People contact me all the time asking for advice on how to minimize their “stuff.” When considering an international move, understanding what is important and what is simply taking up space makes the transition so much easier. Here’s the best advice I can offer you, which I originally wrote for The Huffington Post on March 13, 2015.
As an expat living abroad, I receive countless queries from people wondering how I did what I did: Just pick up and move to another country. People constantly ask what I did with all my stuff back home. Did I put things in storage? Did I keep a home in the U.S. and rent it out while I was gone?
The short answer is: No. The long answer is: Why the heck would I keep a bunch of stuff?!
Let’s all come clean on something here. It’s something we all do: We hoard things. We cling to objects because of the memories attached to them. We see them and remember the first kiss, that special celebration, a life well-lived. The object reminds us of the moment or the person, and we can’t fathom throwing it away.
But clinging to so many things creates baggage, both physically and emotionally. By keeping things around us, we weigh ourselves down. We stack things on shelves and we pile things in closets and we store things in bins in the attic and in the basement. We cling to them, surrounding ourselves with tangible reminders of moments past.
What we really need to do is to reevaluate our obsession with things. Those things we cling to that seem so filled with memories? The memories will be forever with us, as long as we want them to be there. Those things we buy to satisfy a need yet unnamed? They won’t fill the gap. They won’t fill the hole that yearns to be filled with something more — love, happiness, joy, appreciation, achievement, satisfaction. Things cannot fulfill those needs. Surrounding ourselves with things anchors us, preventing us from moving forward because first we have to deal with all these things. That’s a phrase I hear so often, “I want to move here, but first I have to figure out what to do with all my stuff.”
The problem is that you have too much stuff.
I understand: A lifetime offers ample opportunity to accumulate things. Owning a home and having kids inevitably results in massive amounts of stuff. Thinking of moving abroad and leaving a vast majority of that stuff behind can frighten even the most confident future expat.
The easiest way to clear out your clutter is to carefully — very painstakingly — go through ALL of your things. If you force yourself to spend the hours upon endless hours filtering through every single box and bag in your home, I guarantee you will realize how little of it should be kept. At first you might feel overwhelmed or intimidated. That feeling alone should be cause for concern! If you are overwhelmed at the thought of going through everything you own piece by piece, perhaps you own too much.
Here’s the important part to remember, the simple way to clear away all that clutter:The memories evoked from each item you uncover are not tied to the physical object. If you truly want to retain those memories, simply write them down. Create a memory book for you and for your family. You don’t have to be an eloquent writer filling pages with perfect prose. Simply write in your own voice — make those memories accessible without having to track down a particular object buried amid heaps of other objects.
Once that memory is written down and saved, what use is the stuff? If you had to pull things out of boxes or bags that you didn’t even know existed, trust me, it is now OK to now get rid of it all. Write down the memory, eliminate the extras. Your loved ones will appreciate actually having those memories at hand, and you will all appreciate minimizing the amount of stuff in the home.
I know, I know: Easier said than done, right? But that’s life in a nutshell. You can spend your life held back by mounting things and all the baggage those things bring with them, or you can clear your space and clear your path for bigger and better times ahead.
Now is the time to free yourself of anchors, to allow yourself the space to change and to grow. There is no better time than now to understand what truly matters in life, and it isn’t how many boxes of stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. At the end of the day, those things are simply things.
Seek your own happiness free from the physical and emotional anchors pulling you back. Whether you’re moving to another country or simply reevaluating what’s important to you, minimizing the stuff surrounding you will lighten your burdens and free you to do whatever it is that makes you happy. Go be happy.
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