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Living with less, and loving it
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Living out of a suitcase for three months has taught me just how few possessions I need to enjoy life. - photo by Erin Stewart
We have been living out of a suitcase for three months while waiting on the construction of our new house. Fortunately, our extremely generous friends took us in and we have been living in their basement.

We packed for only two weeks with July weather in mind because that is how long we were supposed to be homeless. Now three months later, I have learned several important things, including:

My kids have no idea how to use toothpaste or a toilet. Since we have been sharing a small bathroom between two adults and two children, I have realized that somewhere along the way of raising my two daughters, I overlooked two key life lessons: the lid goes back on the toothpaste when you are done with it and you flush the toilet before leaving the bathroom. Yes, every time!

Space can be a good thing. When you are living on top of each other in a small area, you realize just how close you are as a family. You also realize that a little bit of personal space never killed anyone. Not that I dont love waking up with my daughters toe up my nose every morning or anything because I relish that only slightly more than the exquisite feel of a Lego piece jammed into my feet on my way to bed every night.

But most importantly, I have realized how little we actually need to be happy and live comfortable, content lives. We each had a suitcase when we arrived, and weve bought a few more odds and ends over the months, but we have far fewer clothes, shoes and things than we do normally.

And honestly, I love it.

I love the simplicity of only having a few clothes to pick from, and not caring that everyone at school or church has seen me wear the same dress five times. In a way, I feel liberated from the stuff that often sucks away my time and energy. I dont have tons of laundry to put away because there arent tons of clothes. I dont have to nag my kids about picking up toys because there are just a few to leave out. I dont spend time at stores because I have nowhere to put things anyway.

I get in my mind sometimes that I need certain things to be happy or that my children need the right toys or the right clothes to have a good childhood. But if living tight quarters has taught me anything, its that we are the same family with the same love for each other no matter where we are or how much stuff we have. We dont need a thousand pairs of shoes or a million toys to be happy. In fact, all that stuff usually just gets in the way.

I teach my children all the time the difference between a want and a need. I say, We just dont need that today when they come up to me at the grocery store with the latest "Frozen"-licensed item with that look in their eye that says, This is it! The thing I have been missing my whole life. Oh, if I could just have this one thing, I could be truly happy forever.

I am a pro at saying no to these kind of heart-wrenching requests. We dont need it. Its not in the budget this month. You have toys you dont even play with at home. We dont need to buy a toy every time we come in for milk. And so on.

But Im not sure Ive done such a good job myself drawing the line between how much we actually need and all the things we just want.

And if these past few months have taught me anything, its that purging my life of stuff is not about denying myself, its about allowing myself to live free from the burden of things. Because really, when you get right down to it, thats all things are. They burden my time. They burden my bank account. They burden my family as we turn our attention from each other and toward objects.

Now, Im not about to relinquish all my earthly possessions and go join a commune or anything, but I am taking a look at my life to determine where I have built up my treasure in this life.

And when we do finally move into our new home, I will ask myself tough questions ranging from whether I really need five pairs of black shoes or if we really need a swingset when there is a park three houses away. I will force myself to ask a few questions:

Do I need this or can I get by without it?

Will this possession bring me joy or short-term happiness (or neither)?

Will this object free up my time or consume it?

Will it enrich my relationships with people?

If I dont like the answers, I can say no. I control what comes into my home and my life.

I hope by looking at each object I bring into my home, we end up with less. Less energy spent on cleaning. Less time spent shopping, returning and purchasing. Less interaction with things.

And in the process, well find more. More time together. More joy. More room in our drawers and in our lives for the moments and people that matter.