A large focus of the first 35 years of my life was acquiring or dreaming of finally being able to afford some nice new stuff. Building my humble nest with a sense of urgency; an underlying feeling of lack. Slowly along the way, a shift occurred.
I began living from a place of plenty or enough. I realized that so many of the beautiful toys and books and even educational supplies that I had eagerly gathered for my kids remained largely untouched or were quickly outgrown.
That I didn’t like kitchen gadgets. That the clothes I kept buying because I felt I should dress more feminine or because I was hoping they would make me feel better about my body, I never wore them anyways and they inevitably ended up being cut apart and used as fabric in yet another of my daughter’s creative sewing projects.
I decided that I preferred life unstuffed: I don’t need to acquire to build a happy home; I can accept the real me who loves flip flops, eschews makeup, and often wears the exact same thing three days in a row. The me that falls apart when life feels busy and unanchored.
Being a systems person, in order to consistently live according to my values, and to persist in the face of temptation, it helps enormously to live by some self-imposed rules. One such rule is the familiar “One In One Out” modus operandi.
The “One In, One Out” Rule
You may already use this rule successfully, as I do, to establish clear limits on clothing, books, kitchen gadgets or even media consumption. All excellent ways to live with less physical clutter. But I have also found myself applying this rule in ways that support me in living emotionally unstuffed.
1. My energy is finite so as a new “yes” comes in, another must go out.
I believe that we are meant to pour out. But too much pouring out can leave us spiritually dry, financially broke, emotionally depleted. It’s so easy to say yes out of a desire to perform, out of guilt or even out of deeply rooted generosity.
Yet we know that every time we say yes to one thing we are saying no to another—like our health or time with our precious family. I learned this the hard way. Developing strong boundaries around my yesses has been challenging work.
I am clear now that I will only say yes to serving in areas that align with my current mission and have established a fixed number of times per school year that I am available to pour out time and energy beyond my current work and family commitments. A new yes comes in, another must go out.
2. A new season and mission are ushered in as I say goodbye to the old.
I am a questioner with a deep need to know why. I live with a strong sense of mission and clear and focused direction for each season of life. The past twenty years of my life have been largely about building a home and homeschooling.
This was my primary dream. But my kids are growing up and leaving the nest and I am called to something new. I remain mom and wife and friend, of course; yet I am now stepping out into a new season which stretches beyond the walls of my home.
It is a time of picking up some dreams that long lay dormant as I poured myself into my favorite people and did the work of healing and becoming. And when this current season has passed I will step into the next and the next with anticipation and a sense of peace undergirding me.
I cannot be all things to all people; I cannot give to every cause or learn everything I take interest in. I rest in the belief that there is a season for all things so with some tears (admittedly) I release the old to make space for the new.
3. When a negative thought comes in, a more compassionate thought goes out.
Daily we are barraged by voices clamoring for our attention—many of them hurtful or fear-provoking. But let’s be honest: our own expectations or judgement can be harshest of all.
Over the past five years I have become much more conscious of the thoughts I permit to take root in my mind and heart. I have taken charge and decided to act like the boss and evict those thoughts which tear down or rob me of joy.
I am, however, human and when jealousy, comparison, or fear of not measuring up show up at my door I acknowledge them rather than pretending they don’t exist. Then I replace them with a kinder truth and choose to send out love, compassion or forgiveness into the world. I get to help build the sort of world I want to live in. Each time a negative thought comes in, I aim to send out a kinder more compassionate thought in its stead.
I am not perfect at any of this—neither the physical nor the emotional decluttering. But I am stubborn and every time I practice this “One In One Out” rule I grow stronger. Clearer about who and how I choose to be in the world.
This one little rule helps me live a simpler, emotionally unstuffed life.