Downsizing Your Stuff and Rightsizing Your Life

by Brooke Ferguson on June 30, 2009

Most of us know How to Make Things Go; Not How to Let Things Go.

The process of downsizing has more to do with refining our personal character than just giving away or selling our stuff. When you decide it is time to do an overhaul of your belongings and your life, there are various stages that you will go through.  Having gone through this purging process repeatedly, I have now come to identify the process and wanted to share with you some of the major milestones you will find yourself moving past.  This is a process of reforming your identity, moving above and beyond material attachment, breaking social norms, and letting go of old behaviors. I know the process may feel scary, but consider it a cleansing process, you must first get rid of the old in order to let the new come into your life…

Step 1: Detaching Your Personal Identity from Your Personal Belongings

In the Western world, we learn at an early age to identify ourselves with our stuff.  If we are good, we get more stuff.  If we work hard and are successful, we own more stuff than other people.  Those that are unfortunate are the only ones without stuff.

One of my favorite things about traveling to other places in the world is we get to see a different perspective. In Eastern countries, it is commonplace for those seeking enlightenment to give up their worldly possessions.  They give up the “worldly comforts” and Buddhist monks take to the life of ‘one robe and one bowl’.  Their path is revered by all and the monks are highly respected everywhere.

You will not see a case in history where a person set off to find their destiny with all of their stuff.  Giving up and letting go is part of the process that lets the Universe know that you are ready to put your life in its hands. You trust that you will be provided for and anything you need will come your way with precision timing.

Step 2: Overcoming Societal Norms and Expectations

Part of the process of finding ourselves is to renounce societal norms and expectations that other people have put upon us.  You may find that other people in your family have belief systems that they try to put on you; and if you do not comply, you are forced to feel guilty, rejected, or wrong.  It took me years to wean myself out of heavily steeped family traditions that just didn’t feel right to me. It took even longer to detach myself from feeling bad or guilty about my decisions to ‘opt out’.

Being the black sheep is a strange catch twenty-two.  In the beginning, you may be chastised for being different.  But in the end, you may find yourself in a situation where other people are envious of you because they did not have the courage to break out of the box themselves.  This has happened my whole life.  I have always challenged the norm, broken the rules, and created realities that to others seemed impossible.  I’ve been told, “You Can’t Do That” more times then I can count.  But I could, and I did, and I continue to do so, and So Can You!


Just because other people have limited views of what is possible doesn’t mean you have to.  Be bold and daring and create your own rules for the lifestyle you want to live.

When you have set yourself apart from everyone else, you are that much closer to knowing exactly who you really are, and finding out what you really believe in. This is part of the downsizing process!  You have to get rid of old and limiting thoughts and belief systems in order to come to the new, energetic, and passionate lifestyle you want to live.  In the new game, there are no limits—only those that you create for yourself.

Step 3: Moving Beyond the “Loudest and Pushiest”

I have now lived in Southeast Asia for six and a half months.  The easiest thing for me to identify here is an American.  They are by far the loudest and pushiest in the room.  Just today, I was in the airport, flying from Krabi to Bangkok and had the pleasure of watching five Americans.  They were in line for their airline tickets and checking their bags (which, BTW were HUGE and they were too heavy to bring back).  Normally, this process would not take long, but the general disposition was that:

  1. They were the only people in the building
  2. They wanted everything and they wanted it NOW
  3. Delaying other people was of no major concern to them
  4. They communicated by being loud and speaking over everyone else

Now, generally I don’t go around bashing Americans, but it has been quite funny to witness these stereotypes away from home.  Because Asian cultures pride themselves on modesty and politeness, our loud and pushy attitude is a stark contrast that sticks out like a sore thumb here.

Having arrived in a more subtle culture, I found myself trying to tone several things down about my personality here.  I grew up with the mindset that if you don’t go after it and push to the front of the line, you are missing out!  If you aren’t in charge then you won’t get what you want out of life!  Having viewed a different lifestyle and culture altogether, I now know and understand some of the subtleties of letting others go first, listening while others speak (not always having to add something to the conversation), and generally allowing things to be how they are rather than trying to dominate it or control every aspect of life.

Are aspects that you learned growing up that could be downsized?  Did you learn that in order to be heard or get what you want in life that you had to be loud and pushy about it?  How is this affecting your success or your opinion of how successful you already are?

Step 4: Letting Things Come to You

If our mindset is constantly, “I need more”, the natural solution is, “I need to go get it”.  The problem with much of our conditioning is that we believe there is a limited supply of everything we want.  We need to go and get it before it is gone.  We need it Now!!!

The endless need for obtaining more creates nearly All of the Stress in our lives.  This dissatisfaction and lack of appreciation keeps you running, overworking, and feeling as though ‘Nothing is Ever Enough’.

In order to obtain happiness and personal freedom, you need to shift your mindset.

Mindset Change: Change your view from ‘getting more’ to appreciating and refining what you already have.  Realize the ceaseless need for more is one that never leads to satisfaction (ever!).

Once you realize that you no longer have to fight for life, you can free up your time and energy to put towards creative endeavors that will benefit yourself and others.  As you learn to share your ideals and information freely, you will attract the attention of those you wish to serve.  They, in turn, will come to you in need of your services and seek out your wisdom.  At this point, you have changed your view from getting to giving, which attracts the right people, circumstances, and opportunities into your life. By refining our character and becoming modest in our desires, we can finally see what is truly important.

Summary

Downsizing is more about creating space for opportunity to appear.  It is about Rightsizing our lives by determining what is most important and making decisions that bring us closer to our goals.  We do that primarily by reducing our material goods and desires, relinquishing expectations that others put upon us, and refining our behaviors.  By trusting that we are on the right path and focusing on giving rather than getting, we learn to let things come to us.  It is in this arena that we discover the highest realm of existence: inner abundance.

‘Goodbye’ said the fox.  ‘Now here is my secret.  It is very simple.  It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.’

-Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

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  • http://www.rockstarlifestyledesign.com Greg Rollett

    Hey Brooke – Very intriguing post. I tend to agree about the loud and pushy side many people, not just Americans have. It is evident in traffic, waiting in line, within customer service and many other facets of life. Learning to let go, humble yourself and think of others is a strong character trait that many non-American countries and cultures enjoy. Not sure what it will take to let go but I think us younger gen is understanding the value of others, placing less on material goals and more on community driven accomplishments. At least I hope so.

  • http://lavinovita.com Michael Curtin

    HI Brooke — Wow I had no idea you had such writing talent; among other things! I totally agree with your perspective on the West; and how we continue to chase something that will never satisfy us. Always chasing; never catching; never happy; always frustrated; its a cultural addiction.

    I’m trying to develop my wine/accessory site; and will send you a cap when i get some. And want to discuss with you and Cody how i can leverage the vision and build my community around the “Wine Life”

    Drop me a line when you can, and great job here on the Blog… Mike Curtin

  • http://indietravelpodcast.com Craig

    Hey Brooke,

    Well thought out and well written. We’re in the re-entry phase of one trip (over 3 years) now and are leaving again in six months. It’s a strange situation: many things that we stored are unwanted, but we’re needing to buy the comforts of a settled life again. Being on the road is certainly cheaper and lighter than living in one place!

  • http://global-culture.org Juan

    Brooke, this post hit me on various levels so I’ll try to be just as organized in my comment as you were in your post:

    1. After years of blogging about Global Culture I finally committed (time & resources) to convert what used to be a simple personal blog into a sophisticated venture creating unique travel experiences. Your words of encouragement are very timely.

    2. You are one of a kind with the guts to leave things behind and try a new life somewhere else. I’m assuming your vast travel experience made this transition a bit easier. Most people, though, will not lack the enthusiasm but will find it incredibly challenging to orchestrate such an adventure. I believe there is a compromise between leaving everything behind (or rightsizing) and immersing yourself into another culture. That is the niche I’m interested in at this time.

    3. Sometimes you just have to experience different cultures to “get” what was not right with your previous lifestyle. If only more people could be exposed to such a humbling experience I believe the world would be a better place. Then I realize that is exactly what I must do: find ways for people to experience alternate ways of life and come back renewed, full of ideas on how to improve.

    4. While Global Culture is work in progress I would love to chat about some of my ideas. I’m convinced we are on the same path: using travel to enhance the lives of people.

  • http://www.jetsetcitizen.com John Bardos

    Hi Brooke,

    Very good article.

    Relocating to another country is the absolute best way to purge old possessions and limitations. I call it the “two bag rule.” If it can’t fit in two bags that you are going to take on an airplane than it probably isn’t that essential to your life.

    When I first left my home country more than 12 years ago, I had lots of stuff in storage at my mother’s house. All of that stuff was appropriated by my brother and sister, sold at garage sales, or just lost. Everything I felt so attached too, disappeared from my life and in the end, I can’t even remember what I had anyway.

    For my next relocation, I am just going to give everything away in advance.

  • http://www.simpleproductivity.com Sean

    Hi Brooke,
    Great thoughts and observations. More Americans would do well to view themselves as much of the rest of the world sees us.
    I love the concept of rightsizing. Most of my possessions were in storage for a year after I moved and was in a disabling car accident. Ever since I have gotten it all back I have been trying to downsize it. Your pointers are extremely helpful for approaching much in life.

  • http://www.presentdaynomad.com Rasheed Hooda

    I love your article.

    Yes, we Americans are pack rats. I know I put stuff in the storage when we moved to a new apt. I have no idea what’s in there.

    Once I launch my blog on the $th of July, I am going to start with my closet, then the book shelf and then the storage. I am going to give away everything I haven’t used since I moved here. Either that or throw it away.

    It’s time to make room for prosperity, which is in having the freedom to move about, not in staying attached.

    Rasheed

  • Pingback: Best Lifestyle Design, Personal Development and Travel Links | JetSetCitizen.com

  • http://devin.reams.me/ Devin Reams

    I really have nothing to add; great points and they all struck a chord. Great observations. :)

  • Barns

    Hi Brooke,

    On the same wave length in terms of right-sizing. Contextually we have different realities – I have 3 kids so mobility is compromised. I am South African, have spent 12 years in Europe (5 France & 7 UK) and 6 months in America among other places. What you say applies not so much to Americans/the West but more to the “haves”. In their abundance people tend to expand their expenditure to match their income with a resulting accumulation of a lot of unnecessary stuff (that is/can be hard to shake off). The point of me being SA’n is that I live in an environment where income disparity is significant and for a large number of people here rightsizing would be upsizing to a place where people can get by (from a food, shelter, healthcare perspective)

  • Kate

    Brooke – Great article!  It’s time we all realized how to live well with less.  It makes life easier and more rewarding!  Thanks!

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