After twenty-plus years of raising a family and founding software startups in California, my husband Paul and I decided to take advantage of our empty nest by embarking upon an adventure of full-time international travel. We sold our home, cars, and furniture; got rid of all our stuff; and left California with one carry-on luggage and backpack each.
We decided to go all in: no storage unit, no anchors, no strings attached—we wanted to be entirely free to focus on adventure. We sorted through all our stuff and eliminated everything except some carefully selected sentimental items and important documents to be kept at my parents’ house for safekeeping.
Here’s how we were able to get rid of everything:
- The two of us were in sync with a shared goal to get rid of everything with a clear purpose: to be free to travel full-time.
- We got comfortable with letting go; it gets easier the more you do it.
- We had each other for support.
- We had a clear deadline to have everything gone by our travel date.
- We started planning about a year and a half before our departure.
- At first, we had a quarterly to-do list with general to-do’s like “start to clear out clutter around the home” and “meet with our realtor to plan for the sale of our house.”
- As our to-do list grew with more specific tasks, we switched to a month-by-month list about a year before our departure with to-dos like “research where to sell and donate jewelry” and “take photos of favorite pages of my books, then donate them.”
- I had previously cleaned out our attic as a pandemic project — I cleared out decades worth of paperwork and keepsakes we had been storing. This process got the ball rolling for letting go and finding local resources for selling, donating, shredding, and recycling.
Here’s how we specifically got rid of everything:
We met with our realtor more than a year before our planned travel departure, and she advised us to list our home for sale in the spring. We sold our home and moved into a smaller rental home in our neighborhood. We lived there until our departure in the fall after our daughter was headed off to college. Moving before the “big move” allowed us to optimize market timing and helped us (and our daughter) get used to leaving our home where we had lived for ten years before moving out of our hometown. Also, downsizing to a smaller home forced us to eliminate many things. Additionally, we had to vacate our rental by the end of our lease, which we coordinated with our travel departure date—this gave us a clear deadline for getting rid of all our stuff.
We got lucky with the timing of our leased cars — both leases were up right around our departure date, so we simply returned the cars to the dealer.
For household items, including our furniture, decor, and furnishings:
- We sold items at our local Home Consignment Center (locations in California & Texas).
- We sold or gave away items on Nextdoor, an online community connecting residents in the same neighborhood. This was an excellent resource for getting rid of a lot of things. Usually, within an hour of posting an item online, someone was willing to come to our house and pick up anything we were giving away for free.
- We donated items to our local homeless shelters that we found through the non-profit LifeMoves (San Francisco Bay Area).
- We donated furniture and household items to local non-profits like Ecumenical Hunger Program (San Francisco Bay Area), which came to our house with a truck to pick up furnishings that local families could use.
- We gave away items to friends.
- We donated books to our local library.
- Twice a year, our town’s waste removal service held a “clean-up day”—we put household items on the curb in front of our home, everything was removed, and our town partnered with reuse organizations to find new homes for things in reusable condition. Just before we moved to our rental house, there was a clean-up day, perfect timing for getting rid of many items at once.
- We donated items to Goodwill if none of our other sources would accept them.
- Close to our departure date, we sold some home furnishings to the incoming tenant of our rental home.
- Right before we departed, we hired Remoov (located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Phoenix, and Miami) to pick up all the remaining items in our home and sell, donate, or recycle them for us.
I found that the things we no longer needed brought joy to others — here are just a few examples: a mom who picked up a bin of my kids’ old school supplies messaged me the next day to say that her son, who loves math, pulled the calculators out from the bin when she brought it home, and he slept with them under his pillow that night; a teacher who runs an after-school program with no funding was so grateful to have my kids’ art supplies; and when I dropped off a stack of board games at a homeless shelter, one of the residents walked by and called out, “I claim Twister!”
These were the hardest things to sort through and part with because of the emotional connection. I took photos of our sentimental items like collectibles, souvenirs, family photographs, and our kids’ art and school projects. I used a photo scanning service to scan some old photo albums. I saved scans in Dropbox and photos on iCloud. A bonus is that when things are digital, they are more accessible and easily shareable: I created Shared Albums in Photos on my iPhone to share baby photos, school projects, and fun memories with our kids.
I carefully curated a box of keepsakes such as old family photographs and our family’s favorite Christmas ornaments. I went through all the baby and childhood keepsakes I had stored for our kids and reduced them to a small memory box for each of them. In total, I created three keepsake boxes to be stored at my parents’ house for safekeeping while we travel. Here are the plastic boxes I used:
Iris 12”x12” Paper Storage Case from The Container Store
Iris Deep Document Case from The Container Store
We scanned important documents, saved them in Dropbox, and then recycled or shredded the originals. For the few originals that we needed to keep, such as birth certificates, we stored them at my parents’ house in this container:
Fire Waterproof Safe Document Holder from Amazon
I sold all my clothes, shoes, handbags, and accessories on the online womenswear consignment and thrift store Thredup and at local consignment boutiques. We donated menswear to our local homeless shelters and Goodwill. We sold our winter clothing and gear on Geartrade (USA only).
I consigned jewelry at The RealReal and our local Home Consignment Center. I donated all remaining jewelry to the San Francisco branch of Dress For Success, a non-profit that provides professional attire to women for career development.
For our desktop computers, monitors, cables, and household tech gear:
- Paul had access to an online forum for selling gear to startups at a Silicon Valley incubator — this was an excellent resource for selling tech gear.
- We sold items on Craigslist.
- We sold or gave away items on Nextdoor.
- We gave away items to friends.
- We shredded old hard drives.
- We tossed e-waste in our recycle cart managed by our town’s waste removal service—we recycled electronics and old cables not worth giving away.
Our kids had to go through all their stuff in their rooms to decide what to get rid of, what to bring to college, and a small number of keepsakes to store at their grandparents’ house. It wasn’t easy to motivate them, but they ended up selling some of their items on Nextdoor, selling some clothes at local consignment boutiques, and donating items at Goodwill.
Overall, we found that getting rid of everything takes a willingness to let go, followed by a lot of physical and emotional effort, time, planning, and organization. It was the right thing for us, as it freed us up for an adventure we are grateful to be able to go on.