Trying to Live Simply in A Real Home

I sort of backed into minimalism as a means to happiness. Before hitting the road last summer, we sold most of our possessions in order to raise money for our trip and eliminate the need to pay for storage while we traveled. In the process, I discovered and frequently espoused the benefits of owning less stuff. Now we’re getting settled into a new, less mobile home, and I’m finding it harder to keep living my values.

A few weeks ago, I showed Jared the Pinterest boards I’d created with design ideas for our future home. I had been pinning new couches and color palettes as eagerly as I’d subscribed to minimalist blogs a few months earlier.

“What are you doing?” Jared asked, not so much out of curiosity but with more than a hint of disbelief.

“We’re going to have a new home to decorate again!”

“So you’re going to buy a bunch of stuff to replace everything we got rid of?”

“Well, we have to… I mean.. I’m not going to replace everything…”

It turns out I have no idea how to do minimalism in a typical home, and, once again, extremism proves to be easier than real life.

Jared wants to fill our rental with Goodwill and Craigslist finds. His focus is on making do and spending as little as possible. I want to invest only in things we love, focusing on versatility and aesthetics at the best price possible.

Jared reminds me that buying secondhand items has less of an impact on the environment. Conservation is important to both of us, especially after visiting Costa Rica, and we want to model a respect of nature for our kids. Our common values also include putting experiences over things, spending money and time consciously, and getting the heck out of the house as often as possible.

And I know this, man.

But, as Emma so aptly told me from the balcony of a luxury resort in Turks and Caicos, “it’s just easier to be happy when I’m surrounded by beautiful things.” The kid has a point.

I loved our Florida house. I loved the paint colors we’d chosen and every piece of furniture. I felt accomplished and like a “real grown up” because of the home I’d created there. While I no longer want my maturity or feelings of self worth to be defined by a house, I do miss the sense of home I had there.

The RV never felt like home. My family became my home base, a transition that I’m grateful for and wish to maintain, but a part of me has been longing for a nest, a sense of place. It’s been over a year since I spent a Sunday afternoon or a Friday night lounging on a couch. I miss that. I want that.

But do I need a brand new leather couch with clean lines and smartly hidden storage in order to comfortably lounge?

Probably not.

And yet, contemplating the comfort of home quickly gives way to filling up a home. One moment fantasizing about the familiar and I fall head first into consumerism and tradition. I spent a year hiking away from that mental rut and could, in one week, surround myself so completely with trappings that one would never know I lived in an RV for a year.

I think that’s what Jared is afraid of and what he is warning me against. His life has changed more than any of ours in the last year, and so I suspect he has the most to lose by a return to the way things were. (Ironically, it’s for this same reason that I’m warning him against working too much.)

I turned to Joshua Becker, author of Becoming Minimalist, for some advice on how to create a home from scratch without overdoing it. He pointed me to a recent HuffPo article by Francine Jay – Less Is More: 15 Pieces of Furniture You May Not Really Need.

I bought the new couch anyway.

I have not, however, purchased a coffee table yet. I’ve also held off on dressers, end tables, bookshelves, an entertainment center, and a frame for my bed.

I did buy a vintage 50s-era kitchen table with a salmon-colored top and totally cool upholstered chairs. I’m using a sheet of packing foam for a kitchen rug on purpose, but I love the crap out of that table and chairs set.

I’m trying to focus on the basics and ask myself why before I bring anything into our home. I’m also indulging in things that inspire a smile when I look at them. I’m trying to create a home with integrity while nailing down the difference between what I value and what I think I should value.

I’m working on balance, in other words, something that is not nearly as simple as fanaticism.

The results, so far, are mixed.

Also, I haven’t unpacked the real camera yet.

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  1. Megan says:

    This is something I struggle with as well. I love design and could fill 100 Pinterest boards with ideas. As we move toward our transition, I’m trying to get rid of the excess. Part of that is planning on living in a smaller space, which I think will help, but the other part is assessing what we actually use regularly. That will be key in setting up a new household.

    Cute table!
    Megan’s most recent post: How I Lost Control

  2. Fadra says:

    I love your kitchen chairs. A blend of the old with a bit of modern flair. My grandmother had a table and chair set like that. Maybe the trick is to go with a retro look. Somehow, they all seemed to live with less and make it look elegant in the process.

    And if you need a reminder of how cluttered life can be, feel free to swing by my new house in Maryland.
    Fadra’s most recent post: Celebrity Shopping Buddies

  3. Nyt says:

    I think the whole “minimalist” idea is a good one, so is conservation and recycling. The balance between both is in how you live as a family. I think it’s important to see how you all live in this space together once your new life takes on it’s own rhythm. Once that happens you’ll really be able to set a value for things before you accumulate them. I’m all for recycling and craigslist (I’m in the middle of refinishing a craiglist find for the Eggroll) BUT I’m always aware of Momma’s rule— “you didn’t save a dime if you have to go out and buy it again because the first one didn’t hold up.” It’s true… and so much more than just a justification for expensive handbags :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      This reminds me of my addiction to Keurig cups. They are not financially or environmentally responsible, but they make my mornings!

  4. About three and a half years ago, I moved into my (now) husband’s flat. Two months after that our two roommates moved out. Suddenly, we were faced with a completely empty apartment (we had exactly enough furniture to fill two bedrooms). At the time, we had almost zero discretionary income, so we came up with a plan: upholstery, we agreed, was to be purchased new. (Because… bed bug epidemic. Ick.) Anything else was to come from other sources. We could spend up to $40 per piece, though we could spend more on refinishing or updating, if necessary.

    I love great design, and I ADORE pinterest. With that said, I’m also proud of the home we’ve created. It has taken A LONG TIME, and we have some major pieces still left to procure, but we’ve basically stuck to our original plan. Now, three years later, it’s time to start fleshing out our home with items that may cost us more, but we’ve figured out what we actually need and want, rather than falling prey to the temptation to replicate someone else’s pretty living room.

    In short, I think your compromise is a great one! (And really, you can find some AMAZING things on Craigslist or at yard sales!)
    Abby – Bright Yellow World’s most recent post: July Wrap Up

    • Miss Britt says:

      I found myself adopting your rule over the last several days as we looked at garage sales and stuff. :-)

  5. Carly says:

    I CANNOT WAIT to have you guys over for dinner. Coffee tables are just more surface area for collecting clutter, in my opinion. Which is not to say I will never own one, but I haven’t missed not having one for the past 8 years or so. I also think “entertainment centers” are ugly and pointless, especially now that most TV’s can hang on the wall. I love stuff that has a double use, such as seating + storage, or storage + art, etc. I say go for a bed frame though, even if it’s just a simple frame or platform. But at least then you can put stuff underneath.

    Anyway, I struggle with this too, in fact I plan to purge the hell out of our house when I get home. Then fill it with grown-up furniture, n’at. I’m hoping that doing it slowly and deliberately, with a Pinterest board to keep me focused, will help me not go overboard and have lots of stuff I regret buying. I use Pinterest as a way to “pretend to buy” stuff and I go back and look at it over time and some stuff I realize was chosen out of momentum rather than a true connection with the piece. Other stuff I put on there to get a general idea of what I think looks good together without having to do trial and error in real life. Can’t wait to check out your boards!!!

  6. i have more shit than i know what to do with, but i don’t have a kitchen rug.

    anyhow, back to you. personally i think you can keep the home from being cluttered without having it be barren.

    also, after our success yesterday with emma’s bed i am all gung ho to run around with you and find cheap stuff that we can fancy up with a fun paint job. family project time!
    hello haha narf’s most recent post: My Heart, She Soars

    • Miss Britt says:

      Thank you so much for your help fancying up – and you should see Emma’s shelf – it turned out great!!

  7. Lisa says:

    I’m a huge fan of being selective with the things we bring in our house – I have to love them, or they have to mean something to me. We have limited space and there isn’t room for clutter, so we instituted the rule that if something new comes in something else must go. It helps keep the stuff minimized, even though you know from having been here that we aren’t minimalists.

    I like the policy mentioned above about things like beds being purchased new while things that don’t have a bug potential can be purchased secon hand. When I was in college my boyfriend and his roommates got a bargain second hand couch and it ended up being infested with lice. I never take a used piece of upholstered furniture unless I know the house it came from after that.
    Lisa’s most recent post: Adventures in Cake

    • Miss Britt says:

      Yeah, this is one of the reasons I ordered new mattresses before we even moved. NO lice or bed bugs!! Ew.

  8. Becca says:

    The last thing my Daddy said to me was “life is about balance.” I understand the feeling of wanting new things, just as I understand the need for simplicity.

    I have made my changes in my kitchen where most of my meals are from scratch, and almost every Christmas present last year was homemade by me and our youngest.

    I tell everyone that all I want is a house in the middle of nowhere with a farm. Realistically though I want that, but with easy access to the city when I want to go to the mall. Good luck in your endeavors for a simpler life, I think many of us want that too.

    • Miss Britt says:

      And I want to live in a city near a park where I can sit with nature all the time. I feel you. :-)

  9. Jamie In Indy says:

    I think we have a king size bed frame you are more than welcome to have if that is what size you need and I can figure out how to get it to you! Also, I admire you and your family.

    • Miss Britt says:

      After 10 years of having a King, we went with a queen this time. I liked how close we were in our little RV bed. :-)

  10. racheal says:

    In my culture, it is common to have a multi-generational home, and so in my home, we have my parents, my brother (and sometimes his girlfriend), my husband and I and my grandma occasionally (she hops from house to house, spending time with different grandkids and children on different continents).

    When I moved home, my parents had just bought a new house to attempt to accommodate all the family and all the guests we host throughout the year.

    We literally started with an empty canvas, building everything from scratch, but trying to hold on to special pieces that we wanted to keep. Our new house is black and white, very modern, but we had transitioned from a balinese type house full of teaks and antique chinese pieces. We had built memories with certain pieces and so when the time came, we had to choose the ones we loved and donated the rest.

    But what I was going to share with you is that I came home with two suitcases. So I had nothing, having to get rid of my life in the States and quite literally selling everything I owned. My favorite dish sets and all the little knick-knacks and you don’t realize all the value you put into building a home until you have to get rid of it. Thankfully, I had had to put it all into storage so by the time I had to get rid of it all, I had learned that I didn’t need it. It was just stuff.

    So when I came home, I made a conscious effort to only choose and put the things I love into the room. Not to junk it up with things I didn’t need, didn’t love or just felt like I needed to have or was pressured into having because “that’s just how things are done”. I wanted to be patient, I wanted to really really love what was in my room, and so I picked out a closet and floors I love, a chandelier that makes my heart happy and decals on a wall to remind me that “life is beautiful”.

    It’s been two years, but I still don’t have nightstands. My husband makes fun of me continuously for it, because we live a little like hobos. But I tell him, I just haven’t found it yet. And that’s okay.

    And my parents somewhat subscribe to this philosophy too, choosing to do without than to just do. We’re not actively searching for pieces but just slowly putting the house together, choosing to enjoy the time spent trying out sixteen different chairs and laughing over how big our butts are or high-fiving each other because we found the PERFECT patio furniture, it has a little something for everyone but most of all, it has a long dining table that we can sit outside next to the pool and have dinner together as a family on a nice night. I’ve learned it’s about compromise and finding what means the most to you, we have big personalities and strong opinions in our house, and so we are patient, because we know this magical piece of furniture will come, and in the meantime, we just enjoy this process, plan our dreams, and learn what is important to us.
    racheal’s most recent post: Peace.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Patience, I think, is the key. I have thought about that word a lot over the past week and am trying to practice it.

      It doesn’t come easy for me. :-)

  11. Heather says:

    Most of my furniture is second hand or hand me downs from my sister. I’m good with that. Occasionally, I dream of a day when what I have matches…but those days are few and far between! I would love to go minimalist and I am very good at getting rid of stuff when I clean but to go without dressers? I’m not sure I could go that far! I love the kitchen table though! So perfectly retro! Good luck!!
    Heather’s most recent post: Friday Photos

    • Miss Britt says:

      Somehow, none of us ended up with dressers.

      Mine and Jared’s closets have a shelf/drawer system built in. Devin put his clothes away in his big closet by himself and was able to fit everything into bins or on hangers. Emma did the same with a bed with drawers.

      I was like, oh, OK then, guess we don’t need dressers! lol

  12. Allyson says:

    Consignment shops have classier, better kept furniture than goodwill, and while the prices aren’t necessarily goodwill prices – they are very inexpensive, usually.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I have such a hard time spending too much on used furniture. In my head, if it’s used it should be bottom dollar!

  13. JB says:

    Love this post! Thank you – this balance is one we are about to struggle with as we sell our 1,000 sq foot bungalow and buy something with more space. And I covet that 50′s table and chairs. It’s beautiful! I would suggest an IKEA bed that I’ve got my eye on – its got a few drawers, and a slat headboard. I think what your daughter said is key – as I pack, I am going to ask myself – do I love it? Does it bring me joy? If the answer is anything but an enthusiastic yes, I am leaving it behind.

  14. sandra says:

    I don’t think it’s an either/or; I think you can buy a few amazing things (maybe one for each room?) that are really good quality, and try to buy them from places that focus on sustainability. And then fill the rest with used furniture. That way you, like many brides, have something old, something new…in every room.

    Plus, anything upholstered…should just be new. :) I say this as a New Yorker terrified of bed bugs.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I did end up with one set of upholstered chairs that are used – but they are in FABULOUS shape and… well… so far no one is itching. lol

  15. I love your kitchen set!

    I wish that I could get rid of everything and start over. Right now we’re trying to purge and declutter but the “I think I might need this” is taking over.

    “difference between what I value and what I think I should value” — this is very difficult for a lot of people…including me.

    I bet between you and Jared, you can make some of those pinterest ideas work by finding the things second-hand! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
    Wendy [mapsgirl]‘s most recent post: I escaped for the day with @FordCanada #FordEscape

  16. We have a lot less stuff now than ever before, but I sure am going to make it all pretty. I don’t buy decorative items like vintage scales or bottles I won’t use, but my house certainly isn’t spartan.

    Your kitchen table reminds me of the one I grew up with. Those things take a long time to die and they’re so practical.
    Starr @ The Kiefer Cottage’s most recent post: The cheapest bookshelves on Earth

  17. Audra says:

    I love how honest this post is. After I look at a new furniture catalogue, I have to remind myself that quality and second hand don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I try to surround myself with Pinterest boards and blogs where people use thrifted stuff and make it amazing. Check out Maya Made and Wisecraft (blogs you may already know) for great examples of people who transform thrifted stuff into masterpieces. (Blair Wise’s table that she covered with a Goodwill canvas painting was genius.) The stuff you find at estate sales will be higher quality than furniture at Target or even Pottery Barn. I’ve been really good at limiting my purchases by only buying that which really has meaning for me beyond just how something looks. I did just buy a new coffee table (new to me, estate sale on 1/2 off day). the big draw was it is round so it is safer for the girls to play around and it is big so we can play games and work jigsaw puzzles on it.
    Audra’s most recent post: Zerolandfill ’12: The Third Harvest

  18. [...] a misguided effort to save money, reuse and upcycle items I have, turn this place into a home, and justify my Pinterest addiction, we have been doing a lot of [...]

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