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 £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.

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162 Comments (17 pingbacks)

  1. Nearly twenty years ago we sold our house, some of our stuff, putting the rest into storage at the parents place and headed overseas. Nearly six years later we returned to find a room full of stuff that was not us anymore.
    So what did we do?
    We had a garage sale and sold nearly all of it and started again. Apart from the photos and a box or two of things from our childhood it is now all gone.
    To make up for our our want of a place to live, we bought a beautiful place in the country and made it our own, (read Don Blanding’s poem here), but soon it was more of a tie and we began to hate it. We moved and moved again and now own a large house in the city full of our things from our travels and with our two kids. But all we think about is buying a small backpack again and heading off overseas and that is what we plan on doing when the girls have left home and we will sell most of our stuff that we cannot digitalise.
    While all the stuff is nice, it means nothing and we would swap it all again for a sunrise on a beach in a foreign land. However, I have to admit it was and is nice to have a place to call home, even if it is just an attic with a drum kit in it, or as Don Blanding has, a dream home.
    All the best on your travels. Actually we can’t wait and are taking the girls backpacking in Sri Lanka at Christmas. Can’t wait. All the best on your travels.

    Reply

  2. I moved out of a house onto my sailboat almost three years ago and sold a LOT of stuff, so I have already put a BIG dent in what I have to get rid of before moving abroad. After getting rid of what I thought was enough, I ended up renting a big storage unit.

    So, in addition to selling what’s on the boat (and boat stuff AND the boat) I probably have quite a bit to get rid of in the storage unit. My plan is to leave the US for (probably) Thailand in the summer or fall of 2015, so I have time to start nibbling away at my STUFF (by George Carlin). If I wait until a month or so before the plane leaves, I know I’ll end up keeping the $75/month storage unit so I’d better start early.

    As I plow through my STUFF, I’ll let you know how I’m doing. And when I finally get to where I want to be, you’ll probably hear me screaming and cheering from great distances!

    Thanks for the great blog and advice!

    Cheers,
    Jack

    Reply

  3. I received an email alert that there was a new comment by a “Mel” and then I visit and it’s not here. So are you deleting comments that don’t vibe with your own beliefs? I mean, the person was opinionated but aren’t we all? And I certainly read nothing offensive.

    Reply

    • We have no problem with constructive criticism but we don’t suffer trolls, especially those that hide behind a fake email address. It was an angry comment written not to offer an alternative point of view, but to attack us personally (“stupid” and “witless”). So, yes, we deleted it as, just like comment spam, we felt it didn’t add anything of true value to our site.

      Reply

      • Oh, okay then. That’s cool. I just didn’t know what that was about after I got the alert and then nothing new had been posted.

        As an update on my end, I made my move to North Carolina, literally donated just about everything I own through FreeCycle and I honestly can’t explain how…uninhibited I feel. I mean, I could go just about anywhere right now with just a van to fit the important things I have. Of course, I don’t plan to live this way forever but it’s the right time to not feel locked with things.

        And the problem I was having before (if you scroll up and read it) with my cat…well, he passed away just weeks after I got him here. 15 years of friendship with my true soul-pet. But there’s a reason for everything and right now I’m not ready to have another pet until I’m done figuring out where I’ll settle in long-term.

        Reply

  4. Great post! :) In general I definitely see the virtues of having less stuff rather than more, especially if it’s stuff you don’t really use. I used to travel a lot on long voyages and didn’t own much stuff and I was great at being “ruthless” with it, as I used to say. And that was cool. Loved the freedom.

    However, every time I came back home in between to work and settle down for a while, I’d have to go out and find a new place to rent, and then the place would need to be furnished – so it seemed like I’d always spend so much money (even if I was looking for inexpensive stuff) trying to find a couch and a couple chairs, and stuff for the kitchen, and a bed, and bedding, and, you know… this and that, and other things that you just kind of need to live comfortably. And then there was other stuff that I wanted or needed for my time at home – like camping gear, climbing gear, hiking boots, etc, so I could enjoy the great outdoor offerings that my home has to offer. Sewing machine so I could fix and sew my clothes when I needed. Board games or books.

    In the end, I actually grew to hate having no stuff! I hated all the money and effort I had to spend to get set back up again every time. It just wore on me. I finally said no more!! No more moving, no more getting rid of stuff (unless I really don’t use it. Clutter sucks, and we do live in a very small house). Now I’m going travelling to India for three months this winter and this is the first trip that I’m actually just going to pay the rent on my place and keep all my stuff put! ha. Yay! I am so happy about this!

    Also, Erin, we are going to Kerala for three weeks out of our trip and I found your Kerala travel guide blog extremely helpful. So thank you very much! Looking forward to maybe staying in the homestay in the backwaters you recommend. Looks lovely.

    Reply

    • I can see the advantage of keeping your stuff if you return home between trips. We’ve been completely nomadic for 3.5 years and we rent fully furnished apartments while travelling so we don’t need any of our old stuff.

      Have a great trip to India, Kerala is wonderful.

      Reply

  5. I’ve gotta admit (heaven forgive me) but I have learned over the years to do what the stores do to us. Mark it up and then mark it down. “This couch cost me $3,000 when I bought it. Look at the good bones and the ultrasuede fabric. I’m selling it for less than a third of what I purchased it for and I just can’t go lower than that.”

    Sold!

    Reply

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