Less Is More: Why 4 Women Decided to Downsize Their Homes and Declutter Their Lives
"I wanted my home to be a picture of calm."
Meet four women who decided to live a downsized life, from an interior designer who realized she wasn't using half of her house, to a podcast host who wanted to finally stop being a messy person. They share their motivations, strategies, and challenges—plus the rewards of their newfound simplicity. Here's what happened when they decided to live with less.
When Christine left her job as a lawyer to pursue writing full-time in 2015, she started working from home. “For the first time, I was there not to just eat and sleep,” she says. Being at home prompted an awakening: “I always knew I had too much stuff, but I had everything relatively organized,” she says. She realized, though, that even if everything fit in her closets, it could still be an overwhelming amount to maintain. “I couldn’t ignore it anymore.”
Goal: “When I started, I just wanted to be a minimalist,” Christine says, laughing. “My goal was ‘How can I make my home—and how can I feel—like what I’m looking at in pictures on blogs?’ ” To her eyes, the minimalists’ homes were superclean, and the people who lived in them appeared happier with less. She quickly discovered, however, that minimalism is a whole lot more than a spare aesthetic.
Method: Christine took a slow and steady approach to minimizing, paring back one category at a time. She began with home goods. “We had a lot of knickknacks and stuff on the walls,” she says. The first to go was a large photo in the dining room. “I said to myself, ‘Let me see how the room feels without this,’ and of course, it was fine.”
Biggest Challenge: The emotional experience of decluttering was hard. “When you pull everything out of your closet, when you see how much you own and how much you didn’t use that still has tags on it, it’s hard not to get emotional,” she says. “You start to think of the money you spent. I try not to think of it as money wasted.”
Greatest Reward: Over time, Christine’s vague idea about being a “minimalist” has become a journey of living with intention, which she shares on Instagram (@afrominimalist). “There’s no way you can be intentional with just your wardrobe or your home,” she says. “Once you see and experience how good your home and closet feel, you want every area of your life to feel that way.” She says this approach to life has given her space for things she wants to do most. “I’ve been able to grow my career as a children’s book author and still support my antiracism work,” she says. She even fits in a nap every afternoon.
Who: Allie Casazza, host of The Purpose Show podcast and mom of four
Feeling exhausted from taking care of children under the age of 3, Allie analyzed how she spent her days. She realized her time was gobbled up by tidying, cleaning, and asking her kids to get out of the way. “I started looking around and thinking, ‘What is all this stuff? It’s just creating extra work and sucking time away from me—for what?’” she says.
Goal: Allie wanted to feel more engaged as a mother. “My babies were growing up,” she says. “I realized I was reacting to my life and maintaining my life rather than actually being present for it. That made me sad.”
Method: Allie purged her children’s playroom in an intense decluttering session one night. The next day, her daughter went to her play kitchen and started pretending. “Instead of going in the playroom, dumping everything out, and asking for a snack two seconds later, she was playing independently.” This was all the motivation Allie needed to tackle the rest of her house over just a few weeks. “I felt like I’d discovered a secret. I was onto something,” she says. Working room by room, she went to her local donation center every couple of days. “They knew me by first name by the time I was done,” she says, laughing. “I didn’t want to put stuff in the garage. I didn’t want piles temporarily sitting around. I wanted it out.” She hadn’t realized the stress her clutter was causing. “It would make me snap at my toddler and nag and complain—just not be who I wanted to be,” she says. “It was so much more than the house.”
Biggest Challenge: Her own closet. Allie loves to put outfits together, but she (perhaps overzealously) pruned her wardrobe to just jeans and basic tops. She came to understand that simplicity is relative to who you are. “If you want a full closet, you can have one,” she says. She has slowly refilled her closet with clothes that bring her joy.
Greatest Reward: “My soul is lighter, everything is lighter. Even my marriage improved because I wasn’t carrying so much stress,” Allie says. “I chronicled the progress I was making at home in my blog, and that helped me find my passion,” she says. “It was this massive realization of ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’
Who: Denaye Barahona, host of The Simple Families podcast and mom of two
Denaye was messy growing up. “My mom was always chasing after me, saying, ‘Clean up your room!’ ” she recalls. Denaye internalized the refrain, believing being messy was part of her identity. But after becoming a mom, “I was drowning in stuff. I started to feel like this wasn’t the legacy I wanted to pass on to my kids,” she says. When a stylish mom in her baby group posted a picture of her near-empty closet on social media, it piqued Denaye’s interest. The friend told her about the idea of capsule wardrobes, and she decided to try it.
Goal: Denaye’s aim was merely to be less messy. She wanted to get rid of the piles of laundry and paper. “I’d spent years dabbling in organizational systems—these highly systematic ways to keep myself arranged—and it would last a week.” It wasn’t until she purged her closet that she figured out the answer: “I didn’t need to organize. I needed to minimize.”
Method: Denaye’s closet was crammed with clothes she rarely wore. To help herself edit, she focused on a color scheme (a tip she read in Anuschka Rees’s The Curated Closet). When she finished her closet, she recalls, “I wanted to take my coffee in there and hang out.” She decided to bring those vibes to the rest of her house. “I wanted my home to be a place where I could feel comfortable and calm. It took a lot of decluttering to do that.”
Biggest Challenge: She didn’t know how to maintain her newly decluttered home. “I knew I had to start buying differently,” she says. She started shopping with intention—looking for specific items—instead of browsing to see what caught her eye. Then she created a family spending plan: “If you’re careful about the way you spend money, you’re going to be more careful about what comes into your home,” she says.
Greatest Reward: Paring down helped Denaye find more calm, but she learned that “clutter is not limited to physical things,” she says. She scaled back on obligations for both herself and her kids. “When you live more simply, you are calmer and more present—and your kids are better off too.”
Who: Shavonda Gardner, interior designer, blogger, and mom of two
Having read about the tiny-house movement, Shavonda and her wife realized they were paying a big mortgage on a 2,400-square-foot house they didn’t use even half of. “We literally had an empty room we hadn’t gotten around to furnishing yet,” she says.
Goal: The couple hoped to downsize their home and eliminate duplicate spaces, like formal and informal dining areas or a formal living room and a family room. With two school-age kids, they also wanted to live in a walkable neighborhood with a more tight-knit community.
Method: When their house sold more quickly than expected, the family temporarily rented a tiny two-bedroom apartment, which helped clarify what they needed for their permanent home. When they moved into their 1,200-square-foot bungalow a few months later, Shavonda knew what she had to keep and what she could easily live without. As she decorates the new house, a process she documents on Instagram, she’s taken a paced approach to filling it. She likes to say that decorating is a marathon, not a sprint. “Absolutely nothing comes in that I don’t love. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a purpose. It could just give me joy or be pretty,” she says of her decidedly not minimalist decor style. “But when it comes to downsizing and living in a small home,” she says, “less is absolutely more.”
Biggest Challenge: Helping her children understand and adjust to the change. “I wanted them to know we could have a great life, just different than what we were used to,” she says. Her tween daughter especially resisted the move to a smaller home. “We had to make sure she understood that her moms were not in any type of financial trouble, and that this was not a negative thing,” Shavonda says.
Her Biggest Reward: “There’s a saying that small homes breed close families, and it’s so incredibly true,” Shavonda says. “Our kids are very thoughtful about the world around them. We have to be considerate of everyone. We just don’t have the space not to be.”