Monday, April 20, 2009

All I Have in the World

After all the pondering, all the planning, all the craigslist sales, and all the Salvation Army donations it came down to one single photo. Aside from (1) the stuff itemized in my bike trip post and (2) some coats and jackets I have to pick up from the local dry cleaners on Friday, this picture captures EVERY SINGLE THING I OWN IN THE WORLD:

Cool huh? :) What really gets me is that about half of what you are seeing consists of books and mementos (photos, letters, etc…).
For those of you who have followed this de-cluttering process, here’s where I came out on certain issues:

Furniture: sold most of everything I had and donated the rest. I kept certain things that I will be giving to family members later on this year (they can’t quite make it to DC just yet).

Clothing/linens: gave away 12 (that’s right, 12!) bags of clothing, linens, towels, etc…I still have a couple of bags to drop off this weekend.

Books: gave away approximately 80% of all the books I had. The criteria was simple: keep only those books that you consider to be small treasures. The rest can be shared with the world.

What about you, my dear reader? Are you thinking about doing something similar? If you have already started, what stage are you in the process? If you have completed the process, any advice on what to expect going forward?


Meg said...

Damn! That is definitely minimizing! I hope you don't miss any of the stuff later (anything you can't just buy again, that is), but I can understand wanting to just leave everything behind and start clean.


Jillian said...

Fantastic purge Jack! You wont miss or regret a thing...this I know!

Jennoit said...

Wow. Totally impressed. I'm curious though, longer-term, if you live somewhere that isn't on your bicycle, where will that be and how will things like a bed fit into your life? That is, will you always live without even spartan furnishings in a home or will the nomadic life be a more permanent arrangement?

Jack said...


Believe me, I won't miss anything. The starting clean philosophy definitely grabs me, but, honestly, anything that I will buy in the future will be to repair/replace something I already have or because a new need has come up in my life.


Thanks. I definitely agree with you.


I think a nomadic existence will be just fine for a while. Anything I will need whenever I settle down again I can figure into the price of my rent (a furnished apartment, for example, will have a bed in it) or just rent outright.

Anonymous said...

WOW. That is very impressive. Particularly the books- I get rid of books and then want them back years later and re-buy them, so I've stopped giving them away unless I'm really positive.
How do you feel about items which enable simple living and/or simple hobbies? For example, a tool/repair kit, or drawing supplies?

Anonymous said...

Amazing, Jack. That's fantastic.

Leah, I totally do that with books too. It's like book bulimia or something.

Unknown said...

This is rad...and inspiring. I just started following the blog as I've started paring down my stuff to start living nomadically as well (unfortunately not with my bike like you!). I started with books and am getting rid of about 90% of my books. This felt like a big deal at first since I was an academic but since I've started selling them off it feels like such a relief! Plus as I sell them I realize just how much I enjoyed looking at them on the shelves but not reading them, as they were intended.

Thanks for this blog!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the purging!

Anonymous said...

At first I wrote in this comment box, "I can't get over how little you have." But then I realized I had it exactly backwards -- in the truest sense, you now have so much! Congratulations.

Looking at that photo, I am incredibly impressed. Even if you had twice as many boxes, I'd be equally impressed.

Also, I wanted to tell you: a good friend of mine has been dealing with some difficult stuff recently. I showed him this website and he said that you're speaking to so much of what he's going through. So, thank you for that.

Safe travels,

Anonymous said...

Forgive me if you've already posted about this, but seeing your boxes made me wonder what you've been doing to simplify/declutter your *digital* life. Just an idea for a future blog post, if you haven't posted on this already. It is in no way meant to diminish the significant accomplishment that you just posted about - again, congratulations!


Adam said...

Good work Jack. I absolutely *guarantee* you won't regret it. My wife and I did the same in 2004 and have never looked back. The ability to move, change direction, explore, the freedom to rent a cabin for a month in the mountains, ski for season, or get on your bike, the peace and tranquility you gain from not having to drag your furniture behind you if you need to work for a while somewhere that isn't in your neck of the woods, is priceless.

I hope that ankle gets better and your trip gets underway soon

Alceste said...

Damn. I just sold my apartment and paid off all my debts but as an ex-librarian, I just can't make myself give/throw away my books :)

Oh well, baby steps. Gratz, man.

emmani said...

respect jack... i can see you smiling behind the lens x

Dreamer said...

Jack - its a little nosey of me I know but can I ask how long you will be able to live off your savings for before you will need to find another job if at all?

Linda said...

Some serious decluttering has obviously been going on :).
Am deeply impressed!

Jerry said...

WOW! That picture is scary and exhilarating all at once. Job well done.

dtb said...

Well done! Yeah. I'm a long way from that point. But this will be a cleansing summer in the household.

Jack said...


I think a person should keep and maintain anything that brings them real happiness, no matter how physically bulky or large it may be. The point is not to deny yourself. The point is to get rid of anything that has no real use in your life or that had no real value to you.


I might just try the library if I get the urge to re-read something.


Particularly on the academic side, so long as you don't need anything for purposes of referencing stuff, there isn't a need to keep that stuff. But I had to come to this conclusion on my own. No way could I have done that a year ago.

Jack said...




Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear your friend is taking something from the blog.


That's a very good question. The answer is: not much. I've organized some of my files on my main computer, but I feel there is a ton more to do there. Plus, I have a lot of media (disks, floppies, etc...) in some bag in one of those boxes I have to go through at some point. I'll let you know where I come out on that when I get to it.

Jack said...


Thanks for the comment. That's pretty much the idea; you are more free with LESS stuff to hold you back. The effect is both physical as well as psychological. Don't be a stranger. You probably have a ton of advice to contribute.


Sounds like you are on your way regardless. But, again, the point is not to get rid of stuff indiscriminantly. If books are your passion then keep them, to the extent they enrich your life and their presence fits your lifestyle.


Good to hear from you. Have to check out your blog. Are you blogging more regularly now?

Jack said...


The honest answer is that I don't know. I can probably not work for 3-4 years under the last budget i put up on the blog several months ago. But not working is not something I really aspire to do. I just need to be inspired and focus on the next step in my career. Let's see what happens.


Thanks. Very serious indeed.


Thanks dude.

Anonymous said...

So inspiring! I've been in a purging mode (again) for the last few weeks and this was just another great motivator to keep going. I'm getting to the hard stuff - h.s. yearbooks, photoalbums, yes, books...I have more to read on your blog. Interested to see what your gig is :)
I think you have a kindred spirit in Jacob over

Unknown said...

This is so inspiring! Congrad's. :) I wish you all the best.


Elizabeth Halt said...

not inspired, more horrified at the thought of paring myself down to that little, LOL. that's the beauty of simplicity - it means something different to everyone. :)

Kady said...

I'm jealous... and inspired. Good for you, Jack.

Living the good life....together!! said...


That is amazing. I havent been able to keep up with anything online here recently..I have been all over the USA...Come and read my new post..i had set up a different blog but i dont have time to complete it so i went back to blogspot...I just posted the posts from the new blog back to the original one...

Sending you Lots of Love

Heather's Moving Castle said...

jack~ hopefully once you hit the road again all will be smooth sailing. just take your time. it must be so hard to slow the pace down after the rat race pace you're used to. you probably can't wait to get the show on the road.

love what you are doing!!!!!


Jerry Critter said...

Where are you living now, while you wait to go on your bike trip? Still in the condo or has it been sold? Camped out in a tent somewhere? I am amazed at what you have accomplished in a relatively short period of time.

I don't think I ever would want to do it, but I admire you for accomplishing it.

You are off on a great adventure. Stay safe.

twokniveskatie said...

just found your blog, and it is a timely discovery. i have spent 6 months of the last year living in my van, and just drove 3,000 miles to complete the process of disposing of stuff. i just started a pictorial journal to be published on my blog of what i will carry in my clothing list isn't quite as simple as yours....yet :-)

you are an inspiration just when i needed an inspiration!

i would love to do a project like Peter Menzel's "Material World: a global family portrait" but instead showcase the material belongings of bicycle, rv, and vandwellers...

look forward to following your progress!

timary said...

Very, very cool! I have been a lurker on your blog for a long time - congratulations on all the progress you have made! You are definitely an inspiration to a long-time hoarder like me who wants to change her ways...

Jack said...


Sweet. Summer is the perfect time for that. But I guess any time is good. :)


Thanks. Let me know how the purging turns out. Will check out the site.




Jack said...






Good to hear from you. Will check out the new stuff as soon as I am done here.

Jack said...


Thanks. Actually haven't let yet. Decision time is coming up.


Thanks for the concern. No, still at home, organizing stuff as much as possible before leaving.


Cool! You actually seem more hardcore than I.

But, honestly, I've kept the basics and given how I've been living and the kind of cash I have been spending the past several years, the basics are pretty good and expensive to begin with. I calculate that I still own over $20k worth of gear/clothes, etc...It might not be too much in terms of quantity, but the quality is up there. So, honestly, the transition is probably not so bad for that reasoin.

Daizy said...

Did you throw out childhood trinkets or did your mother keep that sort of stuff? My parents made me take all of my stuff with me, stuffed animals, yearbooks, drawings, etc... I find them hard to part with although I know if I died they would probably go straight to the dump.

Kerry said...

Liberating, isn't it??

Anonymous said...

I second others' opinions and impressions, Jack. Yes, seeing how radically you've pared down your possessions is inspiring, exhilarating and horrifying (for several reasons) at the same time. I can't even begin to imagine minimizing to such an extent (though it is increasingly tempting), but I guess it's somewhat different (or maybe not?) when you have children.

Hearing about your planned bike trip across the country I was reminded of Peace Pilgrim -- wonder if you've heard of the woman? If not, see this:

Wishing you good health and friendly roads ahead.

Anonymous said...

So exciting ! I came back onto your blog and POOF ....tons of stuff gone. Congrats! ~Amanda

Memie said...

Hi there, thank you for posting this blog post...and also this blog in it's entirety. Over the last year or so minimalism and simplicity have wedged their way into my heart. I wish that I could say that I'm down to the bare essentials, but alas it's been a journey that I haven't quite completed. I find that I have to go through "cycles" where I go through things and give them away or sell them...a couple months later I'm then confused why I kept what I did...and then I do it all over again. I'm pleased to say that the "stuff" in my home has lessened significantly. I recently had a baby girl and have begun blogging on simplicity and family. I'm still astounded by how many folks think I'm making life difficult for myself by going back to basics. In the last two years I've become a strict vegetarian, moved to the region of Muskoka, where I hope to start a small off the grid homestead with a very simplistic theme. One day, I'll be there, spending all my time loving, embracing old traditions, lessening my footprint on the Earth and raising my daughter in a home that isn't leaning on the consumption-wheel crutch. If you don't mind, I'd like to link your blog to mine. Have a look and see if you'd be alright with it:

Thank you once again for your brilliant inspiration. I'll be following your posts!


Patch said...

Just found your blog today. Most impressive! I've been decluttering for the past 8 years and am down to the last layer, but still have too much. Within the next 6 months I hope to be able to have ONE similar photo to yours, with everything I own in the frame