My Minimalist Story, Part 1: A Clean Slate

I think every minimalist fantasizes about starting over with a clean slate—it seems a heck of a lot easier than the slow (and sometimes painful) process of decluttering the stuff you’ve accumulated over a lifetime. I for one had been decluttering for years, and still seemed nowhere near my goal of living with just the essentials.

But short of a fire, natural disaster, or other tragedy (which nobody wants to experience), there are few circumstances that would suddenly separate you from the bulk of your possessions.

Recently, I received my unique (and possibly once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity for a clean slate: an overseas move.

My husband and I were thrilled about the prospect; for years, we’d dreamt of experiencing life in another country. But reality quickly set in: what on earth would we do with all our stuff?

We had no desire to take all our possessions with us; in fact, the cost of moving them probably would have exceeded their value. Furthermore, we had no address (we’d be looking for a place to live upon arrival), no idea of how long we’d be there, and the thought of dragging hundreds of tidbits across the sea seemed ridiculously burdensome.

Our other option was to put everything into a public storage unit, to be dealt with later. However, that almost seemed like cheating (or at least procrastinating). How could we start a new life, when all the trappings of our old one were bundled up in a warehouse, waiting for us to come “home?” We knew if we kept it, our stuff would continue to weigh on us from across the ocean.

So from the time our house went under contract, we had one month to empty its entire contents. And for an aspiring minimalist like myself, what a euphoric month that was!

Don’t get me wrong, selling things on Craigslist is no walk in the park. It takes a lot of effort to photograph your stuff, describe it, and answer an unending stream of emails about it. Not to mention sell it at a price far less than what you paid. But it was worth every bit of the hassle. That continual parade of buyers lifted the burden of our possessions from us, one-by-one, giving us the freedom (and a little extra cash) to embark on our new adventure.

In the end, my husband and I were each left with one bag (to carry with us), two boxes of books and clothes (to be shipped later), and a handful of items in long-term storage (more on those later).

I only wish I’d had the time to provide a post-by-post account of the experience—but as it turns out, there was little time for blogging (or much of anything else) with precious few weeks to purge, pack, and plan a life in a foreign country. But that’s okay; I’m not sure I could have effectively expressed the utter joy of seeing our bar stools, coffee table, or weed whacker walk out the door for the last time—at least in a way that wouldn’t get me institutionalized. ;-)

So over the next few weeks, I’ll provide my post-mortem account of what it was like to get rid of everything, and live my minimalist dream—residing in hotels, with all my possessions in a single duffel bag. That’ll catch you up to where I am now. Stay tuned.

24 comments to My Minimalist Story, Part 1: A Clean Slate

  • What a wonderful opportunity for a fresh start! I found your blog via the Simple Living Network discussion forums and I’m really enjoying it. I’m looking forward to hearing more of your story!

  • Robert

    What an experience! I often think about having a “burn-down” do several thousand dollars worth of improvements to my clutter :) I actually got a price quote from the local fire department to burn down my cabin, but that was before I got laid off and moved in it (along with all my stuff). I’ve also dreamed of moving to another country, but never took it any farther than online job hunting.

    I can’t wait to read more!

  • nicole 86

    I hope we won’t have to wait a long time, I am very excited to read the next posts as I intend to move as soon as I get retired.

  • Michelle

    Niiiiiice! Like Robert, I’d love (well, you know) a burn down… and my insurance money could be spent sparingly and on things I needed. Hmm, might be a bit inconvenient for the other residents in my apartment block!

    How exciting to be living overseas! I hope you’ll share your adventures of minimalist living in your new surroundings, too.

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks for the comments! I’ll be writing more soon about the move, after which I’ll focus on how we’re striving to live minimally in our new home.

    Robert, I imagine you living in your cabin like Thoreau…but with an internet connection. ;-)

  • How interesting! I am having a similar experience. Long story short, DH is going out to WV for his job. I move out there full-time with him just yet but I am going to be staying part of the time. We just rented him an apartment and its small and unfurnished. We’ll be furnishing it with the bare basics scrounged from local thrift stores and the Dollar General across the street, lol!

  • miss minimalist

    Very cool, Carol! We’ll have to compare notes on what we find to be the bare essentials. :-)

  • […] we sold our house and purged almost everything we had (see My Minimalist Story, Part 1: A Clean Slate), we discovered that the majority of our “stuff” came out of the kitchen. We had never realized […]

  • Well done! I have been through two international moves; from the UK to the US and then back again, this time with a wife and two children in tow. We did the shipping container thing and as you say, probably paid more than the stuff was worth. I have spent the last three years gradually selling a lot of the stuff we brought back on Ebay, and I’m still working on it! It’s very freeing to finally be rid of these material posessions I thought were so important. To be fair, we did get rid of a lot of stuff before the move too and I think I just have to do it in small steps; it would haven been too much to get rid of everything all in one go. I admire you for doing it all at once!

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks, Jeremai! I’m glad to hear you’re slowly shedding all the “excess.” :-) We’re keeping our possessions here in the UK to a minimum (in case of a future move), and enjoying the freedom of having so little stuff.

  • […] awhile, some years making more progress than others, but generally continuing on the same path. My latest move (from the US to the UK) was immensely valuable in “releasing” me from my stuff, both physically and […]

  • S.W.Orenbuch

    What do you carry in your purse on a daily basis (not travel purse)? Do you always wear a jacket so that you can carry extra items?

    • miss minimalist

      Hi S.W.! I carry the usual stuff: cash, cards, keys, cell phone, pen, lip balm, lightweight reusable bag (if I’m going shopping), and sometimes a tiny travel umbrella (often necessary in the UK!). I’ll even bring an energy bar and water bottle if I plan to be out awhile. I use a purse, rather than jacket pockets, since it works all year round. :-)

  • […] My Minimalist Story, Part 1: A Clean Slate: I think every minimalist fantasizes about starting over with a clean slate—it seems a heck of a lot easier than the slow (and sometimes painful) process of decluttering the stuff you’ve accumulated over a lifetime. I for one had been decluttering for years, and still seemed nowhere near my goal of living with just the essentials… {read more} […]

  • Joan

    When my husband and I retired we decided to move to Florida which meant selling the house in Michigan with all its stuff including the basement which had become the place things went when we no longer used them. Overwhelmed, I contacted an auctioneer who decided that an auction was not in the works because I didn’t have enough valuable things, but he offered to do a tag sale which we scheduled two days before the closing on the house. When he was through and before the closing, we did a walk through and the house was EMPTY. When we went to the closing, we had our bags in the car, walked out the door after the closing and started driving to Florida. There are ways to get rid of everything! Now, after 10+ years in Florida, I’m afraid it’s time to let go of “stuff” again.

  • Our ‘Clean Slate’ came in the form of a Cdn Cross-country move when my sisters house burned down. We went with just 2 vehicles with no trailer, and our youngest 7 children. We’ve collected a few things since but have waaayyy less than we started with 3 years ago, and don’t think we’ll ever go back to that lifestyle. I like this lighter life much better.

  • Just found your blog, it’s great. We are moving from UK to France June 2011 and I really want to offload as much stuff as possible. How do you disconnect the emotional feelings – I also can’t get my head around getting rid of stuff that could be useful/needed in my future life therefore saving me money in the long run or am coming at this all wrong from the outset? Btw we have 3 kids to move too!:) Also is your book avail as an e-book? Many many thanks for a great blog.

  • oh my, you have no idea how happy I am to have found you (through Zen Habits). I have such a pull in me to be a fanatical minimalist, and I ache for it – seriously! I think of the clean slate opportunity just as you described it above, and I can not WAIT to discover more of your writings.
    I’m a painter – so with painting comes stuff, canvases, paints, sketchbooks and such, not to mention the finished paintings :) and I have two little boys – all require items. But I do what I can and I love what I do – and I love the minimalistic ideal.
    Again, looking way forward to exploring your blog and getting your updates.
    Thank you so much!
    Sincerely, Katie m. Berggren

  • […] My Minimalist Story, Part 1: A Clean Slate […]

  • It sure is a lot of work to get rid of stuff–that’s why I cheated lol!

  • […] and she and her husband left with just two suitcases and two boxes of clothes/books. You can read a post-mortem on their move over at her […]

  • Paula

    27 years and 4 children into our marriage, I still reminisce of our first year together. Like many, we had nothing when we married. Purchased a very small mobile home and 2nd-hand furniture. We were blissfully content! It took about two years, and the purchase of our first home, for “stuff-itis” to set in. My goal with minimalism is, in reality, a return to life before we began chasing the Joneses around the neighborhood :D

  • Tina

    We retired earlier then we had planned. I was 53 and DH was 55 when we were offered early retirement. Since we had been living on half our income for many years, we knew it was do-able. We had part time jobs for a while, did volunteer work, took classes and eased into full time retirement. Since the only bills we had were a mortgage and car payment—we now have one car–it was easy. I can’t imagine how people live with credit card debt and we also helped our kids with college, they also got scholarships and loans which they paid off years ago.

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