A Year Living With Less: Intermission

Ed. Note: I’m under the weather and under the gun this week, my dear friends. I’ve got a cold, the boy has a cold, and my other deadlines are keeping me from doing much in the way of de-cluttering or cleaning of any kind.

Instead of posting a video of me cleaning off my horrible kitchen desk (which remains, as ever, horrible), I offer you this meditation on stuff and what it means — or doesn’t mean — by chambanamoms.com reader (and my friend) Amy Armstrong.


By Amy Armstrong

I have had more than a few conversations  about how people live beyond their means. Buying items, they do not need because they think it is what they are supposed to have in order to fit in. Buying because they are trying to fill some other need or hole in their life.

Is your Oreo overstuffed? Photo by Torben Bjørn Hansen, Flickr

Is your Oreo overstuffed? Photo by Torben Bjørn Hansen, Flickr

With the birth of my daughter Larkin and her ensuing health issues, I began purging our home of unnecessary items and “stuff.”  Anything that required dusting and that didn’t have an emotional attachment — gone.  Clothing that was hanging around waiting for me to lose 20 pounds — gone.  I kept my son, Chase, even though he gathers dust because I do have the emotional part with him — although 14 is wearing me out.

Recently, I ventured into the storage area of the basement.  Pictures, frames, items from three moves and apparently every single piece of paper Chase touched from pre-school to date. I sorted through it all box by box.  Memories are a powerful force.  Going through pictures he drew, progress reports on how amazing it was that he could play with the pegs and arrange them just so.  It made me happy to see the progress this beautiful young man is making.

Larkin will have lots of progress reports, and I have a file folder stuffed with them from 2-and-a-half  years of therapy. Her journey will be very different from Chase’s, but I will have the same items to go through.  Pictures, reports, and pride in her accomplishments.  It’s tough on ol’ mom, though. I have made lemonade out of lemons (I added some vodka here and there) and I keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Time is getting away from me and my babies are getting big.

I am scared for her future. Chase will make his own path as I have supervised it and chosen it. But for Larkin, I have to follow the one set for me by the school district, therapy,  and everyone else who is smarter then I am, but most of all I am following a path that other parents cut away for me, paved with their blood, sweat and a lot of tears.

Inclusion is there because of those parents and children who have gone before me. Educational plans are better because of them, my life will be somewhat easier, and I am humbled because of the work they have done.  Larkin will have a lot of advocates in her educational plans.  I don’t doubt we will get exactly what she needs.

I got Chase’s items down to one box.  In that box are memories of a marriage that produced him. He deserves to know the love that brought him into this world.  Letters that his grandmother has written to me for him, notes his father wrote me and keepsakes from school.  Love is in that box.  I know exactly where the items are in this house that I would take if I had to leave in an hour.

Our home doesn’t have a lot of “stuff” anymore.  Someone is enjoying vases, pictures, clothing, and items purchased out of impulse, gifts that didn’t make sense in our life.  My cleaning helper made a comment that the house is easier to manage.  Yes — so is my life.

Clutter inside and outside the head makes it hard to function.  If it sits too long in this house and I won’t shed more than six tears if it breaks — it’s gone. I don’t shop anymore except for groceries, and it’s amazing how easy and calm it makes my life.  I don’t worry about the next big thing and I don’t feel compelled to have “stuff.”

Now when I visit other people’s homes I am amazed how much others have, and I wonder if they really love it and care about it or if it’s just filler.  I don’t make any judgments, I just wonder. My personal Oreo has just enough stuffing to keep my cookie sweet and I enjoy it a lot more.

Amy Armstrong. Photo by Christopher Rory Photography

Amy Armstrong. Photo by Christopher Rory Photography

Amy Armstrong is is married to Andy Armstrong and has four children: Chase, 14; Larkin, 4; and twin infant daughters Brin and Erin. After the birth of  Larkin, who has Down syndrome and a catastrophic seizure disorder, Amy became an advocate for children with special needs –  and all needs. Her vision to create a a multi-generational, all-inclusive play space in her community will become a reality with the upcoming construction of the new Champaign County YMCA and Larkin Place’s at the Y.

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  1. Hard not to love you, Aim.

  2. Laura L. Hollis says:

    Yeah! Every summer I find myself cleaning out and giving away. I am not a “collector,” so thank goodness I don’t have a lot of “things.”

    For me, the process of “giving away” comes from what I sometimes think is my reincarnated personality from some other life I lived during the Great Depression! What can be reused? Recycled? Made into something else? Fixed and mended and used by someone?

    Even things that some might call “junk” or “trash” I look at and think, “Hmmm – there’s still some life in that thing!” Jess teases me, because I put it out on the curb with a sign that says “Free!” He says, “For heaven’s sake, Laura, no one will want that.” And lo and behold, someone comes along and wants it. The barbecue grill that was fine (if a bit dinged up)? No problem – here came a fellow with a pickup full of old grills. “Can I have that, Senora?” he said. “Absolutely!” I replied. “Wait! I have the vinyl cover for it, too!”

    Ditto for the old TV (which worked), the umbrella strollers and carseats we no longer needed, the computer monitor that was old.

    My latest thing? Bins and bins of children’s clothing that are wonderful, only gently used, and so needed by others. So many of us have them – not ‘new’ enough to sell, but sturdy enough to be useful. I want to start an annual community “giveaway.” I even have a name for it: ‘Bin There, Don(ated) That.’

    Anyone interested??? :)

  3. I heard the best comment ever from a dad on Oprah who lived in a country with less space than we are privileged to here in the United States. They learned to live with amazing organization and less stuff than we have in the states….he said…”less space, less stuff, more life” This has stuck with me in a very deep way much like your over stuffed oreo analogy has since last year Aim. 😉 I have a new perspective. Thank you.