I’ve always found comfort in acquiring things, and only felt at home among all the crap I had gathered. Here’s how I got rid of most of it.
Ever since I was 18, I’ve had my own living spaces, my own finances, and therefore the freedom to fill my life with my own stuff. Way too often, I made myself feel better by getting more of it. Retail therapy, anyone?
My first release from stuff came last year, after living in England for a year. Due to unexpected developments, I moved back to Tallinn on a day’s notice—with one suitcase. I sat in my then home in a tiny English village, surrounded by everything I owned, and made flash decisions of what to take with me.
I don’t really remember what it felt like, and I definitely didn’t end up even thinking about the things I left there, let alone missing them. In hindsight, leaving material things behind didn’t matter that much—a lesson that I should have cherished more at the time.
During the eight months I lived in Tallinn in my new place, I managed to acquire a bunch of new stuff. And then, this summer, I decided I would give up my apartment and go traveling for a while. First stop Lisbon, next stop… who knows.
This meant that I had to pack my entire life into a small suitcase. This time, the process was expected, and that much more terrifying. How am I going to live without all my stuff? I thought the whole thing would end with me locking myself in my apartment until someone pried all of my belongings from my cold, dead hands.
I did it, I survived, and I honestly think I’m happier after having time to think about it. Here are some tips I learned.
Get rid of the thought that you need stuff
This is the foundation for everything else. It’s really hard to believe if you’ve never done it, but trust me—nothing will happen. I didn’t miss any of the things I left behind in England. I haven’t used half of the things I brought to Lisbon—if anything, I keep wondering why I even thought I needed all of that (a tiny suitcase and a tiny backpack).
Sure, I need to do laundry more often since my wardrobe is a heck of a lot smaller, but I appreciate the things I do have a little more. I have pretty much have only one of everything (more on that later), but other than that, it’s fine. I know the feeling of anxiety that comes with getting rid of things—you do not need them.
Sort through it
Time to get crackin’. Start going through your things as early as possible. This will help you deal with the process. If it isn’t rushed, you won’t panic as much. However, don’t do it too early, giving you time to change your mind. A couple of weeks before your move/trip is a good start.
Divide all of your stuff into three piles—get rid of, keep and take with you. There’s a good chance your “keep” and “take with you” piles will be absolutely huge on the first go—it’s OK. Now, leave the whole thing for a few days.
Then, take your keep pile and sort it again—look at every single thing separately and consider it very carefully. Some good thinking points are:
- Have I used/worn this thing in the past month?
- If someone took this out of my hands right now and disappeared, would I really be upset?
- Do I actually need it for the situation I’m going into?
Unless the answer to at least two of those things is yes, get rid of it. This is the time to be brutally honest. Your mind can be a deceitful douche canoe and trick you into believing that things are more important and valuable than they really are.
Don’t let yourself screw you over. Leave it for a bit, then do it again. Leave it, do it again—until you’re down to the bare minimum of both “keep” and “take with me” items.
The “keep” pile is to help keep your marbles together, should you need it. Don’t force yourself to let go of everything just because you want to stay committed to the task—going too far too fast might make you panic. I put two boxes into storage at my parents’ house before leaving and didn’t even worry about it.
It’s OK to be attached to some physical things, as long as you don’t let it consume you. Store it where you can and don’t feel bad.
Learn to optimize
Think as creatively as you can. Are you obsessed with books? Invest in an e-reader (some of them are inexpensive), or research public libraries. Are you into drawing ? Consider a sketch app. I’ve been experimenting with an app called Paper, and I love it!
In my case, clothes took the most room. Consider this:
Does it match? 90% of my wardrobe now is gray, black or white, because there’s no mismatching with those options. If you love colors, use them in stuff that you don’t need to be reasonable about. Get some bright-ass gym clothes or underwear in blinding colors. With everything else, see if you can put it into at least 3 different outfits. If not, get rid of it.
(If you’re cool enough to not care about the fashion police, do what you want with colors and base your decisions on practicality and frequency of use instead).
Does it work in most weather conditions? A t-shirt and jeans can be pretty much used anywhere and layered or un-layered according to the weather. You may really like that pink bikini but do you have to take it to Greenland with you? Think about your plans and whether your wardrobe is realistic for the occasion.
How often do you wear it? When was the last time you wore it? Is it a one-off, special occasion item? Are you keeping it just because you might want to wear it again? Ditch it. The clothes you wear most often are usually also the ones you feel the most comfortable and confident in, so it’s a good way to go.
The rule of one
This is what I repeatedly yelled at myself when packing: ”ONE OF EVERYTHING!!!” (except underwear, OK). Before doing this, my thoughts were that I can’t have only one, say, pair of blue jeans. What if they get dirty? What if I fall on my face and break them? I can’t have one phone charger, I can’t have one pair of shoes, I can’t have ONE backpack.
If something goes wrong, breaks, whatever—you’ll deal with it when it happens. Do not preoccupy yourself with situations that have not occurred yet. Unless you’re going somewhere incredibly secluded, you’ll be able to replace most things pretty easily.
Find rewarding ways to get rid of your things
Letting go of things sucks. Find a way to emotionally reward yourself for it.
Give it to family/friends. I gave all my books to my best friend for his summer cottage library. My group of highschool girlfriends raided my pile of clothes and still send me photos captioned “ Haha, I’m wearing your pants”. I gave my art supplies to my niece who’s going to school soon. They were happy, and because I love them, I was happy, too.
Give it to charity. Consider donating to a homeless shelter, an orphanage, or a school—the options are endless, and all of these places are extremely grateful for your help.
Sell it. Extra cash always helps. Do not spend it on more stuff, mind you. Put it into savings, take yourself out to a nice dinner, or spend it on a bunch of beers and get tipsy—you did good, and you deserve it.
Having less stuff is a form of liberation. The less things you have, the faster you can make decisions, the easier it is to travel, and the more you can enjoy the important things. Experiences, not possessions.
Do you have any tips for packing your life up? Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org – I would love to hear from you.
Elen Veenpere is part of the Teleport team, spending most of her time writing all kinds of
content for everything Teleport. When she’s not busy typing, she likes to travel around Europe
doing stand up comedy and drinking insane amounts of coffee. Currently in Lisbon.