Megan Kelly owns four bras.
The mom of three — Elisabeth (5), Sara (3), and Noah (5 months) — used to have more lingerie. Until recently, she had more of pretty much everything: clothing, kitchen supplies, paper, books, and toys for the kids.
She also had more laundry, more stress, and more debt, along with more square footage to keep track of and clean. The only thing she didn’t have more of, she says, was peace.
The 27-year-old, who is studying to be a life and health coach as well as pursuing a degree in management from Athabasca University, used to live with her former husband in a 2500-square-foot home in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Back then, she recalls, “I always had two or three piles of laundry on the go, the size of the leaf piles my kids jumped in in the fall. My house was never completely clean, and I was doing housework obsessively, three hours a day. I was a hot mess.”
Today, Megan and her fiancé, Adam, live with the kids in a space less than half the size of her previous home, and they’re about to downsize even further: this summer, they’re moving into an RV.
It’s the result of radical decluttering. Over the past several months, Megan has worked with Helen Youn, a certified KonMari consultant, who guided her through “the life-changing magic of tidying up.” The process, which became famous through Japanese author Marie Kondo’s book of the same name, asks people to evaluate every single thing in their homes and to discard, donate, or recycle anything that doesn’t spark joy.
At the beginning of the process, remembers Megan, “I was drowning in paper. I couldn’t work at my desk because it was already covered.” She had boxes of extra clothes, inventory from previous businesses, kitchen supplies, kids’ toys, photographs. During weekly, hour-long phone calls — often with her mother holding baby Noah — Megan sorted through it all.
“Getting rid of things puts your past at rest,” she says. Now, she says, she has nothing that reminds her of her previous relationship or an unsuccessful business venture. “Getting rid of it was so freeing.”
Before, “things didn’t have a place because we just had too much stuff, so I was constantly shoving things into drawers or onto tables. I never felt rested. Now, if something is out of place, I know exactly where it goes, and it takes just a second put it back.”
Her wardrobe, she says, “is probably a fifth of what it was.” In addition to those four bras, she owns two pairs of jeans. “And it’s enough. It all makes me happy. It all fits. There are no itchy tags. I like the way all of it looks. I could probably get more bras, but I’d rather keep up with the laundry. I’d rather spend that time with my kids.”
And that, to Megan, is the real magic behind her home’s recent transformation: having less stuff has translated into having more peace of mind, more quality time with her kids, and more happiness.
“My parenting has shifted a lot. I feel like I’ve done a complete 180. Before, I was always, always stressed and anxious. It used to be that I could only leave my house if it were in perfect condition, so I never left. Which is not good for anyone, let alone a mom with young kids. That feeling of the housework never being done so I couldn’t do anything else — it’s completely gone. Now, we can go to the park — I never would’ve done that before. I was too anxious to take all three kids out. Now, I’m actually capable of playing with them, of sitting down and playing trains, or just holding the baby and talking, and not excessively housecleaning to escape.”
The shift to less stuff is having a ripple effect.
Megan’s daughters, for example, don’t seem to notice or care when she tosses their toys. “They used to fight over all kinds of picky little plastic toys, like Who gets the purple one? And I realized, ‘This does not bring me any joy.’ And I got rid of the toys, and so much of the fighting stopped. It had never occurred to me before to do that. Now, there is literally less to fight over.”
Similarly, Megan’s mom, she says, used to come by the house with bags full of plastic toys from the dollar store for Elisabeth and Sara, “who would just fight over them until they fell apart. And as my mom watched me de-clutter my home, and saw how much I was enjoying the process, she slowly stopped. And now, if she comes to the house with a bag, I’ll just tell her, ‘Don’t bring that in. My house is perfect. Don’t un-perfect it for me.’”
At this point, says Megan, her family of five has downsized enough to move into an RV. She’s excited for tiny living, not to mention avoiding the financial pressures of renting or buying a house. And she’s up for the minimalism that RV living demands. “We are aiming for a close-to-zero-waste lifestyle: reducing our packaging and our plastics, buying way less, buying used, and — when we do need to buy new stuff — making sure it’s high quality and will last us a long time. I’d rather buy one, really good blender than a $30 blender every year.”
She’ll trade the extra space, and the extra stuff, for peace of mind any day.
“I was mopping the house the other day, and I realized that I wasn’t mopping ‘just to get it done, just to get it clean.’ It was more of a feeling of, ‘I’m cleaning because I want to take care of my space and keep it clean so that we can have family time.’ It felt peaceful.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Join us on Facebook.