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Are your possessions stealing your happiness?
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Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie in "Labyrinth." - photo by Erin Stewart
We are in purge mode at our house as we prepare to move yet again. That means Ive been digging through old boxes of stuff we havent touched in the last six years but have moved across the country three times.

At the bottom of one of these boxes, I found a wooden sign we bought as newlyweds. We hoped the message on it would be a guiding principle of our life together: SIMPLIFY.

Oh, the irony. This sign has been buried deep under memorabilia, knickknacks and who knows what else for years. Sure, when we started out we had no furniture, no children and probably 10 worldly possessions. SIMPLIFY sounded like a perfectly reasonable, obtainable life goal.

Now, 13 years and two kids later, simplifying is tough. I am not a hoarder, but over the years, our accumulation of stuff has grown along with our family. Babies need at least 20 times their weight in molded plastic to survive into toddlerhood. Then, toddler toys have some magical power of reproduction that enables them to multiply in the night, scattering ever more My Little Ponies, stuffed animals and Legos across the house. And what about all that artwork? What kind of mother am I if I throw away the random piece of paper my daughter doodles on. She could be a famous artist one day and I would have thrown away her first painting. The shame!

Heaven forbid your children ever see you actually trying to get rid of something. That doll they havent even looked at in three years suddenly becomes their best friend that they absolutely cannot part with ever.

And so it goes. Little by little, the stuff takes over my house and my life. The stuff consumes my time with cleaning and organizing. The stuff affects my relationship with my kids as I bark orders to clean up because I just stepped on another Lego. The stuff is a burden instead of a joy. Bottom line: The stuff makes me unhappy.

So I am taking back control of my life from the stuff. I am waging war on things as we prepare for this move. I am not becoming a minimalist or anything, but I am making a conscious choice to SIMPLIFY. I choose not to let the stuff crowd out the moments and the memories with the people in my life.

Heres what Ive learned so far that has helped me reclaim my life:

Ask questions. Have I used this in a year? Is there a real situation in which I would use this in the future? Does having this item enrich my life in any way? The key here is to answer the questions honestly. Am I really going to go searching for that computer manual if my computer breaks or am I going to look up the answers online? Chuck it.

Pick your favorite. Do I really need five pairs of black heels or jeans for every occasion? I know I will choose to wear my favorite pair every time, so why keep the others? When I pare down my shoes and clothes, an amazing thing happens: I feel like I have more choices because all that is left are the things I actually use and like. Everything else is just clouding the choice and taking up space. The same goes for childrens toys. When we pare down to just a few favorites, the kids play better with each other, spend less time cleaning and actually enjoy the toys they have.

Have a plan. Decide how much stuff you will donate and throw away each week. Dedicate a spot in your house or a box for donations, and then actually take it to a donation center on a set schedule.

Dont beat yourself up. The whole point of de-cluttering is to free myself of the burden of stuff. So Im not going to trade that burden for the guilt of keeping something. If I want to hold on to something for whatever reason, I do.

Assign space. Get a container for things like childrens artwork, school works and memorabilia. Commit to only keeping whatever fits in that box. For me, each child gets a 5-inch-deep plastic bin. If its full and I want to keep something, I have to get rid of something else. Of course I want a few things to remember each stage of our childrens lives, but keeping everything they put their name on is overkill. The pieces I keep will mean more if I pick only the ones that mean the most. (I admit I still throw away my childrens artwork at night because I cant bear their accusing looks when they find their latest macaroni and glitter masterpiece in the trash.)

Stop the buying! Purging is only one side of the SIMPLIFY mindset. The other half is not having a steady stream of purchases coming in. For me, I had to not only set a strict financial budget, but also stop browsing deal websites. I remind myself that the deal will be there if and when I actually need something. And more often than not, I end up not needing it at all.

As I march toward my goal to SIMPLIFY my life, I often think of a scene from the 1980s movie "Labyrinth." (Thats right, a little David Bowie classic throwback here for ya. Extra points if you just started singing, "What babe? The babe with the power.") In the scene, a woman weighed down with random stuff tries to distract the protagonist from her mission by using all her favorite childhood toys. She piles on the "treasures" of teddy bears, dolls and jewelry boxes. Finally, the girl realizes whats going on and exclaims, Its all junk!

I dont want "stuff" to distract me from my real treasures and mission, which is to raise my children in a loving, orderly home. Simplifying is not just about making more space or organizing, its about refocusing my time, energy and attention on the people not the things that matter most.