Goodbye stuff, hello world

December 28, 2009 | Advice, Article, Travel | 24 Comments
Crowded room

I’ve been asked many times over the years why it is that I am able to travel and move countries as much as I do, and the answer invariably comes down to one simple fact. I don’t accumulate stuff. Keeping my life free of unnecessary junk – and being happy to dispose of what little there is – provides the mental and physical freedom to drop everything and travel on a whim.

If you would also prefer to spend your life on the road rather than your new leather recliner, here’s a few simple ideas that can help.

Get off the merry go round

Like all good journeys, the path to reducing the junk in your life starts with a single step. In this case, it’s a single word.  Stop.  Put your credit card back in your pocket, and stop buying stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have.  Understanding the difference between needs and wants is a lesson that we are all taught in childhood, and yet most of us seem to have forgotten it under the relentless daily consumerist barrage.

Discriminate between the few things that you truly need and the many things that you think you want, and leave the latter on the shelf for someone else.  This will both save you a fortune and reduce the amount of stuff that you need to dispose of when you do go travelling. Win win!


Once you’ve stopped buying stuff you don’t need, it’s time for phase two. Downsize. Whether you are planning to travel next week, next month or a year from now, it’s never too early to start getting rid of accumulated junk.  Imagine if instead of scaling up your house every few years to fit in that 17 piece lounge suite or two hundred inch television, you could dramatically reduce your costs and increase your flexibility instead.

Now stop imagining it, and start doing it. Be ruthless!  If you haven’t used something in 12-18 months, you don’t need it.  Stop waiting for the rainy day that will never come, and get rid of it.  Utilise online auctions, garage sales, friends and family, charities, even a poster on the local community noticeboard.  You’ll be amazed at just how liberating it is to dispose of years of crud – and finding out just how little second hand items are worth is a great incentive to not make the same mistake again!

Environmental impact

It’s a pretty fair bet that none of the stuff you own materialised in your living room out of thin air.  The environmental cost of manufacturing, transporting and ultimately disposing of things can easily exceed the price you paid for them – and that’s before taking into account the secondary impact of heating, cooling and running a larger house to store them all in!

Treading lightly – both while travelling and when living in one place – helps both you as an individual and the planet as a whole.  Take a minute to ask yourself where something came from before you hand over your cash.

Lists. They’re geeky but they work.

Maybe it’s the inner geek in me, but I find that making lists simplifies the process of getting rid of stuff. When it’s time to put the backpack on again, I walk around my house writing down everything that I come across and assign it to one of four categories:

    1. Things to sell
    2. Things to give away
    3. Things to throw out
    4. Things to take with me

Once you come to terms with the fact that everything in the last category has to fit into your suitcase or backpack (and be able to be carried up and down stairs, through train stations and along city streets), you tend to find it much easer to choose one of the other three options! Sell it, give it or throw it – just don’t keep it.

Stop reading, start doing.

In a society where status is so closely linked with possessions – car, boat, house and everything in it – it’s not always easy to go against the grain and actively reduce the amount of stuff you own.  Having children, a partner or elderly parents can make the task seem even more difficult. Once you start, however, the sheer freedom that downsizing brings more than makes up for not having tonnes of unnecessary junk cluttering up your life.

With each old kitchen appliance or box of books that gets loaded into the back of somebody else’s car, a travelling lifestyle moves one step closer. Seize the initiative – now. Stop reading this article and start making a list of stuff to get rid of. Good luck, and see you on the road!

[Image courtesy of meghantosh]

Travelling safely
Travelling Light, and How I Haven't Managed It


  1. Reply


    March 10, 2010

    Great advice, Dave! I've been a De-clutterer for many years. I hate "stuff". I'd much rather spend my money on travel and experiences than things.

  2. Reply


    March 10, 2010

    Excellent post. Don't know why we're so obsessed with owning things. Too many possessions can be such a burden!

  3. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    Thanks Gray and Sophie! Yep it's a funny thing really - a lot of people seem to spend their time trying to acquire new 'stuff' ... I seem to spend my time looking for things to get rid of! ;-)

    I swear I get more satisfaction from throwing out or giving away something than I did from buying it in the first place!

  4. Reply

    hitomi Matsumoto

    April 11, 2010

    is a great advice Dave, well done!
    I am pretty good at choosing what i am needing, not wanting but I needed a bit lil more time!!!


  5. Reply

    Matt Madeiro

    April 17, 2010

    Great article, Dave!

    I followed the link from my post over at Vagabondish (the one about getting robbed), and you're exactly right - the sentiment is very much the same! :)

    I'm glad as can be to see all the opportunities that opened up to you the minute you started dumping stuff by the wayside. I'm hoping to start downsizing even more in the next few months, maybe to squeak under that 100 item limit craziness that's been making the rounds on the 'net recently. I can only imagine how liberating that would feel.

  6. Reply


    April 17, 2010

    Thanks Matt - I really enjoyed your Vagabondish article, and thanks for stopping by to comment :)

    I may be following my own advice on 'stuff' shortly -the way things are looking there could be a multi-month trip coming up very soon!

  7. Reply


    April 19, 2010

    So true. We sold all of our stuff and have never felt more liberated. We are now able to live as perpetual nomads with just two small backpacks. We don't miss anything!

  8. Reply


    April 20, 2010

    Hey Erin - it's a great feeling eh? Looking around my apartment at the moment, as little as I have, it still feels too much. Hmm, I think my backpack is calling again...

  9. Reply

    Eager Existence

    May 7, 2010

    Id be keen to find out what "stuff" you still carry with you after so many years on the road. If you've already written a post about it, can you link me to it?

    Im about to start out, and I feel like I'll be taking too many (flashpacking) gadgets along... just to keep the blog updated and the family back home.

  10. Reply


    May 7, 2010

    @EagerExistence - probably the only post I've written on that topic is ... it's more of a 'here's a list of what I plan to carry next time' rather than 'here's what I did carry', tho, as I've been guilty of carting around waaaaay too much stuff in the past!

    In terms of gadgets, I'm allowing myself a small netbook to keep this site going, a pocket sized camera and a phone/music player. Oh, and a tiny torch, if that counts as a gadget. I don't really want to take the netbook but it's totally impossible to maintain a blog from the road properly if you're just using internet cafes etc. Oh well.

  11. Reply


    May 10, 2010

    When I did my first big out of country move I threw a huge going away party and gave goodie bags to all my friends who came. The goodies were basically everything that didn't fit into oversized plastic storage tubs. It was AWESOME to see my friend's pleasure at their 'new' stuff and was hugely rewarding to get rid of so much!

  12. Reply


    May 10, 2010

    Now that's a really great idea, Hannah - it makes everybody happy! Thanks for sharing it :)

  13. Reply


    May 20, 2010

    Fantastic advice! I'm in the process of purging for my upcoming rtw trip, and it feels so good to downsize and get rid of things. I never thought having fewer things would have such an incredible impact on me mentally and emotionally -- but it's so freeing.

  14. Reply


    May 21, 2010

    I'm doing the same again, for the same reason! Although I don't have to be quite as ruthless as usual because I'm actually planning on returning to the same city (for the first time ever!), I'm still taking the opportunity to get rid of anything that I haven't used in the last 12 months. No point packing it up and moving it into storage when I can donate or throw it instead!

    Such a wonderful feeling... :)

  15. Reply


    August 2, 2010

    It is so nice to read this. I am soon to be in the process of moving and will have to get read of lots of stuff! I am hoping to experience the same liberation that most of you speak of...but from here it seems like a scary thought. Thanks for the article Dave and thanks all for the comments. I am less afraid :)

  16. Reply


    August 2, 2010

    Hi Tara - it's absolutely scary when you start contemplating it! Once the first few things find there way out of your house, though, the liberation kicks in with a vengeance!

    Really pleased you found the article helpful :)

  17. Reply


    November 7, 2010

    For some reason getting rid of stuff was really hard at first... After stuff started moving it became easier and easier. Now, I don't even remember what I had which means it had little meaning to begin with!

    • Reply


      April 23, 2011

      Ain't that the truth ... when I opened up my storage shed after travelling for much of last year, I realised that I didn't give a toss about anything that was in there. Honestly wouldn't have cared if the whole thing had burned to the ground while I was gone...

  18. Reply

    Chasing Trade Winds

    April 23, 2011

    Great post, couldn't agree more. I'd just add that it takes longer than you might think - so don't leave it to the last minute! I ended up leaving 4 huge boxes of great stuff on the curb in front of my apartment, before racing off to catch my flight. Luckily it didn't rain ...

  19. Reply


    June 2, 2011

    As someone who lives out of her suitcase I couldn't agree more. Buy experiences not stuff. It's incredibly freeing and better for the environment, your bank balance and your mindset.

    Great post

    • Reply


      June 3, 2011

      Damn right! Buying experiences not stuff is the best advice you could give to anybody ... awesome!

  20. Reply

    Andrea Anastasiou

    July 20, 2012

    Wow, I really needed to read this right now! About a month ago I finally quit my job and decided to embark on a round-the-world-journey that will end...well, I have no idea when it will end! And that's exciting!

    I cannot wait and I know I've made the right decision, but I'm now faced with the mammoth task of 'downsizing' my life - getting rid of furniture, my car, clothes, and all the other crap I've accumulated over the years. Even though I don't need these things, I've been brainwashed into believing that they some how define me as a person. I blame advertising. And capitalism.

    So I keep putting it off, even though I have about ten days left in my apartment before I'm thrown out. This post has DEFINITELY put me in the right mindset to start sorting! Thanks, loving the blog and the fact that you're out there living the dream! Keep it up.

    • Reply


      July 24, 2012

      That's so awesome that you're about to take the leap! Best of luck with the sorting/selling/throwing crap out ... it's amazing how quickly we forget about it when we're on the road, and wonder why we ever spent so much money on it in the first place! :-D

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