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Long Term Travel: What Did You Do With Your Stuff?

Lately, every time we tell someone we’re traveling long term, they always ask about two things: “What do you do about money?” and “What did you do with your stuff?”

They’re both fine questions; they both actually seem to be major reasons why people don’t go on these long-term trips that often. While the money question has a much longer answer that usually starts with “Remember how you bought a house?”, the stuff question actually has a very detailed response.

And here it is.

Step 1: Decide What to Keep & What to Part With

Going through all of our things and deciding what stayed and what went was exhausting, physically & emotionally. Neither of us were quite to hoarder status, but we had been in the same apartment for a few years and had accumulated so much stuff.

One thing that we found very helpful during this process was reading Marie Kondo’s the “Life Changing Art of Tidying Up.” And by “we”, I mean Kenny, because he’s the only one who actually read the book, but the core concept is around only keeping things that bring you joy. If something no longer brings you joy, you should thank it for the joy it did bring you, and part ways with it.

Getting rid of stuff is hard, but it also feels so, so good. After getting ride of so much junk, I just felt lighter and freer. Especially now, having lived only out of a backpack for the past six months, I know I don’t actually need all of the things I had (or probably half the things I kept).

Here’s a summary of how we handled some of our core categories of stuff:

  • Furniture: Most of the future we owned was from Ikea, and thus, it was cheaper to re-buy it all when we got back to the States than it was to take up space in a storage unit.
  • Clothes & accessories: We only kept quality items that fit well and we actually wore. I only kept accessories that I actually used, and tried to only keep one or two from any category (e.g. one belt, only my nice purses, a couple scarves, etc.).
  • Kitchen Supplies: We kept our every-day kitchenware, our formal dining wear, and my good kitchen supplies, most of which were gifts from our wedding. We kept our Kitchen Aid mixer, but parted ways with any appliance that we could buy for <$50 on Black Friday if we found ourselves needed it in the future.
  • Entertainment: I made Kenny keep all of his books, and he never approved of it, but I really want a library one day. We got rid of almost all of our DVDs, older gaming systems, and TV. We had a desktop computer which we were prepared to sell, but had space, so we kept it last minute.
  • Crafts & Seasonal: I did a much-needed holiday decor cleanse and collapsed all of the shelves of my walk-in closet into one box of holiday decorations, plus one box of ornaments (I get one every year for my birthday, so it’s kind of my thing.) Craft supplies were so, so hard! In short, I kept one box of my best supplies and now have an excuse to binge at Michaels when I get back.
  • Sentimental: This was really hard. This is things like sea shells from Spring Break, old birthday cards from loved ones, craft projects, etc. All I can say here is that we really channeled our inner Marie Kando. Does it bring us joy? Anything I didn’t choose to keep, I did take pictures of, so I could keep the memories they held.

My walk-closet filled with clothes and Christmas decorations. This all collapsed into about two boxes.

Do I think I made all the right decisions? Absolutely not. I know there will be things I wish I had (I can already think of some of them), and I’m also sure I will get back to the things I saved and be like, “You absolutely don’t need this.”

But I’m glad I went through the exercise. It’s good for the soul (and your storage space). Even if you aren’t traveling, streamlining your stuff is something I think everyone should do every so often.

Step 2: Get Rid of Things

Sell It

We went through our apartment and took pictures of everything we thought other people might want. This was everything from unopened toaster ovens (yeah, we had two #weddingprobs) to furniture to DVDs. From there, we tried to share it on as many channels as we could, hoping to make a little bit of money or at least for our items to have a second life.

Here’s some ways we tried to sell stuff:

  • Website: We threw up a quick WordPress site with all of our available items and asking prices (noting we’d accept best offer). We posted this on all of our social channels and managed to sell several smaller items to our local friends and family. As time went by though, we just changed the prices to free.
  • Apartment Flyer: We lived in a 20-story building in downtown Chicago. We posted a printout in the building laundry room of all the items and asking prices (which we also eventually changed to free when we really just wanted to get stuff gone). We managed to sell our bed and china cabinet to people in our building which was great because it was easy to move.
  • eBay: Kenny sold his entire life’s collection of DVDs, including many full seasons of TV, on eBay. Honestly, whoever bought them got a steal. He tried to group them into bundles and sold them as sets. He didn’t make anywhere near as much as they were worth, but it got them off our hands. (I think we’ll miss these.)

Ideally, we would have sold all of our stuff, but it didn’t work out that way because we ran out out of time. So when we couldn’t sell it, we moved on to giving it away.

Donate It

Most of the smaller things we weren’t keeping, but were still in good condition (clothes, appliances, dishes, etc.) we took to Good Will. I wish I counted the number of trips we took and the number of bags we filled for them, because it was a lot. I do hope that those items are brining joy to someone else, right now.

We were also left with a lot of bigger items that we couldn’t sell, that we now wanted to donate. The Salvation Army and many other non-profits will actually come to you and pick up donations for bigger items, like furniture. We arranged to have our furniture picked up by Brown Elephant (a local Chicago furniture resale shop where all proceeds support access to healthcare for the LGBT community).

Remove It

When we sold or donated all we could, we were still left with a couch, mattress and coffee table, which we were unable to donate, due to the condition. In Chicago, you can’t just leave stuff like this in an alley or trash bin, so we actually had to pay someone to come and throw our junk away. That really stung and cost us about $250, and pretty much cancelled out any money we’d made selling anything else. Can’t win ’em all.

Step 3: Store Things You’re Keeping

Storage Locker

Most of our stuff is in a 5×10 foot storage locker in Chicago. (If you wanted the one-sentence answer to where our stuff is, this is it.) This doesn’t sound like a lot of space, but we managed to fit a lot of stuff in there. After we loaded it up with my dresser (filled with clothes), my vanity (filled with bubble-wrapped crystal and china), and all of the rest of our boxes, we actually had more space left over than we expected. So we ended up keeping our iMac desktop, Kenny’s work desk, and our foldout kitchen table, all of which we’d originally planned on selling or donating.

Bye, stuff!

We chose a middle-of-the-road storage option. Our unit costs us $75 a month, which includes insurance. It is not temperature controlled, but our unit is on an upper floor, so we don’t have to worry about the unit flooding. We lined the edge of our unite with boric acid to keep the bugs away and have some silica gel out to absorb some of the humidity, but we’re mostly just hoping everything is okay. I guess I’ll let you know how that goes when the time comes to take it out.

Friends & Family

While most of our stuff is in the storage unit, we still ended up with some belongings scattered across our friends and family.

We stayed with a family friend in Chicago for three months before leaving on our trip. When we were packing up to move out, she graciously offered to let us keep our four suitcases of belongings in their attic and our bikes in their basement. (Thank you, Aunt Linda!)

Kenny’s parents kinda accepted the role of keepers of all our mail. We needed a physical address for a bunch of reasons, and they let us use theirs. They’re super helpful and go through all our mail and tell us if we miss anything important. (Thank you, Mom & Dad!)

And then there’s my parents. No matter how hard they try to get me to get my stuff out of their house, I keep putting stuff back in it. (Thanks, love you!) We left my parents with things that needed to be temperature controlled, like my nice leather boots, delicate Christmas ornaments, etc. I also snuck in some craft supplies I couldn’t part with (shhhh don’t tell Kenny).

And there you have it. Going through and storing all of our stuff, was certainly no easy task, but at the end of the day, it’s just stuff. Leaving your stuff behind is nothing compared to leaving your friends and family behind.

My favorite females at our going away party the weekend before we left Chicago.