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Senior Nomad Stuff
For a senior nomad stuff is often the biggest objection to embracing or even just considering a nomadic retirement lifestyle. As in, “Oh no, I could never do that. I have way too much stuff!” Yet what retired nomads consistently talk about is an amazing experience of freedom, joy and new possibilities… after liberation from their mounds of stuff.
This is an admittedly very emotional topic with a lot of psychological factors at play. The amount of stuff people have runs the gamut from hoarders with a house bursting at the seams to someone whose worldly possessions fit into one suitcase. It’s a safe guess to say you’re somewhere in-between.
There are now hundreds of books on the market that delve deeply into the psychology of stuff and the myriad benefits of having less of it. Plus they offer a huge variety of systems to help you downsize your possessions. You can even hire someone to personally come do it with you!
So the only unique value that I can possibly offer here is to give you some insights into how an accumulation of “stuff” relates specifically to retired nomads. Plus I’ll share with you some tricks I have learned that helped me in my own transition to becoming a senior nomad.
Motivation and brutal self-honesty
You must have a very strong desire to travel, and to travel a lot as your primary motivation for lessening your load of stuff. With traveling itself giving you intrinsic rewards such as going to new places, meeting different people, having new experiences. The more you truly love traveling, the easier it will be to let go of stuff.
As for brutal self-honesty, I think this is much easier for retired seniors than younger people. Whatever we’ve dreamt of accomplishing we either have done so already, or we’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s not in the cards. We’ve also experienced (and continue to experience!) the inevitable aging of our bodies. That alone has forever changed our internal conversations as compared to when we were in our youth or mid-life.
Now it’s common to wonder how many more years of healthy active life can we reasonably hope for. Or we’re asking ourselves what do we really want to do with those remaining years? Is there anything that we always wanted, never had, and now there’s a real possibility we can have it?
If your answers keep pointing you back to having a lot more travel in your life, then take heart. I believe that particular focus will make the process of stuff-downsizing much easier for you than for your non-traveling friends. For every senior nomad stuff is an ongoing challenge.
But stay focused on why you are lightening your load and start slashing…
Cut through with better questions
For slashing through the jungle of your accumulated stuff, better questions are razor sharp machetes well suited for this messy job. Better questions that are coming specifically from your new focus and strong desire to have more world travel in your senior nomad life. Better questions will often yield amazing new answers.
Also listen closely to and reflect on your self-talk. Those instant objections that come up when you think about letting something go. They are the best clue to the nature of the value you are currently getting from that item. And once you know that, you can more easily make better choices.
Here’s some examples of what I mean:
- What is the real nature of the attachment I have to this item? Memories? Does Grandma’s quilt really keep me warmer? Try to see things objectively and practically rather than sentimentally.
- Is this really a useful item for right now and in my traveling future? Or is it primarily a reminder of the past?
- What is the total cost of having this item? Having a place for it, maintaining it? How much joy do I get from the item? Compare that with the joy you’d get from using that money towards traveling instead.
- Same as above but using time as measurement. How much time do I spend on yard maintenance? Or housekeeping? How could I spend that time having more joy in my life?
- Do I really need to own something if I can easily get the same result another way? For example, do I really need to own an espresso machine if I’ll be where I can get an espresso easily and cheaply any time I want? Do I need to own a bicycle if I can rent one when I need it?
- What am I currently getting from this item or activity? Is my pleasure really from growing my own flowers? Or would I get just as much enjoyment sitting and admiring other people’s flower gardens?
- Can I realistically envision myself doing a particular activity again once I’m immersed in a traveling lifestyle? Will my interest in that sport or hobby fade in comparison? Is it time to now let go of my two tennis rackets and three boxes of scrapbook making supplies?
- Is this item mostly related to my image or status? to how I want others to perceive me? Is it primarily decorative? Is that aspect really important to me now in this stage of my life?
And if none of those seem to apply, here’s a basic question to try:
How does owning this item affect the new “more travel” lifestyle that I’m moving towards? Does it make it easier or more difficult? cheaper or more expensive? carefree or more burdened? More exciting or more boring?
Let’s face it, to be a foot-loose senior nomad stuff must be kept to a minimum, and well under your control. But is your stuff serving you? Are are you serving your stuff?
Give away, don’t toss
Giving things away is always much easier than throwing things away.
- Give away heirlooms to your kids and other relatives right now. Do you really need to be a storage garage for stuff they’ll end up with later anyway? And if they don’t want them now, will they really want them later? How about selling them and using the money to travel?
- What things do you have that your friends have always admired? Give them as a gift.
Go smaller, lighter
Find smaller, lightweight or even zero size/weight substitutes for your current items.
- Can you give away all your hard-copy books? And for the few you really do want to have on hand and read again, switch to an electronic book format.
- Go through old photos that are still in old style printed format. Be ruthless in discarding or giving away. Convert what remains to electronic versions. Repeat for music, videos, etc.
- Same for all paper files. If they are really important to keep, convert to electronic format.
- Is there another way you can honor and remember your Mom other than by keeping her entire set of formal dinnerware in your cupboard?
Collect, sort, minimize, simplify
- Do you really need eight complete sets of bed linens for your one bed? Keep just the few best and give away the rest. What about those five pairs of thick woolen socks even though you absolutely hate winter weather?
- How many different types of specialized hair products do you really need? Or skin creams and lotions? Soaps? Try getting down to one multi-purpose product for each major category.
- The same goes for all those overly specialized tools, gadgets, containers, cups, glasses and serving dishes in your kitchen. How much do you need that gadget whose sole purpose is slicing boiled eggs? Or cutting a bagel in half with mathematical precision? How about that serving plate cleverly painted and shaped like a fish, but you’ve only used it once in 5 years?
Success first, then layers
- Some areas of your life (kitchen? clothes? garage?) are likely easier for you to clean out than others. Pick your easiest “battle” first and score some big wins. It will give you a huge sense of satisfaction and help you to keep going.
- Sometimes you get on a fast and furious roll and can ruthlessly release a roomful of stuff in one fell swoop. Ride the momentum and keep going as long as you’re feeling good about it.
- Always stop when you get tired or feel you just can’t reduce things any more. Pushing yourself is counter productive. Be easy and kind with yourself.
- Come back later (could even be many months later) when you’re feeling ready to look again and re-evaluate. Often having time in between enables you to let go of things you couldn’t before. This works especially well when the in-between time is spent traveling and doing more of what you love. You’ll come back and won’t be able to remember why you previously felt so attached.
- What if you downsized a few notches from your current living space? How would that impact your monthly budget? And how much stuff would you have to let go of in order to fit into that smaller space?
- Could you clean out an entire bedroom and then take in a monthly renter? This forces you to dispose of unnecessary stuff and provides additional income at the same time.
- Give yourself a stuff “budget” and religiously stick to it. For example, allow only one box of books, two suitcases of “someday” clothes, etc.
- Consider the cost of storing the stuff you can’t bear to part with. How big of a storage space would you need? What would that cost? Or maybe you have some friends or relatives that would be willing to store your stuff in their garage while you go on an extended trip?
- If you are considering the downsizing strategy, combine it with a temporary storage strategy. Plan an extended trip for after you move out of your larger home, but before you move into (or even look for) a smaller home. You might well find that after you return from your trip, the grip of your stuff has dramatically loosened.
- Do everything you can think of to avoid going back into accumulation mode! I know that if I don’t have a home to put things into, I can very easily resist buying souvenirs and other trinkets as I travel.
Please be clear that I’m not trying to tell you that keeping all mementos is somehow wrong and you shouldn’t ever do it. Or that having more than one kind of shampoo is ridiculous. That’s not mine to say.
But what I do recommend is that you look at your accumulated belongings with as much brutal self-honesty as you can muster. Review the location priorities list you made previously. What unfulfilled lifestyle desires prompted you to start investigating a roving retirement?
Then consciously make choices that are consistent with your own personal priorities and desires. Because in my experience, it’s not so much the fully considered choices that cause the biggest regrets. It’s the unconscious, unexamined, drifting along mode that invisibly eats away at our precious time and life energy.
I believe the roving retirement lifestyle by it’s very nature counteracts and interrupts that drift. After all, being a nomad is clearly not a typical lifestyle, even less so for retirees. No one drifts into it by following the crowd. It takes work, planning, introspection, and research. Above all, you must choose it every step of the way.