How to Get Rid of Your Stuff – The Extreme Method

Waiting on a Train

This post is the second in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your life to enable you to travel more often. Currently, we are concentrating on how to reduce the number of things that you own so you can have more money to travel. If you have not read the first article, you might want to check it out. Don’t worry, it’s not too long. One quick note. Sara tells me that she is afraid that people will think we are wacko after reading this. So, please, don't think we are wacko...

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you have decided that you want to get rid of all of the superfluous stuff in your life. Well, you have come to the right place. I can say from lots of experience, that getting rid of stuff is one of the most liberating things you can do. For me, it is like lifting a burden from my shoulders. Now, truthfully, I think I might have a problem with this sort of thing. If I did not have a wife and two kids, I quite possibly would not be satisfied until I had nothing but what could fit in my backpack. Sara keeps me under control and let’s me know when I’m going overboard on getting rid of things. Sometimes, she lets me run wild, though.

There are many ways to get rid of things, but for the sake of space, I am going to cover two:  the extreme method and the ease-into-it method. I have experience with both. I prefer the extreme method myself, but either way works.

The Extreme Method

The best way to force yourself to get rid of things is to move into a much smaller house. This is easier if you are a renter, but you can do it if you own your house as well, you would just need to either sell your house, or rent it out to someone else.

If you look back, you will find that the average house built thirty or forty years ago is about half the size of the houses today. The average family had more kids as well. A large house, a McMansion if you will, is not necessary for most, if not all families. All a large house does is cause you to have to buy more stuff to fill it.

“A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”

- George Carlin

Two summers ago, Sara and I took our younger daughter to Asia for three months. We were renting at the time and our lease was up, so we decided to move everything we owned into storage and save the rent money for those three months. We could then use the money we saved to pay for hotels in Asia and come out ahead. Here is how we did it and what happened.

We knew that our daughter was going to a different school at the end of the summer, so we chose the school we wanted and then canvassed the area for available townhomes that we might like. None were available that far in advance, but we got to know the area we wanted. We were living in a 2000 square foot house and wanted to move to something smaller. The townhomes we liked were about 1100 square feet, so we needed to get rid of a bunch of things.

A month or so before the move out, we had a big yard sale. We also listed things on Craigslist and gave some things away to friends or charity. We got rid of tons of stuff. On moving day, the movers magically packed everything we owned (except the things in our luggage) into a 10x15 storage unit and we were off.

While we were in Taiwan, I was scouring Craigslist for available townhomes and found a promising one. We had one of our friends, Paola, go and check it out for us. She said it was full of college boys and reeked of beer, sweat and a little bit of vomit. OK. Pass.

I found another and Paola went again. Yes, we owe Paola a lot of favors. She liked the owners and said that after they put in new carpet, which they promised to do, the place would not be too bad. Sara has a very sensitive sniffer, and according to Paola, it would pass the smell test. Sold.

I returned to San Diego a week earlier than Sara and our daughter so that I could move us in before they got back. I drove from LAX to the owner’s house in LA County and signed a two year lease, sight unseen. I then drove down to our new (rented) townhouse and walked in for the first time. Truthfully, it is a little dated in its decor, but the carpet was brand new and it smelled fresh.

Next, I had to move in. I had already set it up with the movers to pick up everything from storage the next day. I met them there and they loaded it all in the truck. When they arrived, they started unloading and anything that I did not know where it would go was put in the dining area. After an hour or so, I had to stop one of the movers and ask him if they had gone somewhere between the storage and our house and picked up more stuff. I couldn’t believe how much crap we still had. Even after getting rid of so much.

Once they finished, the house was full and I did not know what to do. It was way too much and there was no room for it. I had been looking forward to a streamlined existence and I was going to be climbing over things just to go to the refrigerator. I made a decision. I would keep the storage unit for one more month. I piled things back into my car and took a bunch back to storage.

Now, here is the key. I was not complacent. I didn’t want to keep the storage unit. That was $75 per month, or $900 per year that could be used to travel. I went crazy getting rid of things that we did not need. I would then go over to storage and bring a few things back, go through them and get rid of the nonessentials, while finding a place for the rest. At the end of that month, I had cleaned out the storage unit and the house was livable. I was also driving Sara insane with getting rid of things, so she made me take a month off.

So Why Move?

I’ll admit that moving when you had not planned on it just to get rid of things is a bit extreme. However, there are some distinct advantages to this method. First, there is a deadline. For some reason, most people know what they need to do to improve themselves, but they tend to put it off. It is always, “I’m going to get around to that,” or “I know what I need to do, I just don’t have the time.”

I am very guilty of this. I have found that a lot of the time, the only way I get certain things done is when I am supposed to be doing something even worse. The only time I cleaned and organized my room in college was the night before a big exam. If you have a forced deadline, though, you will get it done. Moving is definitely a forced deadline.

The thing about moving is, it makes you go through EVERYTHING that you own and at least acknowledge it. At the very worst, you will find things that you forgot you had, or things you had misplaced, or duplicate items, or maybe even an old sandwich under the couch.

The key here, though is to go through every item and decide if it will fit in the new home. You must decide if it has a place. Of course the best time to do this is before the move, because then you don’t have to move the things that you won’t need. Unfortunately, the reality is that you will probably move a lot of things that you will end up getting rid of. It is difficult to think of everything when you are moving, and if you are just moving across town, it is probably cheaper to just move things that are questionable and decide if you need them on the other end.

Once you get to the other side, though, you need to get ruthless. You need to cut out all of the non-essentials, especially if the house is a lot smaller than your previous house. So how do you decide what you need and what you don’t? You use the same techniques as the ease-into-it method, which I will be covering next week.

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Thanks for reading!

TravlMor Series

How to Develop a Minimalist Mindset (TravlMor 1)

How to Get Rid of Your Stuff - The Extreme Method (TravlMor 2)

How to Get Rid of Your Stuff - The Ease-Into-It Method (TravlMor 3)

Minimalism and Family Life (TravlMor 4)

How to Save Money at Restaurants (TravlMor 5)

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How to Develop the Minimalist Mindset

This post is the first in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your...