What I Learned By Donating And Giving Away Nearly All Of My Stuff

When we sold our house and moved into an RV, we had to give away a ton of our stuff so that we could start living minimally in a smaller space. We gave away a lot of stuff to family members, had neighbors come by and take whatever they wanted, we had Salvation Army come…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: December 12, 2020

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When we sold our house and moved into an RV, we had to give away a ton of our stuff so that we could start living minimally in a smaller space. We gave away a lot of stuff to family members, had neighbors come by and take whatever they wanted, we had Salvation Army come to our home to do a big pickup, and more. We didn’t sell a single thing, instead we gave it all away.

One year ago, we gave away all of our stuff, moved into an RV, and start living minimally. Here's what I've learned by living with less stuff.And, it felt great.

Now, we live in a 33 foot RV and are definitely living a minimal lifestyle.

We aren’t the norm, though.

The size of the average home in 1950 was less than 1,000 square feet. Fast forward to 2013, the average home size has increased to nearly 2,600 square feet (according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

We were fairly close to that size when we owned a house. The house we owned in the St. Louis, Missouri area was around 2,500 square feet, if you included our finished basement, and it was just for myself, my husband, and our two dogs. Our home in Colorado was almost as big, at slightly over 2,000 square feet (with no basement).

However, we decided to buck the norm and started living minimally by completely downsizing our life.

This isn’t to say that we are perfect, though. I used to keep pretty much everything I came across, and my basement was proof of that. I would always say “Oh, but I’ll use that eventually!”

And then, eventually would never come, haha!

All the clutter and everything else that went with keeping everything you’ve ever bought can get annoying.

We made the decision to start living with less stuff for many reasons, but the main reason was that traveling nearly full-time added to the stress of owning a home. So, we figured why not just take it a step further and actually travel full-time?

All of the belongings we have are now inside the RV, except for a few childhood items and photo albums that my dad left me after he passed away. Those are all stored at a family member’s home.

Now, life is great.

Living minimally has been great, and I’ve learned a lot by giving away nearly all of my belongings.

Below is what I’ve learned by living with less stuff and living minimally.

 

I have wasted a lot of money in my life.

Okay, so this is probably a given. If I was able to give away nearly everything I’ve ever bought, that means that I’ve probably wasted thousands of dollars in my lifetime.

Knowing this has really helped me understand how to manage my money better.

Now that I realize how much money I’ve wasted, I am much more able to say “no” at the store when debating whether or not I should get something. I now realize that I don’t really need much, and this helps me to only buy what I need instead of things that will just create clutter.

I can also walk into a store and only buy exactly what I need, even if that store is Target!

I have so much more control over my spending and that has saved me a lot of money in the past year.

Related:

 

I don’t need a lot of the things that I once thought I needed.

I kept a lot of things because I thought I needed them for the future. On a regular basis, I probably only used around 25% of the things I had in my house.

Actually, probably even less than that.

I know I’m not alone – many people keep items because they think they may need them in the future. You know the feeling – you buy something, don’t use it right away, and years later you find it but just can’t throw it away in case there is some circumstance where you need that exact item.

If this is you, then you should put a timeline of no more than one year on the item. If you don’t use it in that timeframe, then there’s a big chance that you’ll never need it.

Chances are that you won’t miss it much.

When I think about how much stuff we gave away, I honestly can’t even remember half of the things. Now, I know that I never really needed the majority of those things.

 

Owning more stuff doesn’t make you happier.

Having more stuff doesn’t make you happier.

It’s really that simple. Things don’t make you a better person, they don’t make you more successful than others, or anything else.

I know this because I have less stuff than I have ever had, and I am happier than ever.

You should only own something if you truly want it. Who cares about what everyone else has!

 

Giving away nearly everything feels great.

Sure, this blog is all about making and saving money, and I could have easily sold a lot of the things that I gave away for thousands of dollars.

However, it felt great giving it all away, and honestly, it was a lot easier.

If I had to do it again, I would do it all over again.

 

Life is much more peaceful living with less stuff.

Getting rid of so much stuff has made life much more peaceful. Hanging on to so much stuff for years and years can add an insane amount of clutter to a person’s life, both physically and mentally.

I know this personally because I kept many things, such as clothing, because they were things I held onto after my dad passed away. I kept outfits that I wore the last time I saw him, from his funeral, and so on.

It just wasn’t healthy.

By getting rid of things, I was able to finally let go. Hanging onto those things and looking at them every day wasn’t healthy.

 

It’s easy to start living minimally.

As you can see from the above, living minimally has a ton of positives. One last positive is that it’s very easy to do.

Many people think that living minimally would be difficult because you have to get rid of so much stuff, change your mindset, and more. However, it’s been a very easy change for us.

Having less stuff and spending less money on things we don’t need allows us to spend more time on things we care about and actually want to do. Plus, now we hardly ever have anything break because there aren’t many things in our life that can be broken.

We don’t miss anything, we don’t feel like we need anything – we are happier and much more carefree now by living with less stuff.

Are you interested in living minimally? Why or why not?

 


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Congrats on that bold step to “freedom.” We get so attached to stuff that we don’t even realise that we don’t need it. I’m hoping to make the step to minimalism but I would need my own space. My dream is to live in a 500 square foot home that’s luxurious but simple. I know that it would save me lots of money and I would have more financial freedom to just live.

    1. It would save you SO much money Dannielle. We paid off a ton of debt and now we have a really healthy savings account! πŸ™‚

    2. Dannielle, I highly recommend doing so πŸ™‚

  2. We downsized to almost nothing in 2008 and we’ve never looked back. It’s been by far one of the smartest moves we’ve ever made. For one thing, we”re happier now than we’ve ever been!

    I was so inspired by all the positive changes we experienced that I gave a talk on minimalism a couple years later at TEDx Cape Town.

    Giving stuff away (if you’re in a position to do so) is so much better than selling it. At least that you feel like someone else who really needs it will benefit from it. πŸ™‚

    1. Definitely! I really enjoyed just giving it all away. It took a lot of the stress away from it all, and I know we got to help several people.

    2. That’s so great.

      We are going to do a drastic cut next year as we relocate. Instead of renting a moving truck we are planning to get our stuff Down to what fits into our 2 cars. Then take a nice month long drive to our new destination.

  3. This sounds like a great spring cleaning reminder! Oh wait, it’s fall now. But either way a good reminder for people to live minimally even if you still have a larger house. I can’t say we’ll be downsizing for a while, but we too keep this in mind when purchasing items.

  4. Amanda

    Yes! We purged a few years ago! I wouldn’t say we’re completely minimalist, by any means, but we don’t have a lot of extra “stuff” around in closets and storage areas. It makes our living space much more peaceful. It really is an ongoing process to continue to de-clutter, though.

    1. Yes, it’s definitely an ongoing process. I need to declutter some of my areas in the RV, actually.

  5. I love this post! We downsized two years ago from a big, expensive place on the water – that cost a ton of money to maintain every year. We moved into a townhouse about 1/2 the size – paying cash from the sale of the big house – and we no longer have yard work, exterior maintenance, or many of the previous hassles. Besides being a smarter move financially, it has also brought a lot of peace and lowering of stress into our lives!

  6. Great post, Michelle! I have upsized and downsized several times in my life and find I am always happier with less stuff. We are also currently full-timers, though we still own a home base – with a lot of stuff to get rid of!

    1. What do you do with your home base if you’re full-timers? We did that for a few months and it was stressful since we were never there.

  7. julie young

    Hello Michelle,
    Thank you for your Blog and the many interesting topics you write about. I find them to be extremely educational and interesting. Since I stumbled onto your pinterest posting 2+ years ago, I was so intrigued by your story of leaving a corporate job to write “Making Sense out of Cents”, and traveling full time etc.,it started my husband and I thinking and exploring the possibilities of trying something so out of the box for us. We were so tired of the same day to day mundane life, working with very little enjoyment and tired of seeing our days fall into months and then years. We ended up selling our 5 acre ranch in Northern California, bought a home(paid in full) in San Carlos Mexico to live at the beach. The entire ordeal was not easy, it took lots of planning, making some mistakes along the way but eventually we made it. Dismantling a ranch after working it for 20+ years is quite an ordeal. My husband is self employed and once we made the decision to pull the trigger he started moving his clients and the way he conducted business to be more web based. Such as billing, ordering and reordering. Most of what he is able to do now can be handled by email or phone.
    We have been here since May 9th, 2016. I can completely relate to what you say about letting go of things we don’t need and spending money on items that we really didn’t need after all. It took us 2 garage sales, giving away A LOT of items to family members, truck loads to the dump etc. and we still came away with bringing 3 truck loads of stuff, one 18 ft enclosed trailer down here to Mexico. I cannot tell you how much agonizing I went thru once looking at the magnitude of items I had accumulated after so many years. However, I am 54 yrs old and have raised 2 children and now grandma to 3 boys so its been a literal lifetime ordeal. But so freeing to let go of so much stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    In addition, my career as a Sr. Social Worker for the County was so stressful and taking its toll on my physical and mental health, yes I made a very handsome income and benefits, but it no longer was worth it. So, we looked at our budget, paid a couple things off, and realized we could make it on 1 income if we behaved our selves. If I get a job now it will be something online…any ideas?

    Our total costs to live in our home per year(not including food)is $2500.00, this includes HOA fees, trust fees,internet,water, electricity, propane. The costs for things here such as food is so minimal, I average about $150.00 per month. We still have a freezer full of pork and beef from our ranch so it will take us a couple of years to get thru it. We are working on a small garden right now but mostly for fun.

    Because we never know how living in Mexico can be just for safe measures we have a darling small 1150 sq. ft home in Redding CA that we have a property management handling the rental on it and it pays for itself with a little left over. If need be we can always move back into this home.
    Overall, we love it here, the weather is so nice and the people are mostly American,Canadian,Mexican and its not a tourist spot but that may change. The population runs 4-6,000 most of the year and in the peak months it can get up to 9,000. Lots of retirees live here and you don’t have to speak Spanish, but we are learning.

    Sorry for the long post but I just wanted to share with you how your Blog has impacted one family.

    Julie

    1. Thank you for your kind and amazing words πŸ™‚ Thank you so much for being a reader. It really means a lot to me!

      Here are some extra income ideas – https://www.makingsenseofcents.com/extra-income

      $2,500 per year for your home is amazing. Great job!

  8. We’ve also downsized in the past year and it feels so good, like you said. Not to the extent you have, but I think we easily could minus the keepsake items. The best things in life aren’t things, right? πŸ™‚ Have a great week.

  9. Michael

    I think “minimal” is truly up to the person. I think I live a relatively minimal lifestyle, but I’m sure others would feel I have a lot of stuff. I am constantly purging though, which is soo freeing, but there are some things I can’t part with. On the upside I’m definitely embracing the “year rule” where if I haven’t worn/used it, it gets a new home.

    1. The “year rule” is a great one πŸ™‚

  10. Shanetta

    I often feel like my stuff is really holding me back from living the life of my dreams. Whenever I tell people I would buy an RV and travel the country any day now, they think I’m going through a personal crisis. It’s refreshing to know there are others out there who feel the same way and are actually living the dream. Good for you for living life on your terms and helping others as well. Safe travels.

  11. Love this post Michelle. We’re getting ready to do a huge purge starting next month and I’m looking forward to the peace of having less stuff!

  12. Awesome post, Michelle! Though I’ve sold a few things I didn’t need, I’m more apt to give things away. It is easier, and I like knowing that someone can use it.

    1. Yes, giving away things is great!

  13. A lot of us buy ‘stuff’ because it brings some temporary relief from our mundane and unhappy lives… or maybe it’s just me that does that!? πŸ™‚ Once I realized that the stuff doesn’t actually make working at a job any easier, or make my life any better, I stopped buying so much.

    My husband and I live in a small one-bedroom unit (it’s still crammed to the gunwales!) and we’re working towards a lifestyle not too dissimilar to yours, Michelle. It sounds wonderful. πŸ™‚

    1. “A lot of us buy β€˜stuff’ because it brings some temporary relief from our mundane and unhappy lives… or maybe it’s just me that does that!? Once I realized that the stuff doesn’t actually make working at a job any easier, or make my life any better, I stopped buying so much.”

      Yes! THIS!

  14. Teresa

    Michelle,
    Love this post! After moving every 2-21/2 years for the 20 years my husband was in the Navy, I saved everything & now after 30 years of marriage & our daughter moving out to her own place, we are just overwhelmed with “stuff.” We don’t even know where to start. When we bought this home, we bought to downsize but really never got rid of anything but my “stuff.” Long story short, dealing with severe osteoarthritis as a result of Lyme Disease, I was awaiting a badly needed knee & shoulder replacement so I didn’t get to join in their attempt to get rid of things so the stuff that seems to have ended up at the dump or Goodwill was my things, I guess it was easier to part with my things? After getting my joint replacements (4 total) I’m ready to get busy, so where do I start?

    1. I had my husband get rid of a lot of my stuff. Made it a little easier and now I don’t even know what to miss πŸ™‚

  15. Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions

    We;ll be downsizing into a 1000 sf house next summer and we’ll be getting rid of a lot! To be honest, I can’t wait! I agree that we only use about 25% of what we own! What I love about your post is that you gave everything away, rather than trying to sell a bunch of things. We went through one room this summer and got rid of a bunch of things. It was a pain to try to sell things for a few dollars here and there. We gave away a few things – and the people were so appreciative. It felt so much better than banking a few bucks!

    1. Yes, I didn’t want to have to deal with the stress of selling things. We had so much to get rid of, so that just seemed stressful!

  16. Great post! We have pared down a lot in the last few years and have experienced a lot of the same lessons. The thing that surprised me the most was how little I’ve missed the stuff. I can’t remember the last time I said “man, I wish we still had ___”.

  17. Tuqa

    Thank you for this post I really enjoyed reading it
    you inspire me and Yes I do think about living minimally I just don’t see that it’s possible because me and my husband don’t share this same interest
    I feel like I am stressed by all the things that I own and my house is always cluttered and it just makes me feel awful and stressed and so bad. When I go to my sisters house I feel so comfortable because she has a small apartment and not so many stuff just the basics and not all of them.
    I try to minimize my personal stuff and argue a lot with my husband about giving away the stuff we nearly never use and hate by the way
    finally just recently we agreed on giving them all away and even replacing some of our furniture which we hate and chose wrongly in the begining of our life together and get new ones that we love
    an me too I feel that I buy too much stuff that I don’t actually need and end up being cluttered or thrown away
    But I am taking baby steps into changing those habits and your posts inspire me and help me so thank you for that

    also we are in so much debt and have no savings and we are always broke by the end of the month.. we live on my husbands income only.. cuz I am a stay at home mom by choice.. I’m just starting the world of blogging and your course is on my wish list and I know I will succeed

    PS I am from a completely different culture from yours I am from Saudi Arabia but I wish so badly to have an RV and just drive through countries and travel.. who knows? maybe one day I will

  18. RVing is a ton of fun πŸ™‚

  19. Kim Jordan

    Michelle-

    I have subscribed to your blog for about a year now (I think…lol), and have read many valuable posts you have written; many of which I had thought to respond to, but then faded back into the shadows……

    Then I read This Post~ and I HAD to say something. These are going to be simple words, but I think you will understand them. When I first began reading your blog, I found you to be as near to a ‘Doppelganger’ of myself a few years ago than I could imagine. Not in appearance, but in personality that is expressed through your writing- the topics you select, your eternal optimism, the action and can-do attitude, and of course many, many more examples that are more personal.

    I bring this up because whenever I read your material, I got the sense I was looking in the rear view mirror- and then you posted this article. The pieces all fell into place. Nothing in this world Ever Happens By Chance. You “Got” the memo. I can hardly wait to see what comes next for you. Abundance is a Condition of the Heart, and as life in the RV shifts and you travel (or not), you will see and expand your worldview by touching those that you could not inside of a box that was stationary~

    I wish you (and your husband….& my pups say…..your pups too!) safe travels and many great adventures.

    Best,

    Kim J.

    1. Thank you so much Kim. Your comment made my day πŸ™‚

  20. Michael

    You don’t have to maintain and upkeep the things that you don’t own. That is a huge money saver.

    Less things means you have more “TIME” for yourself. The only resource that you can’t get back in life.

    Slowly getting there…

  21. Lindsey

    We’ve been going through a crazy declutter and purging spree. I doubt we’ll be able to get rid of as much as you ;), but so far it’s been a great success. We’ve gotten rid of half a closet and half my wardrobe already!

  22. Lila

    I’m a minimalist in some areas but not in others. I don’t care about makeup as much so I wear minimalist makeup. However, I love art and so I tend to buy quality art supplies. πŸ˜€

    1. Makeup is something that I don’t think I’ll ever get into. I’m all about minimalist makeup as well!

  23. Inspiring, and truthful. I took a baby step towards minimalism by getting rid of exactly half of the clothing in our master closet the other weekend. We plan on going through the entire house over the next year or two, and doing something similar.

    When we visit our second home, a 700-square foot space, our family of four gets by just fine. Like you are doing, we plan to tour the country in a motorhome a few years down the road. That year will teach us a lot about what we need, and what we don’t.

    Best,
    -Physician on FIRE

    1. Have you RVed before? You’ll love it!

      1. We haven’t, but we’ve done some window shopping. The new ones now should be reasonably affordable as used motorhomes in four or five years when we’re ready for that big adventure.

        The plan is to “road school” with an emphasis on American history and science & nature while seeing many sites firsthand. Our two boys should be middle school age; that seems like an ideal time to us.

        Cheers!
        -PoF

        1. Sounds amazing! There are lots of families who road school. I absolutely love that idea.

  24. While we don’t plan on leaving our house anytime soon, I too am getting ready to purge a bunch of stuff. I hate clutter and feel I spend most of my days off just cleaning =( Every year that I do this I always feel so much better. We are planning to do a no spend year starting in January where the only things we spend money on are bills, food, and gas. It should be interesting, to say the least!

  25. Sheri

    Well we took the plunge from 3 bedroom home to 1 bedroom apartment and now our final step we just got our 43′ RV and will now be downsizing to it. The one extra thing we will have at the location where we are staying, we have a shed ( a very large shed) so my husband can keep a very extras. We will be traveling occasionally, but will pay to keep this spot for when we return. I can’t wait…stuff stresses me out!

  26. Justin

    I am a minimalist and always like to read how other people are doing the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a situation where I’ve owned a lot (10K stereo, nice cars, big house, high end kitchenware) and decided that I didn’t like it. I gave away 90% of what I owned. Its good to have been on both sides and learned that I prefer less. Most possessions don’t make people happy. However, there is some trade off. While a Rolex or a piece of art, a new vase, etc probably won’t bring lasting enjoyment, some possessions definitely help. For example, I’ve known people with boats who have a ton of fun with the boat, meet people while on it, develop friendships, fish, travel, party, etc on them. They seem genuinely happy with what they get out of it. A friend of mine built a $80,000 pool, and spends most his free time, utilizing it. Another friend enjoys working on and collecting classic cars, and spends 5 hours a day in bliss working in his garage. The thing to remember is it isn’t about owning little or nothing to be a minimalist, its about being mindful, enjoying, and utilizing what one has. In effect, someone could have a yacht, pool, and antique cars, and oddly still be a minimalist if he gets use and enjoyment out of each thing. Unconventional as it is, what is minimalism for one person might seem materialistic to another.

  27. That makes and keeps anyone humble when they give freely of themselves. That’s true transformation of the heart.