The Simple Life: Paring Down & Living With Less

I don’t know if it’s the economy, the downsizing trend or just my obsessive compulsive personality, but lately we’ve been more into living with less than ever before.

From paring down our closets and cabinets for a soul-cleansing Goodwill run, to sorting our files and folders in an attempt to whittle down our paperwork, we’ve officially been bitten by the “it’s-a-new-year-so-lets-organize-the-whole-house-for-real-this-time” bug. But not only do we find ourselves striving for a clean house with everything in its place. Lately I’ve actually been craving less. Less to buy. Less to clean. Less to store. Less to use.

For example, here’s what we now see when we step into the shower:


We recently realized we both liked the same shampoo and conditioner (Burt’s Bees) so why not stop buying our own bottles and share? Purchasing a single bottle of each breaks the constant cycle of someone needing shampoo or conditioner every time we go to Target (or worse, someone thinking they do and realizing they don’t when we get home). And using the same body wash (Jason) allows us to pick up a jumbo sized bottle every once in a blue moon which saves us money, time spent replacing smaller bottles more often, and even cuts down on packaging waste. We also share a loofa, a bar of face soap, and a pumice stone (ok, the last item’s all me) so other than the razor (also all me) there’s nothing else cluttering up our shower or frequently appearing on our shopping list. Just the small decision to share shampoo, conditioner, body wash and a bar of soap has seriously cleaned up our act in the shower. But there are a few more places that we’ve opted for less. Update: we’ve since switched over to Avalon Organics shampoo & conditioner and Dr. Bronner’s body wash (which is even more natural) and we love it!

Thanks to a lot of our eco-related changes, pairing down in a few other areas has gotten downright automatic. Relying only on Seventh Generation laundry detergent (no bleach or fabric softener) makes shopping for laundry products few and far between (and makes storing a single bottle a breeze).

And now that I only use all natural eco-friendly and organic makeup, I find that I no longer amass a pile of new products in my makeup bag that I never use. Presto- no more impulsive purple eye shadow or bubble gum pink lip gloss purchases that seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve also permanently passed on painted fingernails (and painted toes most of the time) and must admit that I love the clean and never-chipped-and-in-need-of-a-touch-up look. Of course there are water based non-toxic formulas (like Honey Bee Gardens and Zoya) but something about completely eliminating that expense and the time it takes to maintain painted fingers & toes feels like more of a gift to myself than polished ones ever did. And I still keep ’em clipped and buffed for a polished appearance so I hardly feel like I’m “letting myself go.” Not that John would even notice if I was (love ya for that, honey!). And in the rare event that I do paint my toes, I use one of three vegan non-toxic polishes that I own (soft pink, deep red and punchy coral are all the colors I’ll ever need). No more spending money on the trendy hues or having to store dozens of bottles.

Here’s another example of the simplicity bug. Ladies (and gents?), I give you my makeup bag:


You’ll have to excuse my $5 fake Louis purchased in Chinatown over six years ago (can you believe the zipper still works?) but the point is that all the makeup that I own lives in this little bag. It’s not a travel bag, it’s my only bag (which makes it easy to pop into the suitcase when we do hit the road) and it only holds a handful of tried and true products that get me through the day and the occasional fancy schmancy event.

Here it is all emptied out:


Organic Wear bronze and blush (in recyclable paper containers) not only add a bit of color to my too-pale face, but the bronzer also doubles as shimmering tan eye shadow when applied with the little padded brush. Then I just curl the ol’ eyelashes, slick on some mascara and polish things off with a little brow gel and I’m good to go. I’ve never been great with anything like liquid liner or fake eyelashes, so for those of you who are, maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. But either way, my simplified makeup bag facilitates super speedy makeup application, which actually results in my looking more polished than ever before, thanks to a streamlined process that actually appeals to an on-the-go girl like me.

In short, I’ve never felt like less of a slave to beauty products. Or hair products and perfume for that matter. I’ve always been a wash and wear girl, so hairspray and pomade have never been my thing, but I’ve recently made the decision to forsake perfume as well (after years of somewhat religious use). All those chemical fragrances can be irritating and can actually contribute considerably to indoor air pollution, and I actually love the smell of my organic soaps and lotions so I hardly miss the alcohol-riddled scent of perfume hanging in the air before I leave the house. And now there are entire sections of magazines about makeup, perfume and polish that I can gloss over entirely. I can’t tell you how nice it is to not always want everything I read about.

By choosing to covet less (and only buy organic and all natural) it cuts way down on the products that can jump into my cart on a whim. And it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything at all, on the contrary, it feels like I’m gaining so much more. A healthier and more pure lifestyle, closet and cabinet space to spare, more moolah in my wallet, and extra time that I can spend doing things other than shopping and obsessing over every new product to hit the shelves.

It’s official. Life is good when it’s simple. And I’m dying to know what you guys do to make life easy and live with less. From sharing products and even making your own to forsaking certain things and purchasing specific items in bulk, we’d love to know what you guys are doing to clean out your closets (and your lives) for 2009! Dish the less is more dirt.

*Check out this great post over at decor8. There’s something in the air! Everyone’s getting back to basics.

**For an exhaustive list of our favorite certified organic/all natural/chemical-free products, check the comment section of this post for specific names of everything that we use and love.


  1. Tina says

    I started last year purging all products that weren’t organic or all natural. I was a bit of a product lover, so at the end, I filled 5(!) Target bags, gave some to my sister and threw the waste away! It was a bit painful, but I didn’t see it as wasteful, I saw it as getting rid of the poisons. I, too now have just a small bag of chemical free makeup and it is very freeing. I save a ton of money by not buying every new thing or something I see on impulse.
    I am still searching for just the right shampoo & conditioner, but I just ordered some and I hope I am done. But for the most part, I have found a replacement for every product I need. I also have decided to not buy perfume anymore. I am going to order a sampler of all natural perfume oils and see how that goes. I realize I don’t need to wear perfume everyday, but I would like to have these just for going out.
    I’m working to simplify other areas of my life, but that is a bit harder with a husband, 3 kids and a dog, but I keep trying!

    • Erin Rose says

      I buy natural fragrance oils from (Sampler 7 deal is awesome!) and put a few drops in a spray bottle of water…. makes for lovely scents which my hub loves. I also use those oils in my homemade lotions, bath salts, etc. Helps the girly in me :)

  2. says

    I have definitely simplified my beauty routine over the years as well, and I love only have a handful of cosmetics to use every day. I’m also trying to switch over to organic and toxic-free cosmetics, soaps, etc. I know you mentioned Burt’s Bees and Jason products, but I was wondering if you could share what specific shampoos, soaps, scents, etc., that you guys like. Also, where do you find your organic cosmetics? Like I said, I want to try these new products, but I would love specific recommendations, as there are so many choices out there! As always, thanks for sharing all the great tips!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Here’s our attempt to supply Mary (and anyone else who’s interested) with an exhaustive list of our favorite certified organic/all natural/chemical-free products. We’ve experimented with our fair share, so here are our tried & true favorites:

      Shampoo: Avalon Organics Peppermint Shampoo (from Target, CVS, Kroger, Whole Foods)
      Conditioner: Avalon Organics Peppermint Conditioner (from Target, CVS, Kroger, Whole Foods)
      Body Wash: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Shakakai Soap (from Target, Kroger, Whole Foods)
      Bar Soap: Dr. Bronner’s All One Bar Soap (from Target, Kroger, Whole Foods)
      Liquid Soap: Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap in Almond (from Target, CVS, Kroger, Whole Foods)
      Bronzer: Physician’s Formula Organic Wear Bronzer (the case doesn’t say the color but I get the darkest kind for some extra color since it’s pretty light when it goes on) (Target, CVS)
      Blush: Physician’s Formula Organic Wear Blush (the case doesn’t say the color but I get the darkest kind for some extra color since it’s also pretty light when it goes on) (Target, CVS)
      Mascara: Physician’s Formula Organic Wear Mascara in black (Target, CVS, perhaps Whole Foods- this is very new so it might be on the way in your area)
      Sunscreen: Bullfrog Sunscreen SPF 30 (Target, CVS)
      Body Lotion: Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Coconut Organic Lotion (Target, Whole Foods)
      Nightly Face Cream (for me, J’s not a face cream kind of guy): Avalon Organics Vitamin C Renewal Facial Cream- love this stuff (Target, Whole Foods)
      Shower Cleaner: Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Shower Cleaner in Lemon Verbena (Target, Kroger, Ukrops)
      Dish Detergent: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Automatic Dishwasher Powder- we found this worked better than their liquid formulas (Kroger, Whole Foods)
      Laundry Detergent: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Laundry Detergent made for high efficiency washers like ours (Kroger, Whole Foods)
      All Purpose Cleaner (for counters, floors, etc): Mrs. Meyers Clean Day in Lemon Verbena (Target, Kroger, Ukrops)

      Hope it helps! And now for a few more answers:

      Yes, we did purge our closets (we actually donate items year round when we find we no longer wear ’em). The best way to do this is to be brutally honest with yourself about what you look good in, like wearing, and then just eliminate anything that makes you feel self conscious along with anything that just isn’t your style (yes it’s cheesy but I often ask myself “what would Angelina do” and keep the sleek, sophisticated stuff that fits my taste – I love how she dresses- while the too-tight/too-loose/too frumpy stuff gets chucked triumphantly). I’ve always had a pared down closet and I like it that way. I’ve found that it offers tons more failsafe outfits to choose from than a big overstuffed, unedited one does. I currently have four pair of jeans, one pair of black pants, two dresses, four skirts and 18 shirts/tops/blazers. That’s it. And I’m good.

      Yes, we do have a food co-op near us and we’re actually looking into using them this year- should be interesting and we’ll keep you guys posted!

      Yes, we do eat almost 100% organic produce- we made the switch late last year and never looked back. The farmer’s market is a great resource and we also appreciate mainstream grocery stores like Kroger that have expanded their organic section. It only costs about 20-50 cents more to upgrade to organic produce, and we hardly notice the difference in our bill but we definitely taste the difference. Plus we feel great about picking food that lived a good life if ya know what I mean.

      Whew! That about does it. We’re loving all of your ideas and suggestions so keep ’em coming!


  3. says

    I have been switching my household products to “green” products, like the Arm and Hammer multi-surface spray that comes in concentrated refills to reduce waste. I have not gotten to the part about purging the rest yet though. I had not even thought about organic makeup. I love the idea of purging all of that stuff, as I think about the cabinet full of makeup and perfume that I never use…

  4. says

    I have definitely shifted my focus to this over the last few months. I’m in the middle of a borderline-obsessive organization spurt. I just want, once and for all, things simplified, pared down, and in order. Just last night, I filled three boxes with clothes and shoes to take to Goodwill. I was actually a little embarassed that even with all of that removed from my closets, I still had a decent selection of clothes. Why the heck did I have all that extra, unnecessary stuff?

    I’ve also started paring down what I have in the house and have Craigslisted and e-bayed items worth selling and donated others. I’ve learned to not be so attached to items (for example, just because my grandma gave it to me–a framed calligraphy of the meaning of my name that has been hidden in one closet or another since she gave it to me in 1992 does me no good)! I still hold on to family items that matter: my great-grandfather’s office chair, grandpa’s fraternity pin, etc. It’s been very liberating to shift my thinking and not be weighed down by many unnecessary and unused items.

  5. Camille says

    First things first… I just have to know why your bar of soap is wrapped. tee hee! Is it just coincidentally a new bar, or did you actually wrap it for the shot, or do you keep it wrapped most of the time since you have the liquid version nearby (which would negate the reason for having it)?

    Inquiring minds want to know! = )

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Camille,

      Good eye! That built-in soap tray looked silly without anything on it, so we placed one of those fancy soaps sealed with a gold sticker from a specialty shop (sticker side down) on the little shelf to fill the void. And because we also have a liquid soap dispenser, in about the year that it has lived on that shelf it’s never been unwrapped. Only time will tell if some brave guest will crack that baby open (which we certainly wouldn’t mind), but we also don’t mind that it’s gone unused- it has sort of become a decorative object that completes an otherwise oddly bare feature in our 50-year-old bathroom.


  6. says

    I recently cleaned out my closet (again!). I realized that if I haven’t worn some of my clothes since I’ve been married (all of 6 months now), I probably don’t need it. Now my closet is much less cramped and much more manageable in the morning. I’ve also jumped on the “less is more” bandwagon in the shower. My husband & I share shampoos. He likes bar soap while I prefer liquid, but I don’t have 10 different shower gels in cluttering up my bathroom anymore. It’s such a nice feeling to be able to easily choose the things you need without having to go through a search and rescue process!

  7. says

    Wow Sherry — I’m impressed! I have an entire drawer full of make-up. I try to purge regularly (beauty products get pretty nasty as they age), but I guess I’m just a girl who’s gotta have her options (even if I tend to use the same small group of products 90% of the time).

  8. Amanda says

    Easy for you Sherry – you’re already naturally gorgeous! Others like myself need these beauty products to look fit to leave the house! ;)

  9. says

    I must know what mascara you use:)

    I have always been a fan of using ONLY detergent. Forget the bleach and fabric softener. I find them irritating anyway.

    I am going to make the commitment to get rid of all the makeup I don’t use. I have a huge cabinet FULL of makeup that I barely touch.

    When my husband and I registered for our wedding, we were very picky and only registered for things we would use on a regular basis. No fine china (we can get that when we have more space and are hosting holidays or inherit my mom’s), no bread machine, no useless kitchen appliances. We opted for a MINI cuisinart, and other minis. It is very refreshing to know that I don’t miss the fine china or the bread machine or the other stuff everyone kept insisting I register for!

  10. says

    My beauty routine is paired down a lot these days. I also am buying less “products” too. I just find one thing, use it all then and only then do I buy another. I girl can have way to many products but not use any of them. Silly. And it saves money. I too always plan January as my clean it all out month, and I have to force my husband to do the same. Like you I have OCD tendencies. Keep it simple applies to everything in my life anymore. It is a work in progress but worth it.

  11. Tarah says

    I don’t know if you have a food co-op near you, but I am able to re-fill ALL our liquid (laundry, dishwashing, body, etc) soaps and moisturizers at the co-op. I can also buy almost all our food in bulk, just bring the glass containers we store food in, then I don’t even need the plastic bags in the bulk section.

  12. Jessie says

    this is one of my favorite posts! very inspiring! what type of hand soap do you all use? do you eat all organic as well? this switch seems big, but definitely doable! also, when i check out organic items at target, they seem more expensive. is this true? are the products worth the extra money? can you tell a difference? thanks!

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