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The Drastic Parenting Move I’m Making Before It’s Too Late

Photograph by Getty Images

A few months ago, I experienced a moment I'm sure plenty of other parents have experienced themselves. I walked into my daughter's room, found toys and clothes strewn over nearly every inch of space, and I thought to myself, "This child has way too much stuff."

When did his happen? Never in my life have I been a collector of stuff. In fact, it was just seven years ago that I moved 3,000 miles north with nothing but the contents of a single duffle bag to my name. Prior to that move, I had been a vagabond of sorts, moving every few years and ridding myself of possessions with each goodbye.

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But then I became a mom, and the stuff kind of just piled up. Part of that had to do with the impromptu nature of my impending motherhood; I was asked to adopt my daughter just a week before she was born, and all my friends banded together to ensure we had everything we would need. Boxes upon boxes of stuff arrived at my front door in a matter of days. And for a while there, as I worked to organize, I wasn't even sure I would have enough space to properly store it all.

I wanted everything to be perfect. And that routinely translated into buying things I probably didn't need.

I certainly wasn't innocent, though. I had yearned to be a mother for a very long time and had spent several years afraid that it would never happen at all. So, yeah … I wanted everything to be perfect. And that routinely translated into buying things I probably didn't need. For instance, does any baby really need a wipe's warmer, just to ensure their bum never gets a chill?

When my daughter got older and started actively engaging in the world around her, I was no better. Now, trips to the store became punctuated by searching for trinkets. "I've got a present for you," became my six favorite words. I loved the way her face would light up when presented with some new book or toy.

But, wow, did it ever add up fast.

A few months ago, I happened across a friend's blog post about her foray into minimalist living, and my breath hitched as I read about her moving "toward more intention and purposeful living." For her family, that meant cutting down drastically on the "stuff" and focusing more deeply on the "living."

Everything she was saying spoke to that girl I used to be. And as I looked around our own home, I realized I had allowed us to become entirely too consumed by "things." I wanted to change that. Now. Before my daughter grew old enough to place value in those possessions over the experiences and people in her life I want her to gravitate toward instead.

So I began to work toward shifting us in the direction of a more purposeful life as well. It started with getting rid of more than half of our belongings, documenting the process, room by room, on my personal blog.

That's right. Over the last six weeks, I have been packing away boxes and putting them on our deck for charity. I've taken spaces from this:

To this:

And this:

To this:

And so far, this is what I've compiled for Big Brothers, Big Sisters (a charity that will actually come to your home to pick up items you wish to give away):

The only reason it's all still out there is because I'm only about halfway through our home so far. I hope to double that stack over the next few months.

As I've gone through our belongings (yes, both mine and hers) and tried to determine what to keep and what we could live without, I've realized we need far less than I had previously allowed myself to believe. And I suppose that's kind of the point.

I think in general, we all have a bad habit of getting caught up in the possessions we convince ourselves will bring us fulfillment. But in reality, most of that stuff just piles up and creates clutter in our lives. It prevents us from focusing on what really matters. And all of that comes at a cost—not just a financial cost but also a cost to our value systems and the way we interact with the world around us.

I'm minimizing our life while maximizing our living.

The people I've known in my life who are the most obsessed with "things" are the people I would never want my daughter to grow to be.

I want my daughter to have wonder for the world around her. I want our money to be spent on experiences, like travel adventures abroad or dinners out with friends. I want the "things" she owns to be things she truly values—things that actually bring her happiness, rather than things she owns simply because everyone else owns them as well.

I want her to grow up knowing she doesn't need a bunch of stuff to be happy or to prove her worth to those around her. I don't want to live our lives keeping up with the Joneses when she can focus on spending time with those we love.

So, I'm doing this now, while she's still too young to really notice the shift. I'm clearing out our stuff and instituting a "one in, one out" rule from this point forward. I'm minimizing our life while maximizing our living.

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When I think about our future, my dreams don't involve us sitting at home in front of the latest tech gadget. No, I picture us traveling somewhere new every year. I see us camping and hiking and exploring this amazing state we live in with our friends. I see her becoming someone who values her friendships and time with those she loves over any material possession.

And I truly believe that this is the start.

So, we're saying goodbye to our stuff. And hopefully, hello to a whole new way of living.

Images via Leah Campbell

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