How Much Stuff Do We Really Need?

While living on a boat for a year, where spaces and storage were limited, one of the things both my husband Gary and I kept asking ourselves was, “How much stuff do we really need?” And every time, we concluded, “Not very much!” Wow! These thoughts inspired us to do some more “letting go and lightening up” when we got home. We became very motivated to live a simpler life with less stuff. This has helped us be less stressed and we feel even freer to live our best life.

Very little is needed to make a happy life.

We were fortunate to have tenants in our home while we were on our boating adventure so we had stored most of our valuables and personal possessions in a back bedroom (“storage room”) to make room for theirs. We had emptied all our bathroom and bedroom furniture, cupboards, closets and drawers, so there was a lot of stuff piled back there. And, with our new revelations, we decided long before our return that when we got back, we would take the time to mindfully go through everything stored in that storage room and ONLY PUT BACK THE THINGS WE REALLY NEEDED OR LOVED and that we would let go of the rest. And that’s exactly what we have done.

Here’s what we discovered:

  1. Set an intention. Setting an intention to only keep what we needed and loved gave us better criteria to decide what to let go of and what to keep.
  2. Work in small segments. It was much easier to tackle this big project—all this stuff—by working in relatively small segments of time (sometimes as little as 15 minutes, sometimes as long as two hours). We also chose times when our energy levels were highest and our minds were freshest.
  3. Like things together. Decisions can often go more quickly by first sorting stuff by categories, often referred to as  “like things together.” In the case of clothing (both boxed and hanging), we first gathered them all together into the broader categories of “clothing-his” “clothing-hers.” We then chunked it down even further [(eg., for me, wear-at-home, active wear (walk/hike/sports), casual, dressy-casual and dressy] and dealt with each category separately.
  4. Designate a staging area. It was helpful that we have an extra room right next to the storage room that we used as a “staging” area . That way we had a place to sort through things without being distracted by everything else that still needed to be sorted.
  5. Choose one pile, one box at a time. To prevent overwhelm, we only brought things from the store room to the staging room in small quantities—one box or one pile or one category (if it was small enough) at a time. If we wanted to do more before stopping, we’d bring in just one more box or pile.
  6. Yes, No, Maybe. Dividing things into YES, NO and MAYBE made it easier to do a quick sort. This was especially effective with our clothing. The YES’s went back into a closet or a drawer. The NO’s went into a box or bag to give away and the MAYBE’s included things we chose to try on to help us make our decisions.
  7. Think about “essentializing.” When we were strategizing about going through all our stored stuff, a dear friend who recently downsized from a very large house to a very small apartment, “just happened to” share a concept she used to help her do her heavy purging. She called it “essentializing”…only keeping what really matters. I got so inspired and motivated by this concept that it prompted me to not only keep this in mind during our own process, but also to write a separate post about it.
  8. Slow down. We gave ourselves permission to take our time through this whole process. Choosing to go slowly helped us be more intentional and to evaluate on a deeper level exactly what we needed and what we loved, one item at a time. My old self would have rolled up my sleeves and dealt with everything in a week, but this new habit of slowing down caused us to be more thorough and we were able to let go of much more. YAY! Sometimes, the slower you go, the better the results.
  9. Celebrate your progress. Every time we finished one small (or large) batch of stuff, we high-fived and congratulated ourselves on getting one more thing done. Going through one pile, then taking time to feel good about it often inspired us to do more. And here’s something else to celebrate: I now have two empty drawers and two empty shelves AND I love everything in my closet. YAY!
  10. Take time for self care. Choosing this new pace and taking time to celebrate along the way has also provided a lot more time to practice self-care. It’s much more than simply “rewarding” ourselves. We’re not only spending quality time with each other, but also with family and friends. We’re taking time to play, to enjoy the outdoors, to watch our favorite sports teams, to exercise and prepare nutritious meals, to art journal (me), to take and process photographs (Gary), to read, to write and to continue to enjoy our home and our beautiful surroundings. The best things in life aren’t things.

This whole experience is helping us lead a much simpler, less complicated life. With less stuff there is less stress and we are learning to lead our best life.

May it be so for all of us.


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