Why Getting Rid of Stuff Was Harder Than I Thought

getting rid of stuff

“The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn’t simple.” – Doris Janzen Longacre

“But your stuff’s going into storage, right?”

I frowned and knitted my brows apologetically. “Um…actually, no.” My friend was silent and gave me a confused look. I continued: “I’m selling or donating everything. Well, everything except whatever fits in the truck.” At this point my friend’s eyes got wider. I had seen this expression before: apparently people don’t think it’s normal to get rid of all your belongings.

I was two weeks away from taking an entire summer to drive across Canada. But that wasn’t all: I was leaving my condo for good, to move across the country, and I wasn’t bringing much. By the time I was ready to hit the road everything I owned fit into the back of my truck.

Some people de-clutter because they have to, but you don’t need to wait until your friends stage a pack-rat intervention to downsize your possessions. Removing unnecessary things clears your mind and helps you consider what you truly value.

Getting rid of stuff was a great feeling. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders (and my storage closet), but there were downsides I hadn’t anticipated.

Getting rid of stuff was harder than I thought, both physically and emotionally.

The Huge Amount of Work

I thought six months was enough time to sort through every possession I had packed into my small condo. I figured I’d sell a few things, donate some, and trash others. No biggie. But like so many things, I started out strong, but scrambled to get everything taken care of in the last few days before my lease ran out.

Getting rid of stuff doesn’t have to be as intense as it was for me. To save time and effort, I could have made a trip to the dump with a big truck, but I wanted to prolong the lives of my possessions.

I recycled my obsolete electronics, I took my toxic household products for safe disposal, I took my books to the used book store, and I donated my magazines to the library.

When I began, I underestimated:

  • How long it would take me to sort through all my belongings
  • How many car-loads it would take to get everything to donation
  • How long it would take to sell my items

If I were to do everything over again I would have started sooner, and worked steadily rather than leaving most of the work until two months before my lease expired.

How Sad it Was to See Things Go

I didn’t realize how much my possessions owned me until I parted with them. Some had strong memories attached to them, but that didn’t mean they belonged in my new, simplified life.

When I had a hard time giving something away, I reminded myself that someone would use it more than me. There were plenty of places it would get more use.

I came to terms with giving away a possession, because I know that no one can ever take memories away from me.  That helped, but I’m still sad sometimes, and wish I could get some of my things back.

Being Brave

When I cleaned out my possessions, I had to summon the courage to do things I’d never done before:

  • Consign clothes
  • Sell things online
  • Visit goodwill donation shops

These tasks might not sound difficult, but they swept me out of my comfort zone. Suddenly I was parading my clothes out for appraisal, bargaining with strangers over my living room furniture, and finding out what I could and couldn’t donate to goodwill (turns out, CRT televisions are a no-go).

In every situation I risked embarrassing myself, asking stupid questions, and making mistakes.

I summoned my determination, got my mind committed, and did it. I embarrassed myself, asked stupid questions, and made mistakes (multiple times), but the good news is I learned from them, and all these unfamiliar tasks got easier.

Realizing My Valuables Aren’t ‘Valuable’

Going to consign your clothes? Get ready for a bruised ego. Some clothes I thought were valuable weren’t good enough for consignment. That hurt.

I took in my best dresses, pants, blouses, shoes, and purses and I ended up bringing half of it home with me. I understand a consignment store is a business, but for my ego’s sake I wish they were a little less picky.

When it came to selling my things, I was shocked at how little people were willing to pay for what I considered ‘perfectly good’ things.

It was disappointing when most of my items sold for less than my asking price. It hurt more to remember what I had paid for them new.

The hard lesson I learned is that just because something is valuable to me, doesn’t mean it’s valuable to someone else.

The Hard Choices

Which to keep? I made this decision many times when I got rid of my stuff.

I had to make some harsh choices and decide which sweater mattered to me the most, which necklace, which artwork, which souvenirs… I had filled my home with things I loved, it was a challenge to decide between them. I loved them all for different reasons.

Having to choose between two items was difficult, but it also made me wonder why I had two of the same thing in the first place. I could have eliminated this problem by being more careful about what I accumulated in the first place.

In my new simplified life, I will keep this in mind from the start.

Giving Away Too Much

I got rid of quite a bit, and during the purge there were times I thought “Aha! I know exactly what I need! It’s right over…” and then I realized I had taken it to goodwill three days ago.

It was annoying to have to buy something I gave away just a few days earlier.  I knew that making so many choices, I was bound to make some poor ones.

But it still stung my pride when it happened.


Despite how hard it was, getting rid of my stuff was worth it. Now that I live with less I’m happier, I have less stress, and I feel lighter. Life with less clutter is wonderful.

And I don’t have to worry about storage.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve gotten rid of? What made it hard?

Photo by t whalen

10 thoughts on “Why Getting Rid of Stuff Was Harder Than I Thought”

  1. What a great article – and a challenging “closing question”.

    A few years ago, right as I was preparing to move from Silicon Valley to Costa Rica, I had made a decision to “simplify my life”. It sounded really good on paper – until I began seeing how judgmental most of the people that I knew were acting about it.

    But – despite all of the criticism of those people – I knew what I had wanted to do: I wanted to give my Mustang convertible to a friend of mine that was exiting rehab & trying to improve his life with a new job, and I was going to find a small area to attempt a “new way of life”.

    My life-coach had some good advice to meditate on: “When people criticize you – you have to analyze what ‘results’ those people have achieved in their own lives and if their advice is relevant to the result that I am attempting to achieve.”

    Obviously (as you might have guessed lol), there have been many challenges along this new path. But now, 2 years later, I have learned a lot of new things that would not have otherwise been possible and aligned a lot closer to the person that I truly believe that I was meant to be. It was scary to give away something that I had valued so much (and my new way of life has been very challenging to learn) – but the scariest thought for myself to consider now is “What would have happened if I had remained a prisoner to my old way of life?”

    1. Wow, that is a HUGE challenge Alan! I’m not sure what it is about trying to improve yourself that makes other people defensive, but alas that’s how it was for me and how it was for you too.

      The important thing is that you rose above it, and you’ve conquered the “what if?”. Trying something new is really scary (and moving to a new country definitely counts!), but now you won’t ever have to wonder what would have happened.

      Congratulations on your new life and your move!

    2. This is great to read, thank you! I’m going through the opposite where about 8 years ago I got rid of bags and bags of clothes that, at the time, I thought I’d never wear, I thought I didn’t love them anymore. A few years later I saw a photo of those clothes and went to look for them but realized they were gone. It was hard for me, and it still keeps coming up. I loved those clothes and miss them and wish I could have them back. There were great (at least in my mind they were great) thrift store finds from the 90’s and early 2000’s that can’t ever really be replaced. I wish I still had them now so I could wear them and make a more informed choice about getting rid of them. Do you have any advice for dealing with this regret?

  2. Thanks for the honest summary of the decluttering process. I have started the clean out process on and off for a few years now – but am clearly not doing enough. I feel trapped by stuff. Part of the problem is that my mom died three years ago and I took a lot of her stuff to keep her close to me. It has been getting easier to give her things away now but I still struggle with sentimental stuff. I am thinking about hiring a professional organizer – has anyone used one before?

    1. The sentimental stuff is hard, I feel for you! It might help if you think about how it’s the memories that the things bring back, not necessarily the things themselves. No one can ever take your memories from you. And if you can help someone in need by donating, you might be making even more memories. That can easy the sting a bit.
      I’ve never used a professional organizer, but if you’re struggling, that might just be the way to go!

  3. I completely understand your point about the difficulty of clearing things. I’m getting rid of all the furniture in my bedroom and replacing it with new things. Part of that means getting rid of old belongings; pictures, documents, Birthday cards, little messages, so on. I’ve found it quite difficult, and yet a part of me feels refreshed; ready to look forward to the future, while keeping the good memories close to heart. It’s not been as easy as expected, but I’m looking at the bright picture here. Thank you for your post :)

    1. Hi Nathan,
      Sometimes it takes an external motivation (like replacing furniture) to really get going, but once you do it feels great! Even when you ditch some sentimental things like birthday cards, nobody can ever take away your memories. I’m glad you’re enjoying the process!

  4. Thank you for your article. The hardest part for me is that I have worked so hard for what I have and now I must downsize and get rid of it. Feels like failure to me. Lots of memories and hopes are attached to these possessions.

  5. Having reached my 50’s and having lost virtually all my family and many friends I suddenly realised there was nothing holding me to where i lived apart from my clutter . Physical clutter and mental clutter . I like my house , i hate the area .

    I had so many ambitions when i was younger to become a photographer . I am a decent photographer but nothing is really going to happen sat on my ass in suburbia getting bored .

    So the plan is to sell up and leave for a few years travelling . Has travelled before but 3 months was the maximum . Backpacker Asia . This time two years . Where ? I am not sure .

    How do i feel now i have begun the process ? A little traumatised and scared


  6. very apt, though reading a year or two out
    I had an epiphany that I was so much more “lighter” when I moved countries and was living gout of a backpack – now I am surrounded by “stuff” and “stuff” wants and demands attention – round three of the purge coming up

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