Simplifying versus Stewardship?

Photo by sporkist

It can be painful to let go of things that you paid good money for, that still have some use left in them, or that you might need in the future. You just never know! But are those things worth keeping around just in case?

I received an email from a reader named Brittney who asked a very thought-provoking question about not being wasteful, but still finding the balance to simplify. Read on…

I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time and I have gleaned several good tips. My family is still stuck in a difficult situation and I’d love your advice.

We moved from a 2200 sq. ft. home in the Midwest to a 1250 sq. ft. home in North Carolina. My husband and I are very sentimental and tend to be “keepers.” I have read many articles which talk about simplifying. On the other hand I have read other books/articles which talk about saving/reusing/remaking old items you own as a form of stewardship.

I don’t know how to find the balance of doing both. I don’t want to get rid of things and then need them later, but as it is I have too many things and most of them are in storage in our crawl space under the house. What would you suggest for our situation? By the way, we have two children, 9 and 3 with very small, full bedrooms. Thanks!

I think this topic is so significant. Brittney kindly allowed me to open it up for discussion, and I am eager to hear what you have to say.

Here are my thoughts:

  • I tend to question things when I purchase them. Is this something I really want or need? Am I being a good steward in buying this? Once I no longer need something, I feel like it has served its purpose and can be freely given away. Of all the things I’ve ever given away or donated over the years, I’ve only wanted two things back, and they weren’t costly to replace.
  • It is good stewardship for someone to be using it, even if that person isn’t you.  You can bless someone in need with your excess. Many things do not store or age well, so it’s better for someone to use them before they become unusable in storage.
  • Without a vast amount of time and motive, you can only repurpose a few things. I saved two pairs of pants from the last twenty items of clothing Doug gave away, with plans to make something from them. Realistically I won’t have time to do more than that, so there is no reason for me to keep and store the rest. I’m sure there will be more clothes in the future.

Ultimately for me, I think simplifying has made me a better steward. Since I’ve been trying to narrow my possessions down to what I truly want or need, I can better use what I have, and I don’t buy as many new things.

What are your thoughts? Do you find it hard to give something away because you might need it later? What’s worth keeping? Is there anything you regret giving away? What do you suggest?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I like be able to give things away – knowing that there is someone that is less fortunate that could really use the items. Like you, there is only so much repurposing that I can do with the time I have.

  2. Great question and great post. I like to be able to give away items that we are no longer using but are still in good condition. It is a great way to be able to give when your cash income is tight.
    When I have a hard time letting go of something I just remind myself that this item may find its way to someone that will really need and enjoy it.
    I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s thoughts on this.

  3. Honestly I am an emotional packrat. I keep things that have memories with them. The problem is they remain in boxes that we have to shift around constantly, although, we are trying to start to simplify to minimum needs with some wants because we plan to build a small cob house in the next few years. In the back of my mind I also think about my grandparents and parents who have valuables that are important to them that they want to pass down in the family. When that day comes how will we be stewards to heirlooms plus all the genealogy information they are collecting will be quite the chore.

    I suppose the questions to ask ourselves would be what is important that we can’t replace later if it is really needed and can we still have the memories without holding onto the physical reminders?

  4. The only thing I regret having purged over the years is my copy of Norton’s Anthology of American Literature! I can replace it, but unlike most books it will cost quite a bit to replace. I will replace it eventually, but have found most of the literature I wanted in other books for a lot less. Of the hundreds of textbooks purchased and sold again in college or purged years later, I’m glad I only want for one. I regret none of the hundreds of bags of clothing brought to the Salvation Army and this year alone I put 5 items of furniture and countless other excess possessions on Freecycle. I had a massive garage sale in August and am finally almost down to just what I “think to be beautiful and know to be useful.” I’ve even convinced my children to give things away. The end result of this year of transformation has been a house that is much easier to clean and a lot more pleasurable to simply be in.

    That being said, I never donate jeans because they are too useful as “free” fabric for my favorite hobby, sewing. I do force myself to on the spot cut the useful sections out and put them away in my fabric storage (two clear plastic bins that fit under my sewing table which has a table cloth on top) immediately. When my storage is full, I stop saving and start sewing! Luckily, my hobby is currently keeping up with my supply!

    I have saved one baby outfit from each of my children and a clay impression of their hands as babies. Eventually, I plan on putting these items on display in shadow boxes in my hallway. These are the only sentimental items I have saved. Even my wedding dress was passed onto someone in need. The children’s art work is limited to five inch binder each which we go through and save only the most beloved items each year. Anything too big to be saved in a binder is photographed and purged. The children love looking through these books that document their childhood. I also have a binder full of my deceased father’s letters to me from my time in the military. He was an excellent writer and these serve to keep his presense close for me and my children. I have five book shelves in my home and have committed to not expanding their bounds including binder/photo albulm storage.

    In terms of stewardship, I have severely limited what comes into my home which does more in the long run than any amount of purging. I try to repurpose some items, but never more than I can use in any given moment and even things that “might” be useful are only stored in the recycling bins until we next go to the dump!

  5. smallnotebook says:

    Kirsten, I kept my Norton Anthologies and a Grammar Reference, but let go of the other textbooks. You have given away a lot!

    Lynnette, I definitely view things with less sentiment and significance than my grandparents do. Perhaps it’s because they grew up with less.

  6. i love this idea of simplify vs. stewardship. for me, i only think of it as not being stewardship if the items i’m paring down head into the garbage bin. any other time, it’s easy for me to see that if i’m not using it but someone else can, i’m being a better steward by giving it to them.

    but it took me quite some time to get to that place, and i still have a hard time discerning what i do and don’t realistically need.

    it’s hardest for me when it comes to craft supplies, because i bought every single item intending to use it to make something for someone else. i’m struggling a ton with that right now when it comes to my scrapbook supplies – just too many not being used. so i’m doing a “use what i’ve got” album, and then whatever’s left is going to be purged through and given to a few women i know who want to make scrapbooks but don’t have the money to buy a bunch of new supplies.

    robyn’s last blog post..Donate Your Dress

  7. I love your blog so just wanted to say Hi. Your post is so pertinent to me as I sit here only hours before the removals company arrive to start the 4 day pack up of our home in order to move us 7500 miles back to the UK from Singapore.

    Time and circumstance have been against me being able to sort out home as much as I’d like before the move. I’m craving a simpler existence after a few years of expat excess but it will have to wait until we are settled back into UK in order to undertake what I think will be quite a big task.

    In the meantime we’ve sent two enormous boxes of our unnecessaries to our housekeeper’s family in the Philippines. We’ve sent many such boxes in our time here and knowing our unwanted/outgrown items are going directly to people who have nothing compared to us feels good. Its taught the children a lot – our 5 year old even said recently he didn’t need to go to the toystore, he has too many already and should just send some to the Philippines!

    Amazingly, Singaporeans are not at all interested in charity stores/garage sales etc. A simpler life is not for them, only designer labels and “MORE MORE MORE” seem to be the mantra here. I will miss much of this place, but not that!

    When I think of the things we’ve given or thrown away in the last few years due to our international moving, there is nothing I can think of that I wish I still had. If you really truly treasure something it should be in your home. The hard part is figuring out what those things are. If I’m stuck I put the item away in a box for a good few months. When I go back to it I know immediately whether its a keeper or not.

    Great writing, shall look forward to reading more.

    Victoria Leather’s last blog post..Summer Holidays

  8. I believe I have come a long way since my early twenties, which was a time when I saved most everything. After the myriad of moves that came with college and the beginnings of adulthood, I began purging childhood things, and then more recent things. One way that I was able to do this was through blogging! If I had sufficiently recorded an event, the need to keep souvenirs diminished. Digital photos and a blog entry could serve as my memory.

    I was also able to purge many, many things when, at 25, I moved from New Mexico to Alaska with only a minivan full of stuff. I sorted through my home for things to give and take, and in the end ended up with the bare essentials and very few mementos. It was one of the most freeing things I ever did.

    Now 30, I do own my own home, albeit a small condo. Storage is limited, so we give things away often. I love my beautiful, uncluttered home. Most of our most special memories that can’t be parted with are in a gallon-sized “memory jar.” We try not to buy or recieve tchochkes if possible. :) (Though a continuing love for small, cute things makes this a little challenging…)

    liz’s last blog post..cranberry bread with streusel

  9. Now, here’s my problem:

    What do you do if you have a mom who constantly buys things for you and your family? Ugh. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. And, certainly, I have less sentimental value attributed to Grandpa’s ice bucket (!!!!) than she does. She’s a thrift store shopper and has repurchased things from them that we donated the first time she gave them to us!! (Like how she just happened to find the matching coffee mugs to the ones she gave us last year! Hope she doesn’t buy them again from Goodwill!)

    One thing that helps me tremendously to keep the clutter down? Every time a charitable donation company contacts me to book a pick up, I say, sure. And I’m ruthless with clothing, toys, etc in our house. If it doesn’t get worn or played with, it’s out of here. And hopefully it goes to someone who needs it more than I do.

    Craigslist and Twin Cities Free Market are also great places to post free items. You’d be surprised at who is just dying to get what you don’t need! I wonder if you have things like that in your area. Free market is fabulous!

    As I can tend to be a clutter bug, I often have to repeat, People are not things. So, just because my Great Grandmother used that particular measuring cup or had a pillow on her rocking chair and mom just wanted me to have it.

    People are not things.
    People before things.

    Those are my mantras.

    Bet’s last blog post..I Got the Look

  10. Moving things along to others is one of the great joys of my life, and being on the receiving end is also pretty great! Especially with kids’ things, it’s so nice to see that someone else will enjoy something, while clearing out my life, too! Great ideas.

    Evenshine’s last blog post..Old saddle-bags, and other endearments

  11. I almost always feel lighter and happier when I de-clutter or donate something. I’m trying to decide whether to sell a guitar that I never play–I’m attached to it and don’t need the money, but it takes up space!

  12. I have often given away items that I have realized I needed later. But if I have given the item to someone in need, I have found that I am unexpectedly provided for whenever I am in need. Usually I receive more than I actually gave. It has truly worked that way for me. I recently gave away a rocking chair to someone who was having a new baby. There came a time where I regreted it, thinking I could have used that chair afterall. But then out of nowhere, someone called and asked me if we could use a couch with a matching chair that they didn’t need anymore. The whole concept of “pay it forward” (or is it technically backward in this case?) is really true….and it’s biblical as well.

    Keri’s last blog post..Digging Through the Trash

  13. I’m more of a purger than a keeper. If I don’t need or use something I am happy to give it to someone that does. If I can help it, I don’t throw things in the trash or sell them, but rather give them to a person that would need them or a resale shop. I think that’s being a good steward AND simplifying because my home is a (mostly) decluttered, (mostly) organized haven, and I haven’t taken anything useful to the landfill.

    Another tip for cluttered kids rooms: I only have 1 child so far and she is the only grandchild on one side so she has WAY TOO MANY toys. What I do is separate them into categories such as: play food, cars and trucks, dolls, learning toys, etc. and I only put two or three categories of toys in her room at a time. I put the rest in clear containers in my shed, and rotate the inventory every couple months. It keeps her room tidy and it keeps her toys interesting. Before I did this I was finding she only played with the toys on the top of the toy boxes. She didn’t even know the others existed!

    Sorry for such a long comment. Hope it helps :)

  14. Oh my gosh – I totally kept my Norton Anthologies, too! I think those are the only texts I still have . . . I’ve tried to give away as much as possible on Freecyle in the past few years.

    And I guess that answers the question. It is PAINFUL for me to give things away – especially because I always have big dreams of using and re-using things again. But your second point – blessing others in need – has become my driving force. I could always find a way to justify keeping anything, but the thought of an item being used in the RIGHT NOW by someone instead of “maybe someday” in my dream world of future plans . . . well, it’s great motivation. I try to be wise in what I give away and trust that if it’s an item I truly will have need of in the future, that God will make a way to provide for it again. (Kind of what Keri just wrote!)

    Megan@SortaCrunchy’s last blog post..Grateful for mercies, ever new

  15. Jennifer in TX- says:

    This may sound a little “out there” but honestly the SCARIEST Bible story I’ve ever heard was the one in Matthew about the rich man who couldn’t bare to part with his worldly goods to follow Jesus…. I guess that has been the fuel to my fire in giving away just about everything we have except the bare necessities, if you don’t own it for a long period of time how can you grow attached to it? – now the plus side to that is that with no possessions we are not drawn to hole up in our house, we get out there and visit friends and family, travel, go to parks, zoos, etc.
    Besides, God can’t send you on bigger adventures without smaller luggage!

  16. Follow the trail of the item your are thinking about buying. Consider the energy required to manufacture and ship to you, the quality of the stewardship of the company that made it as well as the conditions under which it was produced, including the possibility of an exploited and/or underaged worker. This will probably eliminate 99% of your optional purchases.

  17. We’ve just been working on cleaning out our basement. Some things were easy to part with, some impossible – at least for now.

    Those things are baby clothes and some baby equipment (we wanted a second child, it didn’t happen and now I’m thinking about becoming a foster parent); and a giant box of china that my husband’s mom (who has died) hand-painted.

    Today I decided we will have a “we can’t deal with it” area and move on.

    This is a really interesting subject on so many levels! (the economy, living green, simplifying, being frugal, etc etc)

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post..Show and Tell: “Use It or Lose It” Knitting

  18. I came to understand that I don’t need to own something just because I happened to like it. It is good to be able to admire something and not have to own it.

    My real needs are not nearly as great as I had once thought. What are your real needs?

    Recognizing that those needs were already truly met, I found the rest could be more easily seen for what they are, namely, wants rather than needs.

    Ask oneself “does this really improve my quality of life?” before making a purchase. Do the same when deciding what things to give away.

    Possessing more than we need can become a weighty burden. Good stewardship involves managing possessions wisely, not keeping everything exclusively for one’s own use. Giving responsibly (yes, responsibly – not thoughtlessly) truly does return you a reward in knowing that you have shared your wealth with others.

    When you give good gifts, you have not lost anything. You often gain far more than you have given away.

  19. Seriously, I was just considering this today, as I took down the rest of my winter clothes from the attic. I am trying to lose weight, and have a significant amount of clothing that won’t fit unless I lose at least 10 lbs. Is that feasible in this season? Yes.

    Should I keep everything I now own, just in case the economy gets worse? No. I don’t think so. Here’s why–a very good friend who has almost no money could use the clothes *this* season.

    Should I give away everything that does not fit me now? No. There are pieces that I know I can use for years to come, and *will* use for years to come. They are classic, “me,” and worth saving.

    What a great topic!

  20. Great question and post! I just found your blog through a link to your soap making tutorial.

    I can’t think of a single thing I’ve given away that I ever missed. I use a couple of techniques that help me keep things that are meaningful or useful and still not drag around a bunch of things that aren’t of any real value to me. First, I keep my sentimental objects out where I can see and enjoy them. What is the point of having family heirlooms packed away? But since I only keep sentimental things out in the open, I can only keep things that have a dedicated spot. I have one small display cabinet and that’s it! And second, I periodically donate to charity anything I haven’t used or worn in a year. If I am unsure about something, I’ll put it in a box with a date on the box, one year from the day I put it in there. If I haven’t gone to the box during that year to use the object, then I donate it.

    Fern’s last blog post..Another Frugal Gardening Tip

  21. V. Higgins says:

    In many ways I think that simplifying is the first step towards good stewardship. The biggest part of making the transition is making sure the things that are useful get used, even if not by you (this is where Goodwill, Craigslist and Freecycle come into play). Why store something that you might use once in an 18 month period when someone else could be using it more? When you simplify and tweak your thinking, you become more purposeful in 1) what you buy 2) what you need. This allows you to not only be a better steward of things, but also of your time which is a much more valuable resource.

  22. We used Norton anthologies of English literature at University, here in Italy. I lovingly keep them too. :)

    Here it’s like in Singapore, I guess – no charity shops or garage sales, which is a pity. I’d love to be able to shop secondhand or resell my stuff. I often try to sell things on eBay but only some are sold, and in the end I gladly pack my stuff and put it in the RedCross bins. Sometimes bf and I give away home items through FreeCycle, it’s nice to see people happy to get your old stereo or coffee table!

  23. Brittney, I think that this issue not only involves being good stewards of stuff, it’s also about being good stewards, or managers of what we have been blessed with; our lives, our family, our relationships, and our homes; however big they are. Basically, it’s a question of how to balance our lives so that we can live life to the fullest in whatever situation we are in. (Yes, there is a time to keep, but there is also a time to let go.)
    Whether we like it or not, we are stewards of our children’s lives too – until they are old enough to take over. I grew up in a home lovingly filled with lots and lots of stuff. I did enjoy it as a child – if it was a neat pile, it was ‘clean’. Stuff was re-used, but most of the time it just sat there in case one day it came in handy.
    I paid the price dearly when I married a wonderful man who cannot relax in a home where there is clutter. Because I want him to want to come home and feel rested, I have had to give away, and because my parents taught me (unwittingly) to ‘value stuff’ it was a very, very painful process.
    May you find what you value and keep it, and be able to let go of all the rest.
    By the way, next week we are halving our house size too. Feel free to laugh at me as I weep over a very battered sofa bed and several retro dining chairs (family heirlooms) that will have to go.

  24. cindy tippit says:

    my house is being foreclosed on and I have plans to move to England to be with my daughter who lives there. I have a 1185 sq ft house that is crammed full of my stuff and my parents’ stuff. I must sell everything I can. But I have some beautiful antiques and things that were my mom’s. But I can’t take much! I am 65 years old and a keeper of “things” I need help! My friend just told me about your website. I need to know what to take over seas and what is best to sell or give away. I still have the chest of drawers I had when I was a young child…..