The Joy of No Things

My first attempt at moving internationally was about 10 years ago, to Paris, France, when I first started university.

Almost as soon as I arrived, I realized that France was, in fact, not where I wanted to be. After about a month, I’d withdrawn from college and made my way home, back to NJ, suitcases in tow.

In the process of preparing for that move, I made absolutely no effort to err on the side of caution. If you asked me, I was going to be moving to Paris forever and therefore needed to bring every minuscule valuable with me.

The day I left Paris, I moved out of a fifth floor walk up at 6am with both my mother and myself carrying roughly two suitcases filled only with books. We laughed, we cried, we sat on the curb waiting for a taxi to take my sorry self home. It was memorable.

Over the past decade of growing up and growing older, I’ve accumulated even more things than during my first foray overseas. Things like couches and kitchen tables and appliances and vacuums and books and books and books. (Seriously, so many books.)

The lease on my current apartment is coming to an end in just a few weeks. As my obsessive personality would drive me to do, I’ve packed everything up nearly a month early.

And by pack everything up, I mean throw 90% of it out.

When I first started, I went to the UPS store and bought ten boxes, promising myself that I wouldn’t buy any more once those were full. The funny thing is that I still have three left, and I won’t be filling them, at all.

I donated all but two boxes of my books. I saved one box of records. Culled hundreds of little trinkets and notes and pins. I sold most of my furniture, and donated the rest. As I picked up each item, I was able to ask myself, “If I stay overseas, will it be worth the effort to figure out how to ship this?”

The vast majority of the time, the answer was no.

So now as I walk through my nearly empty apartment — mildly sleep-deprived since my dog still insists on sharing the couch that has taken the place of my bed — I feel so much lighter, calmer, more organized, and collected. I know exactly what I own and, in some cases, what I don’t own. (I’ll get that car title before the end of the month if it kills me, DMV.)

I was able to move everything in just two car trips. It’s not like any other move I’ve done before and, all I can say, is that I don’t want any other move to be different from this in the future.

When it comes to holding on to things, it’s because we’re afraid that by releasing the emotions we connect with each item, the past will lose its pertinence, its hold on our lives and how its shaped us. Really, though, they’re just things. By letting them go and physically cleaning the space around us, it becomes so much easier to see and prioritize and look the future dead in the face.

It’s such an awesome feeling. I just hope I remember it next time I walk past a bookstore and see one of those old titles…


  • Liz

    This resonates with me so much! I currently have a hall full of stuff ready to go off to the thrift store. But I also still have about 20 storage caskets taking up room which I would rather use for other things – work in progress!! I like your way of judging whether things should stay or go (would I ship it or not) – I might borrow that one if you don’t mind. I’m not planning on going anywhere, but it’s a useful measure nonetheless 🙂

  • robintgalt

    Great job simplifying your life!

    The part at the end when you start by saying, “When it comes to holding onto things…” really spoke to me. I have been trying to declutter my life for a few months now and keep getting stalled by memorabilia. I am determined to face all the emotional/sentimental items of my past and let as many go as I can. Some way, some how I think it’ll propel me into my future.

    Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo? She would be proud of you!

    Thanks for your insight.

    • Erica

      “Some way, some how I think it’ll propel me into my future.” I love this idea! I haven’t read that book yet – I’m definitely adding it to the list. Thank you for the suggestion! 🙂

  • Christine

    The only thing I shipped when I moved from Canada to London was my piano (it was worth it financially), the piano bench and two boxes of items. The rest came in suitcases on the plane and I’ve found myself with again a house full of belongings. However, this weekend I am donating all the books I have read, and the ones I decided not to read after all. 🙂 I already know it will feel good to have more space. The weekend after I am clearing out the closets.

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