Ask Unclutterer: Sell everything and buy new to achieve an uncluttered life?

Reader Catherine submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

In two years, [my husband and I] will be moving back to California where most of my family lives. I want to sell just about everything we own and ship only the things we want to keep and know we will use, along with photos, important papers and other sentimental items. We would also sell the car and fly out. We have made two cross-country trips over the years, trucking all our belongings and towing our vehicles both times. To be honest, I really don’t want to do it again …

We will be moving from [a] large house to an apartment only about a third of the size. I have told him that one of my fears is that we will truck all our stuff out and then find out a lot of our stuff won’t fit. Then we will end up selling stuff anyway, but will have transported it all for nothing … My husband keeps saying, “But then we’ll have to buy new things.” It’s just stuff to me and I am actually looking forward to starting over and buying new items to fit a new smaller apartment. Any suggestions on bringing my husband over to my side?

I understand the tabula rasa desire to wipe the slate clean and start a new life with new things in a new place. I get it, really I do. You’re imagining all of your problems with clutter and disorder magically disappearing when you create your new life together in California. It’s a blissful thought!

Except, your problems with clutter aren’t going anywhere.

You and your husband will acquire things in California in the same patterns you do currently. The disorganization will eventually reappear and the chaos will come back because the two most important factors in your life haven’t changed: you’re still you, and your husband is still your husband.

Until both of you choose to commit to a clutter-free, organized life, it doesn’t matter if you move the stuff across country or not. And, as much as I’m sure you would like to force him into becoming an unclutterer, you can’t make him. He’s an adult with free will and an attachment to his things — and you love him, clutter and all.

You should definitely talk with him about your desire to live as unclutterers. Have a respectful conversation detailing your specific visions for your current living space can help him to better understand the benefits of an uncluttered life. (You have two years in your current home, and your plans for California could easily change, so forget about some distant future and focus on the present.) He may be 100 percent on board with your vision of an uncluttered home and the path you should take to get there. But, you have to be prepared for the possibility that he might not agree with you and you’ll need to listen to his opposing viewpoints. Additionally, your definition of clutter might be completely different than his. Check out “What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t” and “How can I change someone into an unclutterer?” for ideas on how to open up effective communication lines on this topic.

I’d also suggest you spend some time thinking about why you are so eager to let go of the vast majority of your possessions when you move? It makes sense to purge the clutter, but why do you want to get rid of things that aren’t clutter (like a car, if you use it)? Is it because you love shopping, and you’re simply looking for a reason to buy new stuff? Or, is there something bigger going on that you haven’t yet admitted to yourself? There might not be any underlying issue, but if there is, now is a good time to explore it. Otherwise you could find yourself in California, surrounded by new stuff, but plagued with the same old clutter problems.

I’m sorry I don’t have a “do exactly what Catherine wants you to do” response for you to show your husband. I was really tempted to write it, though, because I often hear that same siren call to recreate myself in a new place. But, it doesn’t matter how far your go or how little you carry with you, the underlying issues always reappear if you don’t deal with them. You have at least two years to get clutter under control in your current place — if your husband is on board, learn to live an uncluttered life together now and what stuff you want to move won’t be an issue when/if you go to California. Plus, you won’t have a two-year disagreement over moving logistics wreaking havoc on your marriage.

Thank you, Catherine, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope your conversation with your husband brings about an outcome that satisfies both of you and helps you in your current and future life together. Good luck!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

52 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Sell everything and buy new to achieve an uncluttered life?”

  1. posted by viola on

    i can relate to what catherine said. i don’t think it’s about being a clutterer, it’s about making moving easier. i despise the moving process and also have thought about getting rid of it all and starting over – starting fresh – because the work and stress in packing just isn’t worth it. i’ve pared down a lot in my last move (not quite able to start over) but each year it becomes easier. i agree with what allison said and to start now. she may realize that they just need to get rid of lots of stuff instead of all of it. and maybe the hubby will see what a difference that makes so they both can become minimalists.

  2. posted by Marie on

    We are contemplating a cross-country move, and I’ve been pondering the same question. A significant amount of our furniture falls into the “it will have to do for now” category, and taking that along didn’t even cross my mind.

    A lot of it would depend on where we ended up. I’d need the incentive of a good square footage estimate in order to decide on several items.

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