By Bree Walter

Last fall I survived a near-fatal car accident. I was seriously injured and spent months recovering. It was during this time that “the excess” in my life no longer seemed important; I began valuing experiences and my time so much more than material goods. It wouldn’t matter to me what gifts people brought over when they came to visit me during recovery; it was that time spent visiting with them that I enjoyed so much more. I began to lean into the minimalist mindset—buying less, wasting less, living with less—and instead really being present for the experiences and the relationships in my life. And then it dawned on me that, just like I didn’t need to buy as much, I also didn’t need to earn as much. Because when you don’t buy as much, you don’t need to earn as much. I wanted to free myself from the “work, buy, work, buy” capitalist cycle.

Taking the leap

I quit my job this spring, setting off on a sabbatical, to rest, reset, and be present. I’m still on this journey, not sure where it will end up. But as the lease for my apartment was nearing a close last month, I made the decision to spend a few months road tripping around the States, living out of my Jeep while on the road. It would just be my dog, hardly any material possessions or luxuries, and none of the nuances of the conventional lifestyle I had always known. I rented a 10’ x 5’ storage unit (essentially the size of a walk-in closet), and was determined to fit all of my remaining belongings into it while I was vagabonding around the country.

Sure, I could have gotten a larger storage unit, but there was part of me that wanted to challenge myself, see if I could make it all fit. It was the ultimate test of this new mindset I had adopted. 

All of these events and decisions:  a year of a pandemic and isolation, a near-fatal car accident, a sabbatical, a minimalist and environmentalist mindset, a dream of the open road, an itty-bitty storage unit—these were a perfect storm that came to a climactic crest in the form of the most cathartic possession purge I’ve ever gone through. I donated about 40% of my belongings.

Listening to the voice of less

Quite serendipitously, I began listening to the audiobook, The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, the same day I started this purge. I use the Libby app, an app that connects to your library account and can be used to listen to audiobooks or e-books for free. But with Libby, as with any public library, you usually have to place a hold, and then the book reaches you when it’s your turn. Well, to my surprise, The Year of Less officially became mine (well…mine for 21 days) right as I was opening my first drawer.

In this book, Cait completes a year-long shopping ban, and gives away 70% of her belongings. It’s during this year that Cait contemplates her consumerist tendencies and comes to realize that most of what we buy, we really don’t need. She learns that by reducing her consumption—buying only necessary consumables, and reusing or repairing what she already had, she could actually live a more fulfilling and, arguably, happier life of less.

This was an inspiring and encouraging soundtrack for my purge. I found it much easier than I had anticipated, likely because Cait was acting as a real-time voice of reason. Getting rid of the extra 12 coffee mugs I didn’t need, the dresses I tried so hard to like but knew they just weren’t me, the office supplies I hadn’t used even once during a year of working from home. It was liberating to not only cast aside the excess/duplicate items I had, but also the items that carried unrealistic exceptions of who I wanted myself to be and what I wanted myself to enjoy, but didn’t suit the real me. It was like shedding a symbolic skin; everything from the last year that I had overcome, versions of myself that weren’t authentic and true, it all sloughed off with each item I tossed in a donation box.

Paying it forward with Re.Use.Full

I knew I wanted to donate my belongings because secondhand items have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I lived with financial instability and relied on food/clothing banks and garage sales for clothes. Now as a twenty-something with an old soul, I get so much pleasure out of finding vintage items, thrifting, and treasure hunting. And in the nature of being environmentally conscious, I knew donating these items would reduce waste and give these items a second chance to be used by someone who could benefit from them. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but it will never be a treasure if it ends up in a landfill. Mother Nature most definitely won’t find it useful.

I was familiar with Re.Use.Full through a group I volunteered with and visited the site to discover where I could donate my items. I was able to filter my search based on what I had to donate and what kind of organization I wanted to support with these donations. I was shocked to see so many groups I hadn’t heard about before. I actually spent a couple hours on the site, not because it was difficult to use, but because I was so interested in learning about all of the organizations and their missions. It was rewarding to decide who I would donate the items to, trying to choose groups that I thought could benefit from certain items the most. Just as someone may be selective with which organizations they donate money to, or volunteer with, Re.Use.Full allowed me to really play a part in the decision making. The site provided me with all of the information, but ultimately it was up to me to decide where I wanted my donations to go.

After all was said and done, I donated about 4 full Jeep loads to a handful of local groups. Re.Use.Full was a key final step in my downsizing journey, making it easy for me to donate my items in a way that felt more thoughtful and personalized than simply dropping everything off at a thrift shop. It felt impactful, not just to me, but to the community to donate these items. I got rid of items that were no longer serving me, but instead of simply throwing them away, I was able to pass these items on to groups that rely on donations like these to do the amazing work they do.

I hit the road in a little over a month. And while I may not be bringing a lot with me, I’ll be surrounded by Mother Nature—full of her abundant, plentiful richness. And as long as I have her, my pup, and my Jeep—I can’t imagine needing anything else.

Bree Walter is a minimalist, environmentalist, and activist. She is a freelance web (user experience) designer by day and a rock-climbing, dog-momming, slam poet by night.