Tales From Back Home: Downsizing my Worldly Possessions

One of the many immediate feelings I experienced upon returning back to the U.S. and after surveying my collection of worldly possessions, was that I really have way too much stuff.  When you make it through eight months of wearing the same five sets of clothes and a few basic tools and gadgets, the sight of plastic boxes filled with knickknacks you haven’t looked at in over four years and a closet full of clothes you haven’t touched in ages makes you wonder, why have it at all?  Naturally I had to get all philosophical with myself and think about why I bought all of this stuff in the first place.  Then the practical side set in and I contemplated how I would get rid of all of it.  Donations to good will would be the obvious choice for my clothing, but as I also came to the sobering conclusion that I would have to purchase a new laptop, I stop to consider whether anything I owned was of any value for which I could sell.  I saw my beautiful champagne colored Karen Millen mermaid gown, remembered the cringe inducing price I paid for it and thought I hit the jackpot.  One evening gown that I wore on only two occasions for a new laptop with which to continue pursuing my livelihood sounded like a fair sacrifice to me.  And here began the love affair with eBay.

Emptying out the closet

It still bewilders me to this day that I have so much clothing because I don’t even like shopping and I swear I only go shopping when I really need something.  The stacks of overflowing drawers and the closet chock full of garments however, stand as empirical evidence against my claims of frugality and practicality.  After weeding through all of my clothing and measuring its perceived usefulness against its actual use, I realized that my frugal nature when it comes to clothing is partly to blame for why I had so many clothes in the first place.  In the past I always made the justification that I should never get rid of anything just in case there was ever an occasion that would necessitate the use of such a garment, such as an overwhelming and abrupt need to make a mockery of French culture with a red and white striped shirt and black beret or to mock my Puerto Rican heritage with a J. Lo inspired newsboy hat.  But now that I don’t permanently reside in a fun city like Amsterdam, spontaneous dress-up parties are few and far between, so it seems almost like a burden to hoard so much clothing, which I realize is a very first-world, white privilege thing to say but so be it.

When I finished several rounds of sifting through my collection of threads, I ended with a grand total of 40 pounds (8 shopping bags) of clothing to donate to charity and give to my 10 year old niece who has apparently gone through a serious growth spurt while I was away.  I was definitely feeling a bit cathartic in this moment and I even felt what has become my invisible limb, my backpack, get a little bit lighter on my shoulders.

Discovering eBay

The few items I chose to sell rather than donate were mostly evening gowns and cocktail dresses left over from an era when I went to college formals and holiday office parties or was just having a really shitty month and wanted to buy a needlessly expensive designer gown to boost my self-esteem (The Karen Millen gown).  After rounding everything up, I set about to establish my first account on eBay, which I soon realized was no less addictive than your average street drug.  I was hooked at the ease with which I could list my expendable possessions, and then sit back and wait for buyers to show up and bid.  It didn’t work quite as seamlessly as I had hoped, but I still forged ahead and went scouring around my closet and storage bins looking for other goodies to sell.  I was intent on selling anything and everything that didn’t somehow aid in my survival or to which I didn’t have a strong emotional attachment.  After the dust settled and I became close friends with the employees of my local post office, I was proud to say I unleashed several boxes worth of worldly possessions that no longer have to be stored or moved in the future.

How did I end up with all of this stuff?

After I got knee deep in old trinkets, cocktail dresses and unused ice skates, I had to go get all philosophical and think about how I ended up with all of these possessions for which I no longer have any use.  My main insight actually brought me back to an older insight I made around Month 4 of my trip.  That is: I’ve been living too much in the future.  I worried about the future, planned too much for it, and now I was seeing that I actually made purchases for a life I assumed I would have someday.  I guess you could say I was being optimistic and using my purchase of a Greek rug as motivation to work hard to earn enough money to buy my own house, kind of in the same way a woman buys a pair of jeans two sizes too small in hopes that will drive her to reach a weight goal.  In some cases I think this can be effective but in my case, one where I still wasn’t 100% sure about what I wanted out of life, the plans and purchases became dead weight holding me back.  Now that most of my unnecessary tangible objects have been converted into cash, I have greater flexibility to continue working towards a life I really do want!

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2 thoughts on “Tales From Back Home: Downsizing my Worldly Possessions

  1. I love this post! I feel the same way and my struggle is where to begin because the task is monumental and overwhelming. Also, how many sorts did it take to finally weed it down to what you would keep?

    1. Thanks for your comment! It is overwhelming isn’t it. I was in a good mood to do this right after I’d been living with the same 5 sets of clothes for 8 months so that mentality really helped me a lot. When I went through my clothes I think I went through about 3 times looking at things because some things were obvious “throw aways” and others I was on the fence about. Then I went through home decor stuff and tossed or tried to sell anything that didn’t have a strong emotional value. If and when I ever do decide to get a permanent place that needs furnishing, the benefit of not hiring movers to take care of all my stuff far outweighs living in a barren home and slowly building it up again. For books, I finally sat down and told myself to stop pretending I would actually re-read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” one day and I kept only books that were relevant to my current life of traveling. That was a really good purge. It must have been over 50 pounds of books I eventually got rid of! I’ll actually probably go through one more round of getting rid of stuff when I return to NY in December.

      Good luck to you! I hope you find the purge as satisfying as I did!!

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