Our More Than A Wheelin’ readers say that one of their biggest challenges as they transition to RV life is deciding what to do with all their stuff. They have collected possessions their whole lives, and have settled in their homes for 5, 10, or 20 plus years! The physical task of downsizing sounds exhausting, but it’s the emotional experience of dealing with possessions that halts them in their tracks. If you can relate, then I hope you find the tips here helpful in managing the emotions of downsizing, and moving forward toward your goal of RV life.
Why Downsizing Is So Emotional
We’ll explore why downsizing can be emotional in a moment, but first let’s acknowledge that not all people feel emotional about parting with their possessions. In fact, when my husband and I were downsizing for RV life, I fell into the camp of getting rid of as much as I could. All that stuff was dragging me down; I just wanted it to be gone, and move as fast as possible into RV life–which admittedly is still an emotional reaction.
My husband had stronger attachments to his possessions, and found the process of purging to be an emotional one. Here he is sifting through some possessions after we returned to our storage unit after traveling for a year.
As a graduate of counseling psychology, I have studied attachment to our possessions and could bore you with theories. Instead, here’s a great 4:35 minute TED Talk video that explains why that is.
In a nutshell, attachment starts in childhood. As we grow, our experiences and memories create meaning about our things. Letting go of them is almost identical to letting go of our own identity.
The standard emotional reaction to letting go of things can be amplified by 1,000% when you’re purging an entire house full of stuff. That can be overwhelming and exhausting for many people. If that describes you, then keep reading for ways to manage those emotions so they don’t keep you from making progress.
Managing the Emotions of Downsizing
Let’s get real for a minute. Nothing offered here is going to completely take the emotions away from this process. But if you follow these tips, they should help to reduce feelings of overwhelm, and keep you moving toward your goal.
1. Choose a Completion date
I can hear you protesting, “You can’t be serious? How can I pick a completion date when I don’t even know the amount of stuff there is to purge?”
I’m quite serious about this. Picking a completion date is the first tactic in shifting from hoping to purge to actually purging. You may not know the full extent of the task, but a completion date will force you to get going. Then, put it on a calendar so you’re accountable. If you’re really brave, share it with others too–watch how quickly that spurs you into action!
If choosing a date scares you, keep reading for what to do next.
2. Follow a Framework
Choosing a framework is one of the more liberating steps of this process. This helps you get out of your emotions and into using an objective system instead.
With the framework, you don’t have a chance to let the emotions stop you because your only job is to follow the rules.
Here are some ideas for frameworks.
Simple checklists are a great way to start. While not a full-on framework, they help you with getting going, which is often the hardest part.
Click here for our Wanderlust Transition Plan, a tool to help you organize your transition to full time RVing. This is a high level plan to get you going.
Pinterest is another great resource for finding checklists. Type on search terms like ‘decluttering’, ‘downsizing’, and even ‘minimalism’ and you’ll have so many checklist options.
Click here to follow our Pinterest boards and see the checklists we’ve saved.
The KonMari Method
For a more robust framework, check out the KonMari method, an approach to simplifying and organizing your home. In her wildly popular book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo, has inspired millions of people worldwide to purge their possessions and genuinely love the things they keep. Click the image below to check it out on Amazon.
I used her methods for our purge process, and it greatly reduced the emotions I felt about this daunting task. Even though I wanted to get rid of almost everything, I had so much stuff to sort through! The KonMari method helped me move swiftly and methodically.
Simple Start Process
If you’re looking to get a jumpstart and aren’t ready for a full-on framework, start with a simple start process.
These are simple steps to help you get fast traction. Pick one of these, and once you see progress, it will motivate you to keep going.
1. Determine what to take with you for RV Life – then tag it or list it on a spreadsheet.
When you focus on what you’re taking first, you’re starting with the exciting part. It helps you get into a mindset of your new way of life. You’ll experience mental and physical momentum with these steps. Decide what you need (kitchen, bathroom, medicines, etc), then what you want (bikes, kayaks, etc), and finally what your RV can actually hold?
For a list of things to take, again Pinterest is a great resource. Search on terms like ‘RV Packing List’, ‘Camping Lists’, etc.
Side note: it’s a good idea to weigh your RV once you get it packed. Take it for a test run, weigh it at a roadside weigh station or truckstop, and then decide if you need to purge even more things.
2. Determine what’s broken or expired and then purge it.
If things are broken or expired, you aren’t going to use them.
Nope. Don’t try to eat that 2-year old freezer burned chicken. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but you aren’t going to eat it anyway. Bye, bye frozen lump of something that resembles meat.
Maybe you’re handy and think you might fix broken items someday. Here’s a tip, ask yourself if you can even take it with you on the road. If not, purge it. If it really bothers you to throw it away, then try donating it. See below for donation resources.
3. Purge old technology/electronics and hazardous waste materials.
My husband thought he might transfer his old VHS tapes of the Tour De France cycling race. Cough, cough, really? We ended up dropping off ye’ old VCR at an electronics disposal fair. Correction: he just informed me that he got rid of the VCR, but not the tapes. Arggg!
Same, too with hazardous waste materials like old paint, cleaning supplies, etc. Check your local city resources for where to dispose of these items.
4. Purge low hanging fruit – items not in use.
This is a harder category because we can easily justify that an item is not in use now, but will be…someday.
The problem is, we say that year after year, and sadly the poor item continues to be useless. Let’s not torture those items any longer. Donate them to someone who will use them. The side benefit is that you’ll feel good about someone else being able to use your things.
Here’s the magic of this simple start process. Do this in one room first and before you get rid of everything, put it all in a pile so you can see it and experience the relief of making progress. Better yet, take a picture and post it on social media so you can prove to people that you’re serious about this purging process. Plus, making it public holds you accountable.
Sell, Donate, or Store Your Items (if You Must)
When some people reach their limit of wanting to be rid of their possessions, they often throw them away in batches. I understand the desire to purge and move on. But I want to encourage you to sell and donate your items first, perhaps store them second, and lastly throw them away.
This comes from my own principle of not wanting to add to landfills. Ultimately, you must do what works for you, but there are people who likely can benefit from your possessions. Plus, knowing that your possessions will go to someone who needs them can help offset the emotions of letting them go.
Here are ideas and resources to help you when you sell and donate your possessions.
Check out resources like Craigslist, garage sales, eBay, consignment stores, everything but the house.com, estate sales, and Offer Up–just to name a few.
We effectively sold many items using many of these resources. People were so excited to pick up great deals at our garage sales!
Look into the Salvation Army, Goodwill, local thrift stores, and donation centers. Check your local city resources to see about where/when to drop off old technology. Also, check to see which organizations will pick up goods like furniture, too.
Save your receipts, as you may be able to submit them for a tax write-off.
You might decide to store some items. Again, try to keep these to a minimum as you’ll feel lighter the less you store, and it will be easier to deal with later. For some documents and photos, you may decide to scan them and keep only electronic copies. Also, search for deals on storage units like first year discounts, or multi-year discounts.
Downsizing can be Fun…Not!
I have to end on a sarcastic note. This might not be fun for you–it wasn’t fun for me. But I do believe that downsizing and purging your possessions can be liberating and even joyful. As you start to let go of things, and embrace your new “lighter” way of life, you’ll feel lighter emotionally, too. And your happiness is worth much more than that old handbag you might be holding onto anyway.
Let it go!
To help you with the transition to RV life, see below to get the Wanderlust Transition Plan.