Holding On and Letting Go

Accumulated junk - not mine, thank goodnessMy parents both had hoarding tendencies.

Oh, I don’t mean their house was like some of those horrible places you see on TV shows — you didn’t have to weave your way through towering piles of old newspapers or anything like that. But they held onto stuff.

After my mother died last summer, we found bins full of the little boxes that fancy teas come in. . . Christmas cards from 20 years ago. . . checkbook stubs from accounts that were closed decades previously. . .

It inspired me to come home and be even more ruthless about getting rid of my excess stuff in preparation for our move to Panama.

Now that the move is imminent, my husband is starting to let go of things he’s been holding onto. Old report cards from elementary school. . . syllabuses (syllabi?) from some of his Master’s degree courses. . . cards, photos, books. . .

We’ve moved before. Back in 1989, we packed up our (then) four kids and a house full of stuff and moved from upstate New York to Florida. Before the move we had a huge sale and sold off a ton of stuff. After arriving in Florida, we realized we had kept way too much.

When we moved from one house to another in the Orlando area, we got rid of a ton of stuff before the move. We still kept too much.

This time, though, we can’t just put things on the truck, so keeping what we don’t need is simply not an option.

How Do You Live with a Light Footprint?

We’ll be living with a light footprint, for a while at least. We plan to rent someplace furnished for 3-6 months initially. In the meantime, my husband’s brother has offered to let us store a few things in his basement.

So we have a few boxes of books — and only those which are out of print and unlikely to become available digitally. We have one piece of furniture, a lovely teak desk which I’ve had since 1971. My guitar and my husband’s trumpet. Some (but not all, thank goodness!) of his tools.

We’ll ship them down once we’ve been somewhat settled in Panama a few months.

I know a couple who consider themselves perpetual travelers. They spend most of their time in Asia, going from Thailand to China to India to other Asian countries every few months.

They don’t have to worry about residency as they don’t stay long enough in one place for it to be an issue.

Their personal belongings are limited to clothing, a small netbook computer each, and a favorite coffee mug. Wherever the mug is, that’s home.

I don’t know if I could live a life pared down to that extent. Certainly not now, anyway, although I can see the appeal.

In the meantime, I’m looking around and thinking, “I haven’t gotten rid of nearly enough.”

photo by Orin Zebest on flickr


  1. I’m with you on this, and it sounds as though you are learning to be ruthless in your downsizing efforts. Whenever we moved (within VA, from VA to NC, NC to the Netherlands) we would declutter, reduce, downsize. Yet it’s still not enough. There are far fewer closets here and they tend to be shelves only, with very limited hanging space. Yet despite having had a garage sale, sold and given away furniture, etc., we still find that 1) most closets and dressers are full; 2) we don’t need/use at least half of it; and 3) we still have some boxes and bins that remain untouched. I’m making extremely slow progress since I’m busy with other projects, but I try to tackle at least half a closet, one box or a couple dresser drawers a week. Step by step…

  2. Hi Linda,

    I am investigating moving to either Panama or Boquete, Ecudor. I am a ways off from actually moving, and have a lot of details to attend to. I am divorced and have two young children from the marriage, but they live with their mother full-time. My issue has to do with the possibility that I won’t be able to see them for a long time once I move to the new country. Have you had others in my position? If so, how did they deal with it? What conversations with their children did they have, and how hard was it? I will have my girlfriend with me, but I love my little 7-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl very much. Any suggestions? Thanks! Dave

    • Well, I’m not Linda, but that’s ok. Hopefully if anyone’s experienced moving abroad without their children they’ll chime in. You might try asking your question on some of the social media sites as well.

      • I left the UK 45 years ago, and now 2 of my 4 children live far from me. So we are a bit used to it – and my littlest 2 grandchildren live in Europe – the other 4 are growing up and would probably come to visit within a few years, anyway.
        I am so interested that you are going to Panama, Susanna, do you know whereabouts you are going to be? We are planning to come for 2 or 3 weeks in December to check it out, and have put things in motion to get bookings. Maybe we could hook up.
        The thought of paring down is horrendous to me – and we’re thinking of just going somewhere for winters at this point and renting our place out during the academic year … to start with.. Though give me another horrible summer, and I’m outta here.
        I’ll be catching up with your blog 🙂 Best of luck with it all!

        • Ann, I’d love to meet up with you in Panama next winter!!!! We don’t know exactly where we’ll be yet, but aiming at the Azuero Peninsula around Las Tablas 🙂

  3. Hi – I’m enjoying reading your site.

    Letting go of those old documents can be a wrench. When I divested myself of stuff, I fell in love with my scanner – I could scan the docs I just couldn’t bear to let go of, then upload them onto my hard drive and onto a cloud storage system (e.g. Google documents or Dropbox). Then I could either shred them or hand the originals off to the next generation for them to keep if they wanted.

    • You’re absolutely right, the scanner can become your best friend. I guess I take it for granted that “copy” means digital copy. Thanks for spelling it out!

  4. I’m going through this now! We are preparing to move ok of our house to become nomadic expats! So much stuff!! Loads to goodwill or charity donation sites everywhere!

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