Recovering from the Pack Rat Years

Moving Day

Moving Day

It is finally Moving Week for the Mustache family, and we’re right in the thick of it. The new house, while still sporting plain plywood countertops and missing some frilly extras like doors and trim, is finished enough to sustain life so we decided to make the jump as early as possible.

But the rush to empty and clean the old place while simultaneously compressing our lifestyle by 1000 square feet has been a very revealing exercise. Despite our best efforts to live a sensible, frugal, and minimalist life over these past eight years, we have somehow still ended up with an absolute shitload of unnecessary crap. Boxes of it. Storage rooms, closets, and nooks full of it. Even now as we try to ruthlessly triage the stuff between sell, donate, recycle and trash bins, the torrent seems unlimited. How did we end up in this odd position?

A deeper archaeology of the debris has revealed some useful details. There’s a pair of underused Men’s hockey skates. I haven’t skated since I left Canada in 1999, so these particular bits of life baggage have tagged along for 15 years and 5 US addresses while never seeing a patch of ice. Why do I still have these? Two pairs of rollerblades (his and hers) have a similar history. We’re already up to one medium-sized box.

Then there are the sentimental items like photo albums, mementos from high school romances, cute candle holders that never seem to work in your current house, a once-fancy Yamaha player for the antique digital media known as “CDs”, several hundred discs written in this format, a translucent skull with a strobe light mounted inside (?), and a wooden devil pitchfork that I made hastily for a 1997 Halloween costume that somehow never gets lost*. Plus a well-stitched horse head that my older sister made in home economics class sometime in her early teens.


How could I let go of something so cute, made by my big Sis 35 years ago?

How could I let go of something so cute, made by my big Sis 35 years ago?

And all that is before we get to the real source of Stuff: kid-related objects. I have fiercely avoided buying battery-powered plastic toys throughout my son’s lifetime, but somehow these things have still entered our life by the dozen thanks to the generosity of others. An enormous honking driving “Turbo Rig” that got a few laughs around his third birthday. Various other vehicles, humanoid figures, and swords. A pair of detailed pirate ships that he bought with his own money before realizing that his building kits (most notably Trio and Lego) provide longer-lasting entertainment.

My family is living in the happiest and most fortunate of situations, and I actually love the cleansing and organizing effort of moving to a new house. So the above should not be read as a complaint. More of a self-mocking and a reminder that we can do better in curating the things we bring into our lives. After all, most of my own junk turned out to be from my earlier adulthood, when a high income teamed up with a large living space to produce a very low threshold for acquiring new things. In the most recent three years, a stricter approach has delivered much better results.

Minimalism – Isn’t That Just for New York City Millenials?

Even a casual embrace of Minimalism will bring great improvements to your life, so in reality, every smart person should be dipping their toes in its refreshing waters. There are mental benefits: a clearer mind so you can focus better on the experiences and people that mean the most to you. And financial ones too: with less stuff you can live larger in a smaller space, which frees up hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. These dollars feed back into your freedom, allowing you to live wherever and however you like.

Even a vague and fuzzy adoption of minimalist principles can make a huge difference. Without it, I’d be in a cubicle under fluorescent lights on this fine Monday morning in June, furiously typing brackets and function calls into a compiler, still 26 years from the finish line. Instead, I’m currently sitting under a shade tree, 9 years into retirement and casually typing these thoughts into a thin silver laptop which will promptly be folded closed whenever my family wakes up so I can make them breakfast.

So if you haven’t done so already, you might want to change the way you think about new stuff. The tricks that work for me are as follows:

A Lifelong Burden

When presented with a spiffy new object, most of us think only of the present pleasure it may offer. The Sharper Image Digital Bluetooth Wine Bottle Opener will get you drunk while fostering a futuristic vibe at your parties. I try to look past that first thrill and imagine the rest of the life of that gadget – taking up space, restricting future moves to new homes, causing your worry and pain when it eventually breaks, then finally sitting in a landfill for 100,000 years as it burdens the next 3,000 generations of humans. This scenario should be mentally reviewed for all non-recyclable plastic items and bits of electronics.

This applies equally well to gifts: when you give objects of questionable long-term use, you are really handing out lifelong burdens. Similarly, you can safely declare all weddings birthdays, and religious holidays Free from Manufactured Gifts, if you’re the planner.

Some Objects Actually Simplify Life

Adding a handy Yang to the above bit of bummer Yin, you can acknowledge that we are not perfect and you might as well make the most of the society you are born into. So you can let yourself slip and participate in our group silliness in a thoughtful way. For example, I happen to like certain gadgets like digital cameras, sound recorders, music players, and GPS navigators. I also make good use of a phone and a computer. But nowadays the smartphone has integrated all of these things into a very smooth and humanist single object. Owning this one simple thing lets me forget about many complicated things, so I do it gladly.

Similarly, one good resharpenable knife will replace a lifetime procession of cheap ones, a reasonable bike will replace a lifetime of car upgrades (and purchases of ever-larger pants and belts), and a set of core tools and skills will eliminate a lifetime of having to find others to maintain the stuff you do choose to keep around. Sometimes more is less, in a good way.

Never, Ever go “Shopping”

My greatest ally in buying less stuff, has been not even knowing what I am missing. Since 2000, I have done virtually all shopping online. No shopping malls, no clothing stores, and construction materials only when I couldn’t find an Internet or e-mail based way to get the same stuff. We’ve also been without broadcast TV or radio service, and had no magazine or newspaper subscriptions.  This is still no magic shield: Amazon still makes buying stuff far too much fun, and library books, The Economist, Nature, Wired, thoughtful comments and emails from MMM readers, and other geeky online information fountains still provide way more information (both useful and useless) than my limited brain can properly absorb. But making our best attempt at a low information diet can at least allow us to choose which information and products we consume, rather than having them pumped into us.

Preventing Works Better than Purging

Combining the two points above into a single action, I find that the best cure to a cluttered life is to avoid letting the clutter in in the first place. It’s easier to prevent than it is to cure.

So instead of running a “budget”, where you allow yourself a certain amount of waste allowance or “fun money” in various categories every month, I enjoy starting with the idea that Zero is the ultimate budget. Then you carefully evaluate each potential expense and happily admit it only if it truly meets your goals.

As a beginner in a debt emergency, this filter will be very tight because very little is worth more than your sanity and freedom. On the other hand, here in my old age with greater wealth, spending on things like luxury food and more expensive experiences is very open, but the acquisition of new objects is still heavily scrutinized because that “lifelong burden” effect never goes away no matter how rich you get.

Occasionally I slip, and the pain is noticeable. For example, last year I bought a used “Roku HD” video streaming player, and it didn’t work with my projector**. This device has taunted me from my office shelf ever since, as I have tried to sell it and give it away without success. The lost $45 is negligible, but the mental burden is palpable. I should have known better than to buy the thing in the first place, because I already had a perfectly functional way to watch movies by plugging in the laptop.

Still, life goes on and is grander than ever. We are shedding material burden and moving up in the world as we transfer our lives to the new house. I just wanted to share the experience with younger readers so they can learn from our mistakes. A lighter storage closet leads to a lighter heart.


Further Reading:

This piece in UCLA magazine studies our clutter culture and shares some juicy pictures of houses thankfully much worse than mine.

How Big is your Circle of Control, an article I angrily typed out last fall, looks more closely at the benefits of mental minimalism, which is surprisingly similar to careful curation of your physical crap.


* And as you can see if you look carefully at the picture at the top of this article, that damned pitchfork made its way to the new house, when a friend found it while helping me move and brought it along for his lawbreaking rooftop couch ride up the hill.

 ** because of the bullshit invention called “HDCP” copy protection that the movie studios snuck into our consumer products, which ironically makes it much easier to play pirated movies than legally purchased ones unless you happen to have the newest viewing equipment.

  • RobEisner June 8, 2014, 7:15 pm

    Brabara Flanagan’s “Flanagan’s Smart House” lists and evaluates the 98 items you need to make a home. One way to declutter would be to subject anything you own that is not on her list to the severest scrutiny. This is intelligent, not the extreme, minimalism of owning only, say, sixteen things. Part of the problem, I believe, is that homes have gotten too damned big. I find even MMM’s new digs at–what is it?–2000 square feet or so too big, especially when a couple are left with an empty nest.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 9, 2014, 7:40 am

      Yeah, the new place is just over 1500SF on one floor, which is indeed plenty spacious. As an empty nester in 10+ years, this place will probably become a highly profitable VRBO which pays for us to be out exploring the world with an even lighter Stuff Anchor.

      • Mark June 9, 2014, 9:00 am

        I’m always amazed at the size difference between US and UK.
        I live in the South West of England and my 3 bed semi-detached house (which is probably slightly above average) is only around 1000SF.

        Ah, just found: http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-big-is-a-house
        http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/housesizeft21.gif may be of interest. Your ‘smaller’ house is still double the UK size! :-)

      • Laura June 9, 2014, 11:00 am

        Would you be willing to post the floor plan of your new house including dimensions? I’m looking to downsize from a 5000 (Gasp!) square foot house to something in the 1600 sq foot range. I have my eye on an 800 sq foot ranch that I could add on to and gut remodel and am curious how you are making your new space work. I’m 50,FI, recently divorced with only one child still at home and look at my house and all of the maintenance required and can’t wait to get out. Love your website. You and Flylady are the best!

        • Gerard June 9, 2014, 5:22 pm

          Would you consider living in the 800 square feet for a year or two, to realize what (if any) extra space you actually need? Or would moving from 5000 to 800 be crazy hard?

          • Laura June 10, 2014, 7:37 am

            If I buy this house to remodel I will be living in about 800 square feet until the permits and architectural plans are approved. If it were just me I could but with one girl at home and two girls who return from college each summer the two bedrooms, one bathroom and no basement would be tight quarters indeed. 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with a basement would be ideal.

        • RetiredAt63 June 9, 2014, 7:51 pm

          My house is 1200 sq. ft. with a finished basement, the people before me were two adults and two almost adults (one late teens, one early 20’s who was away on work a lot and stayed at home when he was back in the area). For me and my DD (mostly away at school) it is way more than enough. I would have bought smaller but this was as small as I could find in the area and still have a big yard. Living/dining/kitchen is one big area, makes the space a lot more usable. I basically do not use the basement, I go down there to do laundry.

  • Mary June 8, 2014, 7:19 pm

    My favorite thing to do before purchasing something is to imagine carrying it around for the rest of my life. It really stops me from buying pretty much everything.

  • Posted On June 8, 2014, 7:57 pm

    http://www.freecycle.org is your friend. I recently found this free trading site, free to join, free to give away things, and I have been trying to give stuff away ever since! It feels great to give an item to someone who needs it. I love it!

    • Eldred June 8, 2014, 9:08 pm

      That is, when people actually RESPOND. I’ve had WAY too many people flake out on picking something up. I mean, they’re getting something for FREE, but they can’t be bothered to actually follow through on the pickup???

      • Posted On June 8, 2014, 10:07 pm

        Yeah, I will admit that I mostly watch the “wanted” posts and respond with something that I have. That way at least the item truly is wanted. I’ve had no responses to most of my “offer” posts, and have ended up giving stuff to my family. Haven’t had any no-shows though.

        • Geek July 27, 2014, 6:47 pm

          People actually tend to value free stuff (and the time of people giving it away) less than stuff that costs money. From video games – free customers are the pickiest and expect gold-star service – to freecycle. I’ve had a few no-shows. It’s too bad.

      • Conjou June 9, 2014, 11:28 am

        Yeah– this has been a frustration for me too. I notice that if I put $5-20 as a price for something I really wanted to give away, then people scramble to get it because they think it is a deal. If I advertise it as free, people seem to think it is junk or it attracts flaky people that don’t follow through. Who can account for human behavior sometimes? ;p

  • Sarah Shaw June 8, 2014, 9:21 pm

    I just love your blog. My bother turned me on to it.
    I wanted to add another way to declutter. My 6 yr old twins have made and brought home a lot of very cool art from school. Of course I want to save it all…….it’s precious to me. But it is getting OOC……boxes and boxes. NO way! There is a cool new AP called ArtKive. Practically free. You can photograph and store all the images, share the files with family members and if you want, print a book. A slim book of memories takes up way less room than boxes and boxes of art that will eventually fall apart.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom,

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 9, 2014, 7:38 am

      That’s my method too: pull out the phone and get a good clear picture of each piece of forgotten artwork before it disappears into the recycling bin. Using a whiteboard for kid (and parent) art works well too, since you have to erase one thing before beginning the next.

  • KarenwithaC June 8, 2014, 9:31 pm

    Love the post! There’s nothing like a move to make you re-evaluate if the treasure is actually trash. :)

    I moved last year (my third move in four years) and it finally made take stock of all the books I’ve been lugging around for years. I had always felt that books were precious objects that you should never part with, but in my small space I just couldn’t afford that way of thinking any more. I decided that if a) I hadn’t read it in more than two years and/or b) I could borrow it from the library, it had to go! I rationalized that if I ever got the urge to read Plato’s Republic again (highly unlikely) , it was waiting for me at the library. It was such a relief (and a major buzz) to have bookcases that actually looked tidy, rather than jammed full.

    Next on the purging hit list – the file cabinet; wish me luck!!

    • Christopher K. June 11, 2014, 9:15 pm

      Give away my books??!!! *twitches neurotically in the corner at the idea*

      I’ll give away my arm first. And then a leg…..maybe some teeth too. I try to be stoic and minimalist, but getting rid of books is like falling off the cliffs of despair…into a pit of evil….a chasm of hopeless despond.

      Anyone want an arm? Cheap at $20.00 bucks. I need the money for the next visit to Chapters.

  • Nikki June 9, 2014, 2:38 am

    I’ve moved so many times in my life (maybe not as many as some, but certainly more than most members of my family!), and every time I move I throw out what seems like a TON of stuff – clothes, shoes, and paper, paper, and more paper! (“Throw out” meaning recycle, sell, give away, or trash it.) For my most recent move (to China), I ended up with two duffle bags to take with me, and four boxes to store in a friend’s attic. I STILL feel like I have too much! When I return to the US in August, those boxes are probably gonna be pitched out!

  • Chris June 9, 2014, 5:25 am

    Fortunately my wife is a purging cyborg. She can’t stand clutter. An empty closet fills her heart with joy.

  • Money Saving June 9, 2014, 6:23 am

    Great article MMM,

    I too ascribe to the idea that the best budget should start with zeros for everything. Then you add as needed. Having a default “fun money” line to blow each month really still does encourage excess consumption and hoarding of lifelong objects that are more of a burden.

    • Eldred June 9, 2014, 6:30 am

      Do you do a budget at the beginning of the month before the month begins? If so, and you have zero in ‘fun money’, what do you do if something comes up that you want to spend on?

      • JMK June 9, 2014, 9:45 am

        I set up our spending plan a year in advance. We’ve cut our normal spending to just the basics and with the exception of electricity which changes with the season, all the numbers are either fixed amounts and dates (internet, insurance, mortgage etc) we allocate the same amount weekly for gas and groceries and just replace the plug number with the real one as we go. We allocate NOTHING for entertainment, clothing, car maintenance or anything else that either isn’t needed, or happens so seldom it becomes a make work project to include it weekly or monthly and then keep deleting or moving it down the spreadsheet. The bare essentials we list can be covered by about 55% of our take home pay, so every week the last item listed is “transfer excess to _____” and most weeks we transfer all the unused funds to our retirement accounts or make an extra mortgage payment. If we do allow an unscheduled expense that week (sneakers for kids, oil change, appliance repair etc we just add a row for the amount and we have that much less available for the weekly transfer. It’s a bit of a game to see how many weeks we can go without needing to add an extra row. If we need to replace a vehicle or want to take a major trip we just stop the weekly transfers and let the excess pile up until we have what we need. When you are essentially banking one income it doesn’t take more than a couple of months to have enough cash for a used car.

      • Money Saving June 11, 2014, 5:32 am


        I am much like JMK below. If there is something that I want, I will usually try to find a used version of it. Alternatively, I try to make additional money from side-hustles (website, ebay flipping, tutoring, etc.) to cover the expense.

        We don’t have a budget, we just try to spend the absolute minimum possible in all categories and move everything left over into investment accounts.

        Another thing we do is hit up yard sales pretty hard. If there is something you want and you are patient, you can usually find it for 95%+ off. Hard to go wrong there :-)

        I cannot really remember the last thing that I “bought” at full price that I wanted. I mostly just spend money on gas, monthly bills, food, and gifts for friends and family. If you eliminate advertising as MMM suggests, you’ll find that there is not a whole lot of stuff you really will want over time.

        Does all that make sense?

        • Eldred June 11, 2014, 6:30 am

          “Does all that make sense?”

          Not all of it, but it doesn’t have to make sense to me. It just has to make sense to YOU… :-)

  • David C June 9, 2014, 7:49 am

    Over the last few years, I have been moving towards a more minimalist lifestyle. I found it quite liberating to donate, sell or recycle a lot of items that no longer appealed to me. I found the less that I had laying around, the more relaxed that I was and the more space that I had in life to fill it with things that matter, like experiences with freinds and family. My son still has quite a lot of his stuff at my place however. When it is all gone, I should be able to hear echoes in my small house. After he is completely moved out, I am looking at downsizing even further. And this makes me excited.

    My ex-wife hated clutter, but had a ravenous taste for anything new electronic and popular (suffereing from YOLO and FOMO to the nth degree). . She has claimed for many years that she is a minimalist. Her and her new significant other recently moved into a large house on a pretty good sized piece of land and are buying more and more stuff. My son, just shakes his head and we both laugh at her follies.

    As Bob Seger once said “You just don’t need it all, Oh, oh, you just don’t need it all.”.

  • Ralph Corderoy June 9, 2014, 8:24 am

    Paul Graham’s 2007 article on “Stuff” is still worth a read.
    (He does make an allowance for keeping books.)

  • JD June 9, 2014, 8:25 am

    Great article!
    You know what prompted me to purge? Going through my parents’ house after they died. They had stuff stuffed in every closet, every cabinet, every drawer, and under the beds. Their house was always neat as a pin on the surface, but when you looked behind the sofa, there was a stack of paperbacks hidden there. A three bedroom, 2 bath house with family room and living room (but no attic or basement), a small storage shed and a small barn, all crammed full, and we had to go through all of it. So here’s another reason to purge — your survivors! I’ve been purging ever since at my own home. I just had a yardsale last month and may have another one in the fall – I like to have yard sales once a year, anyway. I also donate to charity and belong to Freecycle, but I still have too much stuff, yet we aren’t shoppers. I think it reproduces at night when we are asleep.

    • Eldred June 10, 2014, 7:35 am

      It would be SO much easier for me to clear my dad’s house. I could look at the stuff objectively, and dispose of stuff that’s no longer needed. I could clear his whole basement in one day, or at least one weekend. But MY stuff? That’s a lot harder. Years ago when his health was better, I used to joke that we should clean each *other’s* houses… :-)

    • mapleseed June 12, 2014, 9:04 pm

      Absolutely — my mother-in-law is a hoarder, and I know the task of clearing out her house will one day fall to my husband and me. Thus, her hoard weighs mentally on me, and I don’t even own it. I tend toward minimalism anyway, but I will sure as hell not be leaving my child with a house packed full of useless clutter (at best — garbage at worst!) to deal with after I am gone.

  • Catherine Marie June 9, 2014, 9:28 am

    As soon as I finished reading this, I grabbed my kids (ages 3 and 5), a couple of garbage bags, and said “Come on! Time to get rid of some junk!” We traveled to each room in the house and found at least 3 things per space that we could donate to the nearest thrift store. We had a great chat about giving stuff away if we don’t don’t use it anymore. If we don’t use it, why would we keep it? The kids really got into it and had no problems deciding which toys that were willing to part with (a few got stuffed into the bag when they weren’t looking, of course). We filled up two garbage bags with various plasticky items from fetes long past, as well as too-small clothes, stuffed animals and general tiny items of crap. Felt great and the kids learned a little something about the joy of decluttering!

  • The Smaller Dollar June 9, 2014, 9:39 am

    I feel like the other side of this coin is just as important. People are always purging their belongings for a variety of reasons and one person’s trash is another’s treasure. If you can find what you want used you can save a bundle.

  • ADL June 9, 2014, 9:48 am

    This was a great post!…just after reading it I came across this on CBC radio and thought readers might find it interesting as it is the same mustachian vein: http://www.theadguy.ca/ad-proofing-tips.html

  • Bob Werner June 9, 2014, 10:23 am

    Alas, our home is crammed full of crap. I’m thinking a room by room, drawer by drawer decrapathon is long overdue. If I alot 5 hours per room this should take as little as 90 hours. Basically a month of no TV time and I’m done! Then when moving day comes, as it always does, we will be ahead of the curve. Since we have an entire finished basement, that I never visit, downsizing would be a matter of ridding ourselves of unused furniture at that point.

    The burden of crap literally wears on my soul. I am completely unable to thing or take action when confronted with crap. It is complete overstimulation. My perfect home will feature only 4 chairs, one bed and a blow up mattress. 2 chairs for me and the missus and 2 for guests. Anymore guest can bring their folding lawn chairs. We should be able to do that in a 700 sq ft home, thus eliminating 2,300 sq foot of confusing abundance from our lives! Ad a covered semienclosed patio of another 700 sq foot and we’ll have it made!

    • laura June 10, 2014, 7:57 am

      Hi Bob. You may want to try flylady.net. She has wonderful advice for everyone and a system for de-cluttering that allows you to get it done so you don’t feel overwhelmed. She really helps you to understand why you have all of the stuff and how to let it go with Joy. She helped me learn that keeping the stuff in case you may need it one day is not going to help you if you can’t find it. She agrees with you that the burden of the stuff is Soul crushing and there is a way to be free. I now “Bless the world” with things that are not needed and am a much happier person. Good luck to you.

  • Conjou June 9, 2014, 11:38 am

    Awhile ago I ran into a cool idea for managing clutter throughout the year, especially in the decluttering phase. Basically each week of the year, you get rid of that equivalent number of items for that week. Modifications are ample, such as making a chart of 52 weeks and then if you find you have a pile of 37 items you want to move out the door to sell, goodwill or wherever, then you check off week 37. When I did it, I also had a list for recording the goal of reading a book each week. When I finished the book, I recorded the book title and did the decluttering activity for the week. It was a pretty fun challenge. Everyone seems to do this differently, especially how they count items (is that 12 pens or just pens as a singular item) and how they deal with stopping influx of new items, but if you aren’t moving, this might be a good way to stay on top of the inevitable accumulation of junk.

    Also, couldn’t help but think of the Portlandia sketch where they are providing the moving service via bicycle and trailer, and superimposing the MMM family for Fred and Carrie, but alas, I see the van is in use. ;p

  • Scott June 9, 2014, 11:47 am

    Word! We just sold our house and downsized to a smaller rental this past week. Now we are surrounded by boxes and all I can say is where did all this crap come from?

    I cancelled our home owner’s insurance and USAA is trying to sell me renter’s insurance to protect all my “precious belongings”. Some how losing everything doesn’t sound too bad right now.

  • George June 9, 2014, 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the great article. I myself, sadly, have a lot of clearing out to do, probably more than you. Your article is inspiring for me to get to work on this.

    One thing I really like that helps, is something called fire (not the financial independence type). It is amazing because all materials made of wood or paper (including junk mail) can go right in, provide several hours of entertainment, and the stuff just magically disappears from existence.

    I personally use a fire pit I have in my backyard. Often in the chilly fall months, I will sit outside, warmed by the fire, enjoy a home brew or several, and get rid of tons of old paper and books and cardboard. And if the mailman drops by some junk ads in the mail, this is a bonus, because he is bringing me an extra free load of fuel to add.

    There are days when I have the fire going in the backyard, I hear the mailman drop by out front, I then quickly walk to the front yard grab everything in the mail box, do a quick check, and then a couple mins later it is all right in the flames where it belongs.

    The only exception I will make is that some of the glossy paged fancy-pants magazines will put off some noxious smelling, colored fumes when burned, so these are probably best left in the recycling bin.

  • Joe June 9, 2014, 12:23 pm

    When we downsized 1,000 sq feet, we sold a ton of stuff off. After 7 years, it’s getting cluttered again. We don’t buy much stuff either, but we seem to have a hard time throwing things away. If we move again, it’d be much easier to throw stuff out because that’s easier than hauling it to a new place.
    I think it’s time to move, but the Mrs. isn’t going to like it. :)

  • Chad Mck-Stache June 9, 2014, 1:43 pm

    Perfectly timed article for me! I just last week finally caught up to present, having read all posts now. My wife and I have made many changes already (I’ll start a journal soon), one of which is that my wife and I are moving this coming weekend. We’ve been packing for a few weeks now, and been operating in this mode the entire time. Many things (tent, PS3, old computer, etc) have been sold on craigslist, multiple bags of clothes donated, and some trash too.

    A friend of mine from high school had a minimalist mindset, and I’ve always adopted his rule when moving, which is:

    If you haven’t used it in the last 3-6 months, it goes.

    Of course everyone will have a few exceptions, but if you keep them to a minimum, this rule works wonders!

  • Jan June 9, 2014, 2:40 pm

    When a marriage ended two years ago, I build this to live in:
    It made living in one of the most expensive zip codes possible, saves my a ton of money, my son is within walking distance of his parents, and daily I’m reminded of the sanity of minimalism.
    The Curated Life,

    • Chris June 9, 2014, 11:07 pm

      Badass Jan!

    • Barbara June 10, 2014, 5:31 am

      Sweet! Where are your clothes? Is there a bathroom?

  • Susan June 9, 2014, 3:24 pm

    This post has motivated me to FINALLY just give away boxes and boxes of books that I’ve been hoping to list for sale on ebay “someday” but I just never seem to find the time to do so. Out they go! Hopefully, I’m paying it forward, somehow!

    • Barbara June 9, 2014, 8:11 pm

      Don’t bother trying to sell books. I did that and found that the pain in the ass factor of having to wrap them up and ship them wasn’t worth the small amount of money I got. It’s hard to even give away books. Your library might take them, or you could donate them to a senior center. Children’s books can be donated to schools or clinics in underserved areas. I worked in a community based clinic for low income people and the young children had never even been read to. (Many of their parents didn’t speak English.). The pediatrician regularly buys a boatload of books and leaves them for the kids. It’s their proudest possession. Kind of puts all this hoarding into perspective.

      • JK June 11, 2014, 9:05 pm

        My daughter’s elementary school started a used book sale last year that they have in June. All books are donated from parents and the highest cost of a book is .50, most being .25. For a few dollars you can have a boatload of books that the kids can read over the summer and beyond. Normally I do not buy any books but just use the library. But considering it helps out the school I love this idea.

  • Claire Middleton June 9, 2014, 3:37 pm

    It’s been nearly three years since we gave up more than half of our stuff and downsized to a much smaller house after raising a large family in a big house. From that vantage point, I tell you that you will not regret the efforts you’re making right now. The feeling of freedom we gained is still very strong….I’m happy for you that you’ll get to experience this feeling too!

  • Dave June 9, 2014, 5:37 pm

    I remember in my 20’s and 30’s every weekend going out to Target, K-mart, Wal-mart, where ever and buying $100 worth of ‘stuff’ and bringing it back home because we ‘needed it’. 10 years goes by and you get the itch for a bigger place (kids mostly but also because you are out of space for ‘stuff’). Kids get older. You buy more ‘stuff’. It’s a viscous bad habit. Now in our early 50’s we down-sized from 3,450 sq. ft. to 1,400. We do miss the space but we threw out or donated at least half of that old house and our current expenses are a fraction of what we were paying. I thank MMM for tips along the way. There is so many better things to do with your life that store ‘stuff’ that never gets used. My mother recently downsized her house to an apartment. 50 years of ‘stuff’ including crystal goblets she got as a wedding gift that sat in a cupboard for 50 years. OMG! It’s enough to drive you nuts.

  • The green Minimalist June 9, 2014, 6:05 pm

    Mr. MM, I am so glad to see you writing about minimalism. reading your blog, always made me think that your lifestyle wouldn’t be possible without some sort of minimalism. Frugality ALWAYS comes with minimalistic lifestyle. it is inevitable.
    I have a blog about my minimalistic lifestyle. It includes tips and ideas about how to reduce and honestly, moving from a 3750 sq to a 1800 sq and finally to a 1034 sq we live in now, was a piece of cake due to minimalism.
    Thank you for another great post.

  • CT June 9, 2014, 10:38 pm

    Congratulations! I think the picture of the couch on the van & the pitchfork says it all; what fun!

  • Chris June 9, 2014, 11:10 pm

    We’re purging as we speak while prepping for our next move and it feels oh so good.

    “Comfort is nothing compared to freedom.”

  • camry June 10, 2014, 5:47 am

    I am scratching my head over some numbers here. If I had $1m, but also have 2 little kids (8 and 3) who might go to college…is that sufficient to fund their future and retire….bogleheads thinks not…:-( expenses run around $3k a month, and there is a source of income providing $4k for another 11 years

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 11, 2014, 7:20 am

      Hi Camry, that would definitely be more than enough!

      The $1M can reliably deliver about $40k/year (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/05/29/how-much-do-i-need-for-retirement/)

      Plus you have the $4k (per month?) income source as a safety margin. Then eventually, social security.

      So you can spend $3k/month and invest the surplus. Eventually, college comes for one or both kids and you chip in as needed to help them get through without debt (and they will be able to pay a good part themselves, after being raised in a smart manner so as to keep education costs streamlined).

      Then your expenses drop even further, as you don’t have the kids to support.

      The Bogleheads are wise investors, but not all of them get this whole “efficient living” thing. The culture there tends to lean towards “let’s be conservative so we can save up HUGE amounts of money to pave over all possible life difficulties with cash.”

      What I am finding 9 years into it, is that problems can be solved with effort instead of cash, and that even worst-case scenarios aren’t as bad as they sound on paper. So the retirement finances go better than projected.

      • camry June 11, 2014, 1:28 pm

        thanks mmm!

        yeah, it is about 4k/mo for 11 years. There will be about 18 years between end of this income and beginning of ss….concerned about those years. Also, is it likely that the returns of the past decade have been somewhat unrealistic and actual returns may be closer to 2-3% to keep up with inflation? I am yet to buy a house, but shooting for a green army of $800k afterwards. I live a simple life with an understanding of needs vs wants, but there seem to be miscellanous expenses that tend to eat away big chunks at a time…examples are travel to family 3000 miles away and health related expenses….u get the drift, dont want to be complacent, but also hate the idea of being back in a 9-5 job, especially with two little kids…the costs of third-party care can quickly add up and drain health and wealth.

  • Emily June 10, 2014, 11:13 am

    I just wanted to say that I read this post after seeing you share it on Facebook the other day and it has stuck with me since. The part of choosing to forgo budgets and instead think of your budget as ZERO was brilliant for me. Totally changed the way I am thinking about my money. A simple change but very real. Thanks for that.

    • JMK September 1, 2014, 6:10 am

      Isn’t it simple yet brilliant? We lay our our spending plan a year in advance, but only include the absolute essentials that we’ committed to (mortgage, taxes, electricity, internet, cell, insurance and a weekly amount for gas and groceries. Virtually every other cent is considered excess, and amounts to about 45% of our income. On the spreadsheet the last row of every week is “transfer excess to ___”. Assuming no unplanned and unnecessary spending occurred then everything unused (above the $1K buffer) gets transferred out to either our retirement accounts or we make an extra mortgage payment. At this point it’s almost painful for me to have to add a row for anything unscheduled but occasionally we do (a hair cut, a thrift shop clothing purchase, a hardware store purchase to repair something, etc). Rather than staying within an allocation of spending and instead assuming nothing should be spent is a revelation

      • Eldred September 1, 2014, 6:18 am

        I’m seriously impressed that you guys are able to live with no frills. I mean, no hobbies, no movies, no dining out, no activities, no cable? To me, that sounds like no FUN – I’d be bored out of my mind. While I could definitely cut back, eliminating *all* of that would drive me crazy…

  • Free To Pursue June 10, 2014, 2:13 pm

    Great timing on the article. I’m 1/2-way through purging 1,000 items from my life in 2 months. It started as a 500-item challenge on May 1st, inspired by a purging challenge from The Minimalists. Once I got to the end of the month 500-items lighter, I just decided to keep going. It feels AMAZING.

    I used Peter Walsh’s book “It’s All Too Much” as a guide during my first month. Walsh focuses on what you want now as opposed to dwelling on unfinished business of the past or potential “maybes” of the future. By making room for life now, you give yourself permission to live optimally in the present, and that often leads to greater productivity and creativity. I know that the reduction in unnecessary stuff has lead to great productivity and I only invested about 5 hours of effort.

    I can’t believe how heavily unnecessary items can weigh on the mind. They drag us down physically and emotionally.

    • Eldred June 10, 2014, 2:23 pm

      You actually FEEL different after having cleared items??? I haven’t had that happen…

      • Free To Pursue June 11, 2014, 9:13 am

        Absolutely! Having the items gone stops me from feeling the shoulds/could/would of needing to do something about them. It could be:
        – feeling that I need to get rid of it but haven’t
        – feeling that I “should” use it/make better use of it
        – feeling that I need to better organize stuff (which usually means I have too much)
        – feeling that something was an unnecessary purchase and being reminded of it every time I see it.

        The feeling of satisfaction to have those items gone is so much better than the heavier, unpleasant feeling that inaction/inertia/regret/unfinished work you’ll never get to offers.

        • Eldred June 11, 2014, 10:09 am

          Then I must be doing something wrong, because I’ve never had that feeling after clearing an area…

  • Early Bird June 10, 2014, 6:48 pm

    Great post MMM! Two years ago when I sold my home and moved in with my now-husband, I gave away most of my furniture. To my sister (who really needed some better furniture and was thrilled to get mine), to neighbors and even a nice office chair to one of the movers! I went from a 2200 sf to 1600 sf. We have plenty of space for what we need. However, there were a few items I wanted to keep and stuff of his that we wanted to replace with mine (but that he didn’t yet want to get rid of completely) and we ended up renting a storage place. Crazy! About 8 months ago I heard a guy at work talking about a friend of his who was recently divorced and had 2 young boys. She lost literally everything in the divorce. I had him bring a truck to my storage place and we loaded it up with furniture. It really made me happy to just give away furniture and other household items to people who truly needed it but couldn’t afford it. She wrote me a really nice email thanking me for it. For the last 3 weekends, I’ve been cleaning out that storage place because the price is now $85/month. Since I’ve retired I am really trying hard to keep expenses down. I’ve even managed to get my husband on board with giving away his old stuff as well as mine. If we’ve not needed it for 2 years, we need to get rid of it!

    Paper clutter is such a bitch. I went through old photo albums, scrapbooks, yearbooks, framed degrees, etc., and had my husband scan important items into the computer for me. I made a gallery there and he’s got at least 3 backups of all of it. And once that was done, I gleefully shredded all of those paper items in my shredder.

    Like JD above mentioned, when you have to clean out your deceased parents’ home it makes you want to declutter ASAP. My parents grew up in the Depression era and kept every. single. thing. What a nightmare. I remind myself that my mantra should be to live simply and know that I have enough.

  • TheLuddite June 10, 2014, 8:40 pm

    • Early Bird June 11, 2014, 7:44 am

      Loved this link! All of the tiny spaces shown were awesome.

  • Mark June 11, 2014, 2:32 am

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I started reading MMM at the beginning of 2014 and it has led to massive life changes. All of which have led to me deciding to sell 95% of my stuff, sell my house, buy a huge cargo van (think FedEx) and turn it into my house on wheels.

    This is 100% different than what I thought I had wanted all of my life. I worked my ass off for 20 years to get to where I am now only to think to myself …”is this all there is?” Cue MMM’s blog and some serious introspection and I’ve now fully embraced minimalism. I thought it’d be hard to get rid of stuff but it has actually been one of the most liberating experiences of my life! If you are thinking about embracing the freedom of having “less” go for it! You’ll be glad you did.

    If anyone is interested in following my journey just search “thenomadicvanman” on youtube. The video titled “Why I’m selling my house and moving into a van” explains it all :)

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 11, 2014, 6:54 am

      Hey, a used FedEx/UPS van is a neat idea for an RV. Huge interior that you can customize however you like, but relatively compact exterior and nimble enough to get into a city when you need to. I wonder how much those things go for and how to buy one?

      • Mark June 11, 2014, 10:24 am

        After doing research on living the van life I found the Sprinter vans to be the all around best vehicles. I bought mine from a wholesaler in Phoenix for $9,500 out the door. It’s a 2004 Dodge Sprinter 170′ wheelbase with the hightop (6′ of headroom inside) and only 260k miles. Mercedes makes them and they were sold in the U.S. under Dodge until 2008 or so. It has a 5cyl turbo diesel that gets around 23mpg City and Highway! For a vehicle with an 8,000lb payload capacity and 5,000lb towing capacity it’s easily the most efficient “RV” on the road. If you are interested in buying one they are all over the internet. I recommend Craigslist and Ebay. There is also a great forum about the sprinters at http://sprinter-source.com

        Thanks for the awesome blog. It not only changed my entire paradigm of work and money, it also has inspired me to do my own home remodel before selling my house.

  • Sarah June 11, 2014, 12:06 pm

    A dear friend of mine who is about 20 years younger than me is getting married in the fall, her bridal shower was this past weekend, I looked at her registry but I just couldn’t make myself do it. I went online and bought her a gift certificate to donors choose.org. I explained why I couldn’t do it and she knows me well enough to not be surprised. Every gift she opened made me feel heavier.

  • JT June 11, 2014, 10:37 pm

    “It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

    I am not yet “perfect”, but have managed to reduce my 5 bedroom house worth of stuff to 3 bedroom house worth of stuff. This has been incredibly liberating.

    Next stop, the garage….

  • Julianne June 12, 2014, 11:18 am

    Having grown up in a hurricane zone, clutter’s potential to become a burden is even higher. When you evacuate, there’s a ritual of putting all your possessions as high up as possible, in case of flooding. An object’s worth earns it a higher place. However, if your roof is compromised, there’s nothing to be done. If any amount of water does get into the home and is allowed to fester for a few days, the entire room and all its contents become covered in mold. Some items can be salvaged at this point, but you have to find them.

    That piece of crap may conceal the treasure that you’d actually want to save. At the very least, it’s another nasty clump of mold that will have to be disposed of.

    In ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ the world is covered in kipple. Kipple is stuff that may have had a purpose at one point, but now it’s just detritus, clutter, an obstacle. Paints are only art supplies if they are used, otherwise they become useless kipple. It’s an exaggeration, but I always tell myself “Kipple Kills” when I’m on a de-cluttering tear.

    Unfortunately my husband has never suffered through the destruction of a natural disaster or moved cross-country in a single car, and so his errata is quite extensive!

  • Patricia June 13, 2014, 9:06 am

    I am in the midst of trying a technique that for me is FINALLY having results. Starting with my bedroom closet, I took absolutely everything out and put it in an out-of-way place in another room. Then, I allowed myself to only bring back into my closet what I was actually going to use that moment. I do laundry as usual. It has been 4 months now (wanted to go through at least two seasons) and there is very little in my bedroom closet and what is there is only what I actually like to wear and fits NOW! I will soon get rid of everything else (except for a few special occasion clothes). I have done the same thing with my linen closet and my bathroom cabinets. I will eventually move through each room in the house.

  • FrugalityToCome June 13, 2014, 10:22 am

    This is the third article I was reading after I catched up with the older posts. As there are no new posts (wave @MMM ;) ), I read all the comments. Especially the downsizing posts have been really intresting. Whil surfing the web today I found this link http://news.distractify.com/people/itty-bitty-house/ . Pretty cool house and bad ass downsizing.

    Best FrugalityToCome

  • Sarah June 18, 2014, 5:39 am

    This weekend I will move for the third time in 5 years and I am also completely overwhelmed by my STUFF, even though I do my best to avoid buying anything unnecessary. You’re right- having to pack it all up and haul it into a new space is a good reminder of how much better we can do.

    If you’ll indulge a little internet rant…My in-laws “go shopping” EVERY Saturday. When they come home their SUV is loaded to the brim. They usually spend at least 4 hours driving all over town, buying things and unloading the car (into their 3,000 sq ft home where just 2 people live). They are both in their early 60s, constantly complaining about wanting to retire. They even asked about storing stuff at our new house, which is 1100 sq ft smaller than theirs. Arghhhhh!!!!! (I apologize for any second-hand anxiety my story my have caused, haha)

  • CNM June 20, 2014, 3:36 pm

    I have no qualms about getting rid of clutter… except for the “keepsake” type things that creep in to the house. This means that we have several shelves dedicated to old photo albums, newspaper clippings, yearbooks from our youth, and the like. HOW TO GET RID OF THOSE!?!?

    • Joe Average March 25, 2015, 2:55 pm

      Stage a “robbery” where a friend goes in and clears those shelves – and only those shelves and then puts it into their trunk and drives away. If, in a few days, you haven’t needed oxygen during any panic attacks ask them to discard them responsibly. Then call the police and report that you found some previously missing space in your home and that they should not waste time helping look for that space anymore.

  • Need Some Badassity July 17, 2014, 4:31 pm

    We have random pieces of furniture (end tables, coffee tables), that my spouse does not want to sell/donate in case our currently non-existent children might want them in a college apartment. She also regularly purchases antiques, etc. and accepts random materials because she might make something out of them some day. How do I stop the madness? LOL

  • Taryl August 31, 2014, 11:50 pm

    As a husband and wife only. The best thing we ever did was give up the costco membership. We don’t miss it and we’ve saved a fortune.

  • Abigail September 1, 2014, 10:40 pm

    Having just moved to Beijing, I realized that I am in a great place for the moment, but also fielding complaints from people used to a more materialistic lifestyle. I have had a shameful track record when it comes to spending, but a few things have set me up for success:
    1. The ability to be flexible
    2. Feeling the strangeness of ever going “shopping,” since it equals “painful loss of income”
    3. Using my brain to do a ton of research before I came so that many things that shocked others didn’t surprise me.
    4. Just generally realizing how awesome this opportunity is and how thrilled I am to earn a good income in a great city like Beijing

    Unfortunately, I have yet to find any Mustachian colleagues, which has been almost comical. The parade of complaints from other new hires has been downright awkward. Our breakfast and lunch is paid for, we have a great staff who took care of all legal issues in regards to our visas, the bus and subway cost less than 50 cents a ride, and I found a place to live on the same income that costs LESS than it did in Vegas. I also live in a local Chinese community instead of the fancy-pants, expensive expat world, where things cost the same as they do in the U.S.

    This has led to some awkward moments, however. My colleagues who live in the expensive east side want to eat there constantly and while I have suggested it, I have realized they are unlikely to venture into most local Chinese places. That’s okay; I’ll adjust, preferably by finding some more likeminded peers and enrolling in language classes. But having just sold off most of my possessions, I am in full agreement with MMM’s point here. While I still accumulated a lot of stuff in my Nevada years, and appreciated the help of friends and family in getting it out of my hair, moving has helped me keep belongings to a minimum, which feels GREAT!

    More importantly, I want to say THANKS! for the reminder. I do NOT need the expensive gym membership before I pay off my debt; I AM in a great place due to recently shedding a lot of STUFF; and I CAN live frugally here, and sharpen my senses by learning to cook at home in this new place. :)

    • Denis September 2, 2014, 4:52 am


      As someone who returned from being a Beijing based expat your comment resonated with me.

      Well done on living with the locals – that’s a great step. My experience was probably a little different from yours as I had my apartment paid for and a car and driver provided by the company, but from my time there I would offer the following:

      – It sounds like you have made a great start in being frugal, but do remember that this experience won’t last forever and it is worthwhile spending a little money to get the most out of this opportunity. This doesn’t have to cost a lot – learning the language, taking cooking classes, trying street food etc. There are also things that cost more but are experiences that will stay with you a lifetime and so in my experience are worth it – in my case this was a trip to Xi’an and seeing the terracotta army. Not saying that this is what you should do, or that it will have the same impact on you, but simply trying to remind you to be frugal not cheap to get the most out of the experience.
      – You will not come across a place with more conspicuous consumption that Beijing, and to announce yourself as a frugal person in Beijing can feel like you just said you were vegan! However, Chinese culture is like an onion – multilayered, and you have to work hard at peeling the layers to understand it. Actually, the Chinese save more as a percentage of the income than any other nation – it just isn’t obvious to the outside observer. So take your time, don’t make frugality a barrier for others, and I’m sure you’ll find like mined people.

      That’s enough rambling from me – got some work to do. Its amazing to think that when I first arrived in Beijing it all felt overwhelming, but now I reminisce fondly about it all the time!


  • Ishabaka August 29, 2015, 4:06 pm

    Television is a communist plot to rot our brains!

  • Karl July 24, 2016, 11:37 pm

    After a couple of years travelling and living out of a van, our belongings, even including a few boxes in storage and some furniture we acquired., were minimal. But after moving 800km to an apartment which is four flights of stairs from the basement, we realized how much junk we still had. When we get furniture or other items, we always weigh up “is it worth it”, even if we are getting it for free. Because carrying heavy gear up and down those stairs is a nightmare. Keep it simple! I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the garage that needs to go so we’ll be light and ready to go mobile again next year. Time for another purge!


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