Living With Less

Those of you who follow Her Bags Were Packed know that, while it is a travel resource, the mission is much deeper than travel. At the heart of it all, Her Bags Were Packed is about helping women release emotional baggage so we can travel through life lighter. Something interesting I have realized over the years is that the more I let go of emotionally, the less I want around me physically and vice versa. About 3 years ago, I started traveling with just a carry on or even just a “personal item,” partially because I had a bad experience with an airline losing my luggage and partially because I was on a limited budget and couldn’t afford to pay for luggage.

I’ve never felt burdened by the lack of stuff, but, instead, have appreciated the freedom traveling with less has gifted me. Learning to travel long term with less has also overflowed into my daily life at home. I understand what is truly necessary for a happy life and that holding onto items from the past “just in case” absorbs energy I could be spending elsewhere.  

I have invited author and decluttering expert Megan Starbuck of Living Tiny, Dreaming Big to share with our community part of her “Pack Rat to Clutter Free” journey, including tips for those who want to go clutter free or even explore minimalism.

Megan is the author of Packrat to Clutter-Free: How I Cleaned Up My Life in Less than a Year, available on Amazon. She recently moved to South Korea with her husband where she’s working on a book about the first year of marriage and how she overcame her fear of commitment.

This summer, my husband and I moved from the United States to South Korea.  We showed up to our partially furnished apartment with only two suitcases each plus our carry-ons. About six more boxes of our possessions (such as fall clothing, sheets, towels, and board games) were delivered to us that day to help us get through the month until the rest of our items were delivered.

Three and a half years before this move, after learning about tiny houses, I made the decision to pursue minimalism, transitioning from major packrat to clutter-free.

You wouldn’t think it was that complicated to just get rid of stuff, but it truly was a journey. Sometimes it was easy getting rid of things. I literally had pieces of trash in one of my boxes from my college move! But other times I wrestled with myself wondering why I couldn’t just throw away the scrap material from a dress I’d made.

But the journey was stretching me and teaching me unexpected lessons. As I got rid of more clothing, I discovered a style that worked best for me. Instead of keeping everything I thought was cute, I became familiar with what looked and felt best on me. This was a big help when I was shopping! Even more life-changing for me was the realization that I had kept a lot of stuff out of guilt or obligation. I had no idea this stuff was weighing me down until I let it go. It isn’t like I got rid of everything from my grandparents. I just kept my favorite items from them. I enjoyed coming to understand that they wouldn’t want me to be burdened by gifts they’d given me. They loved seeing me happy and free.

The more I got a taste for a clutter-free life, the more I realized I’d actually enjoy a minimalist lifestyle. But after about two years, I began to feel like my progress was stalling out. I had been inching toward minimalism for so long, and, yet, it felt like I could never quite get there. I didn’t miss my old possessions, but I knew I could do more without regret. I loved having fewer and fewer items to take care of and spend time on because I could pursue other things that were important to me (writing, for one) without so much distraction. Sure, there will always be interruptions in our lives and activities that consume more of our time than we expect, but I didn’t realize how many distractions were from things I’d chosen to keep for the wrong reasons.

It actually took the move to South Korea to help jumpstart me again. Right before we left for South Korea, we went on our delayed honeymoon to Norway. For two weeks, we were living with nothing but a suitcase and a carry-on each. Not having a home to put stuff kept us from purchasing souvenirs, but it also helped us realize how much we can happily live without. This experience made it easier to get rid of more items once we were reunited with our possessions.

Even as a writer, I didn’t miss having all my books. It was a relief to be able to focus on reading three or four at a time without feeling guilty about all the ones I hadn’t gotten to yet. I never used to view books as clutter because I thought they added so much joy and intrigue to a room. Now I believe fewer books can have that same effect or a better one. When there aren’t as many, they can be displayed showing the beautiful front cover rather than just the spine.

And I realized repurchasing an item is easy to do with items like office supplies and clothes. It doesn’t do anyone any good to have rolls and rolls of tape or clothes piling up in my drawers and closets. I could donate these things for someone to actually get some use out of and then just purchase the exact item I need, if and when I actually need it.

When the rest of our possessions finally arrived in South Korea, it was exciting, but it was also overwhelming. We had to keep figuring out a place to put everything. We’re still adjusting and finding it frustrating to have items in our way that weren’t there before. We’re having to make decisions about what’s worth the hassle of keeping.

It’s been only 2 months since we moved into our apartment, and we already have 5 boxes of items to get rid of. It’s hard to prepare for living in an apartment you don’t know about until you arrive. For example, our oven is too small for half our pans. But also, our house didn’t feel empty because we lived in it for a month before all our stuff arrived. It was partially furnished, and there wasn’t much that we felt was missing. We were excited for our desk and computer to arrive as well as our shelves, dressers, and dishes. But we loved not having tables and counters and walls full of decorations and distractions.

Ultimately, while minimalism has tons of benefits like making more deliberate purchases and not having to spend so much time cleaning, the reason it has meant so much to me is because of the peace, freedom, joy, and contentment it brings to my home. There’s space for creativity and dancing.

If you are interested in learning more about Megan’s journey or about how you can rid your home and life of clutter and begin exploring minimalism, be sure to come back next week for her guide to going clutter free. And be sure to check out her book, Packrat to Clutter-Free: How I Cleaned Up My Life in Less than a Year*, available on Amazon.

*Note: If you make a purchase from the Amazon links in this post, I may receive a small credit. Thank you!

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