We’re conditioned in our society to acquire stuff. Our culture and economy often seems to revolve around this quest. And no matter how large a space we have, we can easily fill that space with stuff. It seems to be a universal law – the amount of “stuff” you have expands to fill all available space.
The acquisition of stuff can easily end up consuming our space and our lives, cluttering our homes, our budgets and our minds.
We pay to acquire it, pay to house it, pay to store it when we run out of room, and pay to move it when we seemingly inevitably “upgrade” to a larger place. Repeat this cycle a few times, until the day comes when your next of kin get stuck with paying once again to dispose of it all.
For those wanting to travel full time for an extended amount of time, breaking the acquisition cycle is pretty important as to scale way back on the space you allow for stuff in your life.
With valued media collections, cherished family heirlooms and closets full of unending wardrobe choices, letting go can seem like an insurmountable task. We’re just so conditioned to have stuff around us.
One key is realizing that stuff needs us more than we need it.
If you’re determined to embrace a life with the simplicity of less stuff – you can do it. The biggest block is likely primarily one of social conditioning and attaching sentimental value to inanimate objects.
My story of shedding stuff
My story will differ from others, but my path to shedding my stuff started long before I embarked on full time travel. It was the gift from a friend of the book The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture by Dell deChant that awakened me to the consumerism cycle that can be compared to a cosmological religious practice in our culture. I started to become much more conscious of my spending habits and the stuff I acquired. It had to have a needed purpose, and not just fulfilling what seems like a spiritual and/or emotional need. And then while living on the east coast of Florida in 2004, I experienced three back-to-back mandatory evacuations of my home due to hurricanes. There’s something about packing up everything you deem essential into your car and leaving your home behind for impending doom that really forces you to evaluate what stuff you really could do without.
So when Chris proposed that I hit the road full time with him in early 2007, it was an easy transformation – as I had already done the mental work. Inside of a month I shed myself of about about 70% of my possessions and left my home behind, still on the market to hopefully sell. I purged through old financial records that long ago needed to be tossed, stripped my wardrobe down to fit inside a small box, sold off books/movies/music that I hadn’t touched in years, shed old technology that was obsolete for my life – and hit the road with just what I needed. It was easy, and even fun, to purge as I utilized eBay, Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, Freecycle and donating to local charities. With each item gone, my world seemed a shade brighter and freer.
Many months later we came back to Florida to put serious effort into selling my house. In that time period, I also dabbled with turning my purging skills into a business to help others shed unneeded stuff from their life. It was great fun, but even so – dealing with other people’s stuff became too much of a burden to my mental psyche. Stuff is heavy, in more ways than one.
My house did sell, and I shed the remaining stuff in quick order – leaving me with just what I carry with me, and a few boxes that I leave at Chris’ parents basement that contain what little stuff I just can’t get rid of.
How to get rid of it
If you’ve made the decision that you can do with less stuff, how do you get rid of it? There is varying effort involved depending upon your values. You will probably find that a combination of the below options will provide your ideal solution.
- Throw it all away/burn it – Sometimes, it seems the easier way to make stuff disappear is to simply dispose of it. And while quickly freeing, it’s also the least responsible way to deal with the hole we dug ourselves into. I strongly urge you to consider other ways, except for the stuff that really is of no value to anyone.
- Sell it – With resources such as eBay, Craigslist, classified ads, etc., getting cash for your stuff is viable and may help fund your upcoming adventure. It takes a bit of effort to make listings and complete transactions however. And when you’re dealing with a household of stuff, it is quite likely overwhelming. I made it a game and had a good deal of fun with it (and even started a side business called Purge Genie helping others with it). You may want to enlist the help of friends with Purge Genie foo, or even try hiring an auction agent to dispose of your household items. Don’t stress about making top dollar – the key to purging is speed and efficiency.
- Donate it – Some stuff is just too much effort to sell, and the tax write off and/or good will generated, is worth more than the potential cash you can get. Donating to a favored charity is an awesome way to go.
- Freecycle it – Freecycle.org is a concept of giving things to those who can make use of it. Each is locally organized, so the results can vary quite a bit. It can also be a bit of a pain, as you’re essentially putting in similar listing efforts as selling the items and still having to arrange to complete transactions. But it’s a great way to get rid of stuff if you’re so inclined, knowing that it will be going to a good home.
- Gift it – Some stuff, we just don’t want. But it may not be easy to sell, and may have more sentimental value attached than we want for it to go into the hands of strangers. For these items, I offer up the suggestion of a ‘House Cooling Party’. The object here is social time with your friends before you venture off, in which the rule is they must take away items. I had great fun at my House Cooling Party, and now delight in visiting my friends in Florida who have my art work, knick-knacks and other items on display in their homes.
- Digitize Stuff – To reduce the amount of paper you have, consider having documents that are still relevant digitized. You can scan them yourself, or hire a service that does this. Photos, music, movies, etc. can all be converted or purchased as digital media, requiring only a large hard drive to store it. Many manufacturers of products also have their user guides available in a digital format on their website, which is much less bulkier to store.
- Indefinite Loans – And for some items that we might eventually want back in our lives at a future date, such as beloved furniture, artwork, etc. – consider loaning it to trusted friends for an indefinite period of time. I was able to help a dear friend furnish her new home with my family’s teak dining room furniture, and still preserve my rights to take the pieces back should I ever ‘settle down’ again or my friend can no longer make use of it. Be willing however to let go of these items if something should happen to them.
- Store It – For everything else that you just can’t part with, such as childhood momentos, family heirlooms and stuff you absolutely want should you settle down again – compact it down as small as possible and store it. We use a combination of a storage unit in Sacramento that we have set up as walk-in room with books, movies, flying equipment and Burning Man gear, as well as keeping a small sampling of stuff at Chris’ parents home in St. Louis.
Whichever ways you decide to go, give yourself ample time to complete the process. It took me in total about 2 months to shed myself of everything in responsible and sane ways. But do give yourself a deadline and major milestone points, it’s amazing how easy it is to put off the chore. For instance, I made goals for myself of ‘Today I will go through all documents from 1995-2000, and reduce my hanging wardrobe by 40%.”
Life with Less Stuff
Even if you’re not embarking on full time travel, shedding yourself of stuff has lots of benefits. You’ll have less cluttered space, which is usually much calmer and recharging. You may even be able to substantially downscale your living space and reduce costs. And once you break the cycle of needing to acquire for acquisitions sake, you’ll find your budget is a lot looser – as you carefully consider stuff you bring into your life and space.
Another thing that having less stuff has introduced me to is thrift shopping for my wardrobe. With a very limited space for clothing, and a strong appreciation for variety in my wardrobe, planning to replace a portion of my wardrobe regularly at a thrift store is both fun and very affordable.