Freedom and Opportunity: The Advantages of Owning Less

Photo by paalia

A couple of years ago someone wrote a comment that has stayed with me ever since:

“Two years ago we had a (vague) possibility of going overseas to study, and one of my first responses was “I can’t pack up all of our stuff and be ready 6 months from now!” That was really a wake-up call to me, and I’ve been trying since then to pare down our Stuff, so that we will be ready for any future opportunity.”

I always remember that. I want to like my stuff, but hold on to it with a loose grip.

I like reading about when people have been adventurous and not let their stuff hold them back. Here are just a couple of the many good stories I’ve heard lately.

from Rebecca:

Three years ago this week I married the love of my life in the UK, two years ago this week we sold everything in our house bar a few sentimental items and the absolute basics, and moved to a ski town in Canada.

It was a really enlightening and liberating experience to reduce our belongings to a few packing cases stored in my parents’ house and two suitcases, and to start completely afresh.

It was humbling to take the things we didn’t want to the car boot sale (yard sale) and have people knock us down in price. It certainly made me rethink a lot of the purchases we made in the first few years we lived together – all those useless gadgets!!!!!

We have now bought a new house in our new home, and, while we do have a lot of new belongings, they are mostly things that make our lifestyle here what we always dreamed of – several pairs of skis for the differing snow conditions, snowshoes, townie/mountain bikes, and a six-month-old puppy! Not all clutter is bad!!!!

from Kezia:

I recently took the plunge … sold everything and moved to a different country. My story is a bit more ‘off the grid’ because I moved to Syria! As expected, sometimes it gets tough, but more than anything it’s been freeing, exciting, and a true adventure.

from Meghan:

A year after I graduated from college I was working at a job I hated, so I quit and moved to China to teach English and International Politics at a university. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese and had never been there before, but it was awesome anyway. It totally changed my life.

Naomi and her husband decided to move to India: “Why not?” she said. She writes about her adventures at Delhi Bound.

There were even more stories like this in the 212 comments for the post “If You Could Live Anywhere…”

And I also have to mention the Hendrick family who recently moved to Haiti and how they chose to leave their nice home even though it was hard.

You know what words come up the most often? freeing, liberating, exhilarating…I think I’m going to go get rid of some more of my stuff.
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. As I got ready to move from New Mexico to Alaska one poignant thought that I had was that I wanted to have a life of experiences and not a life of possessions. I feel like western culture really dumps materialism on us, but that is not what life is all about. :)

    liz´s last post…10 years of blogging No- really

  2. Ah! I’ve been struggling with this for a few weeks now. I have lots of old “stuff” from my childhood that came with me when I moved into my own home five years ago. I fear getting rid of it, because I think I may regret it one day and wish I had it. Though, for the last five years it has been sitting in a cornrer of my attic (that I can barely reach) in a giant plastic bin. Help!

    Paige´s last post…I have a confession

  3. the cottage child says:

    This was my 40 day commitment to myself in the run up to my birthday in October. Our last move so utterly convinced me that I was carrying around an extra ton or two of the unnecessary I vowed if it took a year, everything I would ever move again would fit easily in an average size moving vehicle and could be loaded in a day. I think the point made about being able to seize and enjoy opportunities because of the willingness and ablility to travel light is brilliant – and I am tired of asking myself “why do we have this, it’s broken/impractical/not useful?” instead of “I really love this! it means something to me/works for us/beautifies our surroundings”. Very inspiring.

  4. My husband just took an active-duty assignment in Naples, Italy. It is just for 1 year, but I have already started thinking about what to pack and what to leave behind. It has really made me see that we can live without basically all of it. We’ll need something to sleep on. We’ll need some dishes and some things to cook with. We’ll need appropriate clothing for the season. Of course, my business will go with me to Italy so I must bring my computer. I must take my camera. The children (I have 3) should all bring their loveys (blankies, teddies, etc). And we’re off! I’m so excited for this opportunity!

  5. No move here but several months ago I had an overwhelming pull to the “less is more” side of life. I looked around at the stuff I have and really thought about why I have it and it became very easy to sort out the unnecessary things!

    Paula´s last post…Simplifying is Not Always Simple

  6. Our paring down is not connected with a move, but just a cleansing of lifestyle. We have a large home filled with material possessions that our children have no desire in inheriting,silver,china,crystal. We were blessed to travel and have many lovely experiences in our younger years and these memories are the ones we hold dear. Clearing out extra possessions is filling us with a new sense of freedom.

  7. I just wanted to encourage those people who, like me, aren’t into world travel… :) Living on less and with less can create opportunities that you may not know you need just yet. My husband was laid off from his corporate job last year, and instead of having to quickly find another job, he was able to pursue a long-time dream of starting his own business. This was only possible because we had both spent a few years beforehand, getting our finances in order and simplifying our material possessions and needs. We learned that we could actually live on very little.

    Thanks for this post, Rachel. Your blog is a constant source of inspiration for me.

  8. What an eye opening comment! When we decided to stay in our current house rather than looking for something with a better floor plan my goal was to declutter and clean out so if the opportunity to buy/sell came our way I would be ready. One of the reasons that we decided not to sell was because it was so hard to think about getting the house ready to sell and maintaining that look. We gave away tons of stuff but I can feel myself dreading opening closet doors again so this was a nice reminder!

    Rebecca´s last post…More First Days

  9. I’m in the process of purging & simplifying stuff in my home. It’s really amazing, I let go of a lot of stuff, & yet I keep finding more & more stuff. I currently have 3 boxes of household items, (useful & decorative), & a huge bag of clothes to donate to our local thrift store (I love donating here, because it benefits our local shelter.) Someday, I want to have enough stuff left that will fit in the back of my SUV, & still make our dog comfortable back there. :)

  10. A year out of college I was living with an “old lady” in Washington DC – literally she was a spunky 80 year-old who drove to FLorida and Maine each year – and she traveled about 10 months a year so I would water the plants and forward her mail in exhange for a place to stay. It was a great opportunity for me working for peanuts at a non-profit paying off college credit card debt. I had always planned on only staying in DC for a year after college and then returning to my home state – Texas. After that year, I was not sure I was ready to leave. I was talking to my dad and I’ll always remember how he phrased the freedom I had – he said, Stay where you are until you are not happy being there and then when you’re not, pack up your stuff and come home. Hell, you don’t even have a couch, everything will fit in your car (a Nissan Sentra). Everything you have can fit in your car…and that’s exactly what I did. I remember packing up the car when I left DC a year later. Little did I know that I’d eventyually end up in DC with a couch, mortgage and 2 kids!

    • Okay, it’s so funny to me that you mention the couch, because when Doug & I bought our couch about five years ago was when I felt like a true grown-up. For some people it’s a house, for me it was the couch.

  11. Hubby retired 4 years ago, and we sold everything and hit the road for 3 months trying to decide where to live. It was wonderful! Now settled into our “last” house, we have accumulated only things that we use daily. Books, an electric piano, a LARGE armoire stuffed with paints, drawing and sketching supplies, a whole lotta ski’s, hiking clothes, snowmobiling clothes, digital camera’s……..our life is about DOING, not having. It’s better than I could have ever imagined! Now, if we want to “take off” on an adventure, we don’t worry about things left behind. How freeing!

  12. Karen (Scotland) says:

    We have no immediate plans to move… yet. My husband is Dutch and works for a Dutch company so a move to Holland is always a possibility in the future.

    We seem to live our life in “five year plans”. Five years in the Glasgow flat, five years in our wee house, and we’re past half way of our five year plan in this home.
    Our belongings were multiplying until the end of last year when we helped friends to move house and witnessed them move stuff from one attic to another attic. They then decided to convert that attic and most of the stuff is now just – gone.

    So, that spurred us on not to repeat that mistake. When it comes time to move (whether that is to Holland, or to a more rural spot, or just because we feel it’s time for a change), I plan to be down to the essentials and ready to go without too much stress.

    I plan to have our attic “stuff” down to Christmas decor, camping gear and ONE memory box each.


  13. We started decluttering a couple of years back… we thought we had to move!!! The plan was just to get everything on order and give everything a place before we moved… turns out after decluttering all our stuff and just getting rid of the excess…. we didn’t need to move after all… and we are very content in our small house with hardly any stuff!!! Just saying – some life re-arrangeing is sometimes just staying where you are!!!

    se7en´s last post…The Week That Was – 310

  14. After two international moves and three cross-country moves since we got married 9 years ago, I can completely appreciate having less stuff. Some friends and family who haven’t moved as much or as far can’t understand our minimalist position, but it brings a smile to my face to realize we are constantly becoming less attached to things. Makes sense from a life/death standpoint anyway: You can’t take it with you!

  15. I love being reminded to do this. My husband is getting endorsed for the next step in management in a couple of weeks, so we could be moving at any point in the next year to just about anywhere! It is an exilerating thought and its fun to peep at different apartments around the country. Imagining spending autumn in Virginia or a winter skiing in Utah…gets my travel bug itching!

    We already did this once – moving from San Diego to Seattle as two newlyweds with a Budget truck. Since then I’m proud to say I’ve been able to let go of a lot more “stuff,” and we’ve invested in things like a good camera, camp beds for hosting our constant stream of company, and our dog.

    Even this past weekend, I was gathering up stuff to sell at our neighbor’s fundraising garage sale and was reminded that a lot of what we have is not necessary. Nice, but not necessary.

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Travels to Canada- Return to Whistler

  16. This was great Rachel. So good. And what we want to for our lives also – freedom! We’re working on it.

  17. Oh, yes! I think about this ALL the time. This is the beauty of simplicity. When you want to up and leave, you aren’t thinking, “But who is going to take care of my boxes upon boxes of memorabilia and my bookcases of broken chintz animals?” (Only a slight exaggeration.)

    My outlook on future moves is two-fold. “Let’s move because we want to” (so that means moving to a place we like!) and “You can buy stuff anywhere, so we’ll just find the nearest donation center on the way to the airport!”

    Simplicity means no more worrying about Stuff when you could be going on adventures with the ones you love.

    Jennie´s last post…Choosing to Be at Home

  18. Small notebook… small world! The Hendricks!!! I am beginning to think everyone I read on the internet (not that many, but not linked together that I knew of) knows each other!!! ;) Love it.

  19. I have been reducing my material stuff for past few years and as it grows I go through the purge again and I know from experience that having less stuff in house and car is much more freedom. It is like stuff ends up owning you instead of you owning the stuff.

    I recently went through a big purge of donating and I feel so much better.

    Preeti @ Heart and Mind´s last post…What if you had Golden Touch

  20. I commented the last time on the question of would you move to another country and I said no, never! But I have moved across my country and changed my life because of it. I loved the new start, even though we left behind a nice house and nice things for a job in a large church and an apartment in the church basement. We grew, we learned, we met new people. To this day, my only sentimental possessions are photos and even most of those are on a usb stick! One of the terrible things about possessions is when a daughter must go into her mother’s home and sort and clean and clear things — my mother collected stuff, one of the oddest things was a stack of burgundy stretchy slacks that was piled floor to waist height — 60 some pairs! little stuffies, so many as to be STUFFED under a queensize bed to the point that not another one would fit! Magazines, piles, blankets, more than a small army might use, ornamental bells, covering every bit of shelf space and spilling onto the floor, oh yeah, bars of soap, so many that when I donated them to a womans shelter they said there was enough for a year or two… That has taught me a huge lesson! I love my Canada, but I could fit what I need into a covered pick-up truck and head out with short notice…

    Susan being Snippy´s last post…Exploring the Neighbourhood and a bit beyond

  21. Oh Rachel, this comes at such a great time for us! My husband and I sat down less than a week ago and decided that “someday” is now. We have a two year plan to buy land and build the smallest Katrina Cottage on it. Living in 308 sq ft gives us an opportunity to save considerable money and pursue a dream of self-sufficiency. No need for me to work with such a tiny house and corresponding bills. Our deadline is January 1, 2011. Bu this time we’ll have pared down to our 308 sq ft of Stuff while still living in our current house. Just a practice session of the next phase of our life, but MY the things we need to rid ourselves of by then!!

  22. Tuesday is Trash Day in my neighborhood. I actually look forward to it. I go room to room looking for what can be tossed out. And I keep a big “charity” box handy. Couple times a year I cart it to the drop off center. Looking at empty spaces, even for a few days, makes it all worth it.

    don_mae´s last post…TV- This Week’s Season Ending Finales

  23. I think anywhere I choose to live would lose it’s fanciful charm after awhile and just become the usual. Instead of fantasizing about “picking up and moving overseas” and keeping my life somewhat suspended waiting for that day, I choose to create the life I want right here in Wisconsin. It’s a life free of clutter and appreciation of the little things no matter where I am. Wisconsin is home, and friends, and family, and the seasons that I love and farmer’s markets and hiking and festivals and winter recreation and the great lakes…I wouldn’t necessarily mind living in another country, and I do love to visit other places. I’m a road-tripping queen and if we can’t travel somewhere cheaply, we get our fix of hearing about other places through the couch surfers we host. I think it’s good to live in a spirit of happiness and contentment whereever you are, to be grateful for what you have, and to create your dream existence NOW, wherever you are. Because in the end it’s not about stuff, or location, or size of home, or any of that. It’s about people.

  24. YES, I would love to sell most of my stuff and go live somewhere for a year or so… or more. Tracking life by faithfulness to God, physical footsteps taken, and memories made is so much more satisfying than keeping track of things. I’m encouraged by your attitude toward simplicity.

  25. I just finished reading Out of Africa. Karen Blixen’s home was almost empty before she left her farm in Kenya, and she wrote that she should have had it that way all along. It seemed to me that visitors were attracted to her home because she created sort of an outpost of European culture and civilization with her furnishings.

    Anyway, another interesting blog by someone who recently moved is Christian writer Lisa McKay and her husband moved to Laos in July, and she writes about her daily experiences.

  26. Aaaaaaaand… Though I commented on “If you could live anywhere…” I have still been having a hard time with the idea of giving up so much to move. It’s not that I don’t like the idea. I just have a hard time starting on projects like that! There’s a neighborhood garage sale in two weeks. I’m feeling the urge to go a little crazy and just put as much of my stuff as possible out and see what happens!

    My friend and I are moving to Seattle in a few months. We’re beginning to challenge each other to just take what will fit in the one car and cartop cargo carrier… I hate how much my stuff owns me.

    Tanya :)´s last post…meeting

  27. Thanks for using my story! I’d encourage anyone who’s tempted to move to a totally different place to give it a try… even if it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll never say ‘what if…’

  28. Last January we walked away from our four bedroom single family home far out in the country to move in with my elderly village dwelling mother whose collective ailments from COPD to Degenerative Disk disease was making it unwise for her to live alone. In the process we put about 75% of our furniture and “stuff” up on freecycle even though we could have sold it over time if we had stuffed it into a storage unit. We blessed a lot of people who needed our kitchen table, bed, living room furniture, books, games, dvds, tv’s and other stuff. And more importantly WE benifited by an incredible cathartic sense of freedom. Since my mother also embraced the sweeping minimalism that was influencing my husband and I, we are now left with the very best of both households. My mother’s 1200 square foot tiny 1920’s bungilow which formally housed only one old lady now comfortably houses 5 people and feels like a comfy cottage even though our old much bigger house felt cramped. And we have lost all “desire to aquire” in the process. I can’t express how much I love our new home and how good it feels to be a multi-generational family. I couldn’t have done that without getting rid of both our “stuff” and the conventional American thinking that kept us in our own nuclear family “bubble.”

    As an aside, I recently filled out a inventory for our home owner’s insurance. Our household furnishing list only took one page!

    Keep writing. You are an inspiration. I love your blog.

  29. Getting rid of stuff is absolutely okay, I would even say it’s right. People just don’t usually do it – they feel sorry to throw out anything, even stuff they really do not need anymore. To move on with our lives, it is just necessary sometimes. We could miss something great otherwise.

  30. inspiring! thanks :)

    angelvalerie´s last post…about that groove…getting out of the mud

  31. I think “stuff” and having more of it is one of those myths we’ve been sold. We are told that our lives will be more complete if we are good little consumers and buy enough stuff to keep up with the Jones. A frivolous lawsuit against us that we poured all of our money into and then had to settle because we ran out of money caused us to have to scale way back. At first we were devastated and then we realized it was a blessing in disguise. We are now living in the smallest house we have ever lived in, only have one car and we are happier than we have ever been. People think the more you have the freer you are…I think it is just the opposite. One day, we will sell everything we own and move to a foreign country and relax and enjoy each others’ company.