I sold everything I own to make room for something amazing

December 21 | Guest post by mariegael

I've never been one to amass collections of anything. I've moved…a lot. A lot a lot a lot; like "over 30 times before moving out after high school" a lot. My first apartment things were clothes, a bed, two chairs, a kitty, my paintings, and a clunky desktop computer but no desk. In the next apartment, very little changed except that I bought a desk and had made a few more paintings. My places were empty to the point that, when I opened my front door to accept some late night vegan pizza, the delivery guy asked if I was moving out.

Things stayed sparse for three reasons:

  1. I had no money.
  2. I am quite picky and always hold out for what i want.
  3. Every time I moved (almost once a year), I purged my belongings.

Eventually I was able to have a fairly well-stocked home, a gorgeous steel dining table, a few mid-century pieces, my giant easel and… then one morning, my Droid buzzed about new e-mails: I found a message alerting me that my five year goal of moving to Thailand to volunteer would happen in three months.

Moving our things was NOT an option and I didn't want my most cherished belongings sitting in some dark storage bin, of no use to anyone. We had to get rid of everything. We spent the next few months on Craigslist and eBay and hauling things to vintage shops.

Everything we own and our kitties on the morning of our flight

When you begin to sort out, label, and sell every single thing you own, you are overwhelmed with HOW MUCH you actually have. Then, once things start to disappear and shelves empty, you notice something; your daily life is the same and you don't miss the stuff.

Have you ever gone on vacation and completely enjoyed your life, even wishing you didn't have to go home? You probably only had a suitcase or two with you and yet you managed to function.

Everything on one luggage trolly

Now, I'm not telling you to sell everything you own and move to another country. I'm not saying owning things is bad. Just that being able to let go of everything has taught me how little we all actually need.

During my packing one day, I watched Up and couldn't help but identify with the old man when he cut his home free. He learned that although he had lovely memories attached to a home full of things, those things weren't actually his memories. In his case — and mine — he had to release it to make room for something amazing

  1. This is very poignant. I served in Peace Corps after college and gave up everything I had (which was not much and most of it poor quality). My mom kept the clothes and books and things I loved the most, but when I returned, I had the amazing opportunity to build my life anew. I lived at home for 7 months, then moved in with my partner in a new city. We started with well-loved hand-me-downs and have built our life from there.

    Starting again can be a cathartic experience.

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  2. This is so inspirational! I have a goal of beginning teaching English in another country (really, several countries!) in 2012, and I am currently purging my belongings. There are a few things I might keep in storage or at my dad's house, but most are on their way out the door, either via donation or give-away or selling. It IS amazing what you have to get rid of when you're getting rid of everything!

    Best of luck in Thailand!

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  3. I know lots of people who feel this way. My fiance would be happy selling off everything we own and just using what we have in a bookbag.

    There's lots going around the internet about minimalism and paring down your life. Maybe this is cause of the recession, I don't know.

    But I have long since accepted that I am just not one of those people. I like my stuff. Sure, not all of it, and I do my fair share of eradicating when we move or clean. However, when I'm away for vacation, I enjoy myself, but I love coming home to sleep in my own bed, to see my lines of bookshelves. I dream about having a steady home in which I can build my library. There are lots of physical things that I will miss, and I've always been that way. :-) I have no shame in admitting it! haha

    Anyway, good luck in Taiwan! :D

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    • yeah, having a comfy bed is a BIG one. for awhile i had to sleep on a pull out couch that would fold up as you were sleeping. haha

      *thailand not taiwan hehe ;)

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    • I love my stuff, too! But, I kind of wish I didn't! We have a storage locker that we rotate things in and out of as the seasons change etc. I would like to stop paying rent on storage, but don't like to have to re-buy things that I used to have…

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        • Yeah. I use the space bags, too! A lot of it is clothes. I usually put on "winter weight" so it's more that just shirts that are rotated. I pretty much have two sizes. I also like costumes, so I have a couple costume bins. I could probably let that go, as clothes wear out over time anyway. but…. I have some furniture that was passed down to me that I am emotionally attached to. Like my great aunt's travel trunk! She used it when she and her husband went all over the country looking for work in the '30s. Maybe another family member can give it a home??

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          • Maybe it can be repurposed in your home. I had a trunk I couldn't part with but didn't have room for… I got rid of our ikea coffee table and put the trunk in its place. Instant awesome and storage for winter duvets! Now back in a bigger space it has transitioned again to be a very cool toy box. With each phase of my life, the trunk adapts along with me!

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          • Right now the trunk is a stand for the Xbox and stereo, We live in a small condo, and I think of all the "wasted" volume of space in there. The liner is totally gone now, so I don't know if I would put anything in there… Gosh! maybe there IS something in there that I forgot about already. haha!
            I do have a chest that my great grandfather made and that is our coffee table. We keep games in there, so that's cool.

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  4. i did this when i was 20, i sold everything and moved to new orleans with just one suitcase with me and a small trunk back home of sentimental stuff. now at 24, i have restocked most of my stuff. i found myself occassionally missing some books that i gave away, but aside from that i didn't miss my stuff.

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  5. This gave me the courage to do this with our boxes that have been in storage for 2 years. I'm going through them after this holiday hubub settles and doing this. I don't miss any of it, so why not make money off it and clean up the house?

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  6. "…those things weren't actually his memories." Yes! This is something I'm working on. I love my possessions much more than I should. And I tend to clasp a little too tightly to sentimental items. I'll have to keep this as my mantra "these things are not my memories."

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    • it took me awhile to let go. the hardest were my paintings b/c they were kind of a part of me, how i communicated who i am … but they ended up in loving homes.

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  7. I'm in the process of doing this right now and not really enjoying it. Well ok I have a houseful of "things" at home in Australia waiting for me to come sort through it in the new year while I wait for (hopefully) a positive nod from the US government. I miss everyone and hoards of things from home but soon enough I'll be missing my husband and the very useful/pretty/emotional things I have gathered here. I loved UP and I completely agree about "stuff" but I'm not far enough into the future yet to have gotten the benefit of knowing it turns out ok, I guess. Plus my memory is so craptacular I've relied on the magical powers of objects to jolt it. Not really sure what that adds up to but kudos to you for finding your happy place sans "stuff".

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  8. Well in June I moved from my home of twenty years in the suburbs to the bush. The house we moved all our stuff into previously belonged to a relative and it has thirty years of combined family detritus in it. We moved all our things into it but as it was already full we had to stack things up while we had work done, new flooring, plumbing etc all the while looking after a severely disabled relative. The house was un-inhabitable which meant I was camping out at an aunt's house for three months. We had some fairly big things go wrong with the move (including The Big C rearing it's ugly head) so we didn't manage to get the place in any semblence of order for the October 1st wedding we were planning on the property. So we got married in a tent nearby. **ho-hum**. THEN a fortnight later we had another wedding in the US where we actually got married and I've just spent the last three months trying to nest a little here in my husband's home that is filled with a lifetime of "stuff" that belongs to him and his sister. We've worked out some storage solutions. He's thrown out a bunch of things and I came here with only my two suitcases and am trying to make a plan for how our lives will be once I'm here permanently, if I am able to be here permanently. But come January I have to head back to Australia and do something with the enormous mess of plastic tubs and packing cartons that is my life up to 2011 (and parts of the lives of various aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins). I've been living out of bags for 6 months now and I have completely lost the flush of youth and my sense of adventure. I'm just tired. I feel like I am backpacking around Europe as a 90 year old with a whole house strapped to my back just like Carl, only the burden is so heavy and all the moving around and uncertainty has sucked all the joy of the journey from my bones. I've been wandering around with Christmas looming hoping upon hope that no one gives me anything because I'm so sick of "stuff" and my emotional attachment to it but I suspect it's just an incredibly emotional time and perhaps I am expecting too much from myself? It is very heartening to be reminded that it can be done. I'm sure your story had its days where you wondered how it would all turn out.

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    • oh yeah, of course! it's a rough transition, you'r right. although, i'm sure you've learned allot about yourself. there were certainly times i felt drained. i almost fainted in the bangkok airport for one. & for a time, it was rough not having a home. i felt on edge. eventually we found a lovely place & we bought a few basics & things got more comfortable. furnishings are minimal, our bed is still just a mattress on the floor, but it is a comfy mattress. ;) & although i don't have my huge paintings, i've taken up gardening & i feel at home now. looking back, there was stress & fear, but i think i got reintroduced to myself. & also, i think my got to know my husband much better through the process.

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  9. We'd lived in one city for many years, then when it was time to move to Seattle, we got rid of almost everything, put the furniture in storage and got on a plane with two suitcases, two bikes and one guitar. I'm happy to have our furniture back, but it wasn't any harder to be living out of those two suitcases!

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  10. I understand this too well, and for awhile was completely in love with the process. Now with starting a family … things have changed and try find things that i love so much and are "perfect" that i cannot sell with such ease.

    Best of Luck
    xx

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    • i was starting a family also. & many of the things i acquired were "perfect" to me & it wasn't easy to get rid of. it's not that i was fancy free & did not want to settle down. i suppose it was more like your house catching on fire & you can only take your bags & run … but in the end, you're ok.

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  11. I'm slowly purging my huge amassed CRAP in anticipation of probably moving countries next year. I'm so glad i started early so i can filter things out to good homes/donation a little at a time, i think the shock of trying to get rid of it all at once would be too much for me! but i've been amazed at how much stuff i've gotten rid of and how much stuff i still seem to have. I always knew i was a hoarder, but i've never really taken stock of what there is before!
    I'm always happy to read about people successfully doing it, i know i can get there eventually!

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  12. Is it just me or do other people feel inspired to do a bit of a tidy up after reading articles likes this – I've now got a shoe box of costume jewellery and a box of books in the hallway to donate to my local charity shop tomorrow.

    I know it's only small but it's a start.

    Thanks and good luck Marie Gael

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  13. Another excellent forced-crap-removal? Getting bedbugs. When all non-essential items need to be packed in bins, and all essential items are going to be thrown into a commercial dryer often and/or sprayed with deadly chemicals, suddenly lots of nonessentials leave the household. I was so, so sad to see the books go, but I didn't need a lot of them AND books can always be re-found.

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  14. I just moved to Thailand too, but I wasn't quite ready to sell all of my stuff. Luckily, I have very accommodating parents who have some extra attic space :) There is definitely something freeing about having very little to worry about – I came here with one suitcase, and honestly even that feels like too much stuff sometimes. Still, having also moved around my whole life (in the same ballpark as you, mariegael!) I can't part with the little things I've taken with me from those places. One day when I have a real home, on a more permanent basis, I want to have things around me that remind me of the other times and places in my life. Admittedly, when I unpack the boxes that have been in storage for nearly four years already, there will certainly be stuff that I didn't need to hang onto. But still, I purge constantly, and at the end of the day, I really love my stuff.

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  15. i am a purger and proud of it! i live in a tiny studio and honestly, somedays i wish i could toss what little i do have and live from a daypack (or hermione's amazing evening bag with magical space inside! swoon) i also have this little inner voice that has this intense desire to run away (omg, disaster movies turn me on! i have the list of 7 things i should grab if i have to evacuate next to my front door). i love the idea of running away, leaving it all behind.

    as a strange aside to this post, i once was looking up running away online and came across a paper that talked about running away as a symptom of bipolar disorder. the article was what finally pushed me to get some therapy…yep bipolar :D

    my mom, however, has fallen down the rabbit hole of hoarding like nobody's business…i swear to gawd i am going to call that tv show on here any day now!

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    • it seems like those of us w/ minimalist leanings have usually been exposed to hoarding at some point.

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  16. I moved cross-country, twice, with nothing but a box of books, two lamps, and a large suitcase. The first time was a few days after I turned eighteen. I packed in the space of probably eight hours and got rid of everything else. I'm planning on completely purging again soon so I can divide my basement (where I live), building another room for a boarder.

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  17. I'm a habitual purger. I think about twice a year I get the urge to go through my things and give them away. It never feels like I've gotten rid of enough though! If I could just limit everything to the bare necessities for cooking, art, gardening/farming, and sleeping I would be happy.

    My boyfriend, however, equates things with memories. That bottle with mold growing inside it? Cherished prop from high school. We can't get rid of it! Someone, someday, might ask him about it.

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    • ack! O_o once i saw something in real simple or martha … something … anyway, it was about those items w/ memories. they suggested taking a photo of it & putting it in an album. keep the photo, get rid of the thing. i loved that!

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  18. I'm a packrat, like my father before me and his father before him. When Dad died last year, Mom realized that not only did she have to sort out 70 years of his stuff, but all the things from his own father that he'd not gotten rid of. It's been really stressful for her, and a wake-up call for me. I lived in Japan for six years. When I moved back to America in May, our landlord was going to let refugees from the Tohoku earthquake live in our apartment, so we were able to leave all our things for them, since they had lost everything. It was so freeing to just leave everything behind. (Not personal things, of course, but everything else.) The only thing I miss is having a well-equipped kitchen, since we still have some holes in our new home.

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  19. I had never realized how attached to my "stuff" I was until we moved from Florida to New Mexico and brought only what could fit in one car. Getting rid of things happened in layers. There was the stuff that was easy to let go of; it wasn't sentimental and it wasn't totally necessary. Then there were things that were a little bit sentimental but not necessary, the things that were necessary but not sentimental, etc. Then there was the other 50% of my stuff, which was totally sentimental and I didn't want to let it go no matter how unnecessary it might be. I lost my senses when it came to that stuff. I left clothes I wore every day in order to make room for my birimbau and hammock I had brought home from a trip to Brazil; I nearly lost it when I got to Albuquerque and realized I left my childhood hiking stick. A STICK.

    But you know what? I'm still sad about the stick, and I'm okay with that. There are things I've let go of and never thought about again. But there are baby clothes of my sons' I wished I'd kept to make a blanket out of, there are things I donated only to really wish I had them later. I will likely always wax and wane in balancing my desire for a clear, uncluttered living space with my attachment to emotionally charged items. If push came to shove and I had to whittle down to 1 sedan's worth of belongings, I could do it… but I can't say I wouldn't cry over a stick again.

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  20. This article has come at an interesting time for me. We just bought our first house and hosted Christmas dinner for 10 people (5 stayed over) so, instead of purging, and minimizing, I've spent the last month acquiring things – more than I've ever had before.

    It feels kind of strange to suddenly have this much stuff and take up this much space, but I'm trying to take the approach that I only acquire things that serve a clear purpose and bring me joy. I also have to use the stuff regularly or get rid of it… and I try not to acquire too many things that can only serve a single purpose.

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    • The amount of blankets, pillows, and inflatable mattresses we've acquired in the 1.5yrs we've lived in our house is amazing. But, instead of looking at it as "stuff," I feel blessed that we HAVE space to host people, and that we have such awesome friends who make the effort to come here. And my cooking/baking skills have grown quite a bit since I've had guinea pigs to try new recipes on-you can't really try a new cookie recipe without people to try them! We try to buy only what we'll need or use more than once, but I don't think having "stuff" is bad when it's used!

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    • totally get that! when we picked our new apartment, a big goal was to have space to host guests. recently i had people over for dinner the first time in my life & it was 50 people!!!! i made sure to have a few floor mats & i bought many extra dishes & cups (& we still ran short). we really didn't need much though b/c most of us just sat on the floor. i do find it interesting how little we actually need to be hospitable. i think in america we are trained to think we need soooo much, i fell for it certainly.

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  21. I have to tell you I could not have come across this post at a better time. I have an online business that has done fairly well over the years, always keeping a roof over my head. I am single, have no children and no debt but have felt stuck for quite some time. I always felt like this should be the most freeing time of my life. With no children in tow and no family now that my parents are gone (I am 45) I could start over anywhere. But I've remained stuck in NJ. The part that woke me up just recently is when I couldn't pay my $1,000 a month rent. I've lost a few clients after Hurricane Sandy. And it dawned on me hard that if I'd up and left ages ago I'd be paying so much less for rent and have more for it. For instance, a comparable apartment in North Carolina (I just threw a dart at a map) is about $700 with a fitness center, washer and dryer in the apartment, a balcony or patio and often a den as well. I don't even have a dishwasher!

    And as I look around my apartment there's some ego crap to deal with. I admit I've felt like, "What will people think of me, a grown woman, who's acquired some really cool stuff, and have nothing to show for it if I sell it all to move to a place where I can really enjoy my life?" Why should I care? Do I not have faith that I could start over again and do even better, acquire new things that I'll love just as much with a happier life to boot?

    Those are questions for me to answer, but right now, I've taken the plunge. I've put my wall unit, desks, antique furniture and all on ebay and all I want for it is enough to buy a plane ticket and get to NC with no turning back. If I don't like it I can always pack up and move again.

    Ego is a bitch (pardon me). Seriously. I mean, basically I'm paying $1,000 a month to live in a place I no longer enjoy and have no ties to just to store all my stuff. It's not about me anymore, it's about the stuff. How expensive it would be to move it, worrying about it being marred or damaged, concerning myself with things that don't matter. As long as the kitty comes with me (he's old now, adopted him when he was just 1 after my mom passed in 1996) I'm good.

    I have never been so hungry to shed my stuff and walk into something else. It is a fearlessness I've never had the balls to take advantage of and now it's happening. I'll be one of those stories about a business owner who left with one suitcase and a pet and turned it all around. Fortunately I can work from anywhere with my business as a Virtual Assistant so while my expenses are low I can finally have overage to throw into marketing. My rent has been debilitating for long enough. Cheer me on, America. I'll be blogging about it right from the start.

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    • This is awesome! When you've accomplished your bad-ass move and your new life is all settled, you should totally submit a guest post about it and encourage others to rock that shit.

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  22. I just want to say this out loud somewhere. Every time I think about winning the lottery, you know what I'd love to do? Buy a kick-ass, ridiculously large motorhome (like this one for $2.6 million – http://youtu.be/hhiXhD6QUdw – not my site, just giving a visual of how nice it would be to get on the road in one) and just live anywhere I park. Sure, I could leave the country but I'd like to cruise around the states first until I got my fill. Whatever doesn't fit doesn't go. I hunger for that kind of freedom from…stuff. It binds you to places you would leave sooner without all of it.

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