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Learning value of stuff by moving overseas

By Tsh Oxenreider, Special to CNN
When you're intentional about what you bring into your home, there's less of a chance that your possessions own you.
When you're intentional about what you bring into your home, there's less of a chance that your possessions own you.
  • Having fewer items allows you to live in a smaller space
  • When you get rid of things that don't matter, the things you keep become more valuable
  • Only keep an item if it is adding value to your life

Editor's note: Tsh Oxenreider, author of "Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living," is the creator of the popular blog

(CNN) -- When you declutter and organize your home, sometimes it's helpful to play a little game called "Let's Pretend We're Moving Overseas."

Armed with this mental filter, you analyze every item in your home by wondering if you'd pack it in your tiny luggage space. You ask yourself, Is this thing worth hauling 6,000 miles across an ocean and in to a new home? Is it providing that much meaning and value to my life?

If not, why bother having it now?

Well, four years ago, my husband and I asked those questions, but it wasn't for a game. We moved out of our apartment in Austin, Texas in the fall, lived with friends for a few months while we finalized our plans, and then boarded a plane for the Middle East the following February.

In that process, we held a yard sale and sold most everything we owned. We saved a few sentimental things for a storage unit, and the rest -- 15 cardboard boxes, ultimately -- went with us.

I didn't know it at the time, but this event was a stake in the ground for us. Here, we made a big change. We jettisoned almost all our physical possessions, and from that moment forward, became hyper-selective about what we allowed in our home. If we just went through the pain-staking process of saying goodbye to our things, why haphazardly welcome more stuff in, stuff that will ultimately only add to clutter?

Here are a few things I've learned about life from the process of saying goodbye to stuff:

1. It's just stuff. You think you'll miss your potato peeler, the silver tray you've had since college, the bedside lamp. But once it's gone, you really don't. Getting rid of something isn't just saying no, it's saying yes to what you're gaining -- more space, more visual clarity, and less to dust. When you start saying goodbye, the emotional attachment wanes.

2. Having less stuff means you have more of value. When you have fewer items, you can live in a smaller space. This means less time to clean, lower utilities, and fewer "Where are my keys?" moments. You gain time and money.

3. You can live on less. When you're intentional about what you bring into your home, there's less of a chance that your possessions own you. Our family doesn't have many overhead costs because we have just one car, one small TV, and just enough clothes so that each item is fully worn.

This means we don't need to earn much money to live on. This frees up a lot of options for us about where to go on vacation, where we should live, and even how to spend our afternoons. We're also not tied to any creditors because we don't have debt.

It's still a learning process for us, and I still screw up. Every now and then, I return home from the thrift store with a thing, and I soon realize that thing has no intrinsic value in our home. But the cost is smaller because I've learned how to prioritize what matters to us. I can easily re-thrift the misspent purchase and move on.

Living this way isn't about having nothing. It's about everything in your life having value. It's looking at all your belongings and knowing that you've given that thing permission to be there, that the item is truly adding value and beauty to your life.

When you get rid of the things that don't matter, the things you do keep become that much more valuable, and you'll have more time and money to invest in quality over quantity.

You can afford a wheel of delectably soft Brie once a month because you don't cram your fridge full every week of processed cheese product.

You can take a stellar vacation every five years because in between, you don't blow your money on inexpensive lattes or impulse purchases at the checkout.

My family isn't perfect, not by a long shot. But all the parts of our life align holistically with our values, and that's worth its weight in gold. No extra flat screen, laptop or set of keys is worth that.