how to simplify your life storage

The bearable lightness of being . . . without stuff

by Michael on June 20, 2013

Do you ever feel burdened by having too much “stuff?” Wondering what you are going to do with it all? One of the biggest tasks in preparing for our year-long journey was deciding what to do with all our stuff, the things we had spent a lifetime in acquiring. Getting rid of the house was an easy choice. But what about furniture, kitchen gadgets, clothing and more? We were traveling light so we’d have to leave everything behind but surely we’d need it all when we returned, right? It turns out the answer to that is “wrong.”

While we sold or gave away almost everything we owned before we left, we still had enough possessions we “couldn’t live without” to fill a 10’ x 10’ storage unit. It seemed kind of small compared to having a whole house full of belongings. But when we returned we slid open the overhead door to the unit, took one look at all the things piled up and thought, “Why the heck did we keep all this?” (Along with, “Why do we have so many lamps?”)

We were going to keep traveling and writing so we couldn’t imagine settling down any time soon. By contrast, that stuff in the storage unit seemed quite settled in.

So we did what any rational person would do, we slid the door back down and walked away, not thinking about it for six months. Six months that we continued to pay monthly storage rent because we just couldn’t face going through it all again.

how to simplify your life storage unit

During that time we gave a lecture at the Penn State Arts & Culture Series about our adventure and mentioned how we now live out of our suitcases, possessions no longer meaning anything to us. But a little voice in the back of our heads kept saying, “You hypocrites, what about all that crap in your storage unit?”

The voice kept getting louder and no amount of justifying–but it’s a pain to get rid of all that stuff, what if we need it again?, we just don’t have the time!—could make the voice go away. We were just coming up with pitiful excuses to avoid reality.

So we decided to clean out the shed and finally make the hard choices to get rid of our remaining possessions. Did we really need our college yearbooks anymore or CDs or any of the detritus of everyday life? We packed a few sentimental objects like family photos (after severely culling them) into boxes to store in a cousin’s basement. We sold or gave away the rest.

Since we are living a nomadic lifestyle, the material possessions we now own have to fit into the trunk of our car. (Without even spilling over into the back seat, Michael is very proud of his packing capabilities.)

One of the most common questions we get from people we meet along the way is “What about all your stuff?” We’re now pleased to answer, “What stuff?” This is the lightest and most free we have ever felt. No weight bearing us down, no material goods to worry about.

Believe it or not, it’s a lot of work to simplify your life, more so than we anticipated. But in the end, it’s been worth it and we encourage you to try it. If you could snap your fingers and cut some items from YOUR life, what would they be? (Please, no spouses.)

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Franca June 20, 2013 at 7:06 am

I couldn’t agree more with you guys. When we started traveling a year ago we had the same problem and we chose not to keep anything a part from few sentimental things. The most difficult things to get rid of were all our cds, dvds and books which for us meant a lot and we had few hundreds of each, but we did it and we don’t regret it. As you said it’s possible to live without so many material possessions 🙂

Michael June 20, 2013 at 7:52 am

We found that once we get rid of replaceable items like books and CDs we certainly don’t miss them.

Pete June 20, 2013 at 7:31 am

Books are my bete noire but plenty of other junk to weigh me down.

Michael June 20, 2013 at 7:54 am

Hi Pete,

Books seem to be a benchmark dividing those who get rid of stuff and those who hold onto things. We used to have many books but gradually wondered why we were holding onto them.

Bethaney - Flashpacker Family June 20, 2013 at 8:23 am

Awesome!!! We just packed up two weeks ago and I know we’ve stored way too much stuff. I just kind of ran out of time to deal with it so shoved it all into boxes. I’m sure in a few years time I’ll go back and think “what the fark did I keep all that for?”.

Michael June 20, 2013 at 8:45 am

You know the mantra for packing, “Take half the stuff out of your suitcase and leave it behind.” We should have followed that for what we stored too but even more so.

Schub June 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

Hi Guys,
My stereo system alone would fill that 10X10 space. But I did have my own mantra for travelling, Take half the stuff out of your suitcase (we’ve been there) and double the stuff in your wallet!
Keep up the journey.

Larissa July 1, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I see you’re still the audiophile, Gary! But it’s tough to toss those huge speakers in the overhead bins 😉

Kate June 20, 2013 at 10:49 am

We have a small room full of stuff still at our house (a room the renter didn’t need) and I’m sure when we go back we’ll be able to get rid of half of it. It feels sooo good to know when we eventually return it will be to a clutter/junk free house and garage!

Michael June 20, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I’d be making plans for how to get rid of it, because that’s what will happen.

Try New Things June 20, 2013 at 11:48 am

I am still in the process of getting rid of things and yes it is a challenge. I downsized my home and thought I had disposed of so much stuff before I moved. But now I am in the smaller home and I still have a whole garage full of things I think I don’t need. The boxes are still closed but I seem to have all I need to live without even knowing what is in those boxes!

I like the idea of being free of stuff but like anyone, I need to go there in stages, after spending my whole life accumulating stuff. It is quite liberating though. But I am way behind you… 🙂

Michael June 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Hi Kelly,

Maybe you should just toss the boxes without even looking in them. How daring would that be?

Mike Brown June 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Hey Larissa, this post was the trigger I needed to connect again after 30+ years. After my wife passed away last fall, I decided that I was done with work and life in the Western Hemisphere, so I’ve sold or given away everything and am retiring to a little beach town in Thailand called Hua Hin. I hope to see you and Mike over there someday!

Larissa July 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Great to hear from you after all this time, although so sorry to hear about your wife. I hope the new life you’ve planned gives you the peace you’re seeking.

Frank Peter July 8, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Inspiring!!!

Nur January 19, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Since we are in the process of clearing out in order to sell the house and travel, the fear is; what if we change our minds after 3 months on the road? So I cannot bring myself to get rid of it all. What if I decide it was a mistake and I want to settle back down with my comforting belongings? — that is why I think I might find myself in this same situation. Possibly comming back to a storage unit and wishing I had gotten rid of it all the first time around.

Michael January 19, 2014 at 2:50 pm

You’re right, you don’t know if you’ll like it. That’s why we hedged our bets by keeping some things for the first year and got rid of them when we returned.

Kris Kuhn January 19, 2015 at 10:29 pm

I hope we can connect as nomads someday! I was doing some Googling while writing my first blog article on “How to begin paring down your stuff for a life of travel” (http://www.alifemorecomplete.com/blog/how-to-begin-paring-down-your-stuff-for-a-life-of-travel) and when I came across this post of yours I just stopped and starting laughing at ourselves!!! We were just talking about having to get a storage unit and we’ll consider ourselves successful if we can get it down to less than a 10 x 10. “Stuff” is so hard to get rid of! And we are just starting. Thanks for the inspiring article. Hopefully it will help myself and my husband get rid of at least a few more things along our journey to stepping out the door as nomads 🙂

Kris

Michael January 19, 2015 at 11:07 pm

The lesson we learned is to get rid of even more stuff than you think you should. You really won’t miss it. Good luck on your journey.

Kala December 15, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Well if they are non-fiction honestly I use them for reference in my profession and for my hobbies/interest. How do u guys deal with that? Other than that I have very few possessions.

Michael December 18, 2015 at 11:57 am

We can pretty much find any information we need online so don’t need the books.

Try New Things June 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Wow! The thought of that makes me anxious….so how attached am I to my stuff!!

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