Over the months leading up to our departure on our RV adventure last December we purged like we have never purged before. We had gone through an initial purging process in the spring of 2014, when we parted with about 3/4 of our stuff and moved cross country from St John’s, NL to Victoria, BC. We embarked on this adventure via a road trip with our kids, which was an incredible experience that planted the seeds for our current adventure. We planned to leave in March and hit the road in May 2014, which didn’t leave a whole lot of time for touch ups on our house, listing and letting go of stuff. I took on most of the purging while my husband focussed on paint and repairs. Our first kick at the can was painful and yet incredibly liberating. We moved so much stuff from Calgary when my husband started his PhD almost 5 years prior, lots of antique furniture from my Dad, a piano and tons of other stuff. Before we left we sold almost all of it, keeping a few select pieces of furniture, our artwork, clothes, books and a few toys. In hindsight it was still far too much (we ended up getting rid of a lot of it once we arrived in Victoria) but at the time it felt like a lot. And it was, a lot of it was “stuff” that i had shifted constantly during our time in St John’s, never able to get ahead of the clutter. I could feel it weighing me down, and a big part of uprooting ourselves and moving was tied to letting go of most of it.
We had been discussing tiny homes for several years, and intentionally downsized to an 869 sq ft 2 bedroom apartment in Victoria, to see what living in a smaller space with our kids would feel like. We had our moving company deliver all of our boxes the day we moved in, and I had a mini panic attack, looking at all of the stuff we now needed to find a place for. Spatial restrictions required purging further, parting with a reading chair I felt myself very attached to (likely because I spent many hours reading to my kids in it). We had left with everything we thought we couldn’t live without, and here we were letting go of more. My husband pointed out that it wasn’t about the chair, I could hang onto the memories and let go of the physical object. We had spent a lot of time discussing and reading books about minimalism (links at the bottom of the post), which helped get us in the right mindset for this final purge. It wasn’t easy, but once our stuff was out the door I found I didn’t really miss it, and we certainly appreciated the extra space. I think part of the difficulty letting go had to do with having just made a huge change, leaving behind the life we had built in St John’s and while a chair is just a chair, in a way it was a tie to everything we had left behind.
Our apartment in Victoria was in a fantastic location and suited our needs nicely, however the price was prohibitive so we found ourselves looking into other options after a year. We quickly found out how lucky we were to find our first spot, as every other place we looked into was unwilling to rent a 2 bedroom apartment to five people (even though three of those people were kids). I was unable to get a straight answer as to why, the most I got was “it exceeds the maximum allowable amount of people for the space.” I think part of our luck with our first apartment was due to the fact that the woman who interviewed us was from Europe, where small space living is still common practice. I felt like saying it can be done, as we have done it for over a year now and found the space to be very comfortable. But the powers that be had decided it was not possible, so we started to explore the condo market, to see if we could swing buying a place.
We lucked out with a two bedroom fixer upper condo, the price was right and we were willing to put the work in to make it livable. Our realtor looked at us strangely when we said we wanted a two bedroom place (given that we have three kids) and asked if we were sure we really wanted to look at the spot we ended up choosing. We did and we were, and the home renovation adventure began. We ripped up carpets, painted all of the walls, gutted the kitchen and re-installed a new one in a month before leaving for Europe for my Dad’s wedding. By the time we got back we were thoroughly burnt out, so the remaining projects happened gradually over the next year. Living in a renovation zone was overwhelming to say the least, I felt the revenge of the clutter bug again, but in this case it was tiles and renovation materials that had taken over our bedroom (the only available space) rather than our possessions. But clutter is clutter regardless of where it comes from, and I could feel it weighing me down.
We had moved to Victoria with the intention of setting down roots and staying for a while, but we gradually realized that while the city is amazing, it’s not really about the place. As long as the five of us are together, we can be at home anywhere. We attempted to set up a business venture that ended up falling through based on a variety of factors. We had a lot of challenges, but if I am being honest, we ended up moving on because it was not the right fit and not ultimately what we wanted to be doing. This decision forced us to take a good hard look at how we were living our life, and whether or not Victoria was the right fit for us. We decided it wasn’t, and in the funny way life has of presenting you with inspiration and ideas exactly when you need them, my husband found an article discussing a couple who had converted an old school bus to live and travel in. After a year of living in a reno zone we were not up for taking on any new projects, which led us to explore other options. We discovered that full time RV living was a “thing” and started following a few different families and couples with YouTube channels chronicling their adventures. Living in an RV wasn’t something I had ever considered, but something about this idea felt right. We had been talking about a tiny home for a while, and this allowed us to have our tiny home and also travel at the same time. Yes, please!
We threw ourselves into full time renovation mode, finishing up our outstanding projects before listing our condo through the realtor who had helped us find it a little over a year before. We put a lot of work into staging it, and the lovely part of this process is that it helped us declutter, big time. Despite downsizing, there was still a lot of stuff we had to deal with. We knew we were downsizing to a tiny space, so we became ruthless, getting rid of everything we possibly could. Reading and following the guidelines in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo was instrumental in this process. We didn’t coordinate a storage locker, everything that left the condo was gone for good. We listed a bunch of stuff, but quickly found out (much as we had in St John’s) that items are only worth what people are willing to pay for them, which is often not much. It is painful to look at how much you spent on something and realize that you won’t be getting much of it back, but it is also an excellent learning experience. I realized that the key is not getting money back for things you invested in, but rather engaging in conscious consumerism - and not buying them in the first place. Our first round of purging was all about “what do I love and want to hold on to.” This round was all about what can we possibly get rid of/what is absolutely essential. Which leads me to the title for this post!
The Last Boots Standing. When purging started in earnest, I found myself with a lot of stuff. Including two beautiful pairs of boots. I spent several weeks purging in stages. I was able to purge my closet by going through and trying everything on, being ruthless about what I loved versus what was there because I knew how much I had spent on it and didn’t want to give it up (even if the fit/style wasn’t quite right). I tried listing a bunch of stuff, but with no viable consignment options, I ended up donating most of it to Women in Need. With more time I could have possibly gotten something for it, but it wouldn’t have been much and I felt good knowing that it was going to a good cause. Shoes were a bit more challenging. I knew I didn’t have space for a lot, but was loath to part with my favourite pairs. I had one pair of boots in particular that seemed like an easy “keep” as they were the perfect pair, I had spent a lot of time looking for them and felt like a million bucks wearing them. Problem was my feet didn’t love the boots quite as much as my inner fashionista - the boots were on the small side and a walk of any decent length left me in agony. Given that we walk a lot, this was not a great choice. I had another purple pair (in the picture) that I wore all the time, and absolutely loved (and my feet loved too). I feel like my decision to part with the not quite right boots was a turning point in the purging process, I no longer looked at the things I owned from the perspective of “can I keep this” but began looking instead at what items could serve multiple functions.
Kitchen stuff was the hardest to part with (even more than the boots!) as I cook all the time, and much of it was functional. But was it necessary? I took a big box and put everything that I didn’t consider to be essential in it. As the weeks progressed, the box items grew in number, and I found myself using less. I started using a smaller number of items for multiple functions and finally started to embrace the clean as I go approach my Dad has been encouraging me to take on since I started cooking in a big way as a teenager. It’s amazing how far clean cooking tools will take you. I was able to part with way more than I had originally thought possible, and when it came time to move into our RV, we were able to fully stock our kitchen with a whole lot less than I had originally envisioned. Which means we have abundant storage space and room to breath. It feels so good, and I can honestly say don’t miss any of the items I parted with.
This approach has extended to every aspect of our new living space. We have only kept things that we use and love, and often these are things that serve multiple functions. This whole process was pretty amazing, it opened my eyes as to what I am attached to and why. I realized how much emotional attachment I was giving to the stuff I owned, and feel like I purged not only physical items but also a lot of the emotional stuff I was holding on to in the process. I have become more conscious about what I purchase, it has to be something that I absolutely love and am willing to make space for. We try to embrace eco-friendly options as much as possible, and buying less helps us be more selective. I would much rather buy one high quality and eco friendly item than many cheaper options. It may cost more, but when the amount you are buying is less, it evens out. We feel lighter and appreciate what we have so much more. Letting go our our stuff has been such a gift, it has opened up the time and space to focus on what is really important to us.
Minimalism & Downsizing Resources
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up & Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap!) by Tammy Strobel
Clutter's Last Stand - by Don Aslett