A Simple Guide to Ditching Your Stuff

A five step guide to eliminating the extra in life to focus on what you really want.

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Okay so you’re thinking of becoming a road warrior, living around the every next bend and breathing in highway exits? You’ve decided on how you’ll travel, but now you need to figure out what you’re going to do with all of this stuff that’s accumulated in your closets, under the bed, and coming out of your ears.

No problem, it’s not as hard as it seems. Firstly, realize that you probably don’t have more random stuff than anyone else. Something about the nature of a human’s mind tells us we don’t want to get rid of things, don’t just “throw it away”. It might be useful someday!

The problem is, it rarely ever is. It’s too easy to fill up a junk drawer, then another one, etc. and so on. But worry not, for it’s just about as easy to get rid of everything as well. We’ll tackle this problem in five steps or less.

1. What will I Need?

Okay you’re definitely going to need several trash and recycling bags, a box about the size of a large Microwave and maybe a few of those larger plastic bins, or similarly sized boxes. Don’t buy new ones, though! Just use the ones you’ve already got. If they’re already full of stuff, that’s probably a great place to start then.

Let’s move on to the first phase of actually clearing house.

2. What do you actually use?

This is the largest but simplest task, because it has a clear and cut set of objectives. Tackle your house one spot in a room at a time, such as a bathroom closet or the things underneath your bed. Get your garbage bags, Microwave box and a bin. Now, pull everything out of the area you’re working on, and you only have two decisions to make.

  1. Have I used it in the past week or two? If you haven’t, that means it’s not essential to your life. Throw away anything that’s garbage, recycle what you can, and toss anything else that’s still good into the plastic bin. Anything you’ve used in the past couple of weeks can stay, but be honest with yourself. If you used a spatula once in two weeks, because you have three others, it probably isn’t a necessity. Your goal here is to eliminate as much as possible.
  2. Wait, but is it sentimental? The hardest things to get rid of are those we deem meaningful to us for some reason, even though we don’t use them. We’ll cover how to get rid of this stuff as well later, but for now, anything that you find to be sentimental, put it in the Microwave box.

This first step will take the longest, but I recommend trying to do it all in a long weekend or at least doing an entire floor of your house. Once you get yourself in the mindset of putting more in the trash and the bin than the Microwave box, you’ll want to ride that wave.

3. Take out all of that Trash

You may be tempted to pile up the trash and recycling in the garage or on the porch or somewhere, but don’t, once you’ve finished your entire house, or an entire floor if you’re doing it one floor at a time, get that trash to the dump and the recycling to it’s appropriate location. Having that lying around your house means you still have it, but now it’s all so ugly because it’s out in the open. Getting rid of it all will bring an immense feeling of satisfaction when you finally return to your now much less cluttered home, which at this point should only have two types of things left in it:

  1. The things you have used very recently.
  2. The things that you don’t want to give up because they are sentimental.

3. Eliminate Duplicates

The next step is to eliminate duplicates. If you’re moving into an RV, even a big A Class, you will almost certainly have much less room than you do now. It’s a blessing, believe me. It’s time to figure out what you have that serves a dual purpose and what you have that is simply a duplicate of something else. Anything that can be used as two things, for example a mug that is large enough to also be a bowl, or a good Swiss Army knife, those items should get first priority. Then line up your cappuccino machine, coffee maker and tea pot. These things all serve a similar function, making hot morning beverages. Do you want to lose half your counter space to a machine dedicated to making small shots of espresso? When you’re boondocking (that is, your RV is not plugged in somewhere), will your rig allow you to even power the thing? Or would a tea pot and a small French Press give you similarly gourmet coffee even if you have to heat the water over an open flame?

When packing up dishes and silverware, remember that you’re probably not going to have a dishwasher you can just stuff dishes in and leave them all day, you only really need what is essential for a single meal. I don’t know about you, but I can eat both my burger and fries from one plate. I rarely need a saucer for my tea cup, and I can drink all eight glasses of water in a day out of the same receptacle that I have my morning coffee in and my evening beer. When you turn a complete set of fine China into one place setting per person, you put practicality before possessions, and believe me, the less possessions you have, the more time is left to live. Want an example? If you only have a pot, a pan, and enough dishes to exactly feed your family, that’s significantly less dishes for four people, including plates, forks, and glasses, when compared to our family’s average of twenty or so dishes used to create and present meals at home. Less dishes equal less dish washing, which in turn leaves more time to hang out around the fire later in the evening.

Start placing the things you’ll be keeping into the Microwave box. Very soon you’ll come to a realization…

4. I am too Sentimental

At some point, that “large” Microwave box won’t seem to large anymore, as you begin piling in all of your favorite gear on top of old pictures of great grandma, knick knacks, and everyone of little Timmy’s drawings. It’s time to come to the hardest decision of all, which is “does this lava lamp my first girlfriend give me help me remember her, or is it just lingering around like a cockroach filling up space between my walls?”

By far, the majority of things that I found to be sentimental were photographs and little trinkets. Take an afternoon and digitize all of your photographs. This takes a little time, but you can practically do it with an iPhone these days, or if you have a scanner use that before dumping that scanner into the big plastic bins. There, photographs are taken care of, maybe even reward yourself by going out and making a small purchase of one of those digital frames. Now you can actually look at those memories instead of having them holed up in some shoebox beneath the other six shoeboxes of photos you forgot you even had.

Next up, trinkets. Sure, your grandmother gave you this bird statue before she passed away, and you could never part with it, but did you even like it when she gave it to you? And if you did, was it the sculpted glass eagle that you liked, or the idea that your grandmother gave it to you? It’s more than likely the latter, and you know what your grandma gave you that’s even better? Your mom, who then in turn created you. You’re carrying grandma, mom and dad and everyone else in your bloodline along with you every day, and if you want to be free and clear to travel and explore, you’ll have a much easier time of it without that Michael Jordan cardboard cut out that your older brother didn’t want and so you pretend like he gave it to you before he moved to Alaska.

Besides, there will be plenty of cool trinkets you can keep, like a keychain which can easily keep your keys close by, or a wallet, things with practical value and sentimental value. Things that serve two purposes! It’s a simple fact that you’re likely only going to be left with a dresser drawer’s worth of what you can consider “extra space” in your new home on the road, so I personally think about what items I will use every single day but can still hold sentimental value. Things that you can wear are great. Things that just sit on a shelf have little use, and therefore, never make the cut on my list.

Some other ideas? Take some of your kids’ artwork, and only some, and frame it. Bolt it onto the wall in your RV and you’ve now added a little personality to what is more than likely a seafoam and gold wallpaper combination that only the 1990s recreational vehicle industry could have dreamed up. Make an “ornament” out of a few random things you’ve been keeping around, tie it all up with some ribbon or hemp or whatever type of string a person such as yourself enjoys, and hang it from the rear view mirror (you won’t be needing that in an RV anyway). Now you can see it every day as you drive, but it doesn’t take up any space that could be used for something better (unless you consider fuzzy dice and a lucky rabbit’s foot as good as it gets).

5. Post to Craigslist, Throw a Yard Sale, Go to Goodwill

A yard sale is great because you can literally have people move your big ticket items for you. Couch for sale, $20, just go in and grab it. Yeah, you can have the bed for $50, but you have to tear it down and get it out of here yourself. The sheets? Sure, take them with you!

So now you’ve got the Microwave box full of what you’re actually going to keep, and probably five or ten big plastic bins full of what’s got to go. Sell it, give it away to someone else who wants it, or gift it to Goodwill. Get rid of it. When you’re standing in an empty house with only one box to carry out to your new life, try and remember what it was like when you first moved into this place, how many boxes you taped, labeled and carried, how many friends came over to help you move things around. By the end of a successful double front of posting everything you’ve got to Craigslist and the yard sale all in one, you should have no trouble getting everything out the door, into someone else’s pickup truck, and off of the property. This is a good opportunity to make a few hundred bucks, too, it’s amazing what a bunch of old junk can bring in, but remember that your primary goal here is to get rid of your stuff, not haggle over the price of that lamp, whether it’s from Fragile or not.

6. The Final Stage

Okay so I know I said five steps, but there’s one final area to consider: re-accumulation. If you’ve got kids, people will be desperate to give them things. I have no idea why, but children are magnets to new, mostly cheap and plastic, stuff. Assign them a space that’s there’s and tell them, don’t bring something new into this motorhome unless you take something of equal size out, and for good. Same with you, every tourist trap you come along will be begging you to buy something or other, some trinket to “remember your time” there. The good news is, it’s not like losing weight or quitting smoking, it’s not an endless struggle. Eventually you’ll learn to appreciate something for just having been able to see it once, owning it will not be an issue. But make certain grandparents and friendly park neighbors alike know that while you wouldn’t turn down a fresh made apple pie any day of the week, the complete nine seasons of Star Trek the Next Generation on VHS just won’t be a possibility.