Operation Clean Sweep

Spending Diet update! You can track how my own savings are progressing here.

So here’s the deal:

I have a LOT of stuff.

I have four bookcases full of books. I have a closet overflowing with clothes (although strangely, nothing to wear). I have drawers full of unused electronics, knick-knacks and trash. I am currently residing in my childhood bedroom and, as a result, I am dwelling amongst 25 years of accumulated junk.

A lot of it needs to go.

wall 'o' books
Creative Commons License photo credit: SarahInDisguise

Philosophically, it just feels wrong to go out into the world with all of this stuff weighing me down. If I truly believe that
everything I need to survive can fit into a 65L backpack, what is the point of owning so many things that I won’t use, or probably even think about for an entire year?

Lately I’ve been contemplating how attached people become to the things they own.  We live in a very consumer driven culture where we are constantly told that our possessions define us as people. We buy iPhones and leather jackets and even cereal because it embodies the lifestyle we want to lead. As a result the physical things we own start to become not just our goals but our responsabilities. There are costs to owning things, both big and small, which we never even stop to consider.  Without going TOO obnoxiously preachy on everyone I have to ask if getting so caught up in the possesing of stuff distracts us from what’s really important in life?

From a more practical standpoint, if I have all this stuff that I literally never use, doesn’t it just make sense to convert some of this into cash?

Cleaning The Attic
Creative Commons License photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik

There are a lot of great online resources for liquidating your things. It’s pretty much a right of passage in the online backpacking community to sell all your belongings in a short time. One of the most useful articles on this subject that I’ve found is this three part series by Never Ending Voyage (parts two and three).

In a nutshell, the internet is your best friend for turning stuff into money. There are niche websites for selling everything from your CD’s to your used underwear (I mean, if you’re into that). For everything else under the sun there is Craigslist. Some people have good results with eBay as well but that is more effort than I’m willing to put in.

Now, I’m not going to get all high and mighty here. I want to get rid of stuff, but I am NOT one of those people who can just let go of everything. For example: I am a book hoarder. I don’t care if I’ve already read them, or even if I never want to read them again, I still love them. I will do my best though. It won’t be easy, and I probably won’t be able to part with all (or even most) of them. But the effort is what’s important here.

So I’ll be getting rid of everything from paperbacks to, eventually, my car. I’ll be starting as soon as I get back from Oakland mid-month. I hope it will be a nice bump to my travel savings but even more so I hope it will be liberating.

What are your tips for cutting down on stuff?

36 thoughts on “Operation Clean Sweep”

  1. Great advice – especially when you have things that have value. As people that are moving towards a more and more minimalistic approach to life, we have found that things we’ve accumulated now – no longer make sense. Yet, as 40 year olds – some of that stuff has a great deal of monetary value. Art for example. Antiques. So yep – I think we will be selling a lot and … put it towards our year sailing around the med instead!

  2. Thanks for including a link to our how to sell your stuff series. Much appreciated!

    I did an English degree and love books – I never thought I’d get rid of them all. However they are so bulky and heavy that it´s a burden if you want a nomadic lifestyle. I thought I´d keep a few but it was so hard to choose that I just went for it and got rid of them all! It did feel like a weight off.

    I do miss having easy access to cheap English books here in South America (and to a library) but I don´t actually miss my own book collection, as I´d rather read something new anyway. If I really miss one of my books I’ll just borrow it or buy it again.

    Good luck with it!
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Ways To Get Away From It All – Part 3: Campervan Fun in the Australian Outback =-.

    1. I found your series really helpful and inspiring! Particularly since you guys are traveling indefinitely, that’s a lot of incentive to get ride of everything you can (where as anything I leave behind can just sit in my childhood bedroom til I get back).

  3. Oh my. I’ve just come up from the basement where I’ve been spending ENORMOUS amounts of time becoming ruthless with crap and memorabilia as we downsize for the 2nd time. This has been going on for weeks and I have moments of feeling truly overwhelmed – not something that happens often at my age and stage of life.

    I live with a packrat and as much as I’d love to put all the credit for this mess on his shoulders, I’ve come to realize that I do pretty well in the ‘better hang on to it, just in case’ department.

    But I’m moving across the country this time and the thought of paying a mover only to junk something at the other end is a great incentive for off-loading.

    My tips? Ask these questions: do I use it? do I truly need it? do I love it? Unless there is a strong ‘yes’ response to one of these questions, out it goes. Knowing that it is going to a charity or friend who can use it helps. But mostly, if I’m really honest, my cheap bastard streak is what is motivating me. I can’t bear the thought of paying a mover to shift this stuff if I’m not going to use it!

    My one big exception is my art collection. Not like it is filled with art treasurers or unknown works by major artists. But it reflects my tastes, interests and budget over a 35+ year period. I’ve always collected art on the basis of love and each piece I own speaks deeply to me. I’ve made the decision that it is all coming with me. And as much as I recognize that that means it ‘owns’ me, I am happy with that. When I look at it all (even the stuff that gets stored in a closet ’cause I don’t have wall space), I am filled with memories, conversations, stories and an awareness of who I’ve become in the later years of my life. So it feels very worthwhile.

    Now don’t get me started on books, CDs, records (yes, there are gems in what’s left of that collection) and my 25 year collection of Gourmet magazine. Those are mountains still to be climbed! 🙂

    Great post. And clearly there are a lot of us for whom this is a poignant conversation.

    Gwen McCauley
    Not quite sinking in a sea of stuff

    1. Thanks for such an insightful comment!

      There is definitely an element of ruthlessness necessary to handle offloading years worth of stuff. Of course some things are meaningful and totally worth the hassle of keeping. Like so many things in life it’s about figuring out what is actually important to you.

  4. Wow. If you manage to purge all the books I’ll be well impressed – its my one fatal vice as well. I’m even guilty of purchasing on the road and refusing to let them go in a book swap. Who the hell travels with 5 thick and heavy books on her back… that she’s already read?

    Good luck – its tough but liberating!
    .-= Camden Luxford´s last blog ..How Not To Be Robbed =-.

      1. This also reminds me of when I studied abroad in London and ended up having to ship home an entire heavy box of books I’d acquired at the second-hand shops there. It’s my one vice!

  5. I’ve always moved around quite a lot so don’t have loads of stuff. Every year when I move back home for the summer I always have a clear out. Although, I tend to have a lot more clothes then I probably need. I think I am planning to sell some of these if possible before I go.
    .-= Kirsty – No Place To Be´s last blog ..4our Months To Go =-.

  6. Great post, Steph – the culture of stuff is something that seems to come up regularly in my conversations with people who want to travel (and those who just say they do…), and it’s often used as a convenient excuse as to why something can’t be done – “I can’t move countries / travel the world / downsize my life because of the amount of stuff I own”.

    I was lucky – I went travelling for the first time when I was 22, and getting rid of everything I owned wasn’t difficult – I didn’t have much! I’ve moved around a lot since then and knowing this fact has made it much easier to avoid buying things in the first place – as Gray mentioned, that’s the best way of avoiding having to get rid of it later! I do hear you on the books thing though – they are always the hardest things for me to part with.

    If you’re interested, I wrote an article on this subject a few months back – http://whatsdavedoing.com/blogs/travel/goodbye-stuff-hello-world/ – which might resonate a bit with you. 😉
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..The Friday Photo #3 – Butterfly Bay, Whitsundays =-.

    1. I think that when our stuff weighs us down so much it limits our options that is a real problem. Good to break free of this early.

  7. It’s hard at first, but once you get going it just feels good – liberating even!

    I agree that it is hard to get rid of some things, but you just have to keep asking yourself if that item it really important to have around… or is it just a memory that you could preserve in some other way?

    Grab a couple of large plastic containers and tell yourself that you can only keep whatever fits into them. That’s a really good way to pick out what is important and what’s not! 😉
    .-= Brooke vs. the World´s last blog ..100 Strong: FTU Discusses Squat Toilets =-.

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