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 Sarah L on

    This sounds just like me. My family and I moved from NY to Ca from a larger to smaller home. We ended up getting rid of all our stuff and starting a new and it is a decision I do not regret one bit. We did keep a lot of our old stuff (clothes, car, toys for our daughter, books) but we did get rid of stuff we felt no attachment to and all our furniture. For us it was the right decision. Good luck to you.

  2. posted by Marjory Thrash on

    I’ve been married 35 years and we’ve had 9 different “homes” including apartments, condos, homes, and a farm, moving with and without animals, plants, kids, music equipment, and cars. And, I’m NOT the expert. Ask a military wife if you really want expert opinion.

    But, I live in a Katrina affected area, and I know MANY people who were slabbed – nothing left of the home but the slab. Nothing – exactly what OP imagines. It is a HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE experience. I’ve seen men sitting in Home Depot, crying their eyes out, because not only did they not have tools, they didn’t have a box for the tools, or the safe place for the tools – they had lost best friends. One friend told me her mother was so upset after the 6th shopping trip just for the kitchen and bathroom, that she sat in the car, and my friend had make the purchases.

    No……I suggest they decide what vehicle to keep. Save the things that will fit in that vehicle, and get that vehicle shipped. They can at least have a car and enough things to live for a week in the empty home. At some point, she can shop to her hearts content.

  3. posted by Meg on

    Tempting.

    My husband and I are talking about moving and even though we’re already fairly minimalist, a big part of me is looking for an excuse to have to pare down more and dump a lot of stuff.

    But realistically, the time it would take to replace the bare necessities plus the things that I would want to replace would just make it too inconvenient, I think — especially as picky as I am about things. And that’s assuming that I didn’t decide to hunt around thrift stores and freecyle. Then there is the cost, of course, not to mention the ecological cost of buying more stuff even if I did find homes for the old things.

    So, I think we’ll be keeping a lot of our things. If we move to an apartment and stay in one for a while, at least the yard stuff can go. And a lot of the decorative items and furniture will stay behind.

    As for the couple who wrote in, start selling and getting rid of stuff now. Don’t wait. It’s going to take some time and it does make a lot more sense to sort through it now than to move and sort it then. And then just see how it feels to be uncluttered in your current home. Figure out what you really use and need now. Stop buying new stuff unless you absolutely need it. And then you’ll be better able to control the clutter when you do move.

  4. posted by Tish on

    I just got back to LA after living with my Mom for a year. (I was helping her through the illness and subsequent death of her husband.)

    Before I left, I divested. I packed up my very favorite things and put them in a small storage unit, packed up the car, and what was left was sold on Craigslist and sold in a yard sale or donated. My yard sale policy was, “Take it off my hands, pay me what it’s worth to you or leave a donation.” This was good stuff – an Aeron chair, a gorgeous desk, and it all had to go.

    I came back last month. I rented a 400 sq ft studio, then got it up to my standard of “elegant minimalism” for about $1500. Shelves, coffee table, dresser, TV, and a few things for the kitchen (where I’m less of a minimalist). I had kept an antique trunk, an IKEA sofabed, and a comfortable chair. Not much else.

    I like my place to be hotel-like in its lack of clutter. I don’t want to have to dust things I don’t love, and just because I have a big patch of beautiful hardwood floor or an empty shelf doesn’t mean something has to go there.

    In fact, I’m about to start selling off my books. ‘-)

    I hope for Catherine’s sake she can help her husband understand her love of simplicity – or failing that, that they find common ground.

  5. posted by Pru on

    I get what the OP is saying–I have occasionally wished that our house would just fall down so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the things in it.

    But I would say that there are some things you will need wherever–a hammer, maybe, a set of measuring cups. Why bother to buy them all again? It will be time consuming and expensive. Sure, if you haven’t used the wedding china in ten years, get rid of it. But you can’t really live with nothing at all.

  6. posted by Dorothy on

    The time for Catherine to do her uncluttering is now, not a month before she moves. If an item will be clutter then, it’s clutter now, so de-accession it.

    That being said, as Erin remarked, you and your husband need to be on the same page — or at least in the same chapter. As Erin has said many times, the first step to uncluttering is to figure out WHY you want to unclutter. What is your ideal life and how does your clutter stand in its way?

  7. posted by Allison on

    I think one thing that hasn’t been addressed here is the logistics of moving stuff vs. buying it. Packing things up is a lot of work, especially breakable things, and often the cost of moving stuff is much more than the cost of replacement.

    My husband and I moved overseas this year and I’m really glad that we only shipped the bare necessities. We did put some special things in storage for when we move back eventually, but anything we felt we could live without or replace easily, we sold on craigslist or gave away. There are a number of things I thought we’d have to replace that it turns out we just haven’t needed. Of course, we had to replace some things that we sold (like furniture), but it was much more economical and logistically easier to sell and re-purchase.

    Overall, I think the extreme decluttering process is part of why we now can live with less. We were confronted with absolutely all our belongings and forced to think deeply about what was valuable to us. It’s made us much more hesitant about acquiring new things until we’re certain they’ll make our lives better. If we’d shipped things over unnecessarily, it would have been harder to get rid of them since we’d have felt we’d “invested” in shipping them.

    Honestly, though, if you think you have a lot of stuff you don’t need, why wait 2 years to do this massive de-clutter? A move is a good motivation to go through your things (because you have to), but there’s no reason you can’t do it now.

  8. posted by penguinlady on

    I have been in that situation – have moved across country twice, toting too much stuff, and we contemplate a move again. We’ve even moved across country to have our stuff not fit into a new home! (Hint: it sucked.)

    Everything Erin and the commenters have said is good advice. What I might recommend is taking a hard look at the numbers for yourself. Get a quote of how much it will cost for you to transport your stuff (or dig up a receipt from your last move), then take a look at how much it will cost to replace your furniture. Be realistic; you’re not going to buy everything at Ikea. Then think about the things that are not worth transporting: if you are going to rent, you do not need to bring your refrigerator; if your furniture is in tatters and it’s time for new, it might be worth it to get rid of those. There’s probably a balance you can strike between ‘get rid of it all’ and ‘bring it all with you’.

  9. posted by Carolyn on

    I understand Catherine’s desire to “purge” in preparation for a move. We “may” move in the next year. I’m using this time to scan photos and digitize as much media as I can. I’m going through books, re-reading those I think I am still interested in and parting with others. I’m beginning to find out that what I am left with, is stuff I really like and fine useful … it will probably move with me. Because I genuinely like and will use this old stuff, I look forward to having it around me in a new setting. So I think there is a happy medium there to find between herself and her husband’s wishes.

  10. posted by Sarah on

    I moved from a large house to a small condo several years ago. Because of the life change situation (divorce) I wasn’t sure what I wanted to keep or get rid of, so used a storage space for a year. Anything that I missed and went to get out, I kept, the other items, I got rid of because I obviously didn’t miss them! I’m in a small house now and am not sorry I got rid of all the belongings I did in the move. A few items I have had to buy new, but they are now up-to-date and better quality so I don’t feel it was a bad thing. The cost (money AND time and effort) to move all that stuff is worth considering. I’m with you, Catherine.

  11. posted by chacha1 on

    I understand Catherine’s position, but I’m with Erin. The issue here is not do they ship all the goods or get rid of them and buy new. The issue is why they have all the goods in the first place.

    DH and I overbought – like a lot of people. We moved from a 1BR apt to 1BR+den to 2BR and as we went along we filled up all the rooms, just because we COULD. We bought a lot of stuff that we just didn’t need. We were in a shopping mentality.

    That is the thing that needs to be addressed, and right now, not in two years when they may (or may not) be moving or downsizing. That’s what *I* am trying to do: sort it all out now, in our big place, because I absolutely don’t want anyplace bigger, and I’d really like the option of living someplace smaller. I don’t want to be paying rent just to house Stuff.

    Catherine needs to come to an understanding with her husband about which things are really important to him, and which are simply things that make him comfortable, or things that he just doesn’t want to think about dealing with.

  12. posted by Nana on

    Many years ago, a cousin moved from CT to TX. She asked the movers for estimates, of course. Then she looked at each item and said, ‘is it worth $x/pound to transport this?’ That helped her in the deciding process.

  13. posted by Susannah on

    @Nana — you hit the nail on the head. This is exactly the metric my husband and I use every time we move. We ask a similar question about storage: is it worth $x/cubic foot/month to store this? Even if we’re not actually paying for it (e.g. moving the stuff ourselves or storing it in our basement), putting an unsentimental dollar figure on keeping it is extremely helpful.

  14. posted by Jay on

    The crux of Catherine’s problem is not present clutter; it is the fear of future clutter.

    She lives in a large house and did not even say that she has a clutter problem. She is concerned that she will have a clutter problem if she moves her belongings into an apartment that is 1/3 the size of her current house.

    Putting her current belongings into a small apartment is a recipe for clutter. I suggest that she get rid of lots of her stuff where she lives and then buy new stuff in California.

  15. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jay — We don’t have room to print the entire e-mail. Clutter was discussed in the full message more than it was in the selection I posted here. She discussed that she is surrounded by stuff in her current place, but the main point of her question is quoted above.

  16. posted by Amy on

    I feel that her question was not answered. I agree with Jay, she did not say that she has a clutter problem. The question is about which solution is the easiest, to cart all of the furniture and things she needs with her or to sell it and replace it when she moves. She also said that she will keep the things she wants and needs. I assume nice items and tools fit into that category.

    I have moved cross-country and carted a lot of items to find out that I could not use them in my new place. It is a pain and it is costly. Moving isn’t cheap.

    However, as a married person myself, it seems pointless trying to convince your spouse to be on a side of something that will not occur for two years. If you start now, going through all of your things and slowly getting pairing things down now, the decision will be clearer to you in the future. If you have made more progress on your own, you may find that you and your husband are naturally on the same page as it approaches. Especially if you let him obtain the quotes for movers or shipping and calculate the budget for the move.

  17. Profile photo of

    posted by Jacquie on

    Unless Erin has cut out some of what Catherine wrote to her, there isn’t actually anything in the post to suggest they currently live a cluttered lifestyle.

    She is just saying that she has moved with all her furniture twice already (not that there’s way too much of it) and this time would prefer to take only personal, not replaceable items. It sounds almost as if her ideal move would be to go to sleep at night in her house and wake up the next day in her new flat.

    On the other hand, her husband perhaps doesn’t get so stressed by the physical act of managing a move, and maybe likes their current furniture and doesn’t want to change it all, and so can’t understand where she is coming from.

    Is it possible the reason why he doesn’t get stressed by moving is that he isn’t actually the one to sort out the transport, pack everything in boxes, label and keep track of it all, and unpack and put away at the other end? If so, this is a whole different discussion.

    Either way, some things are going to have to go, as you “can’t get a quart into a pint pot”.

  18. posted by Kay Chase on

    I basically have a list of things which I won’t move again. That cute “wine bottle” full of cat nip. But we don’t serve our cats catnip. The pottery we’ve been storing for a friend for 8 years. (Long story, not her fault). The liquors we don’t drink and have been keeping in case someone comes over who *likes* green creme de menthe. The falling apart furniture from our bachelor days. Boxes of unsorted photos. Clothes that don’t fit.

    As I look ahead to my next “move” horizon (2 years from now), I make an effort to use or get rid of the things we haven’t used since our *last* move. As this happens, our home looks cleaner, we can find the things we really need, we’re actually using some things because we can find them now, and there’s less psychic clutter to keep me tensed in anticipation of the next time we move.

  19. posted by jbeany on

    Yes, if you want him to see the logic in paring down, let him do the cost/benefit analysis. If you have to pay movers, you have to ask yourself if your stuff is worth paying someone a $1 or more a minute to move it. I cleared out a lot before my move while keeping that thought in mind. I did leave behind a lot of furniture and start with new, but what I had was hand-me-downs and pretty beat up.

    I don’t think I’d want to start completely from scratch, though. I had everything unpacked in a week. Having to shop for all new, right down to things like measuring cups and q-tips would have been exhausting and taken far longer than opening organized-by-category boxes and plopping the contents onto the appropriate shelves.

  20. posted by CM on

    We moved cross-country and kept nearly all our stuff. Big mistake. We ended up spending too much money moving stuff when it would have been more efficient to get rid of a lot of it before the move and then re-acquire only as necessary. Asking whether it’s worth $X/pound to move, and how hard it would be to acquire once you arrive, is a great idea.

    @Erin, I understand the need to edit, but if your answer is going to address something the letter-writer wrote, you should include it. This is the Internet — aren’t space limits somewhat artificial?

  21. posted by Nancy on

    I’ve felt that dread picturing the energy it will take to drag your stuff a long distance. We’re planning to do a mega-purge before our 1200-mile move. Our quotes were $1500 for an 8’x’16’x8′ POD or $8000 for the smallest United moving truck. $6500 is a lot to pay to keep the same old furniture. I don’t want to risk destroying heirloom furniture, so I’m finding new homes for it locally. We decided it was worth it to keep our cars since they’re new-ish and have low mileage, but I’d rather fly than drive anyday.

  22. posted by kalavinka on

    I agree with some of the suggestions to analyze the cost benefit of moving current items or selling and buying again. I have moved often ever since I was a kid, whether it’s to the next city or across an ocean. As an adult I have thrown my stuff in storage, tried my hand at backpacking in another country, then come back and realized all that I don’t need. Many suggestions on this site for figuring out what one doesn’t really need are useful when planning for a move. Planning 2 years ahead to find solutions is wonderful. However, I interepreted the situation more of a furniture fitting in the new place issue rather than a current clutter issue. Often we buy furniture as a solution to an existing living condition problem. (Need storage, place to sleep, etc) We buy it with certain dimensions/needs that don’t necessarily fit with our next home. This angle plus money/labor is what needs to be discussed. Lay it all out in a logical manner, give concrete examples, and both husband and wife may agree to a solution somewhere in the middle.

  23. posted by Aunt Cloud on

    My CAD0.02, following one transatlantic move and several long and short-distance ones:

    Stuff falls into three categories – irreplacable (old family photos),necessary replaceables, and clutter.

    Categories #1 and #3 are easy (keep and toss, respectively). As for category #2, you’ll have to consider space and needs. If you have a bike, will you still have use for it? how about an iron and ironing board? for anything that’s useful and needed, ask if it’s worth the cost of moving. The boxed set of M*A*S*H episodes will stay, but the lamp you got at Walmart 10 years ago can go – even if you still need a lamp.

    Also, if you’re scaling down from a house to an apartment, you will probably need new living/dining room furniture anyway, because apartment require an entirely different scale of furniture. Many houses have a formal living room, family room, and a rec room in the basement which equal at least three couches, three chairs and 6 lamps. This is the time to get an inventory of your duplicates and keep only what you need: 2 lamps out of 10.

  24. posted by luxcat on

    I don’t know where in CA you are moving back to, but I found much to my surprise that rental apartments in southern california very often do not come with fridges. Just thought I’d mention it. (That said, you can also rent fridges here for short term leases, if you don’t want to buy for some reason)

  25. posted by *pol on

    I think getting rid of it to move is a brilliant plan. Especially the cars. Moving cars from place to place can be a registering nightmare (at least in Canada) and then there may be new rules for air quality or safety features to meet… all annoyingly time consuming and potentially expensive. There are lots of cars to buy everywhere that are safe and functional… so why not get fair market value where you are and buy something better suited to the new lifestyle on the other side of the move?

    And for the bigger furniture and such. It is SO frustrating getting to a place and finding your stuff doesn’t fit or doesn’t “work” in the new space. And beleive me it happens more often than not. Why not lighten the load accross the country, sell the big things to people that want them there and get the “right” thing for the space?

    Brilliant, just brilliant (and less stress too! Temporarily living without furniture isn’t that hard, but worrying about your stuff crossing a country can be agonizing)

  26. posted by Christine on

    It depends… It all needs to be evaluated on a situation/item basis.

    I moved several times, including a move from DC to San Diego (and back again).

    Getting rid of the car makes sense only if you would get rid of it anyway or the cost of shipping the car (at the time I did it, it was $750?) is more expensive than what you would spend on a new car. Otherwise, shipping the car with a car shipper really isn’t a big deal. Unless your car is in bad shape, you’ll probably pass inspections fine.

    As for your other things, think about your future place. Will you be flying there ahead of time and finding a place to live or just find a place once you arrive? Do you have criteria for the place you will be living in. (e.g. 1 bed, or 2 bdrm). Knowing this criteria, reduce your existing items to the number/type of rooms you will have. You don’t know the square footage ahead of time (for now), but it will help. For example, if you will only have a 1bdrm, you will not need to keep the guest bedroom furniture.

    I can’t tell from the post for certain, but it sounded more like your husband was objecting to the idea of getting rid of EVERYTHING. Perhaps his stance is in response to your position (which probably sounds extreme to him).

    Buying from scratch will really add up. Keep what you know is in good shape and you would have to buy again anyway. However, if you have something that you have reason to believe won’t survive a move (e.g. a rickety armoire that works ok where it is, but won’t make it out of the house in 1 piece). No point in paying money to ship it.

    Also, if you have huge furniture/items that you know won’t fit into a standard apartment, obviously get rid of those items as well.

    Then get rid of the clutter from there. This will cut some of the moving expenses. Also call around to more than one moving company for estimates. I remember United being expensive (though if you have reason to believe they would do a great job, that’s relief in itself). Get at least 3 estimates.

    You can still fly there if you want (I did ).

  27. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    I think everyone has some really good angles on this thorny problem.

    It may be that Catherine and her husband are dealing with the same uncertainty in two opposing ways.

    It is so hard, time-consuming, exhausting, boring to decide what is necessary from amongst your current pile of stuff – so she wants to get rid of it “all” and start again, and he wants to keep it “all” because he doesn’t want to buy lots of things new.

    But unless you have more money than time, it is worth sorting what you have. It isn’t impossible to decide what will be needed in a much smaller apartment. If Catherine waits until it is moving time, the decision will be made in default.

    If it’s important to her NOT to take it all with her, I bet she can do most of the decluttering decisions without even interesting her husband in what’s leaving.

  28. Profile photo of

    posted by Jacquie on

    Just another thought, which was sort-of at the back of my previous post but has been crystalised by Jess just above, is….

    Perhaps Catherine wants to get rid of everything because she hasn’t got the mental energy it takes to de-clutter, decide what to take and pack for the move. Solution, just take the few bits she knows she can’t live without.

    Perhaps husband wants to take everything because he hasn’t got the mental energy it takes to decide what to throw away before they go (and maybe doesn’t have to do the packing). Solution, just take everything and hope that somehow it will be alright when they get there.

    Of the two, Catherine’s is the one that would work, but could in the process cause all sorts of matrimonial stress. Not a good idea on top of the relocating stress. With two years in hand, I suggest she starts uncluttering her own stuff, with the help of the forums. Many of us have found that once DH sees stuff leaving, they start to join in. Decluttering can be infectious, just like smiling.

    By the end of eighteen months or so, she should be at the point where she has shifted the worst of the clutter (clothes, books, kitchen tat, excess paperwork, unwanted gifts) and some of the obviously not needed furniture. In the process, she can start collecting together and packing up the precious things which she wants to keep, whatever the end decision.

    At this point, if they are still moving, they could start finding out what sort of size apartment they might live in, and with less stuff to consider, can have a much calmer discussion about what goes (if anything) and what stays.

  29. Profile photo of

    posted by djk on

    In 17 years I had 2 overseas moves and something like 13 moves within Canada, only one within the same city

    I tend to keep a sharpish eye on clutter for that reason. My personal tendency has been to get rid of too much, and be frustrated by the replacement costs at the other end.

    first rule to keeping sanity, obviously, is start now.

    second rule is getting rid of the obvious–anything not in optimal condition. Things that would have to be replaced in 5 years anyway can go. Focus on the stuff you would hide if a critical in-law were to come stay for a week. Torn, broken, unused items, multiples of bedding, anything that is not used regularly can go. Fix it now or ditch it now.

    thirdly, consider the seasonal differences. Will you need the down parka and winter boots?

    fourthly, I sympathise with the OP’s husband. If my DH announced he wanted to get rid of everything I would freak out. It is an extreme. Start taking care of the clutter in your own realm first, and start now, so the benefits become apparent without having to push him into anything.

    good luck!

  30. posted by Availle on

    I also think Catherine should start decluttering now. Getting rid of stuff is never an easy decision, and the last thing you want to do is cram all of them into the last month before the move, when there are one million of other – and more important – things to take care of.

    As I move on average about once a year to another country, sometimes overseas, and always pay out of my own pocket, it is important to move as light as possible. I get rid of everything my heart doesn’t hang on, and purchase again on the other end (thank goodness for craigslist!).

    When I moved to Hong Kong, I got virtually everything for my new apartment from a guy who moved to Thailand. And he confirmed that the most economical (and also ecological, come to think of it!) thing to do was to sell and repurchase, and to only bring along the personal stuff.

    I’ve done this ever since – never regretted it! Unfortunately there’s still lots of personal books I can’t seem to be able to give up…

  31. posted by tammy on

    on some island nations, it is expected that when a person sells a house, the furnishings are included. all of them. the person selling only takes his personal effects with him.

    i wish we all lived, sold, and moved this way. large furnishings are often so specific to a particular home, that it makes sense to keep them together, as we often do with appliances in real estate transactions.

  32. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Great ideas, but perhaps a more detailed approach will help.
    The suggestions to start with your own clutter are spot on. Leave DH out of it for now. Give yourself a Finish Date, at least a couple months out from when you start. Then, pick one smallish area of your home – your pantry, your linen closet, your bookshelves. Choose a way to mark every item that you use over the next few weeks – a stick on colored dot, a quick check w/a highliter, a dot of bright nail polish – you’ll want to have a few different options for different types of items. You don’t want nail polish on your favorite books, and a colored dot will not stay on dishes/cookware when you wash them.

    On your Finish Date, go through those areas you’ve marked, and remove the items that don’t have dots/nail polish/whatever. That’s what you don’t use. Most of that is not valauble to you. Sell/donate/discard.

    Go through your house, marking your items, in this manner. A “Master List” of the areas you plan to declutter, that you can mark off as you go, is very helpful to see your progress. Do a small area at a time, to keep overwhelm at bay. Celebrate your successes. Notice where you’ve got the urge to re-acquire. Erin’s comment about acquiring patterns is also spot on.

    Since you have two years, you’ve got the time to approach this process mindfully. And, the more matter of fact and neutral you are about de-cluttering, the more likely DH is to somehow participate.

    Good luck!

  33. posted by stella on

    check CAREFULLY about what you can stuff in a vehicle and ship it. I asked – 50 lbs.

  34. posted by Jeannine on

    My son used to be a United Van Lines driver. He occasionally had a car on the truck along with the contents of the house. Cost??I dunno.

    One bugaboo for him was what they called “exploding furniture”, the Sauder particle board stuff that really does NOT hold up well in a move. AND is very very heavy! I would definitely ditch that stuff.And it is cheap enough to purchase the perfect size and function at your destination.

  35. posted by chris on

    I wished we had gotten rid of all our stuff when we moved to our new house. We carted it all to the new place and within two years the old stuff was all gone – replaced by stuff which actually “worked” with the new house. It sounds like a good idea, especially if you can be a bit minimalistic about your new acquisitions. Get only what you need and love and not stuff to just fill the space.

  36. posted by ecuadoriana on

    Erin wrote: “…is there something bigger going on that you haven’t yet admitted to yourself?”

    That’s exactly what I thought while reading Catherine’s letter!

    When we moved across country we were both on board with “sell everything & when we get there let’s hit the yards sales & thrift stores to furnish with the ‘local flavor’ decor style”. We were moving to a drastically different environment & our furnishings would have looked out of place & awkward in our new home!

    However, where we had trouble was agreeing was on what each of us was attached to when it came to our hobbies. His “hobby” is building snowboards, skate boards, surf boards, and mountain bikes! The materials involved for this take up the entire garage! My four sewing machines and 50 totes of fabric & notions he thinks are “excessive”! And then there’s the “emotional” possessions…. So we brought in two different “innocent bystanders” to mediate & help us pare down. And that really helped a lot!

    As for Catherine, I can see that she wants to start clean & fresh, but she said they’re moving back to California where most of her family lives. So, these are people who know her- not total strangers with whom she can re-create herself with. So, I wonder if there is something about her marriage & the way they’ve been living that makes her uncomfortable that her family would see & make judgments? The fact that she wants her husband to get on over to her “side” makes me wonder if she is not respecting his feelings in this?

    I can see his point a bit because of watching a bit of what my husband went through watching our “stuff” being bought up at our yard sale: these items were things he had worked hard for, saved for, and purchased thoughtfully and carefully with love in his heart for making us a beautiful & happy home. Now strangers, looking for a deal, were dickering over the price of coffee mugs, bouncing on our love seat (emphasis on the word “love”!), & tossing our things around like junk. It broke his heart- even though logically he knew it was the best thing to do.

    We don’t know what Catherine’s husband may be feeling about all his hard work being put out on the lawn for strangers to paw through, or what childhood traumas he may have suffered with regards to losing or giving up possessions. And like Jacquie said, maybe each of them just doesn’t have the “mental energy” it takes to make these opposing decisions.

    With respect to those who have suffered severe loss of home and life from natural disasters, I actually know a few people who have lost homes because of fire or flood. After the initial shock and mourning has worn off they later feel a flood of relief to be able to start over from scratch and “do it right this time”. Maybe this is what Catherine wants while her husband is seeing their life reduced to a slab.

    If this can’t be resolved in the next two years it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to get counseling.

  37. posted by Catherine on

    Here is my original email:

    I’m hoping you can offer some advice for a situation that hasn’t yet become
    a problem, but seems to be headed there. My husband of 18 years (no kids)
    and I live in a very large house in Northern New York. The house is
    approximately 3800 square feet and has six bedrooms (one being used as a
    walk-in closet) and two and half bathrooms. In two years, we 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. Ever. In addition
    to the stress I experienced with the two prior moves, I really don’t want to
    spend the money on a rental truck, gas and motel rooms.

    Here’s my dilemma: my husband can’t justify selling everything. We will be
    moving from this 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. I have
    successfully been uncluttering our lives, which my husband has been
    supportive about, but he’s just seeing old papers, knickknacks and old
    broken items being tossed, donated or sold. I am not emotionally attached to
    any of our furniture, or any other large items, and I really don’t think my
    husband is either. However, he has a big problem justifying selling all our
    worldly possessions. 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?

  38. posted by Catherine on

    I hope now everyone can put my situation into the proper context.

    I also must defend myself here. There is a big difference between living in a 3800 square foot house and having a lot of clutter. We have several rooms of furniture, and I’m not attached to any of it. I have practiced Buddhism since high school and I have been embracing non-attachment more than ever lately. I am more Buddhist than my husband at the moment. After 18 years of marriage, he’s only recently been embracing Buddhism more, but he’s still a novice at this point, so I am hoping he will see things my way before we end up moving. If he does not fully come of over to my side, I am willing to compromise, but my biggest issues are not wanting to drive across the country yet again, and that we would benefit financially from selling everything. I know for a fact that we would make more money on our old stuff than we would spend on our new stuff since we would be buying at least a third less stuff.

    As for the car, it is already eight years old. By the time we move, we would be better off selling the car for at least two reasons. One, a cross-country drive would be quite a strain on a ten year old car. Second, I’d like to get as much as I can for the car. The car is made for driving in the snow and rough areas. Where we’d be moving, it would just be too much car.

    Also, I don’t want to truck everything (or even most of our stuff) out there and then find out it doesn’t fit. Then we’d have to store it or scramble to sell it. Either way, it would cost more money than I’d like to spend on something we could have sold in NY and kept more of the profit. Not to mention the fact that if we drive out, we’d be spending needlessly on gas, wear and tear on the car, meals and motels. That money would be better spent on furnishing our new apartment. This is the crux of the discussion with my husband.

    Also, we would be shipping some things out. I’ve told my husband that if it’s shippable and doesn’t cost a fortune to send via UPS, then we can ship it and keep it. That just isn’t feasible with furniture. Most of my husband’s tools for instance, would be shipped.

  39. posted by Catherine on

    Just to clarify, my husband and I have not argued about any of this. We have had very calm, rational discussions about all this. My husband is just rather attached to a lot of our belongings. Thanks for the suggestion of counseling, this is definitely not a make or break situation with regard to our marriage.

  40. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Thanks for the clarification, Catherine. I hope some of the suggestions offered are helpful.

  41. posted by Catherine on

    Thanks, Ruth. I certainly do like your suggestions, and others as well.

  42. posted by ecuadoriana on

    Wow, yes, Catherine! I had no idea how much you are all really having to deal with! I know it will all work out, it just takes patience (the Buddhist way!).

    I am happy to see that you at least see your husband’s point of view- that’s what kept me from killing mine! Two sides of the coin! It may be good to bring in an impartial professional de-clutterer to help you wade through it all. He/she will listen to each of your concerns and then help you both through the paring down. And you must PROMISE each other that between now and the move not a single new item will be purchased. Nothing! This is what we did and it really helped! No new clothes, shoes, dishes, books, NOTHING! Not only will it save much needed money, but will help open his (and your) eyes to where all the money has been going!

    I hope you keep us all posted! Good luck- we’re all pulling for you!

  43. posted by Heather on

    This is what we generally have moved with in the past. I think everyone here as some lovely ideas. We have lived in everything from 800 square feet to the current 1500. I would definitely start with your own stuff. Maybe you could live just in the spaces that would be equivalent to what you would have in CA?
    Clothing- based on seasons you will experience and need…do you work? Stay home? Athletics? Etc? We each have a duffle bag for all of our clothing. Shoes go into a small moving box..all of our shoes in 1 box.
    Beds with set of bedding/sheets/pillow. We are seriously debating selling off our dresser and bed frame. It’s is newish but huge and I don’t want to move it. Working on DH with this one. : )
    Toys- we have a toy chest we finished ourselves…only what can fit in there goes, minus one dump truck, some pool items, and his light saber. : ) He has a small backpack for his puzzles, coloring/drawing items/2 small stuffed animals.
    Medicines/bathroom items- don’t forget toilet paper. : )
    Kitchen- dish set, silverware, glasses, basics for cooking, storage. I love my glass containers.
    Furniture- we brought our desk, dining room table with 4 chairs, rocking chair, dresser, 2 side tables, 1 mirror, 1 larger box of wall pictures and items- mostly stars.  3 lamps, small box of college books, 2 laptops, printer and a small box of office essentials. 1 file box of essential papers (don’t forget to make copies) 2 large bulletin boards and 2 large calendars (my saving grace.) 1 flat screen TV…I love the fact that it can be mounted to the wall…takes up less room and in about a year—had it about 8 years and it’s on it’s last legs. Thinking of going to 2 larger chairs with storage hassocks instead. Easier to move and more options in decorating but still have the same amount of seating.
    2 cars, 3 riding bikes, some essential yard work items, 2 large pots, 4 smaller pots, grill, outdoor umbrella. Washer/dryer/hangers.
    We have 5 bamboo blinds-various sizes and 5 sets of the same heavy curtains- they have all moved with us several times. I like privacy and a little style in my place and the uniform look creates a nice space.
    We got this all on the smallest moving truck possible. It took us 5 hours to load and 2 hours to unload and 1 day to put away. SWEEETTT!!! : )
    The shortest time I ever had to prep for packing was 3 weeks. I got ruthless. I always make sure to start using up food that we have and start looking through every drawer, closet, box, shelf, cupboard we have. This eliminates quite a bit. I make a deal that I will fill up my Jeep and drop everything off on Mondays and Fridays. I have also used a pick up service before. This is a nice luxury, especially with heavier items. I make a fix it box…whether it needs to be glued, sewed or assembled. I give myself one week to do these things before we move. If I don’t finish, I decide right then and there if the “stuff” will make the move. Time limits are very important to me and help me decide quickly.
    I have moved to several places where I didn’t know what I was getting other than basics like 2 bedrooms or baths. I plan for the smallest space and lack of closets. After moving 10 times in 7 years (military), by the 3rd move, I was totally exhausted. I learned what was important and what was not. I didn’t think a box or bag here and there would make a difference, but it does. I would start as early as possible and you will find the experience a lot more enjoyable. I also have a DH that panics when we get the word of moving because I go into Operation Purge mode. But, I have found, since I am the packer and he is the truck loader, he is happy with my choices. Good luck.

  44. posted by Catherine on

    Thanks to everyone for all the great advice and suggestions! I will definitely keep everyone updated.

    Side note: I just sold some stuff to a co-worker yesterday and when I showed my husband the money, he must have started doing the math in his head. A few minutes later, he asked me what else we could sell sooner than later. After we went over a few items, he really seemed to be getting it. Money talks!

  45. posted by Kaz in Oz on

    Priceless, Catherine! We went through our whole house yesterday and worked out what was worth keeping and moving with us and we are only going 4 hours away. It went from a similar sized house full as yours to enough to neatly furnish a 3 bed 1 bath 2 living areas place and 1 pantech load of stuff, as opposed to the 3 we moved here with.
    We are putting the house on the market now and want to be settled in the new place around Easter next year. Luckily we live in an area that is moving quickly.
    I’m listing stuff on the intranet site at work to get rid of, would be nice if it helps subsidise the move.

  46. posted by Jane Else on

    Thank you, Erin for posting a balanced answer.

    I often get worried reading comments and articles on this site that suggest children, husbands, family and friends of unclutterers are simply clutter to be dealt with and that the unclutterers view is the only right view.

    There are lots of ways to live a life and one of those routes is an uncluttered route. However, such a route is a personal one and should not be viewed as the only one.

    Discussion, compromise and acceptance are the way forward otherwise you could, like me, end up living alone and lonely in your organised, dust free uncluttered home.

  47. posted by WilliamB on

    Some of my thoughts, in no strong order.

    1. Your car. I’ve moved from the East Coast to CA; reregistering an out-of-state car is quite the hassle and surprisingly expensive. CA has stricter emissions requirements than other states, if you don’t have a car that’s CA-compliant you have to pay a large fee to compensate for the difference. I’d be surprised if your 10 yo car would meet the requirements. If you do the math for wear and tear, gas, hotel, reregistering, and noncompliance fee, I expect that buying a car (new or used) in CA would be the better financial decision.

    2. Start with the easy stuff first – the things you both want to get rid of now and the things you both want to keep. The get rid of pile probably includes a lot of furniture, rugs, decorations, etc. Maybe you don’t want to actually get rid of it two years before you go… Hmmm, there must be a way to mark stuff now. Maybe take photos of large items and sort them? Or make a list or mark with a tag? One drastic idea is to”move into” a 2BR, 1.5BA room place by using just 2BR and 1.5BA in your current home. (If you do this, let us know how it works. I’ve never seen anyone do it in practice.) After the easy stuff is pared away, then you get down to the business of what you disagree on.

    3. What exactly is your husband objecting to, when he says you’ll just have to buy new things. Is it the expense? The environmental problems of buying new? The time and hassle involved? Emotional attachement? Each possibility leads to different possible solutions.

    4. Rather than defining your preferred solution, try raising your issues and asking how he’d address them. You’ve identified the work involved in packing, hauling, driving, unpacking, and the expense. Then ask your husband how he’d solve these problems.

    5. There are two things in your language that may be provoking a reaction in your husband. If I’m right then changing how you phrase it would help. The first is talking about sides – your side, your husband’s side. The second is your phrase “selling everything.” From what you write you don’t actually want to sell EVERYTHING, you want to sell what you don’t think you’ll use in CA.

    Good luck. It’s great to see a family thinking about this nicely in advance.

  48. posted by WilliamB on

    There’s one kind of clutter that is a real problem in my house, the stuff you have that might be useful but wouldn’t replace if it were lost unless/until you needed it.

    I generally advocate to limit this type of clutter but in the past couple of years circumstances have conspired to undermine my position. In one case my friend’s broke tenant took all her furniture; since we hadn’t gotten rid of excess furniture we could help her a lot. In another I cleaned out the excess kitchen gear (a dozen boxes worth, long story) just a few months before another friend suffered a house fire. Had I not just decluttered we could have helped a lot.

  49. posted by Anita on

    My parents and I did something similar when, in 2003, we moved from Romania to Canada with all our belongings packed in 4 suitcases. One was full to the point of bursting with books (mostly reference and research as my mom was working on her second Ph.D. at the time), and the 3 others held clothing, shoes, toiletries, and the bare minimum of household items (2 sets of bedsheets, 3 forks, 3 knives, 3 spoons, 1 mug etc).

    We got pretty much everything new. Some things were great — it was the first time in our lives that all our kitchenware was brand new, that there were no worn-out sheets tucked at the back of closets and so on. But our huge armchairs that I could curl up in with room to spare are still missed, especially in the winter, and I haven’t seen anything similar on this side of the Atlantic yet.

    As for whether this has gotten rid of clutter… I can’t say with certainty. We were never very cluttery to begin with, and getting rid of things was always one of my mom’s favourite pastimes. We didn’t leave things behind to unclutter, we did it because we didn’t have the financial means to bring our stuff over in one go, and refurnishing our new apartment gradually and cheaply was more within our means. Once we got here, initially I suppose we were the epitome of unclutterers, de facto if not by choice, but as we got settled and our earnings increased, we were more focused on going back to a comfortable living standard than on embracing any idea of minimalist or uncluttered lifestyle.

  50. posted by Adela on

    I understand Catherine’s POV. My husband is a big collector of stuff (his mom probably qualifies as an actual hoarder-she does not live with us but brings a bag or box of her discards to our house every time she visits, like monthly!). It’s frustrating to me because I feel my basic necessities of life are crowded out and I’m living an even more minimalist lifestyle than I would if I were on my own. We have been married 12 years and have been through 3 major purges (where we donated upward of 1/3 of our stuff). The last time we did it we got help from a professional organizer. It seems extreme but it was worth every penny, and offset by the tax deduction and the need not to replace stuff we can’t find and also my ability to say no to new purchases on the grounds of lack of storage space. My husband likes shop recreationally and iscomfortable living in cluttered chaos and so it was helpful to have a third party represent an new mentality, and also keep up focused at the task. It took about 10 hours a week for 2 months to get it done. It’s a big commitment and it would be easier to say “junk it all” and more pleasant to shop. But you end up back where you are in the long run.

  51. 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.

  52. 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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