Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sell Everything and Start Over

Two years ago I wrote a blog post about uncluttering in which I pondered the concept of selling everything and starting over. I was prompted by Australian Ian Usher's "A Life 4 Sale" eBay auction. The 44-year-old man was selling his house, jet ski, car, clothes, a try-out for his job offered by his employer at a rug store, and even promised access to his friends who said they'd welcome the newcomer. I also referenced the 2007 "sell everything" auction by Lisa Perry and John Freyer's "sell almost everything" art project auctions in 2002, which proved to be smart marketing for his career. He used the proceeds from those auctions to go visit his things in their new homes, then created a book about the experience called All My Life For Sale.

All that happened before the financial meltdown.

In the last several months, I've noticed that the most frequent general Google search that currently directs people to my blog is the phrase, "sell everything and start over." Sadly, I suspect that has become an enforced reality for many people rather than a choice to consider, but I think the idea of starting over appeals to many of us, no matter what our situation might be. Americans are a fairly nomadic lot. We leave family behind, move around the country and usually idealize the lure of the open road. Unfortunately, we also usually haul all of our stuff with us. Even if we stash our stuff in pricey rented storage space, it still takes up space in our heads, not to mention the bite it takes out of our budgets.

Why are we so conflicted? We love the idea of freedom (in this case, I'm talking about literal freedom of movement or at least the feeling that we could move) and resent it when we feel trapped, yet we so often trap ourselves by clinging to our possessions. How many choices in your life would you have made differently if you had been unburdened of everything except the necessities to live? What would you have done differently if you hadn't felt obligated to keep your great-aunt's heavy wrought iron treadle sewing machine ("but it was hers") or boxes full of every single one of your kids' school papers ("it's their history") or the expensive furniture and decorative things you bought when you finally landed a good job and could handle the ongoing payments ("I paid . . . well, I'm still paying good money for that")?

Even in my own relatively uncluttered household, we sometimes look around the rooms and think, "Let's sell everything and start over!" It's just such an appealing possibility. I stand by what I said in my previous post:

I'm still rather fond of my youthful idea of being able to fit all I own in the back of my car and hit the open road. Very Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson (minus the substance abuse).

What does "selling everything" mean, literally, for most of us? We probably wouldn't really want to sell every single thing we own, but there are "stealth items" that we all know we could part with if we could simply let go of the feelings of obligation we have to keep them: the extra dishes, clothes, books, papers, even pieces of furniture and artwork; the hobby paraphernalia for hobbies that are no longer intriguing; the "fantasy life" stuff (no, I will never garden; will you ever rollerblade?); the "past life" stuff (I'm not talking about reincarnation; I'm talking about things you've outgrown intellectually or emotionally).

What would it take to make you let go of the remaining stuff that's holding you back and preventing you from feeling free (not the kids or grandkids!)? I think it's a question worth pondering. I'm not even addressing the issues of attitude and mental baggage; those can be formidable. But what choices would you make right now if you were no longer responsible for the stuff that currently fills your living space? Would you head for parts unknown or retrench in a better way right where you are?


I thought I'd do an Amazon search to find out what's been written about starting over or at least taking a substantial amount of time off. I can't personally recommend any of these titles, but I offer them in case they might pique your interest. While many people are being forced by circumstances to rethink their life plans, starting over to allow time to travel is the ideal. Full disclosure: I hate travel. I like being somewhere else, but getting there seems to be an incredible pain. I have mentioned previously that I am fond of author John Winokur's observation that the root of the word "travel" is the same as that for "travail." And yet, I find it just as fascinating a topic as anybody who does it voluntarily! Go figure.

Here are a few books about taking time off and travelling as a family:

One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children
by David Elliot Cohen

360 Degrees Longitude by John Higham

The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide to Living Abroad with Your Family
by Elisa Bernick

Judging by the available titles, when you're older, RV travel is popular:

Sightseein' and RVin': Travel Adventures After Fifty
by Sue Cook and Ed Cook

Travel Tales...: An Old Retiree, His RV, His Dog, and His Woman (Not Necessarily in Order of Preference) Hit the Road
by Ken Halloran

Travels With Susie: A Hilarious Account of One Couple's RV Journey Across America
by Gordon Grindstaff

The self-help titles were abundant, including:

Starting Over: 25 Rules When You've Bottomed Out
by Mary Lee Gannon

You-Turn: Changing Direction in Mid-Life
by Dr. Nancy B. Irwin

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up
by James Hollis

If you're thinking of starting over, or if you've already done so, please share your experiences!

© 2010 Cynthia Friedlob