Getting Rid of Stuff in Preparation for Permanent Travel

Today will feel fairly off topic to many. I’m drifting slightly away from the day-to-day issues we discuss. But I’m getting so many questions that I felt they had to be addressed.

I mentioned my plan for permanent travel a few weeks ago. We’re about a year from giving up our home and hitting the road.

I’ve been getting bunches of questions asking about our plans. Some have asked what I’m up to and how I’m getting ready.

I’ll be working from the road, so have no fear: I’ll be here. I just won’t be “here” here.

Some folks associate traveling with retiring. That’s not me. I like the work, and I’m not even close to being interested in giving it up.

Of course, I’ve implicitly been talking about our plan to travel all along.

I’ve been talking about building a professional management team, systems, and a strong business model. I’ve been talking about managing remotely and productizing services. I’ve been talking about simplification of data management and a strong information technology infrastructure.

You’ll get more of that as time goes by.

In the meantime, I’ll pass along some observations about getting ready.

The Big Dump Stage

We’re in the big dump stage of this project.

We’re getting rid of all of our stuff.

It has been interesting. We’ve been unloading on and off for nearly two years. We had 25 years’ worth of stuff.

We’ve been able to unload the stuff slowly. It happens in waves. There’s a rhythm to letting the stuff go.

The Urge to Purge

It started when we decided to sell our suburban home with a two-car garage (place for stuff), attic (place for more stuff), exercise room (great place to put stuff), and abundant closets and space (more stuff).

Out went the piano, the china cabinet (along with the china), a ton of excess furniture, and, most significantly, all that crap in the attic.

One hundred loads to Goodwill. Carload after carload of crap. Old toys, old bed linens, old clothes, and old weird stuff that I couldn’t even identify. Off it went.

Anything valuable (and there wasn’t much) went on Craigslist for a few weeks. If it didn’t sell, it went to Goodwill.

It’s interesting how little value there is in used personal property.

  • A few items went to specialty places. For instance, the china and crystal were shipped to Replacements, Ltd. The company doesn’t pay much, but it gave us something.
  • Books were shipped to 1DollarScan, digitized, and destroyed.
  • Photos, negatives, and videos were scanned and uploaded to SmugMug.
  • Old paper records were scanned and stored in Evernote.
  • Some sentimental family items were given to other family members.
  • Bicycles (nine of them—we kept four) were sold.
  • Tools: sold.
  • Exercise equipment (barely used, of course): sold.
  • Gas grill: sold.

Anything that wouldn’t sell and that couldn’t be loaded up and easily taken to Goodwill was listed on FreeCycle, and the takers came over and picked it up. I met some fascinating people when they came by for pickups. I could tell you some stories.

The Process of Letting Go

I mentioned the waves. Here’s how it goes:

First, we were motivated to declutter. We had a bunch of energy for cleaning things out and creating some space.

That went well for a couple of weekends, but it quickly became hard work. There’s a reason people don’t clean out their attics: it’s kind of a nightmare.

[ While I have you here, I wanted to remind you that you can get the latest articles delivered to your inbox a week before they go up on the web. Just one email per week. Sign up here. ]

As we pushed forward, we kept setting aside items we wanted to keep. I’d guess 85% of the attic junk was easy to carry away. However, 15% had some economic, sentimental, or emotional value. It went into a “special” pile.

Eventually, we’d made big progress, and we took a break for a few months.

Then, when the temperature made the attic habitable again, we went back to work.

That’s when we noticed that the “special” pile wasn’t so special anymore. We were now willing to let go of much of what had felt valuable. The “special” pile got smaller.

Each time we took a break and then went back to work, we were able to let go of more of the “special” stuff.

Upon reflection, it feels like there’s some natural level of stuff that we’ve got to hang onto. There’s an emotional connection that’s difficult to understand (it feels really odd to me to be so attached to certain items, but it’s apparently pretty normal). The attachment to some things is strong. It takes time to adjust to letting it go.

With each wave of elimination, we were able to let go of more and more of the special stuff. Interestingly, the percentage of special stuff (about 15%) still feels about the same. The mass just keeps getting smaller with each wave, so there’s less and less special stuff.

Recently, we’ve taken pictures of items in the “special” pile before we give them away. I kind of doubt we’ll ever look at the pictures, but taking the pictures makes it easier to get rid of the stuff.

The Bearable Lightness of Being Stuff-Free

We’re between waves right now. We just got rid of the holiday decorations and 50 bottles of liquor we’ll never drink. We’re trimming down some clothing, and we just sold the last bicycle.

We won’t finish with the elimination of the stuff until right before we leave, and we still have a year of using what we’ve got. We’ve learned a great deal so far about the emotional and logistical challenges of getting rid of things. We continue to make progress.

So far, so good. I’m surprised each day at the feeling of lightness that comes from having less stuff. There’s a freedom that comes from not having to manage and care for our things—especially our house.

A little over a year from now, we’ll be down to two carry-on bags plus our computer bags. I’ll keep you in the loop as things develop and as we make progress.

Start typing and press Enter to search