The Benefits of Selling Everything You Own

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It’s been five months since we sold almost everything we owned and embarked on our Never Ending Voyage. It’s been a long, hard trip. Each morning I wake up and think about all the cool stuff I left behind:

“This Paraguayan sunrise sucks,” I’ll lament.

“If only I could be back in Manchester, sitting on my Ikea couch and watching the latest Michael Bay DVD on my huge Sony TV.”

OK, so I never actually owned a huge Sony TV and I’m never likely to say that about Michael Bay – dude raped my childhood – but, really, I’m still very surprised at how little I do miss.

Even if you’re not planning to be as nutty as us and get rid of your house, your car and anything you can’t get on your back, take the money and spend it (Pensions? Pffs, pensions are for old people!) on walking the earth until it starts running out (the money, not the earth) at which point you desperately scratch around looking for a way to make more just to eat that month (on a totally unrelated note, I think you could do with a new awesome website), there are still some major advantages to be had from getting rid of your junk.

1) Clutter Free House

Space is important. Hotels know this – that’s why you pay five or six times as much for less than double the square footage. Space gives you, er, space. To think. To breathe. To do calisthenics.

Sitting cooped up in a closet of a bedroom surrounded by bookshelves and boxes stacked to the ceiling while trying to work on a desk where every inch is covered by papers, pens, coffee mugs and knick-knacks except for the napkin-sized space you’ve allocated for mouse movements is not conducive to a relaxed and comfortable environment.

Not at all.

2) Clutter Free Mind

Spoiler Alert – If you’ve seen Up In The Air, click here to continue

There’s a scene in Up In The Air where George Clooney talks about filling an imaginary backpack with all of the stuff you own – house, car, tables, chairs, computers, books, DVDs, sofas, broken picture frames, bent spoons, that Madonna T-Shirt from 1989 that you’ll never wear again but can’t bear to get rid of (NOT MINE) – and then trying to carry it.

Then he tells you to burn it. Even playing along and pretending to, there’s a palpable sense of relief in the activity. A slightly panicky, oh-shit-what-now euphoria.

That. Is what freedom feels like.

Slightly panicky.

(The fact that he then goes on to talk about relationships in the same way should be glossed over quickly because the rest of the movie is about how relationships are important and basically how these talks he gives are rubbish. Still, I think the stuff thing holds.)

We used to own cars that were worth less than Ā£500 because we lived in fricking Manchester. If you own a Mercedes or a BMW in a city like that then how can you not have a lingering sense of anxiety every time you leave it parked in an on-street parking bay down some dodgy looking back alley.

That, my friends, is stress. Ownership is stress by another name and it’s only worth it if the good bits of ownership outweigh the stressful bits.

MacBooks, yes. Ferraris in Burnage, not so much.

3) Money!

Obviously, the act of selling stuff instead of buying it will make you better off overall (that’s math, that is).

But there are other, secret, unknown, hidden benefits that I want to share with you. Secrets that swagger with impressiveness. Secrets so great, your world might actually implode.

A story, to illustrate.

We stayed in a studio apartment in Buenos Aires for two months. There is no way we would have fitted all of our old life into this tiny space. Our dining room table would have taken up half of it. Add a drum kit and we’d have had to have moved the bed out.

But, with just two backpacks and a guitar, it was huge. We barely made a dent in the closet space alone. In fact, we could have lived quite comfortably with all of our stuff IN the closet.

Without our old possessions, we can live in a tiny shoeboxes, still feel like we’re living in a palace and save a ton of money on the rent. Win, win and win.

And once you live in a smaller place, everything else gets cheaper too – gas bills, electricity bills, insurance – it’s all extra cash in your pocket which you could use to, ahem, not buy more stuff or, even better, cut down your working hours and have more of the one thing that money can never buy – time.

I know, right? Mind. Blown.

4) Appreciation

Now, I don’t want to get too militantly anti-personal property here – I’m no Pinko Commie (U-S-A! U-S-A!). Stuff can be great. I am especially enamored with the shiny, electronic stuff (how I crave a currently unjustifiable iPhone – are you sure you don’t need a website?) and musical stuff (full disclosure: my drum kit is in safe storage at my mum’s – I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, but I WILL (someday)).

But, if you don’t have the space for the stuff and you don’t want to spend too much money on your stuff, then every purchase needs to be justified and carefully weighed (literally, if you’re carrying it all on your back).

And when you put that much thought into your purchases, you appreciate them a whole lot more. Just last week, I spent a full two hours stroking my brand new Columbia fleece.

That last sentence is possibly a lie, but I am wearing it a lot and I’m not past having a sly little stroke when no one’s watching (and also touching my new fleece).

If you want to be really hardcore, you’ll use the 1-in-1-out rule, where every purchase has to replace something similar – swapping a pair of socks for an XBox doesn’t count! I’m not there yet, but having a 40-litre backpack is kind of naturally limiting anyway so I almost rock.

Conclusion

Stuff sucks!

Kind of.

Well, not all of it.

Some stuff sucks!

Er.

Having more stuff than you actually need sucks!

Yeah, that’s it!

(Quick – get to the poignant summary!)

What’s really surprising is how much stuff I simply don’t remember owning. I’m sure if someone handed me a list right now of all of the things we sold I’d be surprised at how little I recognised; at how much of it was just clutter filling up my life, standing in the way of my freedom.

BOOM!

Now Go Do It!

PS. If you need a little help we’ve written about how we sold our stuff.

Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our 47 Useful Gift Ideas for Carry-On Travellers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.

Tell me how crazy I am! Militantly defend your right to buy everything you want, when you want it! Accuse me of being anti-American! Or, agree with me. That's cool too.

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158 Comments (17 pingbacks)

  1. Couldn’t agree more Erin, have you ever gotten rid of something but then regretted it later ? I haven’t.
    A great tip for anyone struggling to declutter is that rather than thinking about whether to discard items, concentrate instead on what you really need/want to keep.
    This works well when faced with a mountain of books or clothing as going through each individual item is exhausting.
    Instead I would recommend selecting your absolute favourites then being quite ruthless with all remaining items.
    Each de -cluttering session has proved the catalyst to spark enormous beneficial changes for me, in various aspects of my life over the years.
    My current session has given me the push to get my flat on market after years of swithering.
    I’ve actually shocked myself how quickly I made the decision yesterday.
    I love to go for long walks and often when I am in my t-shirt, joggers and trainers with my little rucksack ( containing keys, purse, umbrella, phone, tissues and water bottle) I am at my happiest . It’s the feeling of being light, free and untethered to anything I think.
    So although I’m not travelling I’ve discovered a work/ life balance which works for me and gives me so much more freedom and happiness.
    If any readers are struggling to declutter and find Marie Kondo’s methods a little off the wall, I would recommend Dawna Walters ‘Life Laundry’ series.

    Reply

  2. Just discovered this blog-love it ! De-cluttering isn’t new to me but I tend to go through phases of clearing everything then gradually ‘nesting’ again.
    My downfalls are mainly clothing and cushions though also partial to pretty cups and saucers and little ornaments.
    Anyhow bathroom just completely renovated as was falling to pieces and leaking into flat below.
    Only when moving out for week ( to stay with relatives and to allow workmen to complete renovation) did I suddenly become aware not only of how much ‘stuff’ I had but also how much anxiety it was creating (not to mention the dust collecting)
    Lightbulb moment, time to declutter once more !
    Last time was 2 years ago after returning from weeks holiday to France, cleared mountains of travel books, CD collection, crockery and clothing to charity shops. Binned dozens of photograph albums (but retained memory cards from camera) Felt amazing !
    This time round going even further, nothing is safe ! ( Thank goodness I don’t have any pets LOL)
    Already taken 2 huge bags to charity shop prior to renovation. Recycled dozens of cardboard boxes (packaging mostly) Binned ancient laptop, everything in kitchen I no longer use, old bathroom stuff, emptied out storage containers then the containers themselves !
    Lots of jewellery and clothing/ footwear/ accessories will be in the local charity shops very soon.
    Planning to sell flat complete with fixtures, furniture, curtains, everything really except my clothing and minimal personal items.
    Paperwork is minimal and filed in my small metal box.
    Only when going on holiday or forced to move out of home for short time do I appreciate how little I actually need and learn to prioritise which possessions are essential/ important to me.
    Paid off mortgage with redundancy pay out, now work part time in rewarding role with healthy work/ life balance.
    Did lots of travelling in my thirties so what I really want to do is find a nice little place to stay which I will have freshly painted and keep as minimal and fuss free as the hotels I have stayed in.
    It’s like a huge weight off ones shoulders when you have a good clear out, the psychological benefits surpass that of a good holiday I find šŸ™‚
    Best Wishes to all fellow declutterers, spread the gospel far and wide!

    Reply

    • Decluttering is an ongoing process and it’s good to do it regularly. Even though we live out of small backpacks now we go through things every now and then to check we still need it all. Every little helps! Good luck with it!

      Reply

  3. Loved this. Last year, I put important bits in storage, loaded my life into my small car and camped for six months in the UK while holding down a full-time professional job.
    I had nothing that wasn’t useful.
    Like you, all I missed was a kitchen to make potatoes (every kind, especially dauphinoise) and homemade soup.
    Over winter I found a gorgeous winter let holiday home: it’s super well-equipped, and it has been pure luxury. Can’t describe how amazing it seems to have such a wonderful huge space to myself. I love the contrast of half the year outdoors and half the year being frankly a little too fat and warm. You take nothing for granted after camping!
    Love your blog. It’s nice to discover some like-minded people who also love living like this.

    Reply

  4. I have enjoyed reading your blog. I want to do exactly as you have done, I want to sell everything and leave my job and travel. I am trying to get rid of stuff and it is giving me anxiety attacks. I am talking about my garage full of stuff (which I never use) I keep thinking maybe I should just pay to keep it in storage but that defeats the purpose of minimising. I know that once its gone I will feel fantastic as I’ll be closer to where you guys are at. Im sure that you are both living with what you have and its a small amount and its all you need. I need to get to that state. I really think that having stuff clutters your mind and holds you back from being free! Ill keep you updated as I hope to soon be in your footsteps. I have subscribed to your blog so I can continue to read your great posts!

    Reply

    • Good luck with it Stephen! It is difficult in the beginning but I promise it gets easier! We really haven’t missed anything that we got rid of.

      Reply

  5. IĀ“m going “extreme” nomad, and just taking one backpack with me, but I do have a guitar, and I don’t know what to do with it.

    Sometimes I feel like taking it, sometimes I think the musical instrument is just one more object, and I can always buy a another one at destination, avoiding with this extra costs or annoyances caused by carrying luggage.

    Any thoughts? Have you ever felt at some points in your journey that the guitar itself was actually unnecessary? Or maybe you feel the other way around?

    Any input will be appreciated. Thanks!

    Reply

    • Simon stopped carrying the guitar after a few years as he didn’t have time to play it enough. If you’ll use it often it’s worth it though. We recommend the Martin Backpacker guitar which is much smaller and we managed to get on most planes as carry-on luggage in addition to our backpacks.

      Reply

  6. Simon & Erin,

    Firstly, what a fantastic, practical, honest, yet very humorous blog you have here, kudos.

    I have been slowly working towards the digital nomad lifestyle. I leave my job at the end of the month, a very comfortable job I’ve had for 6.5 years. I have enough freelance work now to lead a comfortable life on the road if I wish, so that is the plan; sell all the unnecessary sh*te and live out of a suitcase whether I remain in this country (N.Ireland) for a while or not. The macbook and iphone shall remain of course!, my lucky underpants too and a few other essentials!

    Simon, do you tend to meet many other digital nomads on the road? Is it, in fact, a great way to network and create more business compared to being stationed in a single location?

    Rodger

    Reply

    • Thanks Rodger. Yes, we meet lots of other digital nomads on the road, especially in hot spots like Chiang Mai. Bangkok, Saigon, Ubud, Medellin, Berlin, and Buenos Aires are other cities where you’re likely to meet many others. Look out for co-working spaces.

      Good luck with it!

      Reply

  7. I’ve spent the last twenty years trying not to accumulate too much stuff. Having lived all over has forced me to keep my stuff to a minimum. Been forced to be here in New Zealand for the past three years, and have accumulated way too much. I didn’t even realise this until I had a look around the other day. The amount of stuff I now own has me quite stressed out. Going to do a massive selling run as I’m almost ready to move on. I think the happiest I’ve ever been was when I had nothing more than a suitcase in my hand and some cash in my pocket. Looking forward to realising this state again.

    Reply

  8. Your blog is my favorite! I’ve moved across the world a couple times but ended up within a few hours of where I grew up a couple times as well. I always leave a bunch of stuff at my parents house, but I’m at it again in the fall and I’m determined to only keep my snowboard, a box or two of winter clothes there and two pieces of artwork this time. I’m a huge environmentalist so I’m SO glad you introduced me to freecycle. I always feel really guilty recycling instead of repurposing, so that was a great tip. You also inspired me to sell my car! Anyway, I could go on, but I won’t. Sending lots of thanks and good vibes from Michigan.

    Reply

    • Thanks Linds and I’m so glad you’ve found the blog useful. Good luck with selling your stuff! It can be a difficult process but I’m sure you’ll feel liberated in the end.

      Reply

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