Could You Get Rid of Everything You Own?

Life Balance

Nora and Tim help you find balance when dealing with a stressful debt situation. Learn how to manage stress and enjoy travel without breaking the bank.

Could You Get Rid of Everything You Own?

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Could You Get Rid of Everything You OwnWhen I became a Professional Hobo almost four years ago, it came with a cost-- one that was hard to come to terms with, but one that was ultimately among the best things I could ever have done. I got rid of everything I owned.

(Well, almost everything. We'll get to that in a minute.)

I've never been one to hoard things, collect memorabilia, or otherwise find myself drowning in clutter. But the stuff I had, I liked. A lot.

However, adopting a life of full-time travel meant paring everything I owned down to practically nothing. I didn't have family with a house and garage where I could store things indefinitely, nor was I willing to pay for storage space.

But what about my stuff? I loved that stuff. Wouldn't I need that stuff again, sometime?

Well, as it turns out, not so much.

The process of getting rid of everything I owned was fivefold, involving a separation of goods, selling what I could through friends and online forums, hosting a garage sale to offload the things I couldn't sell, donating leftovers to charity, and throwing away or recycling the rubbish.

Over the two months it took me to do this, I had to emotionally come to terms with my slowly dwindling number of belongings. I had memories attached to some things, and often a good story or three. I had attachments to other things: a unique couch that I loved and was convinced I'd never find antique table I bought for a song and restored to a new state of magnificence (and also sold for a pretty penny as some degree of solace).

Of course - I couldn't get rid of absolutely everything. There were files that needed to be stored (for legal reasons), as well as some things that I deemed "priceless." These priceless things were items that simply couldn't be replaced. They included photographs (many of which were scanned and stored on CDs), family heirlooms, and things I had collected on previous world travels. (And the occasional replaceable item that I just couldn't bear to part with for one reason or another). But I had to be incredibly judicious about what was kept, as I simply didn't have much room to work with.

In the end, I narrowed all my belongings to be kept (besides what I travel with, all of which fits into one bag) down to four boxes.

The first thirty years of my life was narrowed down to four boxes. What had I done?!?!

Initially when I started traveling full-time, I thought about those boxes often. I worried that they might get damaged in an accident or flood. But you know what? Four years later, I would be hard-pressed to recall everything that is in those boxes. And quite frankly, if I never saw them again, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

At the same time, I'm kind of excited; I have a time capsule of sorts! I'm sure I'll be pleasantly surprised at the treasures I had kept, and unpacking the boxes (which will eventually happen, sometime, I'm sure) will be a trip-and-a-half down memory lane.

Losing Everything, but Gaining Perspective

When I was living in Australia as part of my travels, I found myself in the middle of the Victorian Bushfires in February of 2009. This was the worst natural disaster Australia had ever seen, and one in which the casualties (both human and property) were staggering. Being tied into the community and the ensuing relief efforts, I saw the repercussions - and subsequent recovery - that this disaster had on friends and people I knew.

Some people lost everything they owned, narrowly escaping the blaze with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Others had just enough time to pack a box or bag before evacuating, not knowing if they would have a home to return to. (Some did, some didn't).

The resounding sentiment that came from everybody (whether they lost their home or not) was how much they realized that stuff just doesn't matter. There is so much more to life than stuff.

But why does it take such a major life event (in their case the fires, in my case a life-changing decision to travel full-time) to make us realize this? Why do we surround ourselves with stuff, and keep buying more stuff? Is it comforting, or constricting? Does it make our lives easier, or limit our choices?

I have two questions for you to ponder:

1) If you had 20 minutes to pack one box of things you can keep, what would go into it?

2) If you had an amazing opportunity that meant getting rid of everything you own, would - or could - you do it?

Related Posts:

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Nora Dunn

Nora Dunn is The Professional Hobo: a full-time traveler and freelance writer. She is a contributing writer under Life Balance. Having sold her business and belongings to travel, she has been on the road since 2007. She travels in a financially sustainable manner, taking advantage of creative volunteering positions while constantly balancing life and her location independent work on the road. As a former certified Financial Planner, she is financially responsible for her actions along the way. She believes there is a fine balance between planning for tomorrow, and living for today. Compensated CareOne Blogger.

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  • Just wanted you to know, Nora, that I've been thinking a lot about this post for several days. I've gone through major de-cluttering binges at times, but I've never gotten down to the level you're talking about here. I think it's time.

    Keep up the good work!

  • I also, was forced to pare down all of my belongings to just two or three boxes , a motor home and a boat.  I was scared and discouraged at the time;but now, I.'m free to do what I want when I want and am getting my life and finances back on track

  • @Tim - It's so liberating to get rid of stuff! Watch out though, for how quickly you re-accumulate. It's almost automatic, or subconscious!

    @Bilie - Glad you were freed by the experience! Sometimes it takes a real shakeup to get things back on track. Good for you!

  • I have a strange confession to make; I have turned into quite the non-consumerist, in fact I have spent less than twenty dollars on myself since the first of the year.

  • I also got rid of almost everything I own. I scanned all my photos to a hard drive, got rid of all my memorabilia, sold my car, got rid of all books, ripped all CDs to a computer, etc. Everything I own fits into about two duffel bags. I feel liberated. I thought that I would miss my Army clothes, baseball card collection, childhood toys, certificates of achievement, etc., but I don't. I highly recommend that people do this. Oh, I only sold one thing - my car. Even things I could have sold for hundreds of dollars, I gave away. It is great to set an example of not caring about money or stuff.

  • @Ted - I too, thought I'd miss a lot of the things I got rid of, but years on, I can hardly remember what I was so torn up about! I don't even remember the few things I DID end up keeping!

    And giving things away to people who need and appreciate them is a lovely thing to do. I'm not sure about the "not caring about money" angle, but as part of your shedding process, I can see how it might be cleansing to just give everything away.

  • I have moved maybe 9 or 10 times for the last 6 years and I have been getting rid of things since then. At the beginning I thought I had got rid of many things, but after years I realized that I was keeping too many! It was last year when I started to give, donate and exchange more things. I belong to communities where people exchange or give stuff, I go to the exchange markets there are in my city... I feel great, but I still need to get rid of more things! I would like to have almost nothing (no objcets, no documents, no mamories on paper...). Is it happening to you, this feeling of "it's not enough", "I want less"...?

  • @estelabay - I understand the desire to get REALLY minimal - for sure! But I had to draw the line at some items that I just couldn't get rid of.

    Some of the requirements are legal - such as financial records and paperwork that must be kept for a certain number of years. Other items I kept were life memories and heirlooms that I might like to have later in life, such that I might regret getting rid of them in haste.

    Having revisited my boxes recently (after 6+ years), I was really pleased to have kept most of it...I got rid of some things that weren't important any more, and added a few new doo-hickeys from my last 6 years of travels to the "time capsule" too!

    So don't worry about a few things weighing you down...especially if they provide you with a sense of comfort or enjoyment - now, or in the future.

  • Hi Nora,

    In 2 months I will be completely finished with graduate school and have been offered a job in Central America for 4 months. Like you, I have no family with a garage to hold all of my belongings in and I too refuse to pay for long term storage. My question is how do i pack minimally for changing climates? I know that it will be pretty warm in Mexico but right afterwards I will be heading to the pacific northwest where it might be a little chilly.

  • @Danielle - Packing minimally for changing climates is probably the most difficult thing to do. I tend to stick to warm climates, but I'm currently in Peru where the temperatures range pretty dramatically even from day to night. Choose a wardrobe that allows you to layer easily, and if you're staying in the Pacific Northwest for a while, you might consider getting an extra layer for warmth if you need one. I manage to travel through three seasons with my current wardrobe pretty well, and I fit everything into carry-on luggage only. Here's a packing list that might help you out a bit:

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