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A friend recently asked for some advice regarding a sentimental piece of furniture. It’s been in her family for years, but she’s moving soon and it doesn’t fit into her new, smaller, much cheaper (YEAH, BABY) apartment. She knows if she were to get rid of it, her family would be upset with her, but her only other options are either to rent a truck to drive it 1000 miles back to her family, or store it indefinitely for $75/month until she may or may not have room for it eventually. This friend is hustling hardcore to spend less, save more, downsize, sell things, and pay off massive amounts of debt so eventually she can live the life of her dreams. Does keeping this piece of furniture contribute to her life plan, or is it actually taking away from it?
I love questions like this because it makes people step back and reevaluate what is important in their life, and what they value more than anything else. And looking at a situation from the outside inevitably allows me to look at my own life and make decisions based on what I would advise others to do.
If you love your things, if you find comfort in stuff, this post is not for you.
But if you’ve heard that little whisper… that little voice… that asks you:
“Do you need this stuff?”
“Does any of this stuff make you happy?”
“Does this stuff, in any way, contribute to your life plan?”
“What are you doing with my life?”
… pull up a chair and think about it for awhile.
Our Own Story
Just after Greg and I got engaged we took a six month trip around the world. We skied in Andorra, cruised through the Suez Canal, trekked through Nepal, got scuba certified in Thailand, camped at Ayers Rock and saw platypus in the wild in Australia. And we paid for a storage unit about the size of a standard garage to store all our worldly possessions while we were gone.
I had a job waiting for me in Montana when we got back and we paid for a U-Haul and for the gas to drag my Subaru and our possessions 1500 miles across the country where we continued to pay for the U-Haul while we searched for a house to store all said possessions. It cost us thousands of dollars to move our stuff across the country. Thousands of dollars that we could’ve used to keep traveling. Or for future vacations. Or for retirement. Or for any other thing that we love and appreciate more than this crap we were just fine without the previous six months. We swore to never, ever move furniture again.
Turns out that town and that job were not in our best interest and in less than two years after moving, we made the difficultbutatthesametime super easy decision to quit our jobs and leave while we still had some shred of sanity. And I mean a shred, a skinny little thread, a wisp, a will o the wisp. I about lost my mind in Montana, and it took a serious toll on me, on Greg, and our marriage.
I hadn’t yet discovered life plans back then, but we both knew we were wasting our time at jobs we didn’t like to support a lifestyle we didn’t care about. We didn’t care about having a “real” home. We didn’t care about the hand-me-down furniture I got from my family, or the antiques I bought after nursing school, or the appliances, or the dishes, or the towels, or anything. We looked at our stuff as an anchor keeping us firmly attached to a life we didn’t even want.
It’s not easy to give up your lifestyle
Or your possessions. Especially for someone like me, who doesn’t like to see anything go to waste. It’s super hard to admit you’re never going to use a certain item or wear a certain piece of clothing, or look at those physical pictures or read those actual books. It’s difficult to imagine living without the bowls you stole from Camp Christian (oh, the irony), or the dishes you used growing up, or the National Park handouts you’ve collected over the years. I distinctly remember standing over the kitchen trash can with a grip of ink pens, like Frodo at Mt. Doom, unable to cast them into the fire.
But as someone who has now shed her belongings multiple times like an old snakeskin, I can tell you that “stuff”, those “things” you think you can’t live without… you can.
Luckily it didn’t take getting my finger bitten off to realize our lives weren’t going to be any better if we held onto those ink pens. We realized our possessions were only going to take up space we didn’t have in the lifestyle we wanted so much more than the one we were living. Now too much stuff just makes me anxious. I don’t like being in cluttered homes. I can’t stand the sight of storage totes. I think attics and basements should used only for their intended purpose- to scare small children- and never for storing the shit you’re never going to see again.
We sold, gave away, or donated almost everything we owned and moved into our minivan to travel the country for the next six months- hiking, camping, watching baseball, and visiting friends and family. You know, everything we love and appreciate so much more than working. And, we made a ton of money selling our furniture on Craigslist, like way more than we paid for any of it in the first place. #lifeplan Now before every purchase we have to consider whether it will contribute to, or actively take away from our lifestyle and our lifeplans.
Take a look around you. Are you feeling overwhelmed yet?
Your things, your possessions… they don’t define you. The clothes you wear don’t make you a better, or more popular person. The fact you have matching plates does not mean you’re a more gracious host than someone who makes you eat off the box from the frozen pizza they cooked for dinner. The amount of things you have sitting around your home collecting dust do not place you on a pedestal among your peers.
And let’s be real honest for a second. In the end… those things you’ve accumulated, those things that have kept you anchored and may have cost you, financially and emotionally, the life you actually wanted, are going to end up like everyone else’s- at an estate sale. And whatever doesn’t sell will be donated to the nearest thrift store. What will your things have meant then? Do things contribute to a #deathplan?
It took hating a job for me to realize I care so much more for freedom than I ever will for things
I don’t want to afford a bigger house (or van, or truck, or RV). I want to be able to travel on a whim, or take off for several months at a time whenever I want. I don’t want to have to work.
If your things, your stuff, your possessions, aren’t contributing to your life plan, get rid of them. Sentimentalism be damned, this is your life, and you only get one chance at it. If there is something you think you can’t live without (you can) take a nice picture of it. Stick it on your refrigerator and remember it fondly.
My friend and I tried to brainstorm ways for her to keep the bed, but in the end she simply doesn’t have room for it. Therefore it would actively take away from her life plan to keep it, or drive it back, or have it stored. I told her she should explain to her family that keeping the furniture wasn’t in her best interest and ask if they would like to either A. come get the furniture themselves or B. pay to have it stored. I love the line “It’s not in my best interest”. Who in their right mind could ever argue with it?
Obviously I can’t tell anyone what to do, and all opinions expressed here are my own. But I am very comfortable in that Greg and I are able to differentiate between wants and needs, and we know if our lives aren’t going to be improved by a thing or an act, we’re totally fine without it. We like our “stuff” as much as the next couple, but only if it contributes to our life plan- like camping gear, a camera, passports, and our computer. And all that stuff can fit in the back of our two vehicles.
Dream big, but keep your feet planted firmly in reality.
p.s. Of all the things we’ve gotten rid of in our marriage we have yet to miss a single one. Not one. Okay, maybe the van a little bit. But she’s contributing to someone else’s life plan, and that’s pretty cool.
Optional homework assignment:
- Start with your food. Go through your fridge, your pantry, your deep freeze, and your spice cabinet. Make a list if you have to, and start a meal plan. If you’ve had it for years, either eat it or get rid of it. We still have condiments, and spices, and baking supplies that we’ve had since we got married in 2013. Which, obviously I’m eating. Use it or lose it.
- Next go to your bathroom. Go through all your cabinets and take out all your lotion, all your shampoo, all your bars of soap, all your god-awful amounts of makeup, and either use them, or get rid of them. I absolutely love using something up. I love getting the last dollop of toothpaste. I love keeping my blush until it cracks and falls apart. I love cutting my bottles of sunscreen open so I can get every last bit before I rinse and recycle it. The shit you buy on top of the shit you already have sitting around is doing nothing but wasting your hard-earned money on shit you don’t actually need. I’m going to pin that.
- Time for your closet. Everyone knows I’m a dreamer’s biggest fan. You share a life dream with me and I’ll drop everything to help you realize it. Dream big. But reality. Don’t hang onto clothes you haven’t worn in three years because you plan on losing weight. Or because you like the pattern. Or because you think you might actually need it one day. I hope you do. Cut it up to use as a rag. You probably won’t. Do you know someone who could wear your old clothes? Could you make some extra money selling your old clothes? Could you use the tax break donating your old clothes to a thrift store? Wear it or lose it.
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