I believe that there are times when you accumulate stuff and times when you get rid of stuff, and times when you shouldn’t do much of either. We moved repeatedly (five times in five years, I think) so even before we got the van I was so sick of schlepping boxes that I was determined to pare them down. As a result, I’ve been in a getting rid of things phase for several years now. I’m also sentimental, frugal, crafty and a just-in-case hoarder, so in some ways getting rid of things is contrary to my nature. I go at it in lots of different ways.
Start small, take it slow
For me, getting rid of stuff started small. Take books, for example. I read a lot, and usually buy a hundred books a year, sometimes more. At uni, I decided (in radical contradiction to my pack-rat childhood) not to keep books I didn’t like. Then I joined Bookcrossing, and started giving away books I did like, once I’d read them. Sharing is fun! The tipping point was getting a Kindle, when I could, for the very first time, picture a house without a wall of books. I started getting rid of book cases, and now we pretty much only have library books and caravan books with us. Plus the thousand books on my Kindle, of course.
Do it in a big rush
Slow and steady doesn’t always work. We got rid of all our furniture in a rush, giving most of it away or selling it within a couple of weeks. Once we’d decided not to store everything, we asked friends what they might want. Some of them suggested things we hadn’t thought to sell, at which point we sort of went ‘huh’. In the end, we got rid of of everything, leaving a couple of precious items on long-term loan where they would be used.
Set up an Amazon seller or eBay account
Sometimes, when you realise how much money you could get for something, you realise you’d rather have the money than the thing – or you may see how cheap it would be to replace. Once you’ve decided to sell something, it’s easier to give it away (I think) as you’ve mentally detached from it. It’s stock, not a part of your image. We screwed this up slightly, and wound up posting our final items from France, a move that lost us most of our profits on those sales, but we did manage to turn a box of never-be-played-again games into a week or two of site fees.
Start a ‘to go’ box
I usually have a box or a bag of stuff to go to charity. When I try on a shirt and hate the way it looks or K finds a kitchen implement that drives him crazy, or we find something in a cupboard we never use, it goes straight in the bag. If we need it, it’s there, if not, when the bag is full, we take it to a charity shop. I don’t have this in the van, and it means I’ve hung onto, and hidden in a nook or cranny, some things I don’t need or like any more.
When you could lend, give
If you’re lending someone something, consider giving it to them instead. Then you don’t have to worry about getting it back, or getting it back damaged, and when they’re done, they can pass it on.
You can buy it again
If you have too much stuff, whatever that means, then you live somewhere and somewhen that stuff is easy to come by. No one complains about too much water in a desert – you do that in a flood. So remember how easy it was to get all this stuff, and tell yourself you can get it again if you need it. Give yourself permission, even a budget.
Just one box
If you’re crafty and frugal, have small kids, do DIY or any of a hundred other hobbies and projects, there’s a lot of almost-rubbish, like empty washing up bottles for Blue Peter projects, or scraps of yarn, that accumulates and seems like it would come in useful. Most of it doesn’t. My strategy, and I mostly stick with this, is to pick a good volume – one kitchen drawer, one plastic box, one shoe box, one crate – and get rid of anything that won’t fit.
Throw things away
I am really bad at this. I hate putting things in land fill so I’ve delegated this entire section to K. I sort stuff out (particularly childhood clutter) merrily (and delusionally) thinking ‘oh, this would be good for craft’ or ‘someone can use this’ and he ruthless bins all of it, saving about 2 things for the charity shop. And this works, as long as he doesn’t tell me about all the crap he’s just thrown out.
Put things in smaller boxes
There is no way I’m getting rid of my yarn stash. No way! Not happening. But every few months, when I sort through it, I find that it nearly fits in one less box. So I usually get rid of a few things, until it does fit in one less box. I do this with clothes, too. It’s a good way of getting rid of a few non-essentials by focusing on making space for the things you want to use. I think it would work well in the kitchen, but that’s K’s domain so I haven’t tried. He does not share my enthusiasm for putting things in boxes.
Go slow on things that can’t be replaced
I’m softhearted about old toys. About books I loved when I was a kid. About things I’ve made. I keep these things. I tuck them into boxes, or display them on shelves. I take photographs of them, when I remember, because I don’t want to lose them and sometimes I cry or rage when they break or get damaged. I know it’s not smart to tie your heart to little bits of plastic or wood, but for me it’s also impossible not to.
Be ruthless with things that are sentimental traps
Try not to attach importance to everything you’ve ever been given. I love my mum to bits, and she has a great taste in clothes, but when I physically or mentally outgrow something she’s given me, I get rid of it. Otherwise I’d have a whole extra wardrobe of things I never wear. Actually, right now, I do have a whole wardrobe of things I haven’t worn in at least 3 months, as I left a whole bunch of clothes at Mum’s when we came away in the van again. But it’s my glass house and I can throw stones if I want to.
Take lots of photos
Maybe you won’t need to keep that faded sundress if you have a photo of yourself, smiling, in the sun that faded it.
Do what feels right
It’s hard to follow your own right path. It’s easier to follow a set of rules, or to feel bad about not quite following them. There’s no right about of stuff, no adventure kit that suits everyone on the planet. Even at the most basic level, whether you prioritize food or medicine or shelter will depend on whether you’re hungry or ill or living somewhere cold. The golden rule, if there is such a thing, is don’t let your stuff bring you down.