Less Stuff, More Freedom

It’s been a few years now since we got rid of the majority of our belongings and moved into an RV (and now boat). Becoming a minimalist (and living with less stuff) wasn’t a goal at the time – it just naturally happened. When we sold our house and moved into an RV, we had…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: March 6, 2021

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living with less stuffIt’s been a few years now since we got rid of the majority of our belongings and moved into an RV (and now boat). Becoming a minimalist (and living with less stuff) wasn’t a goal at the time – it just naturally happened.

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 a lot of stuff to family members, had neighbors come by and take whatever they wanted, Salvation Army came to our home to do a big pickup, and more. We didn’t sell a single thing, instead we gave almost all of it away.

I know some people will think I’m crazy for not selling anything, but that’s not really the point of this blog post. The point is that living with less stuff is possible. And, there is already so much waste in the world, and now that we’re sailing, we’re seeing so much of it in the water – and it is truly disappointing.

Living on a sailboat means living with less stuff or living a minimal lifestyle. Our boat is a little bigger than the RV we used to own, but it has even less storage space – we had to get rid of even more of our stuff when we switched homes.

I know living on sailboat or RV isn’t the norm, but neither is living with less stuff.

When you have a traditional home you are probably used to owning more because you simply have more space to keep things. But, as time has passed, people are living in larger and larger homes and adding even more stuff.

Just think about the average home in 1950, which was less than 1,000 square feet. Fast forward to 2017, the average home size has increased to over 2,400 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.

Here are some more crazy statistics about how much stuff the average person has:

  • The average American throws away around 80 pounds of used clothing each year. HuffPost
  • The average home has 300,000 items. NBC News
  • Around 10% of the population pays for a separate storage unit. Self Storage
  • Of the 10% above, 65% of those people also have a garage, meaning they probably already have the space to store things!
  • 12% of Americans think buying brand new items for their kids is important because they don’t want to be perceived as poor, and 15% want their kids to be popular and believe having brand names is a part of that. PRNewsWire

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 never came.

All that clutter and the upkeep of owning so much stuff can get overwhelming.

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 our boat, 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 (yes, I know that we are lucky to have a family member who is willing to store some of our stuff).

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

Here is what I’ve learned by living with less stuff.

 

I haven’t rebought anything I’ve given away.

One fear I had when I first started getting rid of stuff was that I thought I might need to repurchase items again in the future – thereby wasting money all over again!

This is a common excuse I would make, and it’s actually one of the top reasons many people make when decluttering and trying to live with less stuff.

I mean, there were so many times when I would keep stuff for so long and tell myself, “but I may use this in the future.”

Looking back, I honestly cannot think of anything that I repurchased because I ended up needing or wanting it again.

 

I haven’t forgotten memories.

Another reason for why I kept some items was because I was afraid that I would forget and lose meaningful life events.

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.

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.

I thought long and hard about whether or not I should get rid of things that had memories attached to them, but I knew I couldn’t keep everything. Not only is that probably mentally unhealthy, it’s also a lot of clutter and takes up space.

I’ve learned that I can take memories with me without the physical clutter that comes with those memories.

 

I’m sort of happy with how I got rid of my stuff, but I could’ve been better.

When I talk about living with less stuff and how we downsized, I receive a ton of emails from new readers who say that I should have sold everything, or just thrown everything away.

Years later, I’m extremely happy that we gave stuff away to people who actually wanted the items. It felt good to give our things a second home and maybe a little more life.

What I’m not happy about is the amount of stuff we actually did throw away.

This was years ago, when I didn’t really understand the size of the trash problem we have in today’s world.

Like I said, we did throw some stuff away, items that the non-profit wouldn’t take as donations and items that we couldn’t give away to people. When I look back on that, I really wish I would have tried harder to find more environmentally friendly ways to get rid of our things so we could start living with less stuff.

 

I have wasted money in the past.

If I was perfect, I wouldn’t have bought so many items in the first place, then contributing to the amount of waste we have going on in the world.

But, I’ve learned now. And, that’s the point of this blog post!

While you may have made mistakes in the past, making better choices for the future can help change your life and the world.

This is probably a given, but being able to give away nearly everything I’ve ever bought 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 wasted as I’m now living with less stuff, it’s easier for me 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 actually need instead of things that will just create clutter or waste.

I can also walk into a store and only buy exactly what I need, even if that store is Target (I actually haven’t been to a Target or any big store like that in a very long time, haha)!

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

 

I don’t need a lot in order to be happy.

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.

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 either.

When I think about how much stuff we gave away and how we’re now living with less stuff and decluttering, I honestly can’t even remember half of the things we got rid of. Now, I know that I never really needed the majority of those things.

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. Living without stuff is possible.

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

 

Life is less stressful when you are living with less stuff.

One great thing about learning minimalist living tips is that you’ll most likely have less stress.

Getting rid of so much stuff has made my 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’m able to save money, not waste a bunch of stuff, and focus on what truly matters in life.

Now, this isn’t to say that I’m just not buying anything anymore. I am definitely still buying stuff – I am just much more mindful of what I’m spending my money on.

Living with less stuff has made everything seem so much clearer now.

 

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 actually easy to do. Yes, you can actually start living better with less!

Many people think that living with less stuff would be difficult because you have to get rid of so much stuff, change your mindset, and more. However, it’s been an 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 (except for boat stuff – boats are just always 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.

 

Is it better to have less stuff? Why is living with less better?

I definitely think so!

I think living with less stuff and decluttering allows a person to have a less stressful life.

 

How do you actually start living with less stuff?

The first step is to evaluate what you have, but you also want to stop yourself from being wasteful in the future by buying less stuff.

If you are trying to learn how to downsize your home like we did, there are many great benefits, even though it can be difficult at first. We started by going through all of our possessions. We found a way to store certain belongings that we couldn’t part with (we have some stuff stored at my husband’s parents’ home), which is mostly hundreds of photo albums that my dad left me after he passed away, family paintings, childhood mementos, etc. Then we moved into the RV – and then our boat!!

Figuring out how to downsize our home wasn’t the easiest task on earth, and we really dreaded all of the work that had to be done to start living with less stuff. However, we hoped it would be a stride towards our goal of living the life we wanted.

And, it was! We are so glad that we decided to downsize our home. We haven’t regretted the decision one bit, and now we are happier than ever. We are now living on less and loving it more.

You can learn how to downsize your home in Learn How To Downsize Your Home, Stress Free!

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. LESS STUFF OR AT LEAST TRY TO HAVE LESS OF ALL IS A GOOD DEAL, BECAUSE SO YOU CAN REALLY UNDERSTAND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEED VS WANT

  2. Wonderful post, Michelle. This inspires me to try minimalism again.

    I really want to go minimalistic but I find it so difficult!

    Every time I want to give away something or throw in the garbage, I wonder if I could use it or something!

    With lesser things, I have lesser worries – I know that for a FACT!

    1. Try thinking about future purchases instead for now, if you have too much trouble getting rid of past purchases.

  3. Living on a sailboat is something I’ve never thought of doing as a successful entrepreneur and aspiring “side hustle millionaire.” I’m learning to be really frugal today because I’m concentrating more on [side hustle millionaire] status and putting a lot of unnecessary things out of my life such as excessive spending of $ gUaP $ on things I don’t necessarily need.congratulations on your “side hustle millionaire success” and look forward to continue reading your blogs and staying motivated for achieving and maintaining the “side hustle millionaire career.” 🙂

  4. I can relate to this article. Living with less stuff is surely the way to go. I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff at my apartment and office. Now, I can think and concentrate more.
    Also, living with less stuff applies to people/friends in your life. If they’re not contributing to your life, if they always put you down, or mistreat you, they too have to go.

    Overall, nice article!

  5. Stephanie

    Well, I want to pare down my stuff considerably, but those stats in your post made me realize we’re doing better than average at least! I live in a ~1400 sq ft 1960 ranch home with my husband, two daughters, a dog, and a few pocket pets. Anything we can get used for our kids, we do, especially clothing since they grow out of it so quickly. The only clothing my husband and I get rid of is stuff that is completely worn out or doesn’t fit. Anything that makes it through our older daughter intact gets passed down to the baby, and if it survives her it gets donated to a local thrift shop, so nowhere NEAR 80 lbs a year of clothing waste. And we don’t have so much stuff we need a storage unit.

    Our biggest problem is just not getting rid of stuff we don’t need or use anymore, which just makes the house more cluttered, which stresses me out, so i’m on a mission to purge everything we don’t need that doesn’t “spark joy.” 😉

    1. I cannot imagine the 80 pounds of clothing waste. I don’t think I even have that much right now!

  6. I still think it’s amazing you live on a boat. I don’t think I could. I haven’t even been on a cruise!
    I am in process of getting rid of stuff, but also getting rid of my mother-inlaws stuff since she passed away a year ago. For one person, she had a lot of stuff. I can see now how stuff just becomes a burden.

    1. It’s definitely a lot of work on a boat. I’m writing a blog post on it soon 🙂

  7. travis

    My wife and I don’t argue much, but when we do it’s about this exact topic. We have 4 kids and she is always stressed b/c there is so much “crap” around the house. I tell her, why don’t we just give 60% of it away. Her argument is..if they would just pick it up…well, they never do! Anyways, maybe one day she’ll get there too:)

    1. hahaha hopefully this topic leads to less arguments 🙂

  8. We are in the process of downsizing with the goal of fulltime RV life in three years. We’re starting early, but we have a lot to learn and to do before hitting the road. I look at some of our stuff and wonder why we have it. LOL! There are a few things I am not ready to part with. My mother passed suddenly on February 24 so several things she gave me are going to be almost impossible to part with right now. Maybe in a couple of years. Some things I thought would be hard to get rid of-my Stephen King collection-are proving not to be as difficult as I imagined. I’m taking the advice of another fulltime RV couple-take a picture of the item to inspire the memories, not the actual item.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss Carol.

  9. It is amazing how much stuff we accumulate throughout our lives.

    It manifests itself to me every time I move (which thankfully hasn’t been too often). I remember in college a very small U-haul trailer was all that was needed. Then in medical school upgraded to a small cargo van. After residency needed a box truck. And then after that required the larger professional moving trucks to get me from one place to another.

    There are things that just get brought along for the ride because it is so much easier to do so than make the tough decisions of sorting out stuff and seeing what truly is necessary.

    There are childhood stuff that can feel hard to let go but I don’t need to have everything from the past. Would be smarter to just keep a few representative items. Same thing with my daughter. Easy to keep every thing she had as a toddler, etc because you feel bad about giving it away or throwing it out.

    It seems whatever size home you move to, that’s your constraint in how much stuff can be accumulated.

  10. I struggle with sentimentality when it comes to things in the past. I’ve made strides at letting things go that don’t serve me anymore but the biggest change has come with taking in less or buying less! I’ve adapted a, if I don’t absolutely need it or wait a week to buy, mentality and it has worked wonders!

    Amanda @ Cupcake N Dreams

    1. I struggle with the same thing!

  11. I love minimalism. For me, it makes cleaning time easier and requires less work if we move to a new place. I like the feeling of going back to a clean, uncluttered home. Need the peace after a long chaotic day at work!

  12. Nice post Michelle. I agree that trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle can free you of so many financial burdens and personal stresses. I’ve been living a more minimalist lifestyle for a few years now and I have realized that less truly is more (in the ways that actually matter). The simplicity and peace it can bring is truly refreshing.
    Living with less excess really makes you realize how your possessions can hold you back and start to take away your freedom.

  13. Jen | A Cure for Monday

    Hi Michelle

    I love this post and so much of it resonates with me. I moved from a 4 brm house to a 1 brm apartment when I relocated from Australia to the U.S. in 2017, so I’ve also been through a dramatic reduction of “stuff”.

    I decided not to have anything shipped across when I moved, so I only brought with me what would fit in a few suitcases and then sold or donated the rest.

    It’s really interesting how much of that stuff I’ve never even missed. I’ve also tried to be more thoughtful about what I have bought since moving, but I’ve been creeping back towards having too much clutter lately. Whoops!

    I feel like sticking with a more minimalist lifestyle is an ongoing challenge for me! 😀

  14. Tre

    We are planning to downsize in four years. Which means we should probably start reducing our stuff now. I’m always amazed my how much stuff we have. I blame the kids!

  15. I felt the need to double back to this post sales slipped up today and ordered something online only because I knew later on that it would be worth more money. Both approaches are made solely for myself what joy it, I might consider selling it later for an upward bound profit.

  16. Minimal Millionaire Mom

    We are in the process of becoming more minimal and what I love the most is how it trickles into other areas of your life that may need improvement as well. Finances, day-to-day activities, technology, etc.

    It truly has freed my physical and mental space.

    There are many misperceptions about what minimalism is. I would encourage people to do their research on minimalism. It’s not about living with a certain number of items or a certain style.

  17. James

    What about needing a refrigerator and a stove? You need to store food and cook food. Since you sold everything and live in a RV or boat what do you do about this?

    1. Most RVs and boats have both a refrigerator and a stove (it would be rare to find one without these). We have both.

  18. 100% yes we want to live way more minimalistic! We’ve been teaching overseas for 4 years now and we have only just come to the conclusion that all out stuff we have boxed up in our family’s home will never get used again.

    Plus somehow even by trying not to our apartment has so much stuff in.

    You’re so right about the environment and the trash problems, everyone needs to more conscious of this in their purchasing decisions.

    It’s also scary how many parents buy their kids new toys just to keep up with the Jones’s!!

    Thanks for sharing

    Mike

  19. Wholesome Wallet

    Less stuff means less clutter and more freedom. Your post was an inspiration. I love it