Does Less “Stuff” Equal Less Busy?

My two youngest kids recently finished reading Little House in the Big Woods for their literature class, and I haven’t stopped thinking about the book since. The book goes into great detail about the daily life of the Ingalls family. It shares every step of their game plan to stockpile food for the winter, from the harvesting of the veggies to be put in the root cellar to Pa’s hunting for meat that he’ll smoke and save for winter meat.

They share a scene where, at Christmastime, the kids are overjoyed to get their Christmas gifts: some homemade peppermint candy and some newly-knit-by-Ma mittens. They talk about bundling up with blankets, animal hides and hot irons as they prepare for a Christmas journey in the sleigh to their grandparents’ house.

All of this has me thinking about our own journey toward living with less. We’ve drastically cut down on our consumption of all things in the last three years. From kids’ activities, to money spent on groceries and eating out, to purchasing things from the home, to making our own laundry detergent and hanging clothes on the line instead of using the dryer, etc., etc., we’ve really made some big changes in our strive to live a simpler life.

Yet, when reading this book with the kids, it became obvious that there is SO much more we could do to live with less. I’m not sure what this looks like in real life. Most all of us have a tendency to compare ourselves with those who have more than with those who have less, and we’re no exception. When I compare our consumption with our former suburbia neighbors, we look like minimalist rock stars. When I compare us with the minimalist bloggers I find online, we look like over-consuming, clueless schmucks.

Since we’ve started our school year, the kids have been overwhelmed with our schedule, and everyone is getting a little cranky. There are some very valid reasons for this: we went back to the homeschooling co-op (one day a week “school” for home schooled kids) which we’d taken a break from for four straight years. This return to co-op has been a blessing, but adds extra work to our schedule. The school work loads for the kids are heavier than in previous years simply because they’re all a year older and a grade higher. We’ve had extra chores to do around the house as we prepare for winter.

In my quest to ponder where we can cut back so that stress decreases a little, I wonder where to start. All that we do is seems necessary, but it’s obvious that we’re doing too much. Is this just a season? Will things slow down as winter arrives? Or is ‘busy” just a part of life and we all need to “buck up”?

I’m not sure what the answer to this question is yet, but it presents another question in my mind, and that question is:

If we had less stuff, would we be less busy?Β 

On one hand, the answer is “no”. The modern conveniences of today have afforded us the luxury of not having to hunt, kill and process our own meat or preserve our own veggies.

The other hand shows us where our “busy” now lies: in electronic gadgets, fun stuff, activities, etc. and the management of these things.

So, for us, the goal I guess should be to balance how much we live in the pioneer state (i.e. canning our own food, etc) with how much we reduce the use of today’s modern gadgets. Comparatively, we enjoy much less screen time than the average consumer, hanging out at about 4 hours per day instead of the supposed average 11 hours per day most Americans spend looking at a screen (she types as she’s looking at a screen).

Should we cut back? However, screen time isn’t the only time-suck in our family. There’s lots to clean and maintain. Maybe if we had less “stuff” we’d have less time that we had to spend on cleaning it and putting it away.

I’m unfortunately Β not presenting you with any answers today, only questions. How do we simplify life? How have you simplified your life? What have you cut back on/thrown away/stopped doing in order to make life less busy?


*Photo courtesy of Alan O’Rourke

13 comments on “Does Less “Stuff” Equal Less Busy?

  1. The simple answer that I think everyone usually goes to is do what’s important first, make a priority list etc. I do believe that to be true, but not sure that helps much. I do think having less physical stuff makes life easier. Less to clean, less to misplace, less to put away, less to organize etc. We’ve been trying to declutter for awhile. With our children school comes first and than other activities. I want them to try new things and find out if its for them or not, and always stick with it for a period. If they than find out it’s not for them I’m okay with them quitting. My daughter played tennis for 3 years and than gave it up, and than move on to art club. Sometimes its just about trial and error and remembering it’s okay to quit something all together.

  2. It’s been probably 30 years, but I actually remember all of the stuff that you described from that book. I agree, too much stuff takes away our time. Everything we own requires some of our time, not only when we buy it, but as we use or it, or even as we keep it, we’ll have to give it attention along the way.

  3. One quote from a mentor of mine is, “Life is always unbalanced, but that doesn’t mean you’re to be without margin.” Right now you may spend more time than you want on kid’s schoolwork and on your own work, but you can still make an effort to prioritize rest and unstructured time (to be filled by the needs or wants of the moment)- it just means something else will be nearly down to zero.

  4. The lifestyle of the Ingalls family is admirable and homey – but it’s also one of nonstop work. In some ways, frugal living means freeing up more time. For instance, I’m sure we save both time and money when I cut my husband’s hair. But in other ways, frugal living takes more time and more work. I love frugal cooking – but chopping and slow cooking definitely do take work and time. I think that each one of us has to decide in which ways we want to reduce our expenses in order to get to the financial health we’re aiming for. Some “stuff” – like our hair-cutting kit – is worth having for many reasons. I’m not big on comparing. Other frugal bloggers inspire me – but I have no desire to keep up with them. Or the Ingalls : )
    (That was quite a mish-mash of responses I just gave you!)

  5. Well, you know my shtick, so I’m not going to bore you with it. For sure minimalism not only saves time cleaning and maintaining excess stuff, but makes it easier to clean and maintain what you do have, because everything’s not all squashed together, piled up, and/or buried. I saw a documentary about these Polynesian islanders who were going to be relocated due to their islands sinking (oceans rising). I was transfixed with their simple lifestyles. They dressed very minimally. Their homes were quite sparse. They simply fished and collected fruits and veggies for meals. They relaxed a lot. Barefoot and fancy free. And now they were being transported to “civilization”. They sure were sad, and the follow-up on them showed that they only got sadder. What a terrible shock the busy-ness of so-called civilized life was. So many clothes, so many people, so many things to do just to be able to afford food and shelter. I think we could all use a little old school Polynesian magic in our lives.

  6. I loved the “Little House on the Prairie” books as a girl. Now I want to re-read them πŸ™‚ I think life with kids is just always going to be busy, no matter what we do. I try to be a frugal person, but sometimes that doesn’t happen and I have to learn to be okay with that. I don’t always succeed mind you, but I try πŸ˜‰

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