“What are you doing with all your stuff?”
It’s something I get asked a lot when talking about life on the road. And it’s a fair question. Even though we consider ourselves to be fairly minimalist people, our apartment isn’t different from many others– home to kitchen appliances we rarely use, clothes for special occasions, outdoor gear for all seasons, and of course sentimental objects, photographs, and random paper clips.
With a big trip on the horizon, we have been in an ongoing process of scaling down our things for the past year. Taking the slow and thoughtful approach has made this endeavor less of a checkbox item on our way to full-time vanlife, and more of a self-reflective journey. So whether you give everything to Goodwill, sell your stuff on Craigslist, adopt the Konmari Method, laugh along with Dan Carlin’s bit on “stuff”, or binge watch Hoarders as motivation, you can learn a lot about yourself by observing how you let go of physical possessions. Some of my biggest learnings this year:
What you keep is a reflection of your values.
Yes, values. Not because we are strictly materialistic beings– but because when we are materialistic, our values typically rest somewhere beneath the surface.
When we are materialistic, our values typically rest somewhere beneath the surface.
I just lived this experience recently with one of my favorite (and most ragged) belongings– my camera.
I bought my first DSLR camera when I was in college and took it with me all over the world, growing my skills and learning a lot about my creative self. Until this summer, when my camera stopped working for a couple hours, I didn’t want to admit that I needed to upgrade my equipment. After purchasing (and loving) my new DSLR, I sold my first camera to a very kind couple for $50. The boyfriend was buying a cheap, used camera to learn about photography from his girlfriend. I handed the camera over and, demonstrating how unaffected I was by this process, I tried not to go into too much detail about how great that camera has been for almost 10 years… but when I walked away and turned the corner I had to catch my heart dropping inside my chest. I’ve never been sad to sell something, but the sadness wasn’t about the camera so much as the values the camera held. Creativity. Trying new things. Independence. Travel. Things I now feel I embody, aided by that piece of equipment. When you think of it in those terms, it’s easy to understand the emotional response.
Your possessions don’t define you, even if they seem essential.
Our outdoor gear has been perhaps the most challenging set of things to streamline because it aligns with our values of going outdoors!
Our material things do not define us– it’s what we do and how we show up in the world.
One thing that has been resonant with me through this process is that our material things do not define us– it’s what we do and how we show up in the world. This became very apparent when we made a big decision to sell one of our kayaks, which we love dearly, to make space, save money, and focus our attention elsewhere. Not being able to kayak together doesn’t take away from our trips on the water. It doesn’t erase the memories. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t kayakers anymore. Coming to this realization helped us to see that we kept the most important stuff simply by creating adventures together.
Intentionality is the key to avoid feeling tied down to your belongings.
If all of this writing is making getting rid of your things sound easy or as if there is one “right” way to do it, then I’ve mislead you. Paring down your things to a simplified, mobile state does not mean getting rid of everything that does not serve a utility. It means that you’re cognizant of what you own and why, and you try to keep only what you need to feel truly safe and whole. Sometimes the choice is easy, and sometimes it’s not. But the awareness and intention behind what we now own has helped me to make choices about what is essential, and that’s an empowering feeling.
How do you keep your belongings light? Drop us a line or leave a note in the comments!