Musings on Moving: Decluttering wakeup calls

A guest post by Josh Martin of Josh Martin Ink

I’ve bounced around a lot in my youth, moving from one place to the next. While each move comes with its share of challenges, they are also great reminders of how much stuff we’ve accumulated and a wakeup call to the need to purge and declutter. I’m planning on moving again in the not too distant future. I just know I’m going to be shocked at how much stuff I own once I start emptying the closets and drawers.

I remember my first real move on my own. I left my family home and moved into residence as a first-year student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. That move required no more than the hatchback and back seat of my Mom’s tiny, bright yellow Geo Metro. My clothes, a few personal effects and a plant for my room in Willison Hall.

My next move was in second year when I moved out of residence and into a house with five other roommates. A bit more involved this time. My clothes, more of my personal effects now that I had a bit more space, a bed and a desk. My plant, owing to the fact that I don’t have any semblance of a green thumb, was long dead by this point.

The year after that I moved down the street to another house. I had to beg the help of a couple friends but even so we were able to move all my stuff without a van. Besides a few odd looks I got as I marched down Marshall Street carrying my mattress on my head, the move went smoothly.

After graduation I went to Taiwan to teach English. It was a great opportunity to declutter since I wasn’t going to bring furniture and the such with me to Asia. I was down to a backpack and it felt great.

Returning to Canada the following year, I moved into an apartment and my possessions slowly crept up on me. I moved to my next place – still in the same neighbourhood – with the help of a few shopping carts. The move after that I needed to borrow my friend’s truck. And the one after that I needed to rent a cargo van.

Getting my first well-paying job in Toronto, I found myself a nice, big apartment. And with the big apartment came the “need” to fill it with furniture. By the time I moved again I needed a giant U-Haul. It took two trips and I even managed to crash it into a display of windshield washer fluid when I tried to gas it up.

Naturally, the more stuff I had, the harder and more expensive the moves became. How did I go from a shopping cart to needing a 20 foot U-Haul? And when I reflect on it, am I any happier now in my large, 2-bedroom apartment than I was living in my cramped room in University? I may not have had much, but I also never laughed so hard or had so much fun as I did in those days.

So if you’re planning a move soon, take some time to really wrestle with the clutter question. Plan ahead and see it as a great opportunity to declutter. Reconsider buying that big house, knowing that it will mean filling it with more stuff you don’t need. And see your new home as a fresh start to be disciplined about stemming the flow of accumulation.

As my next move approaches (and I know, I do move a lot), I’m looking forward to getting back in touch with my 22-year-old self and his trusty shopping cart.

Josh Martin is a humourist and blogger about simple living and making the most out of life. You can find more of his work at

Today’s Declutter Item

Finally I think this is the last of the Snoopy Collection. Now if only I could say that about the baseball souvenirs and the craft supplies, but I am working on that.

The Last of the Snoopy Collection

Something I Am Grateful For Today

A lovely sunny day but not too hot.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I live in a small Alaskan town. It is quite common when moving to have the container dropped off in your driveway and picked up in a few days for the barge. You make choices because when the container if full that is how much you get to take unless you want to pay for another container.

    • What a great way to force you to downsize! Maybe everybody should say “ok, one truck only! Anything that doesn’t fit, doesn’t come with us!” 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  2. College for me was simply a step I had to complete in order to get on with my adult life. I had few items back then too, but I didn’t need much as my college provided the bed/mattress, desk, closet.
    While I am ruthlessly decluttering non- sensical, useless, excessive stuff from my life now – I personally would not want to go back to my college quantity of stuff. I rather enjoy having more than a few items that I could cram into a shared dorm room & a communal bath/shower facility.
    While it’s obvious I have too much stuff now, I have no doubts that I had stuff back then that was not a necessity too. But if I found myself at my current age (45) or older & my entire wordly belongings fit into a shopping buggy….. I would obviously be in some kind of downward spiral & facing a grim demise & could only hope to be shot & put out of my misery!

    • Haha – well I certainly hope it won’t come to being shot! 🙂
      In the end I think it’s all about balance. And for me, realizing that it’s better to spend my time, money and energy more on the experiential stuff (my family, friends, memories) and not the material things.

  3. I used to pack up once a term (4 times annually) for 7 years. Alas I still had a lot of stuff, despite this.

    Now, I have space in my apartment for more furniture but am scared if I ‘build it they will come’ (ie if I have space, I will fill it, and it’ll be clutter essentially, as I don’t need it now!). Hard one to wrangle with…

  4. We have had friends that have moved old stuff and paid $10,000 plus, when their stuff wasn’t even worth that much money. If the company your work for isn’t paying for you move, you should figure out just what you really need and how much it would cost to replace it. Most times, it isn’t worth moving it. Once you move, you can get 2nd hand stuff or buy new depending on your circumstances. If you don’t have enough money to sell your stuff and buy new, then how can you spend the same amount of money to move your old stuff to your new place? Most of the time people just charge their move and pay for it month after month for a long time. It may cost less to start over or you can at least get a fresh start.

    • Good point. And people tend to get really attached to material possessions and insist on paying to have it moved or shipped, even if it would be simpler/cheaper to get rid of it or replace it after the move.

    • Interesting idea Spendwisemon. I have so much I could add to that it has my head spinning. When we went to live in America my husbands job paid for the move. Our furniture and white goods stayed here. Not knowing we would be gone for 7 and a half years. I am guessing that the storage cost more than the furniture was worth. They also rented furniture for us at the other end which also would have been cheaper to buy had they known we would be there for that long.

    • good point, but I somehow feel the other way. I would rather move stuff around than sell and re-buy, even if its more expensive. first of all, the hassle of moving your stuff forces you to touch things, thinking hard if you really want it or not. AND maybe its just me, but playing tetris and trying to pack everything into one car/van/truck (because you always order one size too small) is fun.
      second of all: I know people who do that. I think its irresponsible to buy and trash/sell and then buy and then trash/sell again. even if its second hand. that means that more stuff is required, more stuff gets produced, more stuff gets into the circle. and I consider it easier to organize a move than to organize a sell of your possessions. and then dont get me started on buying new things again. shopping isnt fun. putting together a event with friends and family is very much fun.

  5. When a friend of mine’s mum died unexpectedly I helped clean out her 3 bedroom apartment. We filled a whole truck, and more, of stuff. Most of this went to the local op shop. At the end of our lives our stuff is mostly just second hand goods to a stranger.

    In between all the baby stuff and the coffin, we do need some stuff to get us through life. As a student we can simply have a backpack because the bed, the desk etc are all provided for us (they are someone else’s stuff). It’s about getting a balance between need and greed as we go along the journey.

  6. Thanks for an interesting article, Josh – good food for thought.

  7. Hi Josh,
    thanks for a great article and for responding to the comments it generated. As I said to you when I chose the publish day it fits so well with my post on Tuesday. I for one will not be buying a bigger home and I am staying one step ahead of my next move by decluttering now. Hopefully by the time that happens I will even find my new smaller home feeling spacious with my minimized possessions in it.

    Thanks again Josh and I promise I will write a guest post for your blog soon. In fact I think I finally have an incident in mind to amuse you with. Perhaps only mildly but it does carry an important life lesson.

    Cheers Colleen

    • Thank YOU Colleen! I look forward to seeing your guest post!

      • Josh,
        Thank you for the excellent guest post. I forwarded it to a friend of mine who is relocating, hoping it will be helpful. Thank you, too, Colleen, your blog gives me both inspiration and strength. I just wish I had realized how much stuff I can actually do without, BEFORE my last move.

  8. Oh boy! I am trying to become strong at decluttering, & I’m getting there one slow piece at a time. The declutter item today gave me shivers…I have this same Snoopy collection & a few weeks back I think I found all the pieces & packed it into a box to donate. I haven’t taken them out of the house yet. 1.I’m not sure where to take them, I was thinking a daycare centre. 2. I’m not sure if they would be still useful here as my kids do enjoy playing with them, although it’s noted they haven’t asked for them since I packed them away. Baby steps for me, but I do feel like I’m getting there.

    • Hi Angela,
      good work with your progress so far. I am glad that you feel like you are getting there. Stick with the easy stuff first that way you will make quick but easy progress.
      As for the Snoopy toys why not ask yourself these three questions instead.
      1. Why did I pack them away in the first place? ~ If it was because the kids have too many toys then you don’t need to keep them.
      2. Do I want to declutter my home or am I satisfied with the status quo? ~ If the answer is I want to declutter then you have to start somewhere. Don’t second guess yourself.
      3. Will the world come to a crashing end if later I think “I wish we still had those Snoopy toys.” ~ I am pretty sure the answer is no to this one.

      If you are uncertain for the kids sake just ask them if they want them or would they be willing to donate them to a charity so that other children who can’t afford new toys could buy them. I am fairly certain they will be happy to let them go. Don’t forget to praise them for that. Then just donate them to your local thrift store.

  9. Thanks for your post!

    While it’s true that there is a difference in the amount of your stuff, depending on whether or not you own the furniture you use, this is only part of the problem of accumulating a truck load over the years.
    In the course of my decluttering, I came to a realization that resembles the saying “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves”: Take care of your tiny stuff and the big stuff (furniture) will take care of itself. If you’re down to the clothes you actually wear, to the books you actually read and to the kitchenware you actually use, you’ll never need huge cabinets or dressers. You will find that even granny’s tea set may find place in the upper kitchen cabinets, that your dresser may be as small as it used to be back in your teens and that you don’t need to haul boxes and boxes of books along.
    So I can very well understand your longing for your shopping cart moves.
    Btw: I was very much reminded of myself. Still got to get rid of a lot, to be down to what I once owned

    • funny you say that. I have it the other way round. I cant get rid of the big furniture although its standing around empty. 😉
      for example I have a nightstand, with two drawers that is from my great grandmother, so it is probably around 100 years old. someone painted it turquoise once, a shade you dont see often. it contains three items, but it looks just amazing.

      • I know what you mean. From New England in the US, I come from a long line of stuff people who pass “it” down with the “sacred” obligation to “pass it on when the time is right. It belonged to…..and I want it to go to… the right time.” One is the table I’m writing on. Golden Oak, seats 8 comfortably with the extra leaves. From the late 1800’s. I moved to the west coast years ago and as soon as my parents sold their home it was shipped to me, along with a dresser that was my brothers, circa 1920’s and refinished by my Dad, and an 1860’s full sized sewing/knitting cabinet with inlays. Mind you, the remainder of my family lives on the east coast. Yet it was shipped over 3,000 miles to me. I’ve found ways of passing on just about everything else and believe me there was a lot of “else.” These are sitting and for now I am using them. Yet, everytime I look at them I wish I had something else, a bit smaller, to replace them. My family is gone now, I have neices, but no children and eventually these will be removed. One I use for a nightstand and is going into a local living museum in a bit. The others will find homes as I am able to replace them. I do mean replace. I need something to put my clothes in but I’d like to be a bit more creative with that one. And my table will go where it will….otherwise, I’m doing well with decluttering. Well, for me anyhow. I’m left with only one cratfy activity to declutter from a collection that originally had 42 feet of books of crafts and every supply to go with them. I declutter en masse to either the local online Freesell or a charity or school that will take the whole thing. That way I am not so attached to each item that I can’t part with it properly and it will hang around for years before it walks out the door. For me, it’s like getting a Flu shot. A sting at time of injection………but oh so much better than a bad case of the Flu.

        • Great analogy Judy, “For me, it’s like getting a Flu shot. A sting at time of injection………but oh so much better than a bad case of the Flu.” I liked that so much I Tweeted and Facebooked it. Donating your historic furniture to a living museum is a great idea. I am glad you are so open minded about getting rid of the things that you really are now just keeping out of obligation. I would check with the nieces if they want the remainder of the furniture and if not do what you will with it. Life if too short to be surrounded with things you don’t feel comfortable with.

  10. Heehee.
    Not to be mean, but I think we should make guesses as to when another Snoopy turns up.
    We all know how it is: we think we have got ALL of a thing, then two months later, boom, there’s ANOTHER Pez dispenser! How did that happen?!?
    I say, September 13th, 2012.
    Good guest post. It made me think of my moves, and the progression. I have no moving plans for years, but I like to think that by the time I do, my next moving vehicle will be markedly smaller.

    • haha, the PEZ dispenser. classic clutter item.

    • Cheeky thing Sabine. The thing is, if I do find one I don’t have to tell you about it. Hee hee! I would though. In fact I know that my son keeps his artist pencils in a Snoopy lunchbox. So you are right another one could very well show up one day to be decluttered. And in actual fact I think there is a photo missing somewhere of a jar of Snoopy items. I took it to the thrift shop last week and found out that my boss there collects Snoopy. So rather than donate it to the store I gave it to her. If I locate the photo I will be sure to post it here so you can get a laugh.

  11. I remember when I lived in the dorm, 35 years ago, and everything I owned fit in a Volkswagen van with room to spare.

    I remember when I later had an apartment and my few pieces of furniture and additional kitchen supplies and dishes required only a second load in the van when I wanted to move.

    We now live in a smallish house and we are constantly looking for ways to minimize. We have a lot of music and books; but for that, we would own very little. And we are always paring down: when was the last time we wore this? Used that? Etc.

    I do not ever want to live in a massive house, although I would like to see a large enough bonus space in the retirement home we are planning so my husband can build the proper Lionel Train landscape he has fantasized about for so long, to show off his well-cared-for train collection. We plan to put storage cabinets under the train landscape for our camping gear and such. The rest of the small house we are planning will have generous bookshelf space, well designed closets and NO clutter.

    • Hi Mambocat and allow me to extend to you a very warm welcome to 365 Less Things. How exciting planning your retirement home. I am not sure I would ever want to build or renovate but it would be wonderful to have a home planned just for our needs. Can’t have one without the other although I suppose we could just get lucky and stumble upon something just right. Fingers crossed.
      Your husband will be horrified to know that I am thinking of selling my electric train and carriages that I have had since I was 5 years old. What good are they to me tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.

      • He wouldn’t be horrified at all … if you aren’t using them or making plans for a train landscape, why keep them? He might even be interested in buying them from you if it doesn’t duplicate something he already has. What sort of trains are they? 🙂

        As for retirement that is a decade down the road but we are spending a lot of time looking at “Not-So-Big-House” plans and books. I have always loved the Shaker style of housebuilding, too: a wall just can’t be a room divider, it has to incorporate closets, cupboards and drawers.

  12. This is an interesting post and I can definitely empathize with the need to declutter, downsize, and so forth. We do a big purge every year-mostly in the form of a yardsale. What we don’t sell we donate. It helps.

    A few points though…

    I live in a big house. Well, it’s not a mansion but it’s around 4,000 sq. ft. I like it. I worked hard for it. It fits me and my family. I run my business from my home. In the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I lived in a 900 sf. ft. farmhouse. No way would we go back to that. My dorm room was fine when I was alone. But it had its own useless stuff and clutter. It’s not necessarily the size of the space that makes the difference-it’s your attitude regarding the stuff that fills your space.

    Also, you say that you prefer to spend your money on friends, family, and memories…well, that’s subjective, too. A lot of the things in our house ARE memories-and I don’t mean this in the hoarding type way.

    For example, the big buffet that our TV cabinet rests on? It’s an antique. I snagged it at an auction for $10. My husband and I spent a fun weekend sanding it, staining it, and polishing it. We didn’t turn the TV on once that weekend. We shared stories and laughed the whole time.

    My desk? My husband and I made it out of old kitchen cabinets and a door from an old house. It took us a week of exploring to find the parts. Our 4 year old helped us sand it and stain it. It’s a little uneven in some parts, but you can see his handprint on top.

    Our infants’ baby furniture? It cost a lot of money. I’ve never spent so much on furniture. However, our 2 month old son died the year before. It took us a year to pay off his funeral expenses and headstone. When I got pregnant again, I vowed to spend money on something fun for a baby, not something that had to do with death. Shopping for that furniture, picking it out, ordering it, and dreaming over it was part of my grieving process. It gave me hope.

    Oh, and the furniture might be expensive but the blankets, pillows, and curtains were all handmade by me and my husband. We took them everywhere we went while I was pregnant. Sitting in doctors’ offices together, embroidering, is another good memory of mine.

  13. Hi, Colleen. Thought I’d stop by to congratulate your daughter on her steadfastness with her decluttering tasks during her time home.
    She’s achieving well, and you are of course supporting and encouraging her (and your other family members, all productive) very well. Please wish her the best. Nice to see her pic, too.

    A belated mention of the great collage you presented us somewhere around Christmas time, Colleen. Very inspiring and very aeshetically lovely.
    Thanks for the effort there.

    Gail C

    • Hi Gail and thank you for your vote of confidence. Even I have been surprised with the amount of stuff she has been willing to part with. I fully expect at this point for minus one 40 litre plastic container and six shoe boxes and all the stuff that was contained therein. I am very pleased with that.

      I am pleased you enjoyed the collage. It is scary yet satisfying to think that it only contained the decluttered items from 2011 there is also the stuff from 2010 gone as well. It really is a lot of stuff. Especially considering not even the clothes included have been replaced and very little stuff has come in over that time. How is it that I am still finding things?

  14. Re furniture – I was about to spend £350 ($A400?) on a chest of drawers to put my jumpers in as the current one was too small. However now I have decluttered it I don’t need another chest of drawers – so my decluttering has saved me spending that money. Great reason to do it!

    • Hi Jane,
      good for you. I bet you are feeling good about that. I have eliminated a few pieces of furniture altogether along my declutter journey simply because I no longer need the storage space. It feels good and I dare say a few more will go before I am done. The bookcase for one is in our sights at the moment.