The Effect of Purging Our “Stuff” on My Life, Wallet, Soul, and Planet

Once we decided to sell our house and move to Costa Rica, the next step was to do a massive purge of the stuff in the house.  The purpose of this purge was three-fold:

1)  First, our wonderful real estate agents hired a stager named Jan to help us get my house ready to go on the market. She flat out told me I needed to declutter the house to prepare it for sale.  She said there could be nothing on the floors, including the closets.  I had to clear a lot of space in order to make the house look as big as possible.  Essentially, I had to make the house look like a hotel.  This was a daunting task for me as my closets, drawers, and even corners were busting at the seams!

2) We planned on keeping some furniture and other stuff in storage. We had to pare down as much stuff as possible, because we wanted to save on storage fees.  If we kept it, we were going to pay to store it.  I had to make sure I kept only the things that had sentimental value, were difficult to replace, or I planned to use again upon our return from Costa Rica.  Every little inch counts!

3) Once we return from our adventure in 2, 3 or 5 years, we need to furnish a home.  We plan to downsize, so we will not need as much stuff as before, so we wanted to get rid of as much unnecessary stuff as possible on the front end.

The whole-process of purging took about 3 months.  It was a physically-exhausting, emotionally-draining, and time-intensive process.  First, I started with all the toys, work-out equipment, clothes, knick-knacks, books, and furniture that we did not need anymore or that Jan told me to ditch to stage the house properly.  I followed the old addage, “If you have not used it in 6 months, get rid of it.”  I went through every closet, drawer, desks, and shelves.  I got rid of anything that we were not taking to Costa Rica or were not using immediately.  Chris digitized all of our DVD library and I stored up the discs.  After we sold the house, I got rid of the stuff that we had kept just to stage the house but we did not need to live in the house for the last 2 months. One week before we moved, we got rid of all the rest of the furniture, clothes, and other stuff that remained.  The stuff that was purged was either donated, packed in a box for storage, given away, sold, recycled, or trashed.  In the end, we were able to fit all of our remaining possessions in 12 pieces of luggage.

At los Pinos cabins with our luggage, waiting for our taxi to take us to our new home.

At los Pinos cabins with our luggage, waiting for our taxi to take us to our new home.

With the exception of the green laundry basket, this was all stuff we brought with us to Costa Rica.

With the exception of the green laundry basket, this was all stuff we brought with us to Costa Rica.

Effect on My Life

After our first round of purging, when we go the house ready for staging, I noticed in big difference in my life.  I spent less time looking for stuff because everything had a place.  I also found it easier to clean up because there was less stuff to put away.  The kids were also able to clean up after themselves much more easily and they did not make big messes like they used to.  I was more organized and felt strangely liberated in my own house.  Since moving to Costa Rica to a smaller house and with much less stuff, the effects are even more pronounced.

Effect on My Wallet

The immediate effects of purging on your wallet are obvious:  If you sell all the junk accumulating in your closets, garage, and attic, you get money that can go towards your move abroad.  Between all the bikes, scooters, toys, work out equipment, camera/video gear, and computers, Chris made a good chunk of change on eBay and Craig’s List.  Purging will also result in another delayed, less obvious benefit.  Because I had spent countless hours throwing away, recycling, giving away, and boxing up tons of stuff, I became a lot more reluctant about buying more stuff after we did our purging.  I also had the added motivation knowing that if I bought something, I would either have to pay to store it or haul it on me halfway across the hemisphere to Costa Rica.  My wallet definitely saw side benefits to this.

Effect on My Soul

At one point during the purging process I was cleaning out my desk at home, I came across some cards that Kara and Tristan had made for me.  I had saved notes and cards from them over the years, and these littered my desk and drawers because I did not have the heart to throw them away.  After much agonizing, I finally threw these cards into the recycle bin.  I took pictures of 1 or 2 as a keepsake though.  The kids were very upset when they found out I threw out the cards.  I explained to them that just because I got rid of them did not mean that I did not appreciate them.  I told them that while the cards were special, the most important feelings were expressed in our hearts, not on paper.  To be frank, I was saying these things to convince myself.  I got rid of ticket stubs and laminates from concerts.  I got rid of little knick-knacks given to me from residency advisees and medical students.  I got rid of a wooden sign with Chris and my name on it that we got on our honeymoon.   I got rid of my wedding guest book!  As painful was it was to get rid of such sentimental mementos,  the process of doing so made me realize that memories are more important.  I don’t need to keep a card or pin to know my children love me.  One day they will forget the card they made for me, but they will never forget the nights we spent cuddling together at bedtime.  The one thing I did keep was all our pre-digital era photo albums and scrapbooks.  Those are priceless.

Effect on the Planet

The amount of trash we generated from the purging process was painful to watch and throw away.  As much as I tried to give away, donate, recycle, and sell a lot of stuff, there were some things that were not usable, such as an old couch the dogs had chewed up.  With some helpful cushions and throws, we had used that couch for years, but we could not even give it away, and believe me we tried!  So it had to be sent to a landfill.  We also had puzzles and toys with missing pieces and other stuff that just simply had to go in the trash.  As disgusted as I was by the image of the damage I was causing on Mother Earth, I learned a valuable lesson: Think before you buy!  Americans are driven by a culture of consumerism and we judge each other by how much stuff we have.  After being hit hard with the fact that no matter what, at the end of the day the stuff we buy ends up polluting our planet, I am a lot more conscientious about what I buy.

One of the reasons we chose Costa Rica as our destination for our new home is its eco-friendly culture of sustainability.  I realize not everyone can just pack up and move to a more environmentally sensitive community to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  I do recommend you consider doing a major purging in your home, even if you are not planning on moving abroad.  If you are even slightly considering moving abroad, start the purging process as soon as possible.  You will find it beneficial to your life, wallet, soul, and planet.

Pura Vida!

About Noemi Gamel

Noemi Gamel is a physician who prefers writing diverse children's fantasy stories instead of medical charts. She is a geeky nomad, too.
This entry was posted in A Lesson Worth Learning, Becoming an Expat, Financing Your Move Abroad, Redesigning Your Life, Simplifying, Sustainability and Eco-Friendly and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Effect of Purging Our “Stuff” on My Life, Wallet, Soul, and Planet

  1. There is a definite mental decluttering that happens when you shed your stuff. My favorite part – no furniture!

    We came down to Costa Rica with 2 suitcases apiece. I am SO glad we didn’t opt for the shipping container, to move tons of stuff! It would have been a much different experience in Costa Rica if we had.

    Last week, we moved, and it was super easy. I didn’t have to haul any mattresses, or try and lever a big chest of drawers through difficult doorways. A few boxes and suitcases, and that’s it!

    Besides, moving into a furnished place may be a bit more expensive than renting unfurnished, but the savings in furniture costs and replacement is totally worth it.

    • Noemi Gamel says:

      A lot of the rentals in Monteverde are fully furnished because of the many “transients” who live here for only 1-2 years. I love it. It is so nice knowing that between all of us we can carry all of our possessions. I am jealous that you guys came down here with only 2 suitcases each. Our plan was to only bring one backpack and one suit case each but we did not quite make it.

  2. Pingback: What Do I Do With All My Stuff? | Pura Vida Familia

  3. Pingback: Simplifying in Costa Rica: Smaller House | Pura Vida Familia

  4. Pingback: 4 Good Reasons to Move to Costa Rica | Pura Vida Familia

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