Downsizing to Liberation

Liberation is hard.  Just ask the founders about rejecting a monarchy for a new way.  Liberation is not an easy set of choices.  You don’t (or at least, very rarely) get to be liberated without effort, focus, will, and determination.  Oh, and don’t forget tenacity, fearlessness or desire.

As we embarked on readying ourselves for this journey, I found that once I started taking stock of “stuff,” I found that it is very much a hard path.  But then, great things in life are never easy.

Prioritizing Quality Over Quanity

The first step is psychological.  You have to examine what it means to be happy, and the many ways you can achieve it.  Balance that with pragmatism and you can quickly see just how much of a conundrum your life can be.

I’m not advocating that my/our choices are for everyone.  I’m not sitting here typing this out to convince you that I’ve chosen the right path and everyone else has chosen poorly.  Happiness is an individual thing.  We must all evaluate and choose according to our own internal compasses. Though, when you voluntarily choose to turn a magnifying glass on what you prioritize in your life, you can find that point A to point B is quite a bumpy road.

Quality of life is something we all strive for.  We want to be comfortable and happy.  Even so, comfort and happiness are quite individual.   I can only give insight into my journey there, even as that journey is really just beginning.

I’ve always held the philosophy of quality being greater than quantity.  Sure I’ve been an active participant in consumer capitalism.  I’ve worked hard to have a comfortable life.  But as surely as the sun rises in the east, comfortable can come at a price.  If you are watching closely, you can course correct with minimal life impact.

Or you can go down if a fiery ball of flame and destruction. Your choice.

Regardless of the path you choose, doubt exists even for the most adventurous.  That is exactly what the point really is: to push yourself beyond comfort into quality.  So, buck up campers, it is totally manageable.

Purge, then purge again, then…wait for it…PURGE again

We began the process of purging months ago.  Honestly, we didn’t start soon enough or with enough gusto.  We (well, at least I) didn’t know that at the time.  I’m much more attached to my “stuff” than I care to admit.  Essentially, I did, as most would, the easy stuff first.  I won’t enumerate all of what I’ve let go of, it would be a long, long list.

Did I say long?  I underestimate.

As an adult in my early 50’s, I accumulated a lot of things and stuff.  I used to justify keeping it all with one simple statement:  What if?  What if I need this?  What if that 1 thing happens and I need this very specific thing to resolve that thing?  What if I regret getting rid of it?

Well, that’s horseshit.  It is a psychological battle that you choose to lose.  What if is an excuse, a crutch.  Sure, that is easy to say, but living it is different.  You fully understand just how much fear of losing your stuff you really have when you are purposely choosing to eliminate it from your life.  It isn’t necessarily a fault or a character flaw, it is simply the world we live in.  Buy things, get stuff, prove to the world you are successful.  Ultimately though, it is empty and shallow attempt to fill something missing in your life, which is totally unique to you.  Your story, your stuff is ultimately just you.

At first, I found purging cathartic.  I mean, it is a cleansing of your psyche as well as your life.  That feeling of accomplishment when you let go of that thing you’ve kept with you for two decades yet never used.  You feel good…you feel like you are advancing.

But then, it just keeps happening.

And happening.

And happening.

It was at a moment like that that I realized just how much baggage I had chosen to carry with me.  Sentiment is a strong force in humans, almost as strong as tradition.  We keep things because we bought/received them and have guilt associated with releasing them into the wild.

Overcoming your own psychology

Fear, guilt, sentiment, desire.  These are all elements of “keeping” things, this being the “gathering” part of our hunter/gatherer historical past.  We keeps things we feel might be useful, needed or wanted.  All good reasons, of course.  But if you look at the BOOMING storage unit business we, as a species, are keeping too much.  If you can’t carry it with you, why are you keeping it, right?

When you are moving into a smaller space, it sometimes makes sense to keep things in storage.  Smaller is typically temporary in our society as we (the collective “we“) are conditioned to want bigger homes that need more things in them.  For those that seek that, I’m not judging or criticizing…seek your dream if that is what you desire.

Moving into a space that is about 250-300 square feet (smaller than my first apartment) requires a much greater release than most other moves, especially if you are pushing to NOT have a storage unit to keep things.  Julie had a very strong desire to not have anything in storage as we embarked.  I had different leanings, but, ultimately, we had friends and family that had need of much of our stuff.  The hardest to let go of were my instruments.  I had strong attachments to them.  I see them as works of art, fine objects made by artisans (though, likely made in a factory).  I even had some that were custom made to my specifications, though they were unusual (a stand-up dulcimer, wait, two; a 2 string bass).  I hadn’t played them in four years.  Gone.  Though one went to a young friend who’d had his stolen.

Oh, and tools.  Tough to let go of several hundred dollars of tools.  But, friends in need got good tools to replace theirs that were elsewhere in the country.

All of that was simple in comparison to letting go of books.  I love books.  I prefer still to read a real book than a digital version.  I at one point had a couple of hundred books that I’d collected over decades.  I also had a fair collection of antique books.  So, my psychology said “you must keep at all costs.”  I had to overcome that with a firm application of rational logic.  Had I read any of them recently?  Would I in actuality read them later?  If I answered yes to either, I then had to ask myself, “will you honestly read them if you keep them?”  No.  So away they go.

Being honest to yourself is often difficult

The psychology of comfort and the perceived comfort that “things” bring is a tough nut to crack.  You have to be brutally honest (and when I say brutally, I mean BRUTALLY) about why you are keeping them.  Most of it is the psychology of “my stuff” that has no rational basis in the real world.

So, if you want to have an experience in life of really understanding what you covet, get rid of everything.  It is rewarding, even though it is very hard work.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Liberating for sure, but a brutal process.


8 thoughts on “Downsizing to Liberation

  1. Anyone that goes through letting go of stuff, I admire. Brian, you said it all and I’m right along there with you. It is stuff, most haven’t used, read or even looked at their stuff in years……When I purged I figured out that my 3 sons would not want my stuff if I died tomorrow, so it was hard but it made it easier.
    Have an awesome adventure and I love reading your stories, so keep it up. Hugs to you both.

  2. Having moved into a travel trailer last summer, I SOOOOO resonate with everything you’ve said Brian. A rule of thumb I developed a few years ago with each move is: if I haven’t used it in a year, it’s gone. I purged so much that I still have empty cabinets in my trailer where I thought stuff would go. But I’m lucky in that I have a canopied truck bed with all my tools and construction stuff (keeping that stuff because I can) and since my trailer is a Toy Hauler, I have a garage with useful storage space.

    I am so proud of both you and Julie for taking such a big step into the unknown!!! Maybe I’ll catch up with you guys on the road somewhere out there!!!

  3. The purging was the hardest step for us in finally living this lifestyle. My husband (also a musician), let go of his bass first, then the upright bass, then the trombone, tuba, etc.–he did it without regrets, but it broke my heart. I loved watching and hearing him play. He’s only played once while on the road–for a friend who had a bass on hand. He hasn’t missed them. I made the mistake of allowing myself four bins to fill with my sentimental stuff to place in storage. We’ve been on the road a year and half, and my brain tics off what’s in there. I need to purge it all when I return–and I’m dreading it. Not because I’m dreading getting rid of the stuff, but just I have to go through the process of deciding who gets what–again. Honestly, most of it will be thrown away. It truly is liberating, but it’s also an emotional process. It’s a metamorphosis and we have to go through the steps. This is a wonderful post! Dawn

    1. It’s definitely difficult watching someone you love give up something they love. I’m glad he doesn’t miss his instruments. I’m sure he has other things that are keeping him interested and entertained. I’m sure you’ll go through your remaining items much more easily than previously. You know that freedom now. 🙂

      In all honesty, I have to say that the purging wasn’t the hardest for me. I’m sort of a minimalist, not as much of a sentimental person as my darling hubby. I’m a Virgo with a Capricorn Moon if that means anything to you. I like organization and empty horizontal surfaces. Even some of the more sentimental things I did own were not that difficult to move on to others. I’m lucky in that I have friends and family who wanted these special items and I knew they’d love and take care of them. In some cases, I even gave them the story or longer history that went with them.

      What’s more difficult for me in the preparation stages is the RV systems. Don’t get me wrong, I can and do handle mechanical things; but there’s just so much! I wasn’t sure I’d be able to learn it all, especially before we moved in. Well, I didn’t. What I did learn is that living on the road will help you learn them. 😉 I’d much rather have commited it all to memory ahead of time (again the Virgo/Capricorn organizer/planner), but I’m also learning that I can learn on the fly and that that is okay.

      1. I missed this comment somehow, so I apologize for the delay!

        The mechanical issues are daunting, but we’ve learned a lot while on the road. Thank goodness Mike is pretty handy (me, not so much–but I can cook and clean like crazy!), but we’ve had to have a couple things handled by the professionals. Our motto has become “What can go wrong, will. When it doesn’t, we rejoice.” We’ve also found it happens all at once. In the last month, we’ve had to replace the motor in the steps, a switch on the fresh water tank, and now a motor in the slide (which may or may not work and require a detour to Elkhart for a major repair). We are learning to take it as it comes, because the alternative is too bleak (it would hurt my heart and soul to ever go back to sticks and bricks).

        All trials and tribulations are worth it–the planned and unplanned.

        Happy trails! Dawn

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