Mutiny Against Excess

Some years ago, I read the book Seven—An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. I remember thinking “Hallelujah! Someone gets how I feel!” The book chronicles the time in Hatmaker’s life when she and her family “took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.” Living more simply is not only good for the soul, but it helps us preserve our natural resources and keep a well-managed home. Less is more, right?

The Opposite of Excess :: When We Had No Choice

I had a modest upbringing and when I left home, I lived frugally as most college students do. So as a young adult living in New York City with an entry level salary, I was still perfectly comfortable with less. My single friends and I crammed into tiny apartments with as many people as we could get away with—we didn’t need much to be content.

My brother once lived in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village where one of his roommates {fully employed} slept on a bed in the space where the refrigerator used to be, with a curtain for privacy. Impressive, except I had a friend who lived in an apartment in the West Village who had to shower  smack dab in the middle of her kitchen. The first thing you saw when you entered her tiny apartment was a claw foot tub, no shower curtain. If she didn’t keep her arms tucked in while showering, water would drip down past her pointy elbows, and out the sides of the tub. It is exactly as you picture. And you don’t want to know about the whole side saddle situation in the bathroom. Her building ended up being condemned at one point but that’s another story for another day.

Trimming the Excess

A couple years after my husband and I got married, we enjoyed an expat adventure in Beijing. We lived in high-end housing, but it’s difficult to describe our consumer experience. The best way I can put it is that I either had to shop at what amounted to street stalls, or I could peruse the offerings at one of the shiny shopping malls that only carried luxury brands like Prada and Fendi. Consequently, I acquired very little over our almost four years abroad. We moved our belongings back to the States by maxing out on the luggage that three airplane tickets would allow and mailing 50 small boxes through China Post, boxes that were only slightly bigger than those copy paper boxes stacked in office mailrooms everywhere. We got rid of everything else and it felt great.

Everything is Bigger in Texas

After our encounter with minimalism, I felt like I was being bombarded by excess when we moved to Houston. The vehicles were larger, the freeways were wider, and the food portions were much more “generous”. There was so much stuff to buy from so many different places. I was having a hard time reconciling all the excess I saw with the poverty that I know exists {and witnessed} in many parts of the world.

But, life. As the years rolled by, we slowly acclimated to this culture of excess. {I went twice to Costco today. Three times if you count stopping there for gas.} Granted, we didn’t have a fork to our name when we got here, so we did have to start from scratch. And we added kids, which meant we added stuff.

Tips to Battle the Excess 

Still, there are areas where I have held steady in my desire to live simply. Here are some tips on how to be a better steward of our environment and our space.

  1. Acquire less. It’s easier to keep a neat and tidy house if you have less stuff. I try to pick areas where I can keep it simple. For example, shoes. My children each have three pairs of shoes, not counting specialty ones for sports and dance. Sneakers for school, nicer ones for church or somewhere special, and a pair of crocs. I’m not sure how long we can keep their footwear simple, but this is all they need right now. Also, it makes getting out the door so much faster. We have a great shoe cubby system going and I’ll be sad when we outgrow this arrangement.
  2. Reuse, Recycle…Resale! One of my other favorite discoveries are my local Facebook buy, sell, trade sites. I’ve gotten rid of many things, and I have given second life to other people’s cast offs. One of my favorite purchases is an adorable puppet theater I got as a Christmas gift for my daughter—and at a bargain too! To find relevant sites in your own area, ask neighbors and friends. Or try typing “buy, sell, trade” and your neighborhood name on Facebook’s search bar. Some people also buy and sell on their neighborhood Next Door App or Facebook’s Marketplace.  Others prefer clothing swaps as a way to reuse and recycle.
  3. Declutter Regularly. I am a huge fan of continuous decluttering. I have a plastic bin where I throw all the random things that we no longer need. I  regularly grab things from the bin to hand down to a friend or to post on a resale site. After a week or so, I’ll take whatever is still in there and donate it. The bin never sits empty for long though because I actively look for things that I can remove from my house.

Some of these practices to keep excess at bay may seem small, but many small acts together can create big impact. It’s worth the fight to keep hearth and home as simple as possible in this complicated world. We don’t have to plunge into a 7-month experiment but we can all start somewhere.

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Vicky grew up in Miami, graduated from Boston University, and moved to New York City to work in advertising. She and her husband then had a marvelous adventure abroad, which included the birth of their older son. After almost four years in Beijing, they headed to her husband's hometown of Houston. Their daughter made her debut a few months later and their younger son joined the ranks several years after that. Vicky loves family life and all the adventures, laughs, and lessons that come with it. Though busy raising three kids, she tries to sneak time to tend to her tiny urban garden and come up with ideas to continually make her home a haven. Vicky has been slightly obsessed with raising monarch butterflies in recent years. She’s a writer and communications consultant who dreams of days where she can simply sit by the pool reading a book and drinking lemonade.



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