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Can You Get Rid of Almost Everything and Be Happier?

What if this, along with a few clothes was all that you owned in the world? Could you still be happy?

What if this, along with a few clothes was all that you owned in the world? Could you still be happy?

Why I Once Got Rid of Almost Everything I Owned

Almost two decades ago I was a single, recently divorced man, who felt that in order to recover from a difficult part of my life, I needed to get rid of most of my possessions and go off and explore the world while I was still "young enough to enjoy it".

Since my ex-wife and I had decided to sell our home and split the proceeds, I ended up with enough money to allow me to take a "sabbatical" from my job, buy an old used sailboat, and begin living aboard it. Although I still owned a few things, aside from the old "fixer-upper" boat that I'd purchased and the clothes I was wearing, all of my other possessions could fit snugly in a small backpack. This was a big change from what I'd been used to. My ex and I had owned a small piece of rural property, had two cars, along with a house full of stuff and a storage unit in which to fit the overflow. There was also all sorts of other miscellaneous things scattered about our small acreage, including an old tractor that I'd spent hours working on, yard and garden equipment, all kinds of tools, a couple of kayaks as well as my fishing boat and rods and reels. At first it was really hard to part with some of these things, yet once I started selling off and donating things, it became easier and easier and I began to feel a sense of some kind of weight slowly being lifted off of me.

Way before the de-cluttering guru Marie Condo was even "a thing", I began to try and make my complicated life a bit simpler by getting rid of some of my possessions. Having "too many things", and the "stress" that brings some of us who have that luxury, is a problem that people who are still struggling to acquire some of those same things might find hard to sympathize with. Indeed, having "too much stuff" is very much a "first world problem" and I realize how lucky I've been for most of my life. It's a uniquely American problem and for those familiar with the late comedian George Carlin, he summed up this problem best in one his early comedy routines, "Too Much Stuff", and if you know of his work, also know why I can't quote him verbatim here.

The First Step in Getting Rid of My Stuff

Getting rid of my home was the easy part, and although I did miss it, I was ready to move on to new surroundings that didn't remind me of the unhappier times in my marriage. I spent several weeks selling off the part of our things I was allowed to keep, which mostly consisted of my tools, a few items of furniture and one of the kayaks. What I couldn't sell on Craigslist or at a garage sale, I donated to Goodwill. In about a week I'd managed to get everything that I wanted to keep down to what I could store in the back of my pickup truck.

After the sale of the home was finally complete and my ex-wife and I split the proceeds, I decided to buy an old sailboat to live on. I had a vague plan that involved sailing to exotic places in that little boat, but at this point the plan was to live down on the Gulf Coast of Texas for a while and de-compress. I finally found an affordable used sailboat in Corpus Christi and soon after buying it I sold my late model pickup truck as well. I committed myself to living aboard the boat full-time, finding part time work when I could to supplement my savings, and I also began to do some freelance writing work for online websites, using my small laptop and a wireless internet connection from the nearby yacht club.

No More Grass to Mow

As I grew more accustomed to living aboard, I missed things like mowing grass and working on the broken down old tractor I'd once owned less and less, until finally I didn't think of those thing's I'd gotten rid of at all. From time to time, I'd forget that I'd sold some item such as carpentry tool or book that I was searching in vain for, but aside from that I began to enjoy the freedom of not having to worry about where any of it was, or in the case of my truck and old tractor, what maintenance was due on it, or when I had to pay the insurance and registration. For me, getting rid of so many nagging bills, including those mandatory expenses that you always have when you own a home and vehicles, was definitely one of the biggest advantages of downsizing.

With my boat I only had to pay a small Boat US insurance fee every month and my dock fees. My biggest expense each month was my private health insurance premium, which as time went on increased each year as I got older. I did set aside a bit each month for boat expenses and repairs, fuel for the boat's auxiliary engine, and entertainment. After everything was said and done, I was able to live pretty well on only a quarter of the money that I'd been able to live off when I was living on land in my old home.

Why I Gave Up the Simple Life

For several years I lived a fairly simple life aboard my little boat with only a handful of possessions. If ever I accumulated too many books, I donated them to the "lending library" of whatever marina I was anchored near to. I did acquire a collection of spare parts for my boat's engine, along with a spare sail and a small dinghy, but still was able to keep most of my personal possessions in a small suitcase. With most of my work based online, I was able to earn a modest living while I continued to sail. I ended up journeying from Texas to Florida, on to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands and on down to South and Central America before ultimately returning to the US a few years later.

Along the way met someone very special, and after a couple of years of having a long distance relationship, we got married. Her job as a school teacher was then in Canada, and although we'd discussed living aboard my little boat, my income wasn't enough to support two people and we worked out a compromise. She found work in Galveston as a teacher, and I was able to keep my little boat in a marina on the Gulf Coast and we were able to go out and sail on the weekends.

Slowly but surely, our new home filled up with things. Whether we like it or not, we humans share similar traits with ravens, crows, desert pack-rats and even octopus, who decorate their dens with found objects. Accumulating things is as natural as breathing to us, and now we have shelves of books, cooking gadgets, and a whole garage full of everything from camping gear to gardening equipment.

Lately though, and perhaps it's Marie Condo's fault, we've been thinking of downsizing. Both of us at some point realized how much simpler our life had been when we only had to worry about a few things that we owned, and we missed the freedom of being able to pick up and go wherever we wanted with the few thing we had. Again, not everyone has this luxury, but for us with our two small furry children, we're still able to be fairly mobile as older adults once we're both able to retire.

We've started by scanning all of our family photos on a small ClearClick photo scanner, as well as getting rid of any duplicate things we own. We can store our many boxes of photos on a single USB drive, no computer necessary, and then give the originals to family for safe keeping if we need to.

Our goal at this point is to downsize enough to move into a small apartment or even perhaps a "tiny home" and then do lots of traveling with the money that we save. We both love to have nice things, don't get me wrong, but we share the opinion that life can still be lived well with fewer things, especially when you think long and carefully about what those things will be. My wife has already decided that, no matter what, her large Kitchen Aid mixer, with bread hook and food processor attachments, is coming with us, regardless of how small a space we live in. That's OK by me, I love to eat the things she makes with it!

The Bottom Line

Whether you have "too much stuff" or "just enough" depends entirely on your own personal situation. In my own case, I needed to do a reset in my early 30's and do a radical downsizing, yet when I got married again I had the need to re-acquire many of the very same items that I'd gotten rid of just a few years earlier.

Try not to fall for the latest fad of the day and try and decide what material possessions matter the most to you at this particular stage of life. We all come into this world with nothing, and we leave it the same way. If having lots of things is what truly makes you happy, then go for it. On the other hand, if you find yourself at some point in your life feeling like the cost of owing those things is somehow taking away from your quality of life, then it might be time to think about doing a little housekeeping in order to make your life easier.

© 2020 Nolen Hart

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