Living the simple life

Spring may be time to consider decluttering home and life

It’s spring, time to clean the house and toss out the old.

For some, though, it can also be the perfect time to declutter more than their closets.

They can simplify their lives.

Emily Allred, for one, was living under the crush of “too much,” too.

Too much time at work.

Too many material things.

Too little time to enjoy life.

“I feel like we, in the modern world right now, are trapped in the basic belief that material goods have a direct impact on your happiness,” said Allred, 28, a graphic artist and lifestyle blogger. “We have to have the newest cars, the newest gadgets and then wind up in jobs that are unfulfilling. We can’t change jobs because of money.”

Last fall, the Decatur woman, who considers herself an “aspiring minimalist,” participated in a 30-day challenge to simplify her life. “It’s about the small decisions that you make on a daily basis.”

A growing number of people like Allred are taking steps to push back against the “too much” lifestyle. The concept of the simple life, or minimalism, has been around for ages. Decades ago, it was called voluntary simplicity.

For some, that means stripping down to the bare necessities. For others, it means changing your priorities and cutting back on material things.

“People want to get in touch with their higher selves and find out what’s really important in life,” said Dr. Wayne Ross, a metro psychiatrist who specializes in anxiety spectrum disorders. “How can you be present, if you’re too busy?”

Ross and his partner recently visited friends in Miami. There were probably 10 people at the gathering and each one was on a smartphone.

“I just didn’t get it,” he said. “Here we are trying to get together and connect and people aren’t talking with each other. My partner and I said, ‘Look, we’re going to dinner, see you later.’ ” They left.

Best friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were recently in Atlanta to promote their new book, “Everything That Remains,” which chronicles their efforts to live a minimalist, meaningful lifestyle. Millburn and Nicodemus founded “,” a website about living with less money, fewer things and more meaning. The site has more than 2 million readers, from fewer than 60 its first month three years ago.

Millburn was an upwardly mobile 20-something telecom executive pulling down just under $200,000 a year. He had a house with more bedrooms than people, expensive clothes and the latest gadget. He was living the American Dream — or so he thought. With those trappings came a lot of debt and stress.

Then he was knocked on his backside by the loss of this mother and marriage in the same month.

He started to question every part of his life and looked at what really added value to his life.

He started with the easy things first, like getting rid of excess clothes. Then he moved on to relationships. He discovered that the people he spent the most time with, like co-workers or networking friends, were based on proximity or convenience, not necessarily value.

“The people I spent time with weren’t the closest people to me,” Millburn said. “I think that’s the reason my marriage ended. I didn’t give it time.”

Todd Schnick also sought a simpler lifestyle. Like Millburn, he started ridding himself of clutter at home. He learned that while removing the physical clutter from the attic and basement was an important step, “true minimalism is removing the mental clutter from your head, which then frees you to focus on things you really care about.”

To that end, Schnick started reviewing his commitments to others. He discovered he was so over-committed that he left little room for himself and those he cared about.

It didn’t happen overnight.

“It’s a slow, methodical process but it’s very freeing,” he said. “The true power of minimalism is that it doesn’t matter whether you have 150 things or 114 things. What really matters is that it gives you a sense of control again. I’m not letting the physical crap dictate how I spend my life and money. I don’t over-commit myself to a thousand projects and people who need my help.”

He found that possessions were not bad, if they provided you value or joy, but he didn’t need a house full of stuff, including five television sets.

As for Allred, today she considers herself better off with less.

She decided to work part time and started shopping much less online. Allred, who is married, admits that it helps to have a second income in the home with someone who loves his 40-hour-a-week job. She plans to do periodic simplicity challenges to break those old habits that creep back. And she hopes with more time she can pursue other interests and ventures that add value to her life.

“This isn’t just because we’re making less money, but because it’s about having a different mindset,” she said. “A less-is-more mindset, I’m far happier.”

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