Photos by Hillary Ehlen, Melissa Schmalenberger and Chris Larson Photography
Imagine trying to fit the contents of a four-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment. At best, the result would be a cluttered space with little room left to live around. We sat down with local organizer MS. Simplicity, who recently had to pare down her own belongings to avoid a situation like the one you just pictured. While visiting, she explained why we tend to hold on to our possessions and shared her tips for “letting go.”
Meet Melissa Schmalenberger
Melissa Schmalenberger, also known as MS. Simplicity, is a former attorney turned professional organizer. Up until recently, she and her husband, Ray Ridl, lived in Fargo. Unfortunately, Ridl’s job was eliminated in August 2017, which coincided with their youngest son leaving for college. Schmalenberger explained, “I always wanted to live in Seattle, and he wanted our children to be raised in Fargo. His job was eliminated nine days before our youngest son left for college. We joke that I got to pick where we move, and he got to pick when we move.” Ridl then took a job with Microsoft that required the new empty-nesters to move to Seattle.
MS. Simplicity on the Move
For them, relocating meant downsizing from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. “We knew we didn’t want to have a house. We love to travel, we don’t want maintenance, we just want to be able to lock our doors and be gone for two weeks,” Schmalenberger said.
They also knew that their possessions wouldn’t fit into their new lifestyle. By mid-January, Schmalenberger had let go of 80 percent of their belongings. The remainder fit into two U-Haul pods. This process was meaningful for Schmalenberger because it really allowed her to empathize with her clients.
When it comes to her clients, Schmalenberger often finds that people have personal stories tied to their possessions. That’s why we have a hard time letting go. For example, Schmalenberger held onto the bicycle that all three of her sons used when learning how to ride a bike. She imagined that someday, her grandkids would learn how to ride on it as well. However, she realized that this was based on the assumptions that her sons would have kids and that those kids would learn how to ride a bike at their grandparents’ house or even want to learn in the first place. Instead, Schmalenberger decided to donate the bike to another child who would be able to use it right now.
“We knew we didn’t want to have a house. We love to travel, we don’t want maintenance, we just want to be able to lock our doors and be gone for two weeks.”
Schmalenberger encourages her clients to figure out their lifestyles and what is truly essential. For Schmalenberger and Ridl, that was their king-sized bed. Even though it takes up most of the space in their new master bedroom, they decided to take it with to Seattle. Other things that she found easier to let go of included mismatched glasses, storage containers, an iron, old electronics and more.
Even if a cross-country move is not in your future, Schmalenberger suggests challenging yourself by walking through your home and imagining that you can only keep what fits in the space or by getting rid of something old every time you buy something new.
Tips for Paring Down
- Start with things that are broken that have no purpose.
- When bringing something into your home, be conscious of how you are going to dispose of it someday.
- When you’re done using something, bless and release. Pass it on to somebody else.
- Donate from your heart and find a cause that speaks to you.
- Digitize scrapbooks and photo albums.
For more information, you can visit mssimplicity.com