Next time you go up to your attic, or down to your basement, or peek in your closet or garage, ask yourself when was the last time you needed to use the stuff stashed away in all of those boxes? Do you even know what’s in those boxes?

Even after two moves, three garage sales, dozens of trips to donation centers and a bottomless free box, I still have a few of those boxes. And I will probably carry one or two of them around with me for the rest of my life. Maybe it’s one of those weird things about being human—we’re afraid to be without anything. What if we throw everything away and are left with nothing?

The process of getting rid of my belongings taught me that I’m one of those humans. A little too afraid to get rid of everything. But getting rid of as much as I did was a liberating experience, a perfect exercise in preparation for snailism: living with my home on my back.

If you’re planning a trip of your own, or even thinking about it, start opening those mystery boxes now. Purging is very rewarding. Here’s why:

  • I now know the real cost of cheap goods. So much of my belongings came from garage sales, free boxes, thrift stores and sales. It’s economical and environmental to buy used items, but how many times had I decided to buy something just because it was a great deal and not because I really needed it? Deals have an added cost: having to deal with the stuff when you decide to travel the world for a year.
  • I only own what I really want. Even though I wasn’t able to sell/give/donate/throw it all away, I know the stuff I did save was evaluated with a purge-ful eye. There’s little question about the personal value of the contents. (And if they do end up mystery boxes in a future basement or closet, at least there will be fewer of them.)
  • Moving is easier. Moving is said to be among the top life stressors (think death of a spouse, divorce, losing a job). Living lightly takes the stress factor down a few notches, which allows you more freedom to decide where to live, when to move, or when to pack up and travel the world.
  • We don’t have to pay for storage. A storage unit will add at least an extra $1,200 onto the cost of your RTW trip, an amount that could fund 1-2 months in southeast Asia. Parents and friends offered us storage space; we were able to fit everything into a small shed (see the photo above) and my mother’s yurt. Okay, maybe your mother doesn’t have an extra yurt, but you probably know someone with a basement. (Exotic souvenirs make great thank you gifts.)
  • We’ll fit into a smaller house. With fewer things to fill space, we’ll have more housing options, and cheaper ones, when we return. This allows us to be flexible, focus our energy on our lives and save money for our next world trip.

What have you learned from purging your belongings? How did you store your stuff while traveling?

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