now,” she says.

Before, when she allowed herself to buy new threads for every project, she was hastier in her choices. “Today, I have to really sit and think about what colors will look best, and that means better quality and more creative work,” she says.

The change has been a boon for her whole life. “You have to make compromises with yourself to live with chaos, and that wears on you after a while,” Perry says.

“Being organized and having less stuff means that if I want to start a new project, I know where everything is. I don’t procrastinate like I used to.” And her husband? “He’s very happy I don’t buy so much stuff,” she says.

Emma Johnson is a writer for The Real Deal, the online magazine by RetailMeNot.com, the largest digital coupon website in the U.S.