Minimalism Before & After: What I Learned By Letting Go of Stuff

Connie Riet
by Connie Riet

Everything I own is gone! I'm sharing my story about the things I've owned and the lessons I have learned from letting go of my stuff. It’s my story of minimalism, before and after.

Here’s a favorite quote on minimalism that helped me through the process of letting go: The less you own, the less that owns you.

Growing up with secondhand items

Growing up with secondhand items

So, it’s an odd feeling getting rid of everything. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in a middle-class large family. And being the youngest of six kids meant that pretty much everything I owned was secondhand from my older siblings.

My Wrangler jeans even came from my big brothers and my ruffled collared shirts all came from my big sisters.

When I was given a Christmas or birthday gift, it meant so much to me. I really valued each possession I owned, even my Peaches ‘n Cream Barbie but I barely touched that toy.

I would gently take her out of her bag, brush her hair, and straighten her dress. Then I’d display her nicely for a little while on my shelf until I put her back into her box. I was like this with everything!

I would treat all of my possessions with the utmost care, even my Huffy bike–I would spray it down and give it a wash every weekend to make sure all of the mud was off of it.

Making handmade items

Frugality in my 20s

In my 20s as my family began to grow. We had very little money so most of the things that I would give my children were handmade. I made toys and even handmade Christmas ornaments that I made with my son when he was a baby which we still use on our Christmas tree.

Even these few items meant so much to me and I would really take good care of every possession I owned because they all meant something to me.

Cherishing possessions

Cherishing every possession

I kept all of my children’s baby clothes, their favorite baby toys, books, and every single card they made me. I made sure I kept them in perfect condition.

During my 20s and 30s, I would cherish every possession I had, almost like it had a magical, special meaning to it. So if anything got broken or lost or damaged, I felt like there was a magical part of that possession that was now lost that I’d never get back. So, I never got rid of anything.

Selling a house

Yard sale

Then, the recession hit

That is, until 2008. The recession hit our little family of five very hard. We had to sell a lot of things just to survive. We had to short-sell our house, we sold our cars, and we had to downsize from a big house to a smaller house to an apartment and every time we needed to downsize, more things had to get sold.

I was heartbroken. I had so much of my identity wrapped up in these material objects that getting rid of them was the equivalent of losing a limb. It’s shocking to me how emotionally attached I was to these objects.

I still kept my most cherished possessions–my children’s baby clothes, their keepsakes, my Peaches ‘n Cream Barbie, my baby blanket, my great great grandmother’s antique glass jars, and the Christmas decorations.

Minimalist journey in an RV

Starting my minimalist journey

This is when I actually started my minimalist journey. Here’s a quote by author Joshua Becker that I love: “The first step of crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.”

Over the next 15 years, we gave up a lot of our possessions and the status quo of what a normal life should look like. After graduating high school, my son backpacked through Central America, and my 15-year-old daughter left home to study ballet.

So my husband and I threw caution to the wind and we bought an RV and traveled around the United States with our youngest daughter. But, we still had a storage unit that was filled with cherished possessions.

After RV for 18 months, we found a home and settled and sent for the POD storage unit. It arrived, we unloaded it, and we set up shop in our new home for six months. And then the travel bug struck once again. So everything went back to storage, we traveled with our youngest abroad with only a suitcase in hand. 

We came back from abroad in a couple of years and filled our home again. Time and time again, we have purchased, packed, moved, stored, and unpacked all of our most cherished possessions and the comforts of home.

Boxing up items

The final purge

But this time is different.

Donating loved items

We boxed and moved and donated and sold 95 to 98 percent of everything we own. I thought getting rid of things would be easy. I was wrong.

As I wrapped my daughter’s baby blanket around my great-grandmother’s antique glass jars, shipping them to Germany, I thought I’ll never be able to scoop out a cup of flour to bake something delicious again.

I brushed my Barbie doll’s hair one last time as I shipped her off to the highest bidder. And, I held my baby blanket one more time before I put it into the donation bag.

Donating stuff

Countless donations

Even though I’ve been a minimalist for over 14 years, it’s amazing how much I still owned and how emotionally attached I had been to my possessions.

We sold furniture and paintings that I had owned for 30 years. We made countless trips to the second-hand thrift store with donations. One by one, each room and every cupboard and closet was empty and bare.

Minimalism before and after

But now, I’m free

It’s an odd feeling giving up everything I owned. I broke down and started crying several times during the process.

But there’s also something very liberating about not being tethered to any material object. Not having to repair, clean, pack, or move any more objects. It’s very freeing. I feel like my identity has been stripped away and the only thing that’s left is my authentic self.

So, as I sit in this very empty house, I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia. There’s something in me that wants to cling to the past. But at the same time, I’m filled with excitement to turn the page of this last chapter so I can write a new chapter in my life.

Minimalism before and after

So, what is this new chapter? I will tell you shortly. Until then, let me know in the comments if you would be able to sell all of your things.

Would you get rid of everything you own?

Join the conversation
2 of 18 comments
  • Shirley Shirley on Aug 07, 2023

    It’s difficult to part with years of stuff. Especially, late loved ones stuff. And then there’s worry over who has to get rid of the stuff after one’s demise.

  • Judith Laviar Judith Laviar on Aug 11, 2023

    Well, funny i should come across this story. I am a retired designer and love beautiful things and almost all my belongings have a story as to where they came from. recently,one of my friends was diagnosed with a terminal illness. she was forced to sell most of what she owned and go live with relatives. what she was keeping, i packed for her and we both realized she might never unpack them. I then vowed to figure out what I absolutely had to keep and to put the rest in the attic for sale. A lesson learned. it even applys to my house, which always cries out for some upkeep. Yes, I am a senior, 84yr young ,the older you are the more "things" you have,. you can appreciate them but, do they really bring joy? hmmmm......maybe a photo of them will stir up good memories instead, yeah, but then you need a photo album,right?