I love letting go of stuff. It’s one of my favorite things to do… give stuff away, sell stuff I no longer have use for, take a bag of stuff to Goodwill. I find it freeing! I have gotten rid of all my stuff now, repeatedly. Typically, by the mid-thirties, most people are working on amassing things, filling their homes with furniture, decorations, knickknacks, buying more clothes, adding to their shoe collection, etc. Not me. Things come in my life as I need them, and I let them go when I no longer have use for them. If something isn’t adding value to my life, then I don’t have room for it.
I have shed my belongings three times in my life. Weird? Maybe, but I’m not your average bear. The first time I ditched my stuff was in 2009, after my dad died. I was moving to Gainesville for grad school and I didn’t have the emotional strength to figure out what to do with my belongings. I had spent two months in Colorado, came back to Florida about a week and a half before classes were supposed to start, figuring I had enough time to find a storage unit to move my stuff into. I was living near Orlando and had sublet my furnished apartment to a college student while I was in Colorado for the summer. I had already rented a furnished room in Gainesville before I even left for the summer. But in that 10-day span, I unexpectedly had to deal with my dad’s suicide, which, well, throws a person off. The girl who I sublet my place to was in Florida on a college internship. She ended up getting a job with the company she interned with and was moving to Orlando permanently. So, I gave her my stuff. All of it. Everything I had gathered in my near decade of being an official adult… I gave to someone I barely knew.
And you know? It felt really good. In the thick of losing my dad, suddenly all my things seemed unimportant – certainly not important enough for me to try to deal with, while also relocating to Gainesville, going to a funeral, and starting grad school. Giving that girl my things made me feel good because I knew she could use them and I didn’t really need them anymore. Truly, I had no idea where I would go or what direction my life would take after grad school – did it really make sense for me to cling to stuff that would just end up being a burden to deal with if, for example, I ended up moving to the west coast?
The second time I got rid of everything was in the spring of 2015. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to leave Florida, travel a little, spread my wings. I had just bought my Camaro a couple months earlier and my plan was to pack two suitcases and my dog… and leave. If you’ve ever seen the trunk and backseat of a Camaro, you’ll understand why I was only taking two suitcases. I gave my bikes to my mom to store in her garage (my bicycles are the only items that have survived these three periods of shedding), and gave all my belongings away to friends (including about 90% of my wardrobe and almost all of my shoes). And you know? It felt good! I didn’t know where I was going to go and not having stuff to anchor me to any one place was a cool feeling. I didn’t have any emotional ties to my furniture or clothes… it was all replaceable.
I ended up refurnishing a rental when I decided to come back to Florida for a year and a half. And then, I sold all that stuff (!!) when I decided that what I really wanted was to live on the road. I thought briefly about getting a storage unit but it didn’t make sense to me. It would cost around $200 a month to store all my stuff. I knew I wanted to travel for at least a year or two, and when/if I decide to have a home base again, it will most likely be out west. So then I’d have amassed the costs of a storage unit, plus the cost of shipping everything to wherever I decided to end up… which would easily total several thousand dollars. I can do a pretty sweet job of furnishing a place for a fraction of that! So, I ditched it all again!
I sit here, in this 21 foot travel trailer that I’ve been living in for two months now, and I am truly happier than I’ve ever been…. And I own less stuff than I ever have. I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. Everything in this trailer has to have a purpose – there is literally no room for anything that doesn’t.
Before I left Florida, my sister went to Walmart with me to get some things I’d need (bins to organize things, drawers, lights, etc.). We were walking down the aisle with bathroom stuff and she asked if I needed a bathmat. I stood there, probably for a good three or four minutes, debating whether or not I needed a bath mat. Seriously. I looked at the different mats, asking myself if a bath mat was necessary? Was it something I needed? Would it add value to my life? All the while, my sister stood there patiently looking at me, surely thinking, it’s a ten dollar bath mat! Do you want it or not!?! It really wasn’t about the price. I thought nothing about dropping $1200 on a generator last month after realizing that a generator would definitely enhance my life on cold, rainy days when my solar panels wouldn’t charge my batteries. I was just trying to be intentional about everything I purchased. I’ve almost come to look at stuff as a burden. I don’t want a lot of things to drag around with me – just what I need, just the things (like my bikes and my generator) that will make the experience of my life better. Stuff is replaceable – experiences are not.
Last year, I watched a documentary called “The Minimalists” (it’s on Netflix, worth a watch). I’ve never really been someone prone to collecting stuff, but I do think that the doc inspired me to think a little more about stuff and its role in my life. Things are just things – are they worth emotional bonds? The things that truly matter in my life are my friends, family, my experiences, my health… and mostly, fulfilling my purpose. In a society that worships consumption and consumerism, you have to be really conscious to delineate between the things that really matter (i.e., your relationships and memories) and the stuff that we (perhaps, unconsciously) place far too much value on. There’s a quote at the end of “The Minimalists” that I think is pretty profound:
Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.