Maximizing life by minimizing stuff

Minimalism. For most people, the word conjures up images of modern apartments with sparse decor. But for Union College graduate Lorilee Ross Lippincott ’03, minimalism is a way of life that stretches beyond modern decorating.

“For my family, minimalism means living intentionally,” she explains. “Technically, the term means buying and having fewer things. But we’ve taken an approach to minimalism that allows us to have fewer responsibilities and expectations in the negative sense of the words.”

It’s clearing these stresses and unnecessary responsibilities from their schedules that has allowed Lippincott, her husband, Bryon (’99), and children, Lily and Ian, to focus on the things that are most important to them: God, family and health.

Deciding to live simply

“It’s amazing how much little things take up our time. Getting rid of things we don’t need has allowed us to grow in different ways,” she shares. “Now, we spend less time working, cleaning and taking care of our stuff. Instead, we have more time for family, traveling and hobbies we enjoy.”

Lippincott says the decision to live more simply came long before she had even heard the word minimalism. “My story is one that everyone can relate to,” she shares. “I was trying to make time for God, my husband, my kids, church and work, and take care of myself. I was feeling frustrated because I was juggling all of those things, and I wasn’t able to deliver all that I wanted to give to each important area. We were running all of the time, but it wasn’t getting us where we wanted to go.”

Facing those frustrations made Lippincott realize she wasn’t living the way she wanted to live.

Then, a look around their house gave her an idea. The family of four had a comfortable home, but it was full of toys and extra belongings that made it feel cluttered, which only added to Lippincott’s stress. So she decided to begin by getting rid of some items the family didn’t need in an effort to simplify their lives.

She started with her own bookshelf, and quickly determined she probably wouldn’t ever reread most of the books it held. So she boxed them up and gave them away.
“I got rid of about 90 percent of my books, and it felt so good to clear them out that I decided to go through the rest of the house and look for other things we didn’t need,” she explains. “I discovered our belongings fit the 80/20 rule: we used about 20 percent of our things 80 percent of the time, and the rest was mostly unnecessary.”

Their belongings were no more than what the average family owns, but Lippincott says she had an epiphany while clearing out the excess. “We did what most people do—we bought in bulk and picked up things at garage sales when we found good deals. We kept extra stuff on hand we didn’t need immediately, but that we might need later,” she admits. “We thought we were being smart consumers. But I realized housing and maintaining all of those things cost money, time and effort.”

Bit by bit, the Lippincotts pared down their excess possessions. Eventually, they made the decision to downsize their footprint and financial commitments by moving into an apartment and renting out the 2,000 square-foot home that was now much too big for their needs. Months later, they’d trimmed down their household goods even further and transitioned into a smaller apartment.

Their diets also changed. Lippincott says that one short phrase from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food sums up her approach to eating: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” She adds, “For us, food is defined as something God or our grandmas would recognize as food. I like the idea of a vegan or vegetarian diet, but I think it’s more important to eat unprocessed foods.”

So the family eats mainly fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, lentils, potatoes and other simple and inexpensive foods. “It just comes down to cooking your own food with real ingredients instead of ‘add water and microwave’ types of meals,” Lippincott says. “Not only is that healthier, it’s much cheaper.”

Sharing the journey

Energized by the space, time and money she was freeing in her family’s lives, Lippincott began to research her commitment to purging unneeded items. It was then she discovered she wasn’t the only one trying to rid her life of the unnecessary. In fact, minimalism is an ever-growing trend with a bevy of blogs, books, magazine articles by and for people who are tired of modern consumerism.

Lippincott saw how much interest the topic generated, and she began blogging about her family’s transition to a simpler life. As her blog,, gained readership, she decided to share her experiences in two self-published books, 3 2 1 Stop and Simple Living—30 Days to Less Stuff and More Life. She also compiled and self-published You Can Do it Too!, an ebook that shares the experiences of 25 families who homeschool their children.

More than 80,000 copies of her books are in circulation; and in late 2012, she received word that Skyhorse Publishing wanted to publish 3 2 1 Stop. The book, renamed The Simple Living Handbook, will be available in April 2013. Lippincott has also shared her story and minimalist tips as a featured speaker at a women’s expo, and during an interview by KSBJ, a Christian radio station in Texas.

This career, which allows her to work from home and further simplify her schedule, was a surprise to Lippincott. She had majored in international studies with an emphasis in business while at Union College, and she’d planned to eventually enter the realm of international business. Still, Lippincott explains that her commitment to intentional living started when she worked in Union’s Campus Ministries department. “Pastor Rich did a great job of teaching and modeling purposeful living,” she says. “He and my teachers at Union encouraged us to try new things. That helped me think for myself and work toward intentionally living in a way that was meaningful to me, and I was able to build confidence in my own ideas.” Choosing family over possessions

Lippincott admits that practicing minimalism isn’t always easy—especially when it comes to explaining their lifestyle to others. “When people see the changes we’ve made, they don’t always understand we’re choosing to live with less,” she shares. “They see we’ve downsized, and some think we’re going bankrupt, are out of money or are being irresponsible. It’s hard to explain we still have all we need, and we’ve cut down on our stress levels and wasted time.” Practicing minimalism while raising children brings special challenges, and the Lippincotts are constantly refining their approach to balance the two worlds.

“When we first decluttered, we gave away toys the children didn’t play with, and they didn’t miss them because they had so many,” Lippincott shares. “But now, they are old enough to make their own choices, and decide what items are important to them and which just take up space. Letting them be in charge of their belongings helps them learn to make smart choices about what they truly need and want.”

Still, holidays and commercial influences have an impact. “It’s an interesting experience trying to live with less when you have children,” Lippincott says. “For instance, we’ve taken care to make Christmas more about spending time together rather than about collecting more stuff. We’re constantly weighing how much they understand and how much is too much.”

How much is too much is an ongoing conversation, but the Lippincotts’ devotion to simpler living means their two children have a nondebatable advantage when it comes to family time. Lippincott home schools the kids, and the family’s businesses—Lippincott’s writing career and her husband’s construction firm and photography business—allow them more autonomy than typical 9-to-5 jobs, as does their lower-maintenance apartment home.

That freedom means they can take longer vacations and educational trips to national sites. In the last three years, the family has spent more than 14 weeks on road trips across the country and Canada. This fall, they spent more than five weeks touring the Southeast Coast; and last year, they visited the Grand Canyon and Banff, Canada.

“Spending more time with our kids was much of the reason we wanted to cut back on the things that didn’t matter,” she says. “We knew we’d rather live simply in a smaller home and have more time to devote to family and experiencing life together than haveing to work too many hours to pay for a big, cold house full of stuff.”

Embarking on the next chapter

In January 2013, the family learned one of their biggest dreams was coming true: the chance to live and work overseas. Their applications to work at a school in China were accepted, and the family left on February 19. The Lippincotts will take turns teaching English and staying home with their children.

“Since we own very little, homeschool our kids and have no debt, we have more freedom to make such a move,” Lippincott shares. “We are excited to learn more about the culture and the language, and we feel the educational experience will be an amazing opportunity for our kids.”

The move will mean the family has to further minimalize: this time selling their vehicles and their furniture, leaving them with little more than what they can carry on the plane as they start the next chapter of their lives.

But for Lippincott, it’s all a part of the journey to a simpler life that she and her family started on years ago.

“The more I think about simple living and minimalism, the more I realize we can use more simple in all of our lives: simple stuff, simple space, simple food, simple money,” Lippincott says. “Less is more is an idea that works in every part of our lives. It’s just a matter of training ourselves to stop wanting more and learn to appreciate and be content with what we have.”