Prodigal Magazine

It’s just stuff. You don’t need it.

Six months ago I moved from Portland, Oregon to West Palm Beach, Florida with my husband, nine days after our wedding.

When we first started talking about the move we were a little naive, to say the least. It was going to be so great, we figured. We were going to live in a high rise condo in City Place (the hip, urban area of town). Movers were going to ship all of our furniture and set it up for us, so it was all ready when we arrived after our honeymoon…

Two months later I stood in my parents’ garage, arms collapsed at my side, staring helplessly at my sea of scattered belongings.

In front of me were six boxes, each 2-feet deep, 2-feet wide, and about waist high.

“You can bring anything you can fit in these,” I heard my soon-to-be-husband say in that sort of distant, echoey voice that you always hear in dreams. My furniture was already sold and gone. I had decided to leave my single speed bike at home. I had given away my trekking poles, and all of my camping gear (I didn’t figure I was going to do much camping or hiking in Florida). It still wasn’t all going to fit in the boxes. Not even close.

You can do this, I coached myself, as I packed the boxes.

It’s just stuff. You don’t need it. 

Obediently, confidently, I talked myself through the process, surveying each item and placing it into the “Goodwill” pile, the “garbage” pile, or adding it to one of the six boxes. It took hours but when I finished, I was proud of myself. I had chosen the “golden” items that would make the journey with me to Florida, and made peace with everything else.

It was official. All of my belongings fit into six boxes and two suitcases.

A week before the wedding, my fiancé broke the news: I needed to turn those six boxes into three.

I still remember cutting the taped boxes open, pulling out the items I had so carefully chosen. He was sorry he said. He knew this was hard. But shipping was more expensive than we had estimated, and there were a few other unexpected financial hardships, and we had to cut corners wherever we could.

I remember holding each item in my hand. I remember the weight of them, and the color of them, like whole thing happened in high definition. I remember the yellow pillow, and the tool set with flowers on the handles my dad had given me for Christmas. I remember the Antropologie candle, and the blender — the very first kitchen appliance I had ever purchased for myself.

I remember crying actual tears over my belongings, now spread like a yard sale on top of a ping pong table.

Now that I’m in Florida I often think about the things I left behind.

I think about my bike, that might still be leaning against the wall in my parent’s dark garage. I miss riding it around the city, and with friends to breakfast on Saturday mornings. I miss disappearing into the Columbia River Gorge for the day, with my trekking poles, to discover out a new trail to up a mountain, with a new incredible view.

I think about my old beautiful, real wood dresser that I’ve traded for an ugly, bright blue thrift store dresser that my husband and I keep promising we’ll refinish one day, but never get around to it.

Then I think about how boring my life would be if I only ever experienced God and his love for me in the same old ways, over and over again.

I’m convinced that God asks us to give things up, sometimes, because He knows it’s good for us. Sometimes it’s physical things, like a bike, or a tool set, or a pair of hiking shoes. Sometimes it’s a place — like a city, or building, or an organization. Sometimes it’s more abstract, like what we’ve always believed to be true about Him, or about ourselves, or about someone else.

Either way, it’s like He’s beckoning to us. Come over here. Come to me. Move from your position. Let’s go on a journey. I’ll take care of you, I promise. I know your needs and I will meet them.

But you’re not going to be able to bring all of that stuff with you.

Sometimes, He asks us to give up even more than we think is right, or fair. That’s how it was for me, when six boxes became three boxes, and when one box showed up to my apartment in Florida, a week later, without anything in it.

That’s how it was for the rich young ruler, in the Gospels, who came to Jesus asking what He had to do in order to be a “follower,” and was told to sell everything he had and give it away.

I bet that wasn’t what he was expecting.

I picture the young man turning from Jesus, sad and dejected. I can understand what he felt like. Give away everything? He must have thought. I don’t understand. Why would I have to give away everything? Then I picture what Jesus must have felt like watching the man walk away. You’d really pick stuff over following me?

I picture him feeling sad, because he was planning to take the young man on a really cool journey.

Stuff isn’t bad. It isn’t even wrong, but attachment to stuff (physical, emotional or spiritual) keeps us stuck. I believe that’s why God asks us to live unattached to our stuff. I believe He is on the move, that He is doing things, exciting things, and He wants us to be a part of it. But if we’re not willing to let go of what we have, we can never go on the journey.

What do you have a hard time letting go of?

About The Author

Allison is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.

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  • http://twitter.com/InciteFaith Julie

    Ally,

    I love this post. Though I’ve never had to pick up my life and fit it all in boxes, I understand how it feels to be attached to things (possessions, people ..) and how hard it is to let go.

    I have spent most of my life being a ‘hoarder of heart break’. Change is never easy and I’ve held on to the guilt and love lost for too long.

    Letting go has been the healthiest step I’ve taken to move forward with my life. I’m learning to emotionally free myself from people and things that meant a lot to me in order to move past the hurt it continues to bring me.

    It hasn’t been easy, but the journey I’m on now and where God is leading me, it’s been worth letting go.

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Julie — thanks! Yes, the journey is worth it. So glad you’re on the journey too. Keep it up.

  • http://www.ticoandtina.com/ Tico & Tina

    it’s funny, we want to live our lives with a lifestyle of minimalism, but it’s amazing to me how very hard I still find it to get rid of stuff… it’s a journey for us. I have visions of being one of those people who has every item they own listed on their blog =) maybe someday!

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      It really is difficult! I find that the only way to do it is to just get radical about getting rid of stuff. If I get rid of more than I think I should, I’m at least starting on the right track…

  • http://dailygallen.com/ tim gallen

    my wife and i have far fewer things than we used to. there are times, though, when i look around and say, “why do we need that?” i’ve struggled with stuff-itis all my life. my have part of this post though is the line that god knows what’s best for us and so asks us to give up something – be it physical artifact, city or building or organization. such truth.

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Tim — thanks! Stuff accumulates so fast. It’s almost like, if you want to live with less you have to be really pro-active about getting rid of it.

      Even just living life without all the clutter makes it worth it.

  • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

    Two years ago I sold or gave away everything. Over a thousand books. Furniture for a whole house. Beautiful vintage chairs and things. Clothing. Everything. I had a two door honda coupe. Everything I could fit in that car could go with me to move from the northeastern tip of the US to the southwestern tip of the US. Everything else had to go. At the end, I was surprised by what I brought—all my houseplants and my down-comforter, and surprised by what I left behind, keepsakes and books I’d collected and treasured my whole life.

    In the end, leaving that stuff behind, giving it away, selling it, getting it out of my life, was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And I was surprised at how easy it was. Because I knew that what was waiting for me in Dallas was going to make whatever I had to leave in NY pale in comparison.

    THanks for sharing your story. I think most of us would be surprised at what we truly can live with =)

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Lore — wow. What a move! You know exactly what it’s like.

      I feel the same way you do. My husband and I were talking the other night — it isn’t like a trade-for-trade deal where God says, “Let go of your bike, and I’ll give you another one when you get there.” Instead, you let go and aren’t really sure what you’re going to get in return…

      In our move, we haven’t gotten even exchanges for the stuff we left behind. We’ve gotten different things, sometimes better things, sometimes not-so-awesome things… but ultimately we have the assurance that we’re right where God wants us to be, and that He cares about us, and sees us, and desires to meet our needs. That’s better than stuff.

      • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

        Yup. I ultimately realized that what was keeping me from getting rid of things I loved was fear: fear that I wouldn’t get the exchange (http://www.sayable.net/2010/08/i-landed-on-hammock-when-i-got-home.html). And the truth is, two years later, I haven’t gotten the exchange. The furniture in our home isn’t the sort of stuff I love, at all. But it works. And the joy is more tangible than it ever was when I had things I loved surrounding me. It’s way better than stuff.

  • http://mashenahope.blogspot.com/ Nicole

    This is so where I’m at right now. Three years ago I left my (prefect! Decorated! First!) apartment to move 800 miles to work for a non-profit. I thought I was brutal at the time, getting rid of everything superfluous. Only keeping what I really loved. A few boxes made their way with me, the rest were crammed into a room and corners of my parents house. And now, three years later, and another move where I can take less with me. I’ll be going through all these things one more time. Leaving nothing in storage, and narrowing it all down. I’ve been at the verge of tears and keep repeating to myself, “If I cannot trust my God to one day provide me new measuring cups should I need them, then I have bigger issues.”

    But of course, it’s not the measuring cups and such that are the hardest, it’s all the meaning and seeming significance of the memories of things I kept. They’ve been in boxes for three years already, can’t be that important. (this is me still pep talking. I’ll stop rambling in your comment section :) )

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      It’s weird how the smallest things can seem like the biggest deal when you’re getting rid of them. For you, it may have been measuring cups, for me it was a tool set (that wasn’t even that sturdy, but had flowers on the handles, and were a gift from my dad that I had used to “fix” all my own things).

      Go ahead and pep talk yourself all you need. Picture what your heavenly Father might say to you if He watch watching you sort through those things. Remind yourself that He is your provider, and that He will meet all of your needs.

  • Ashleigh Dean

    Wow. I almost felt like I was going to cry with you when the 6 boxes became only 3 (and then one showed up empty?!?!). I’m moving in 1 week, but it is just a few miles across town. And I can pretty much just take all my “stuff” with me. I’m trying to get rid of a bunch because I know I don’t need it all. I wonder if I struggle to get rid of stuff sometimes because I feel like my identity is somehow tied to it. And if that is the case, I should be wanting to get rid of if it even more, right? (Because my identity is not in “stuff”!)

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Ashleigh — that is such a good point. I think that part of the reason I had such a hard time letting go (of my stuff, of Portland) was because it WAS attached to my identity. The letting go wasn’t easy (thanks for crying with me :) ) but the reward is that I have a brand new opportunity to find my identity in Jesus, which gives me the most incredible sense of security, significance and belonging. Thanks for adding that.

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    In January I moved across the country with only the things that fit in my Corolla (including a dresser, clothes and shoes for every possible event, kitchen supplies, etc.) I understand the challenging but necessary task you had in front of you. I also love the point you raise about loving God more than stuff. Sure, I’d pick Him over craft supplies or a cute pair of shoes but what about over my laptop, iPhone, or writing notebook? How about my full-of-notes Bible? Ouch.

    Katie

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Katie — I think that’s why God asks us to let go of the things that matter to us the most. The greater the absence we feel, the greater the opportunity we give Him to fill the void.

  • http://twitter.com/sundijo Sundi Jo

    I’m learning the closer I get to Jesus, the less attached I am to the things of this world. After I read the book “Radical” I went to the storage shed and started giving things away. I’m still downsizing and I couldn’t be happier. Proud of your bravery.

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Thanks Sundi. It really is freeing, once you do it. The thought of letting go is much harder than the letting go itself.

      Radical was a great book!

  • Sarah

    I’d like to say I have no problem letting go but it would be a pretty big lie. When I moved to the Northwest I tried to be mindful of what I took with me. When I moved back to the East Coast I had a really hard time throwing stuff away. I spent too much to ship it all back. When I unpacked it all I wondered why I didn’t just let it go, books, clothes, you name it. If there’s a next time I’ll have learned from previous experience.

    Congrats from going from those 6 boxes to 3. That had to be the hardest part.

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Thanks Sarah, it was really hard.

      I think each time I travel, or move, I learn to bring less. Even with as little as I brought, sometimes I look back and wonder why I picked what I did… or wonder why I was upset about what I had to leave behind. LIfe changes so much, we never “need” (or even want) the same things for very long. And God is so good to provide for our real needs in the moment, if we’ll just give HIm the chance.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • http://www.eloranicole.com/ elora nicole ramirez

    I think I with some things, I have no problem giving them away or letting them go. But, I literally ache when I think of maybe having to give away all my books I’ve collected. (When I first heard of Lore letting go her thousand books I think i may have shed a few tears FOR her.) Really, they’re just books, and I’ve read most of them so there’s no logical reason to keep them. But to me, they’re so much more than “just books” and they have my thoughts etched into their margins and my shaky pen under lines of words that resonate…it’s weird to think about, but I know I would probably have much the same reaction as you. Eventually, I hope I’d come to the same conclusion: it’s just stuff. Just words with bindings. I don’t need them. There would definitely be tears, though. No doubt. Great article, Ally.

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      Elora — I totally understand where you are coming from with the books and, sometimes, those tears are good. I wrestled with this when I moved to Florida. I felt guilty for feeling sad about getting rid of things, but I think I’m learning it’s all part of the process. Grief is not a wrong emotion. It’s part of being human.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Louise

    I shuddered slightly reading this…I am terrible at packing lightly. In the past 3 years I’ve moved to France and back twice (from England). The first time my parents drove so I could bring back all the furniture/clothes/kitchen stuff I’d accumulated. The second time I left everything in boxes except for 2 suitcases of clothes for the summer. I find it so hard having to ask people to borrow things…I like to be entirely self-sufficient and take all the extra things I might need. This summer I thought I had maybe a week’s worth of clothes- turns out I have more like a month’s worth, so maybe I need to try harder to cut down when I pack!

    • http://allisonvesterfelt.com/ Ally Vesterfelt

      “I like to be entirely self-sufficient and take all the extra things I might need.”

      This is one of the lessons I’ve learned in letting go… that God actually wants me to be dependent on Him, and on my community. It’s uncomfortable for me, but my relationships are richer for it, and I am less arrogant when I admit that i can’t do everything on my own.

      Thanks for sharing as always, Louise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.d.jones1 Kelly Jones

    It is hard to let go, and with kids, it doesn’t get any easier! Each toy, each piece of clothing reminds you of your precious child growing up. I had to let A LOT go. We moved from a 2000sqft house with 2 car garage to come to Palm Beach in a 1300 sqft apartment with no garage. I was hired at a school. Daniel had no job. We had no church. But when we got down here, our heart hurt for this community and knew we needed to be here. God asks us to “pack lightly” our whole lives. If we don’t need it, give it to someone in need. Recently, I have felt like we should be doing even more in our communities and poor countries. We are held accountable for how we treat the poor, and sadly, most Americans ignore them altogether.
    The thing is, sometimes God asks you to go, but gives no direction (think: Abraham). That is the position Daniel and I are in now. I not going to lie- it is a hard stinkin’ place to be. But this is how faith is grown and He asks us to take one step at a time, not sure where the next step leads.

  • http://scribingthejourney.com/ Duane Scott

    I couldn’t do it. Choose only 3 boxes of stuff. I just don’t think I could.

    I may need to look at my materialistic self a bit closer. :)

  • http://twitter.com/danny_webster Danny Webster

    I always used to think that when I got my own place, that was when I would start to get all the things that grown ups get. Like sofas and cutlery sets. Now I’m buying a flat and mentally preparing to move I’m already realising that I’ll be trimming my belongings rather than suddenly having the freedom to let them grow. The draw full of kitchen utensils soon to have their own home will fight with each other for precious counter space.
    And it’s mostly about the books. The ones on my bookcase, and stacked at it’s base. The ones on the communal shelves in the lounge I claimed as my own. In my parent’s house in my old bedroom, and in boxes in their attic. Some of them are going to have to go.

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  • http://twitter.com/spencer_anna Anna Spencer

    Because of an experience (http://bit.ly/OS0SOX) with a dear friend my philosophy on stuff has dramatically changed. I now live by this principle… if someone has the audacity to ask, why not? I am learning slowly the beauty of this lack of attachment to stuff (especially stuff in excess).

  • http://twitter.com/MatrixLajon Matrix Lajon

    I have had to give up 98% of my possessions once and 70% of them another time. I have given up connections with people [who later I saw were toxic], all because of this crazy trip I am on with Christ. All worth it though.

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  • john day

    As someone who lives in West Palm/Palm Beach Gardens area you probably could have gotten a much bigger place and cheaper in Palm Beach Gardens where your church is going to be and you probably could have brought more of your stuff with you.

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