One of the hardest things you are going to do is get rid of all your excess stuff. At first glance it seems overwhelming, “How is all this stuff going to fit in that small a space? What am I going to do with it all?” Hopefully, you are in a situation where you have some time to do it slowly and correctly. You are going to be making some hard decisions about things that may be very meaningful to you, so the more time you can take the better. Maybe you are waiting for your next birthday so you can retire, or maybe you are waiting for your house to sell; in situations like that you have time to do it right. On the other hand, maybe you just got your eviction notice and you have 2 weeks to get out of your home into your car. There is nothing you can do but put your head down and bull your way through. Whatever your situation, I recommend you start right now. No, I mean that literally: right now! Right now, hibernate your computer and get two plastic sacks and go around the room you are in at this moment and fill them full of things that aren’t totally necessary for life and are not emotionally important to you. Go, then come back here, I’ll wait….
How did that go? For some people it will be very easy because their house is full of stuff that isn’t necessary for life or emotionally important. For others, with a natural minimalist orientation, it won’t be so easy. Either way, imagine multiplying that to everything you own and you get an idea of the daunting task before you. So we need to proceed with a sense of urgency. If you have more time, then you can use it to get back some money from all that stuff by having garage sales and selling it on craigslist.com. If you have no time you may not be able to recoup your loss.
Here is a thought I want you to keep with you all the time as you are making a lot of hard, even brutal choices:
I am giving up surface comfort for a deeper, purer joy. For a way of life that will bring me peace and contentment. For a freedom that is worth any cost.
The first thing you have to do is decide if you want to actually get rid of it all, or if you should put some of it in storage. That is a very personal decision and it will vary with every person. Chances are you aren’t sure that you will love vandwelling. It sounds wonderful, but there is no way to know if it is for you until you have done it for a while. The danger is that you will get rid of your stuff, then realize that you hate living the mobile life and move back into a house or an apartment leaving you no choice but start buying that stuff all over again. That would be a very bad thing for your wallet and for the earth. So some people keep their most valuable, important, and sentimental items. There are two common ways to do that: 1) leave it with family or friends, 2) rent a storage unit. In a sense I was lucky, I didn’t have money for a storage unit and did didn’t have anyone to leave it with, so I just started getting rid of it and kept at it until it was all gone.
Let me add one thought into your decision making process on whether to store stuff or not. Since you are here reading this site you must have an interest in defending the earth and breaking out of the rat race. I suggest you embrace simple living or even minimalism as a lifestyle whether you end up living in a vehicle or not. It is a wonderful choice no matter where you live.
Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest. – Peace Pilgrim
How To Get Rid of Stuff
With your new-found sense of urgency, let’s get started. You are going to want to start dividing all your stuff into piles. The best way is to get boxes from a grocery store to hold it all, otherwise you can use plastic bags (you are going to recycle it all when you are done right?). If you are lucky enough to have time to sell as much as you can, use these categories:
- Give to friends or family
- Garage Sale
- Thrift store
- Necessary to live
- Take to dump
Next, start going through your house and dividing everything into the different boxes/sacks. It will become real messy, real fast, so every time you leave the house take a box with you to wherever it goes: family, friends, thrift store, dump, etc. Schedule garage sales right away and get stuff out there and gone. Get as much money as you can, but more important is for it to go away and be useful to somebody else. Right away, start running your ads on Craigslist and eBay. The goal here is to start seeing results immediately: an ever emptier house. Hopefully an empty house will excite and motivate you to get rid of more stuff and make harder choices.
If you are like most people, after a while you will get down to the things you think are necessary and sentimental and you can’t get rid of any more. Chances are this is at least twice as much as will fit in a van. So you are going to have to go through it all over again and get rid of more stuff. The choices get harder and more brutal. I’m not sentimental, so that wasn’t an issue for me, but I had to give up several hobbies I really enjoyed because they took up too much room in my little camper. I hated to do it but it had to be done. I also had to get rid of lots of books and tools I thought I just had to have, but they are so bulky and heavy I could not have them. It hurt but I did it. You may have to as well. For some people the sentimental pile is the hardest to give up. But there really isn’t room in a car or van for much at all, so either you store it or get rid of it. Period!
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly. – Bertrand Russell
Clothes are light but bulky, so you can only have so many. You will want to keep just the ones that are the most versatile. Consider color coordination and combinations. An article of clothes that can only be worn in one situation and with very few other colors is a bad choice. You may love it, but it isn’t practical and being a vandweller is above everything else embracing practicality. Again, we are giving up surface level comforts for a deeper, more joyous way of life. Clothes should be versatile, the more situations you can wear them in, the better. For example, I have several pairs of REI Sahara nylon hiking pant. I can wear them:
- as knock-around, everyday pants
- they look nice enough for nicer situations
- the legs zip-off to become shorts.
These could be my only pants, but I also have a couple pairs of jeans and BDUs. You are going to want to carry the idea of multi-use into every area of your new life. For example, I carry a 3-quart pot that is wide enough at the bottom to be used as a frying pan. So with this one pot I can: cook a can of chili, make a pot of spaghetti, fry a hamburger, or make scrambled eggs. It is very versatile. As you go through the things you think you are going to keep, keep the multi-use principle in mind.