Even More Clearing Out & The Importance of Planning

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Monday 7 November 2016

Even More Clearing Out & The Importance of Planning

During our months in the UK earlier this year we spent a large chunk of our time, on and off, clearing out and passing on many of our old possessions that had been in storage since our adventures began. As I reflected on in this post, it was something we both felt compelled to do. But it was also both a healing and challenging process and one which taught us a lot about ourselves, our priorities and how to support each other. But now, after 3 months living out of a rucksack, it feels like time to go to the next level and remove yet another layer of stuff.

In my previous blog post about clearing out I used the phrase 'extreme clearing out' to describe what we were doing because that is how it felt. Indeed, the fact was we'd left the vast majority of our 'old lives' in a friends attic. From old stereos, vacuum bags of clothes, teddies, ornaments, university lecture notes......it was all up there gathering dust. Plus several other smaller mountains of stuff we'd left with different family members. Put simply, after more than 2 years not needing any of it, it just felt wrong to hang onto it any longer when most of it could still be useful to others.

So we passed it on, giving most away, selling a handful of valuable things and recycling what little wasn't useful to anyone else. Eventually we were pleased to be left with around a 12-15 plastic tubs and a few bags and other loose items (like a guitar, turbo trainer etc.) accounting for most of our remaining 'stuff'. Most of what was left, we reasoned, was useful - pots, pans, cutlery, spare clothes, spare hiking gear....along with a few other sentimental items we didn't feel ready to let go of just yet like childhood and university sports uniforms.

But then over summer we continued to change and refine our priorities further. We have now spent more than 3 months living out of one rucksack each, two thirds of which is taken up by camping gear. The sum total of our clothes has fitted into a single, small stuff sack, toiletries into a sandwich bag, electrical items into a small dry bag. Yes, it has been hard at times but we've managed and, especially during our hiking days, revelled in the simplicity of being able to say "I have everything I need on my back". We found it very beautiful. We couldn't live like this forever (because there are other things we want to do in our lives), but once we had committed to the thru-hiking any sacrifices were more than compensated for by the adventure. It has been a very welcome lesson.

At times during summer our thoughts have occasionally turned to our remaining pile of 'useful' things now stored in another friends garage and wondered - could it be smaller? I say 'wondered' but I guess it would be more accurate to say 'known' it could be smaller. So we resolved that when we were next back in Britain we'd strip it down a little further still.

What was still left to go? I mentioned there were still a few sentimental things but the rest, in large part, is what I would call 'Sales and Spares'. Items that we've purchased in the past usually as they were such an incredible bargain but then never got used because we still had a working alternative OR because we just haven't needed them yet. For instance, I have a completely unworn pair of expensive hiking boots that could safely see me to Everest Base camp and back and will take heavy duty crampons. Yet the only places I like to hike (including up to 3000m plus in the Alps) I'm very happy in the lightweight hiking boot I've worn all summer.

There are other things as well - sleeping bags for -20 degrees, extra tents, ultra light hiking packs......then there are 2 tubs of extra clothes, more base layers than we ever wear, more cycling gear than we can carry in a motorhome.....

Yet when we did our first round of 'extreme clearing out', while it was 'easy' to accept we no longer needed an old stereo, old work shirts, ball gowns, ornaments these other 'useful' things made the cut because we still like hiking, cycling etc. We might still want them 'one day' when our current gear wears out or we do go to the Himalayas.

But what this summer has really hammered home to us is a few, we think, vital lessons:

(1) we really do 'need' very little to be happy and thrive.
(2) it just doesn't feel right hanging onto 'extras' and 'spares' just in case we need them, while other people could be using them now.
(3) If we ever do need something (like a very technical B3 grade hiking boot) we can get them when we do. It's what we've done all summer, picking up what we've needed along the way and, despite doubts and worries, what we have needed has always been available.

Expanding on the third point especially, in the past our fear would have been that to pick things up as you go along would be frighteningly expensive. That is partly why we hoarded spares, to secure a good price at the time.  But the truth is there are always sales on, everywhere! Only in an absolute emergency where you have to buy the first 'one' you see are sales out of the question. Even when Esther really needed new footwear in Chamonix on our Tour du Mont Blanc we found half a dozen sales we could browse. It's just a marketeers trick to convince people there will never be a price like it again (barring gradual price inflation of course).

Plus, when we hoarded we'd also feel compelled to use the spares we'd bought in the past. Even if they weren't what we really wanted or needed. The truth us technology moves on. Take my expensive boots that have been in a cupboard unused for 3 years now. If I ever did need them there'd likely be a new, lighter, more durable option out there. The same goes for most things, even fashion which I personally know little about.

We've come to see hoarding is actually a false economy. We find it better to get what little we need as we go along.

So that is why, with our plans taking us back to the UK in just a couple of weeks now, we have resolved to take some time to clear out a little further still and make sure that that possessions remaining in our daily life are almost exclusively things that are useful to us in the here and now' - like pots and pans for our next motorhome, just enough clothes to have choice without bursting drawers, a laptop etc. Our aim is to have 'enough'. And by enough we mean that when we drive a motorhome away from our friends garage everything we need is on board and there is nothing left of ours in the garage.

But there is one final lesson we mustn't overlook and it is one we learnt earlier this year when we first began our clearing out. That is, it seems so easy in principle to get rid of things from afar but when confronted with the stuff it can feel much harder. Feelings of "oh, we can't really get rid of that" or "I forgot we even had them" can lead to things being kept "just for now and we'll deal with it later".

Which is why in addition to writing this post and making a resolution to clear out a little more, we are actively making lists of what we plan to pass on and what we plan to keep while we are still here in Switzerland. In fact, the list of things we need is actually the most important to us because it can help us deal with those surprise items we can't even remember having right now.

Not that I'm saying " if it ain't on the list its got to go ", we remain flexible naturally, but we hope it will help us remain focused on how we feel right now, so full of life and feeling vibrant in our lightweight, uncluttered lifestyle.


  1. Chris (Belgian Beauty= our moho, not me;-))8 November 2016 at 07:28

    What a brave thing to do: extreme clearing out! I cannot even get rid of simple clothes that have been in the wardrobe for donkey's years! And shamefully... I am collecting even more 'stuff' as I have started to follow a sewing course ... You can use anything then, or so my brains think... Got to start making lists too! All the best.

    1. Hi guys. Great to hear from you. The sewing course sounds interesting. We're big fans of repairing, recycling and reusing and a sewing course would definitely help us. I have to admit that having lived with just one pair of trousers all summer it was superglue I was using to keep them 'decent' in public.

      It does get hard clearing out as you strip away the layers. Also, we find that when we are selling things that, on reflection, we have never really used or needed we also have to deal with a little guilt or feeling regret we bought it in the first place. Obviously we were different people then and times and ourselves change, but clearing out is definitely more than a physical process. Certainly something you need to give yourself space to do.

      With best wishes,


  2. Chris and Peter ( Belgian Beauty, not us)12 November 2016 at 20:44

    Yes indeed, definitely more than a physical process! That's exactly why it is so difficult, I gather! Thanks for your inspiration! I know one day I will be able to deal with it!

  3. I've been following your blog for some time now and enjoy your reflections about your travels. We have been travelling for a year now and have just returned to deal with our stuff which has been locked away in a storage container. Even though we gave away probably half of what we owned before we left on our travels we have procrastinated long and hard over whether to let go of the rest as it not only doesn't fit our current lifestyle but it's also still costing us money! But, needs must, it has to go. It's not even sentimental stuff but I still keep feeling that a huge piece of my life will be gone! It's strange because I've felt more unsettled coming back to the UK than I did giving up our jobs, renting out our house and embarking on our new lifestyle over a year ago which is something I didn't really expect. I like your thoughts on the fact that you accept that you as people have changed and that what served you previously does not necessarily fit your present selves. Thank you for your thoughts as they do help give clarity to others in a similar situation! Also, well done with those puppies - you have given them a superb start in life and Leela is a very lucky girl! All the best for your future travels :) Jane

    1. Hi Jane and Tim, wonderful to receive your comment and thank you for your kind words. It's lovely to hear that you enjoy some of our pondering on this blog. Your feelings sound so similar to ours, it really was very moving to read your words.

      We'd love to hear a little more about your travels, where you've been and where you might head to next?

      And, of course, best wishes with the clearing out! We completely understand your feeling of being 'more' unsettled in the UK. Perhaps it's because there is anticipation of what's to come, the letting go, the making decisions etc. rather than the more unexpected process of setting off and going with the flow?

      In love,

      Dan & Esther x


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