Writing this article about getting rid of everything makes me feel so terrible I almost didn’t do it.
Because getting rid of everything is a privilege. It means that we had things to get rid of in the first place.
I was lucky to grow up with stuff. Maybe it wasn’t the nicest stuff. But it was stuff. I remember being around 10 years old, sitting in my room having been given the task to clean everything up. And I vividly remember staring at my clothing and toys (most of which I didn’t wear or use) being frustrated that I didn’t have enough space to store it all.
I had two closets and two dressers and I still couldn’t find the space to put everything away.
My love affair with stuff started to slowly die once I had to begin paying for things myself. When I first walked into a Bed Bath & Beyond and looked at how much it would cost to buy the under-bed organizers, I began to question whether I really needed everything I had.
I hit a turning point. The seed of getting rid of everything was planted. I had no idea the lessons I’d learn in the process and how much money it would make us in the end.
When I realized I had too much stuff
When Jordan and I moved from Los Angeles to London we realized that keeping all our stuff was going to mean we had to rent a flat well out of our price range — or rent a storage unit — neither of which we were willing to do.
So we decluttered.
When Marie Kondo’s book hit the shelves a year later, we decluttered again (and started folding properly. That was life-changing).
But never did it enter my mind that we’d have a baby and decide to sell everything just a few short years later.
Why did we want to get rid of everything?
If you’re new here or haven’t listened to our podcast, you might not know that just a few months ago Jordan and I made a big life change. After living as expats in the UK for nearly six years, we decided to make a huge life change and move to Hawaii.
(Curious as to why we did that? We go into full detail in our article, Ditching The Somedays.)
We lived in a comfortable flat in London that fit our family perfectly: we had 900 square feet for us, our toddler Henry, and our dog. When we had Henry we made a very purposeful effort to not buy too many things. We kept his room lean and mean with the help of this 10-item minimalist baby list.
We felt like we were winning the war against clutter.
But when we decided to make the move, our items needed to find a new home. Shipping our sneakers and pans internationally is both expensive and not very environmentally friendly, so we made it a goal to leave as much stuff with people or charities in the UK that would appreciate our items. When we got to Hawaii we had a semi-furnished place lined up to rent.
How we got rid of everything
I’m lucky that Jordan had the forethought to capture some of our process on video. The endless runs making donations to the charity shops. The people who bought our furniture online, for pennies on the dollar.
Getting rid of everything took months. We likely would’ve done it faster, but we wanted to be intentional about where it went, so we took our time. We also had a small car that couldn’t fit much, so we spent our weekends loading up Henry’s stroller and wheeling our precious belongings down to the donation centers.
Here, in a short video, is how we got rid of everything (and how much we made).
The lessons we learned while getting rid of everything
While getting rid of everything was an enormous physical task, it didn’t come without some important lessons.
Here are the lessons we learned during the process:
We had way more stuff than we could ever really need
While we religiously pared down our belongings and waged a constant war against clutter, we were still shocked to find that we owned more than we could ever need. Once we finally packed our belongings into a few suitcases and a couple boxes, we were shocked how little we had still felt like more than enough.
Is there a difference in my day to day life when I own two pairs of yoga pants rather than six? Between owning two pans and a full set of six? Could we still make cookies even though we got rid of our hand mixer, our stand mixer, and all but one cookie sheet? We got rid of all these excess things and not one thing changed in our life for the worse.
It was sobering to realize that our small house was full of far more than we would ever really need.
No one values your stuff as much as you do — and it will make you angry
Jordan and I owned nice things. We weren’t trying to unload old, mismatched furniture or off-brand items. We have a reasonably decent style and our household goods were all very maintained (I credit this to Jordan who really enjoys cleaning).
Because our things were nice, we thought finding owners for our items would be easy. Who wouldn’t want a set of crystal wine glasses or bone china platters?
It was a rude awakening to realize that we’d barely recoup any of the money we had spent accumulating our possessions. To us, they were valuable. To everyone else, it was just more stuff. Each time someone would try to haggle over the price of something — when I already felt it was priced at a fantastic discount — I’d get angry. How dare they not appreciate the value in our items. At one point, I was so frustrated I chose to give away some of my purses rather than haggle with strangers on eBay.
Your stuff is worth something to you, but it’s not worth much of anything to anyone else.
At some point, you’ll want to chuck it all in the bin and walk away
Getting rid of your things is a tiring and long process. Once the big pieces of furniture leave, you’re left with physically removing all of the small things. And it’s the small things that get exhausting.
At one point, I was ready to walk away from everything. To stop going through drawers of items and sorting through different lotion bottles and just toss it all in the trash.
The process of getting rid of things is much more physically and emotionally exhausting than I ever could’ve expected. And now that I’m on the other side, I never want to do it again which means we’ll have to be diligent enough to not buy things we don’t need.
You’ll miss strange things
I miss my Hunter rain jacket. It was worn out, didn’t protect me from the rain anymore, and I never wore it. But that was one of the most difficult things to part with and it still hurts just a little bit when I think about it.
That was the rain jacket I bought right when I found out we were moving to London. It was my celebratory purchase and I envisioned wearing it on cool, crisp walks through the English countryside. I imagined it slung over the back of a chair at the pub.
I was never going to wear that jacket again and it was the right choice to get rid of it. I know I don’t really miss the jacket, I miss the excitement I had when I purchased it. When the adventures in Europe were ahead of me and I was counting down the days until I finally got to live in my favorite city in the world.
You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner
Why did we keep three pans that are all the same size? Why did I keep those flats that pinched my feet so badly I never wore them (even though they were so cute)? Why did we store those $5 camping chairs I bought on a whim online because they were so cheap?
Why have we been carrying around so much stuff for so many years? My biggest and only regret is not doing it sooner.
Less stuff. Less stress. Less mess.
Buying new things will hurt
Now that we’re in Hawaii we’ve started to buy new things. We are lucky to currently be renting a semi-furnished apartment. But we’ve had to bring in new things like area rugs, a new booster chair for Henry, a crib, sheets, etc. Buying these things again is painful for two reasons.
First, spending money on things we already had makes me queasy. Henry had a crib he loved! We already had food storage containers and knives! Now we’re spending more money to buy things we already had.
Second, I hate buying things that I know will eventually need to leave our home. I don’t want to go through the process again. It was painful, long, and tough. I don’t want to spend my time maintaining things just to get rid of them.
Buying things is no longer fun, it’s painful.
People will worry you judge them
Since getting rid of things I’ve had a number of friends say, “I don’t want you to see how many toys we have because I know you don’t approve of having so much stuff!”
To be very clear, I don’t approve of us having so much stuff. But I don’t care how much stuff someone else has. Invite us over! Let Henry play with different toys! I promise I don’t care one bit how much stuff you have.
If you’re considering decluttering or getting rid of everything you own, do it. You (probably) won’t regret it once you’re done. But the process is long and painful and you’ll never look at buying things again the same way. I’m glad we did it and I hope we never have to do it again.
How much money we made getting rid of everything
The reason we got rid of everything wasn’t to make money. But since we were in the process of selling or donating everything, Jordan tracked the sales in a Google Sheet.
Out of the hundreds of items we donated and tossed in the bin, only 35 individual items were worth selling or (more accurately) people were willing to buy.
In total, getting rid of everything put $6,211 in our pocket. Of that, our beloved 1991 Nissan Figaro was 58% of the total. So, not including the car we made $2,636.
Don’t get me wrong, selling these items helped with the cost of the move and living expenses at the time. But the amount of effort to sell online and coordinate pick-up made this money feel hard earned.
With less things, we are living more care-free in Hawaii.
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Because life is too short to worry about stuff, and money.
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: personal finance and family travel. website. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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