The Spectrum of Clutter || Why Having Too Much "Stuff" isn't Always the Problem

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A few weeks ago, I asked my Instagram followers which “type” of clutter most weighed them down. The answers were, as you’d expect, all over the board, with most saying that physical clutter distracted them the most. But regardless of which type bogged an individual down more, one thing stood out to me as I read the comments of the photo.

Not one person said they felt like clutter didn’t affect them.

No one said that they had all aspects of their lives squared away and didn’t struggle with at least one area.

This struck me because, despite our obsession with Kon Mari-ing everything, downsizing, and ensuring our wardrobes are neatly edited and capsuled, it’s still not enough. We still feel stressed. We still feel overwhelmed…sometimes (for me at least) it’s an overall feeling of overwhelm that I can’t peg on anything in particular.

These moments of “general overwhelm”, I’ve learned, usually boil down to an excess in one of the following areas that I haven’t recognized until it’s too late.

Sure, we can’t weed out every aspect of stress or “extra” from our lives, but we can do our best to recognize when we’re doing too much, owning too much, or taking on too much and learn when to cut back. It’s been one of the healthiest mental exercises I’ve started doing for myself, and I hope that once you’ve become more aware of which area of clutter stresses you the most, it will do the same for you too. Learning to think of clutter in a broader sense can be much more helpful than you’d realize.

I’d love to hear which clutter-style you most relate to in the comments below ;)

*Disclaimer, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these areas, nor am I a psychologist. The following areas are simply describing things I’ve noticed both in my own life and in the lives of those I love.

  1. Physical Clutter

The first “pillar of clutter” gets the worst rap of them all, likely because it’s the most visible and the most publicized. Physical clutter is out in the open, for you (and everyone who enters your home) to see. Our possessions are a reflection of what we value, so of course, they’re the first thing that gets attention when we get stressed or in need of a detox.

For some, myself included, untidiness is a major area of stress. I usually feel like I can’t sit down to write or be creative unless my space is at least a little bit cleaned up and I have a cup of coffee in hand. I’m drawn to aesthetics, so I like my space to reflect the kind of creativity I’m trying to conjure up. That’s likely why I was so drawn to minimalism after becoming a mom — it felt like the only way I could regain a sense of control and identity. Lots of you said the same thing on Instagram. You feel like you have too much stuff, too many clothes, too many unnecessary “junk drawers”.

Clearing out this clutter is a great and important step towards feeling more free, but it only scratches the surface.

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2. Mental Clutter

It usually takes a bit of a “self-discovery” journey to figure out whether mental clutter weighs you down or if you’re able to stay more or less “on task” when it comes to your thoughts. Through learning more about myself via the Enneagram, I’ve learned that as a type 9, I have an exceptionally hard time learning which tasks to prioritize. This often leads to a brain fog where I’m aware of everything I need to do, but can’t quite nail down which item needs checked off first. Usually, I end up doing something less important (scrolling Instagram or picking up after the girls for the thousandth time) instead of doing the more intimidating but important things first.

Mental clutter can look different for everyone though. Some people are able to mentally keep track of everything (Type 1’s i’m looking at you), but for others, it’s really their mental clutter that weighs them down more than anything else.

3. Calendar Clutter

Oh, the glorification of staying busy. We get bored, so we schedule more. All too often, we subconsciously assign ourselves value through how many playdates, or meetings, or business calls we schedule for a particular week. How much we do, or achieve, instead of who we are. Having things to do somehow makes us feel more important/valuable/validated.

I wrote a few years ago about this “glorification”, making the case that being busy isn’t better. In this post, I break down a list of “why’s” for doing something — for example, I sometimes sign up for something because I think it will make someone else happy, instead of doing it because I want to do it.

I try to use the same “spark joy” mentality that I use for the belongings I keep when it comes to the way I schedule my time.

4. Emotional Clutter

Physical clutter gets a bad rap, but it only scratches the surface when it comes to other types of clutter than can weigh you down. Which type do you relate to most?

For those who feel before analyzing (feelers vs. thinkers), emotional clutter can be debilitating. Oftentimes, this boils down to drama with family or friends or stressing over an important decision and being unable to prioritize anything else.

In cases like these, it’s so important to recognize which relationships are an added weight to your life without adding joy or edification. Of course, some relationships we can’t cut out fully, but there are most certainly times when saying goodbye to a toxic or unhealthy relationship is just the thing to help your mind heal and de-clutter.


Clutter, being the buzz word that it is, can be tricky to nail down. Clearing your life from clutter completely isn’t necessarily possible (or healthy), but being aware of your clutter stressors can help you live life more fully and simply.

Minimal Kids: Encouraging Imaginative Play in Small Space Living

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Quite easily the most common question I’m asked after someone learns that we live in an RV goes somewhere along the lines of “but how do your kids play in there?”. There’s an underlying assumption that the smaller the space or the fewer the toys the unhappier the child.

Allow me to beg to differ.

We’ve never had a lot a lot of toys for our kids (mostly because the minute I became I mom I immersed myself in minimalism and have gradually been trying to strike a healthy balance ever since). I’ve always tried to encourage my kids to lean into boredom, be thankful for what they have, and not base our playtime around “things”. But this phase of life where we’re intentionally limiting ourselves (spatially) has taught me a lot about how kids (or at least my kids) play and how to foster an environment that encourages them to lean heavily on their imaginations instead of their toys.

Also, my girls have plenty of toys, trust me. I’m not a miserly mother who doesn’t believe in letting my kids have “things”. They have lots of things. But I hope this post can act as both clarification and inspiration for anyone who is curious about imaginative play, regardless of your house size.

To a child, just about anything can be a toy. I’m constantly amazed by Evie’s ingenuity — she’s my maker; constantly building, creating, drawing, tying, sewing, re-purposing. Mara is just as imaginative, but she prefers to play with her dollhouse, ride her bike, or dress up as whichever queen/mom/friend/animal/hero she’s obsessed with at the moment (as long as it involves shoes). Their interests and imagination styles are polar opposites but somehow, they haven’t run out of space or ideas for what to do yet.

Although I can’t take credit for their creativity and ability to play well together, I’ll share a few things I’ve intentionally done to foster that environment as much as possible and, ideally, create a home that they don’t get bored of or feel stifled by.

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  1. Choose “open ended” toys

All of the toys in our RV are relatively open ended, meaning my girls can use them to play multiple ways. My girls love their dress up clothes, like the butterfly wings, cape (made from recycled Saris) and crowns all ethically made from Do Good Shop, one of my favorite one-stop fair trade shops, especially for families. They use these pieces almost every day and have dreamed up so many different roles and scenarios to play in. I love that these pieces aren’t specific to any story/movie/game so my girls can imagine that they’re just about anything (as opposed to, for example, their Elsa and Anna dresses which are more limiting in their “line of thoughts”).

In addition to dress up things, they have a small play kitchen from Ikea, a basket of their favorite stuffed animals (Evie wants to be a “pet shop owner” when she grows up, so these get lots of use), some Mega Bloks and a set of wooden blocks to make roads for cars, a small dollhouse with mini animals/furniture/clothes, and lots of coloring supplies and play dough.

They also have a basket of books that we swap out each week when we go to the library and they spend their “quiet time” reading to each other.

Toys like these allow my girls to get more creative than other toys with a more structured purpose. They can play with all of them at once (and usually, they do), or only a few at a time, but they haven’t run out of exciting combinations yet.

2. Swap them out regularly

To stave off boredom with their toys, we have a few more options in storage (where we have the rest of our “house stuff” at my parents’ house) and sometimes I’ll switch out stuffed animals, bring in a new game, or exchange their blocks for other toys to keep them excited and interested. This practice works regardless of the size of your house and makes it like they’re getting new toys when really you’re just pulling pre-owned things out of storage.

3. Encourage outdoor play

The most important part of encouraging my kids to play imaginatively, I believe, is making sure they get tons of time away from their toys. The majority of their playtime, especially in the warmer months, is outdoors, where they’re building forts, getting dirty, exploring nearby, and simply put, being kids. I know not everyone has the space or lifestyle where they can get outdoors frequently, but even a daily walk or trip to the park is beneficial for kids. In nature, children can imagine anything, become anything they want to be, and experience the world in it’s purest form, without plastic toys or man-made interventions. The accessibility to the outdoors is one of the main reasons we’ve chosen this lifestyle and this location specifically.

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4. Get comfortable with messiness

There’s a time and place for structured play and clean up time, but I also believe that in order for imagination to thrive, things have to get messy. Even though I tend to be fairly laid back as a parent, it’s taken me a while to get comfortable with the idea of letting my girls turn their room into a jungle or a mansion or a pet store or the wild west knowing the inevitable battle that will follow when they have to clean it all up.

Small spaces are destroyed in half the time, so cleaning up after each round of play has been the only way I’ve been able to mesh the importance of fostering their imagination with my need for some semblance of structure.

When they’re outside, all hopes of staying clean goes out the window. They’re constantly riding bikes, digging, building with rocks and sticks, and meeting little bugs. Even though the increased frequency of bathtime (or, if we’re being honest, a quick wipe off at night) is just another thing on my to-do list, I love that they’re able to get messy and really explore with all of their senses every single day.

As I type all of this out, I’m realizing how simple it all sounds. Small space living, when met with two incredibly imaginative kids, isn’t really restrictive at all, it feels very intuitive. Every day is a new chance to turn their space into something new, a new chance to get messy, explore, and create in ways they wouldn’t be able to if they had endless piles of toys and empty space.

I’m curious how this looks in your lives, fellow mamas! Do you ever struggle to encourage your kids to play creatively or does it seem to come naturally?


*Thank you to Do Good Shop for sponsoring this post and gifting my girls with a few of their very favorite toys. Do Good Shop is a long-term partner of SL&Co. and is doing incredible work to provide fair wage and safe jobs for artisans around the world.

Use the code SIMPLYLIVANDCO for 20% off your purchase.*

How to encourage your kids to play MORE with LESS -- Lessons from a family of five living tiny.

Deciding to go Tiny || Why we took the plunge

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As trendy as “tiny living” may be at the moment, deciding to take the plunge into a smaller space, be it a camper/RV, a trendy tiny house, a small apartment, or anything that feels “restricting” spatially can be more than intimidating.

For anyone who doesn’t know, my family of four (five any day now!) has been living full-time in an RV travel trailer since September — nearly 9 months. There have been lots of struggles that come along with going tiny, and equally as many benefits in that time and I’d love to share a bit of the back story here in case anyone reading is considering downsizing too.

As odd as it may seem, I’ve never considered myself a minimalist. If you’ve read my blog for years, you may remember when I really got into intentional living and began downsizing our belongings and creating capsule wardrobes for myself. That phase, about four years ago, was the most “rigid” I’ve ever been about minimalism and although it was extremely beneficial for my mental state and for learning how to say no and create a home I loved, I eventually got burnt out by the rules of true minimalism and gravitated towards something closer to “intentionalism”.

I don’t believe in intentionally depriving yourself of things you love, nor do I endorse the purely aesthetic mentality that the word minimalism can evoke. I think living with less is much more than curated white walls and sticking to a color scheme for your entire life. Real life is messy, tiny or not, and the size of your house or the amount your own won’t change any of that.

RV living for us, so far, has been empowering because it’s been an intentional decision both my husband and I made together to move towards our goals of getting out of debt and buying or building a home in the near-ish future. It has been hard, especially during the winter, and we’ve had plenty of “what are you doing with your lives” looks and conversations from friends and family. But, in spite of it all, we’re both convinced this path is right for us right now, and for anyone who may be toying with the idea and enchanted by the freedom that tiny living can bring, here’s a bit of our story…

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Our why

Due to a host of reasons, Aj and I, like most people, felt like we could never work our way out of our debt we had accumulated together over the past five or six years. In that time, we had two babies, bought/remodeled/sold our first home (accruing more debt in the process), moved to a new state with a higher living cost, and still battled with things like student loans and car payments.

I know this story isn’t unique. Everyone reading this probably has debt in some form or another. But we knew that if we were going to move forward with the kind of life we envisioned for our family (one of flexibility, freedom to travel, and not being held down by finances), a season of restriction would help us dig ourselves out.

Our when

We didn’t (and still don’t) know how long this season will last. We were careful not to put any time constraints on ourselves because we knew that the second we said we “had” to live in an RV for two years or three years or any amount of time would be the second we started resenting it.

Instead, we’re focusing on the freedom we have, the new appreciation we have for our belongings/space/and each other, and the excitement that we aren’t bound down by a “next step”.

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Our how

We’ve always both loved the appeal and freedom of “mobile living” and have followed multiple people for years who have done it with children, so we knew we weren’t alone in the fact that it seemed to make so much sense to downsize, move into something with a payment we could realistically afford, and “rough it” for a while.

We toyed with the idea of remodeling a used RV, but eventually landed on buying a new one when we considered how rough Colorado winters are and our need for specific things like a bunk house for the girls and a bit of extra space for the baby we knew would be joining us.

We bought the RV, with help from my parents who we were living with at the time, in September and since then, have paid off the vast majority of our debt, have been able to start a savings for the first time in our marriage, and are finally feeling like our feet are underneath us. Restricting space for this kind of stability is so worth it.

FAQ’s

How did you decide “how tiny” to go? Did you test it out first?

We did lots of research before deciding what kind of RV we wanted. AJ had been pushing this idea for a year or more (it actually took me the longest to get on board) so he knew his stuff when it came to different sizes and models. We wanted it to be as comfortable as possible and we knew that separate sleeping spaces were a MUST for us. I also wanted one with an “open” middle space to give us the most homey feel possible.

We didn’t test it out, which felt scary, but we had lived in small spaces before (1-2 bedroom condos and even shared a single bedroom at my parents’ house before this), so we knew a small space wouldn’t be that big of an issue.

How does it work with kids?

One of the most common questions we’re asked about is if our kids like it. At 3 and 5, they’re pretty much along for the ride right now and are able to adapt really easily to every space we’ve lived in thus far. RV living has been no different for them, it’s a home and a safe space that is theirs. They still have plenty of toys, activities, and things to do inside, but I’ve loved the way tiny living has pushed us to get outside more and push our boundaries socially so we don’t get too stir crazy.

If the girls were older and were more actively seeking their own spaces, I don’t know that we’d commit to this longterm (maybe a summer or a year).

Every child and every family is different and their needs are different, and if we sensed that this was in any way, limiting our children’s ability to thrive, we wouldn’t do it. If anything, it’s taught us all lessons that I hope my girls cherish as they grow up.

Do you feel comfortable/cozy in a tight space?

Anyone who knows me knows that coziness is my middle name. I rely so heavily on atmosphere and creating home-y spaces, that I told AJ long before we moved in here that I’d need to make it our own if I expected to make it work. I painted the walls, added shelves and wallpaper, hung decor, and did everything I could to make it feel like “me”, and honestly, this space has been one of my favorites to transform.

Decorating in here is a great exercise in “intentionalism” because not everything works in such a small space. I can only bring in things that serve a purpose or truly cozy up the room. Throw pillows, blankets, warm colors, and decorating it with the same care that I’d decorate a bigger home has made it feel like just that.

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How to know if it may be right for you

Although I wouldn’t take the decision to sell (or store) your things lightly, I also don’t think making the decision to go tiny has to be as scary as it seems. It’s not the only way to get out of debt, find a lifestyle with more freedom, or push your own boundaries and I don’t think it’s right for everyone. That said, if the thought of RV living, buying a tiny home, or downsizing at all excites and inspires you, that urge shouldn’t be ignored.

For us, this was a journey years in the making and not a spontaneous decision, so I would suggest downsizing your current space first, and going from there. Get in the habit of saying no to things you don’t love, learn what items in your closet you wear most, declutter your kitchen, clear the junk drawer….these little habits will make tiny living so much easier because you’ll already be used to living with the essentials and not much extra.

If you’re…

  • Ready for an adventure

  • Wanting a feasible way to get out of debt

  • Ready to downsize your belongings and keep only what you love

  • Looking for freedom to travel

  • “In between” plans and looking for something temporary

  • Wanting to teach your family (and yourself) lessons on the value of less, living sustainably, and creating lifelong memories along the way…

…tiny living might be right for you.

It’s not the only way to achieve those goals, of course, but 9 months in, we wouldn’t trade this season for anything.

Tiny Living || Reducing Waste in Our Kitchen

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Since the beginning of my #InspiringZeroWaste challenge in January, I’ve hesitated to tackle one of the biggest areas that my household (and most households, I think) creates waste.

The kitchen.

Smaller space, as I’ve learned, doesn’t mean less waste and sometimes, it can mean producing even more waste for the sake of convenience.

This post won’t portray me as a perfect zero-waster, because the reality is that, especially in the kitchen, I’m far from it. But I’m working on implementing small steps (that I can actually stick with) thanks to this monthly challenge.

Today, I’m excited to share a bit of what I’ve already done to decrease waste in my kitchen — in this post, I’m welcoming the help of Do Good Shop (although you don’t need to buy anything to lessen your waste!). I’ll also share a few goals that I have for the coming month(s) and hopefully spark a bit of inspiration on your end as well.

If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for ethical home goods, Do Good Shop is a great resource. They’re a non-profit marketplace stocking items that support artisans, end trafficking, and encourage traditional craftsmanship. You’ll be hearing lots more about them in the coming months.

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In my “waste audit” of my tiny kitchen, I learned that packaging and food waste are the two biggest areas my family and I create waste. Although I’m not sure we will ever fully eliminate packaging from our home (packing school lunches without single-wrapped foods is HARD) and I may never find the perfect balance of buying and cooking the perfect amount of food, I’ve found a few ways to consciously reduce waste in these areas that have helped tremendously.

We still produce far too much trash than I’m comfortable with, even for a small family, and I would ideally like to recycle even less than we do (consuming less in general) but reducing waste as a family isn’t easy and I’m choosing to celebrate each small step instead of beat myself up for the long ways I have left to go.

Here are a few ways I’ve gotten started that you can try too:

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  1. DIY as much as you can

    DIY-ing, as much as my aesthetics-loving self hates to admit it, doesn’t have to be pretty. First and foremost, it should solve a problem or expense in your life, ultimately saving you time and money. I’ve fallen in love with DIY-ing my own cleaning supplies which saves my home from unnecessary plastic packaging and the unnecessary toxins found in most cleaning supplies. I also DIY things like tupperware, meaning I’ll reuse packaging certain foods come in to save other food before eventually recycling it. Things like cheese cartons, or even the twist ties found in the produce section can be used in other ways.

  2. Swap cloth for disposables

    It can be a beautifully-made swap, like my cloth napkins from Do Good Shop made by artisans in India using time-honored block printing, or it can be as simple as a cut up old t-shirt to use as cleaning rags. I have (and use) both daily. While my tee-cloths are essential for cleaning the daily messes, I wouldn’t use them to serve as dinner napkins or even something to clean up crumbs or coffee grounds. With these two “products” I’ve eliminated paper towels and other disposable cleaning wipes from my home.

  3. Shop seasonally and avoid plastic where you can

    I won’t even pretend that shopping zero-waste for groceries for a family of almost five is easy, because it isn’t. We have limited access to farmers’ markets and bulk food stores, so I’m usually left with shopping from the organic produce section and crossing my fingers that I remembered my reusable shopping bags. BUT it’s do-able to make a dent in your packaging and plastic intake and it’s worth trying, even if you can’t do it perfectly.

  4. Use your food scraps

    It’s hard to plan how long your food will last and, similarly, how much of it your three and five year old will eat once you make it, but there are ways to reduce your food waste by cooking with unused food scraps and strategically cooking/shopping to reduce extras. I learned about some great ways to use food waste from Going Zero Waste and her newly released book, but you can also do a quick Google search to find lots of inspiration. There are also lots of foods you can regrow from the stems and bottoms, so I’ve been experimenting a lot with that lately too.

  5. Meal Plan

    I’m the worst at meal planning. The absolute worst. In my almost six years of marriage and 5 years of motherhood, I haven’t consistently stuck with it until this year, when I realized how much of a money and sanity saver it really is. Meal planning, it turns out, can significantly reduce your waste in the kitchen too.

Not a super glamorous list, I know, or even what you may have expected (a list full of products you need to buy and eco-switches you need to make). Although products can be helpful for convenience and keeping you motivated, I’ve learned that reducing waste is really a mindset (and ultimately a lifestyle) shift, especially in the kitchen.

I love keeping a few "pretty things” around to keep things cheery and bright, like my Olivewood Serving Tray from Do Good Shop that serves as an in-bed tray, a plant display, a snack server and so much more, and a few pretty napkins and hand towels. But other than that, the kitchen is a place to make messes and get creative, and reducing your waste in the kitchen may not be as pretty as you’d expect either.

My #InspiringZeroWaste goal for this month is to research small space composting! I’d LOVE any resources you know of or tips that have worked well for you. I’m not opposed to an outdoor composting bin (in fact, I’d prefer it) but it needs to be bear and wildlife proof! (#mountainliving).

How hard has reducing waste in the kitchen been in your life? I’d love to hear your tips!


*This post is part of a long term collaboration with Do Good Shop. But all opinions, creative direction, and photographs are my own. Shop the links in this post to support brands that create a better world for artisans all over the world!*

Kitchens are one of the most wasteful areas of most rooms, but you might be surprised at how simple it is to start reducing your trash, even with kids in the house.

Beating the Winter Blues || “The Jar” Method + 21 Ideas to Stay Busy

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I purposefully live in a place where it’s winter for the better part of the year. I also purposefully live in a 37 foot RV. These two “purposely’s” can lead to some wonderful adventures, but, in our four months in this tiny home, I’ve also come to expect the stir-crazies as well.

Regardless of where you live, winter can be long and depressing and, especially when there are children involved, leave you counting the days till the sun shines again. Whether you struggle with seasonal anxiety or depression or are just looking for a few ways to keep your family busy this winter, I thought I’d share a few of the ways I’m proactively staying busy with my girls to ward off excessive winter blues.

The Jar

After seeing this post from Erin Lochner, I decided to do my own take on “the Jar” for winter (and likely each season afterwards). I simply wrote down every activity I could think of on a strip of paper, folded it up and placed it inside an empty jar. Each day, or whenever the winter blues hits especially hard, I have my girls draw one piece of paper. Regardless of what the activity is, we have to do it that day.

The Jar forces me to get beyond my home-body nature and ensures that my five and three year old children are getting the activity they need to stay healthy and engaged in a small space.

It seems rigid, or maybe overly simplified, but when given the choice to go out or do nothing, I usually choose doing nothing. This option forces me to do things that my girls will love and not default to letting them play on their own or, honestly, just throwing a movie on when I get overwhelmed.

My list isn’t exhaustive, but so far, it’s been so helpful for getting us out (or at least doing something new inside) each day.

  1. Build a snowman

  2. Make a fort inside and watch a movie together or read books

  3. Write a letter to grandma (or a friend)

  4. Pick 2-3 toys/clothes/items to donate and go thrifting for a new treasure

  5. Get bundled up and go for an adventure walk outside

  6. Go swimming at the local rec center

  7. Schedule a play date

  8. Bake cookies

  9. Have a picnic on the kitchen floor

  10. Have an at-home spa day (complete with manicures from Handmade Beauty, of course).

  11. Make hot cocoa and watch a movie together

  12. Go to the park and play in the snow

  13. Take the pup on a walk

  14. Play Eye Spy

  15. Draw a picture of…

  16. Play a board game

  17. Make homemade play-dough

  18. Play restaurant

  19. Go to the library

  20. Do 15 jumping jacks

  21. Go sledding

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WInter can drag on, espeically when you've got kiddos to entertain. Here are 21 of our favorite things to do when the winter "stir-crazies" hit.

What would you add to your own Jar? How are you warding off the Winter Blues?