How to ditch 95% of your stuff
in less than 48 hours

Share with your friends


“That’s the whole meaning of life…

Trying to find a place for your stuff.

If you didn’t have so much God damn stuff, you wouldn’t need a house.

You could just walk around the place all the time.”

– George Carlin

What you’re about to read is something special I’ve written about stuff.

The physical kind.

The things you own, which inhabit your world.

Specifically, it’s about how we think about stuff. The effect that has on us. And how we evaluate what stuff should (and should not) be in our lives.

If this isn’t of interest to you, don’t worry…

I’ve cleverly disguised my thoughts in a story about how to ditch 95% of your stuff — in less than 48 hours — should you feel so inclined to carry out such a daft, silly, and ridiculous feat.

Which is exactly what I had to go through after realizing I’d have to permanently leave Canada — the country I’d lived in for the previous 7 years.

If you’ve never had to pack up your stuff and leave a country before…

…let me tell you that it’s a weird experience. 

You’ll always remember the moment when you decide to leave a place you’ve spent a considerable chunk of your life — especially when it’s a place that felt like your home.

Now, it’s relatively easy to tell yourself you’ve DECIDED to leave a place — but following through on that decision is something else entirely.

Decisions are only as good as the actions that proceed them.

Just like a few years back, when I decided it was time for me to leave a job I knew was making me miserable. Even after I’d told myself I definitely was going to leave, it took another 2 years before I ended up walking out the door for the last time. 

And only then because an external deadline forced that reality on me.

I tell you this because even though I’d decided (and planned) on living a nomadic lifestyle for years, I never acted upon that decision and followed through until a deadline made me do it.

There’s a reason why deadlines are always touted as the number one contributor to making things happen. When a deadline is enforced, a decision not only has to be made, but it has to be followed through upon.

Immigration Canada were kind enough to hand me the deadline I needed to make this article happen.

After my Canadian permanent residency didn’t come through, I realized it was time to move on and finally see the world.

This was to be my Final Countdown.


If only Gob could have made all my stuff disappear

This article is going to outline exactly how I went through the process of stripping my entire life down to 3 bags of stuff in less than 48 hours.

There are 10 stages – 2 of them very panicky – which I’ll walk us through.

And while doing so, I’m also going to reflect upon what I learned during the experience.

So, at this point, I hear you asking,

“Why the hell did you try to do such a monumentally large job in less than 48 hours, you absolute fuck-wit?!”

Great question.

I’m glad you asked.

See, like most sane people, I don’t normally take action on things until there is at least some urgency bringing the situation into my world.

You’d expect something like “Leaving a country for good” to float onto your radar about a 30-45 days out, right?

But during my final 2 months in Canada, I experienced what I can now call a “perfect storm of unexpected (and self-inflicted) life-chaos”.

To kick things off, as I returned from an extended holiday (which had already put a substantial “life backlog” in place), I started a brand new job. Which also just happened to be the most demanding (and rewarding) job I’d ever had.

I then attended a couple of conferences, took a trip to Toronto to say goodbye to people outside of Montreal — and had all of that layered with back-to-back-to-back freelance and work deadlines.

All this to say, those final 8 weeks were a total cluster fuck of immediately jumping from one urgent thing to the next. With absolutely ZERO time to focus on ANYTHING related to packing up my stuff and leaving Canada.

So, with about 2 weeks left until my departure date, I finally booked 2 days off from work to get everything done.

The day of departure, and the day before.

(SPOILER ALERT: This wasn’t enough time.)

And that’s where I found myself…

Sitting in my Montreal apartment, after sending an email to my co-workers, notifying them of my need for time off, and slowly starting to realize the unbelievable magnitude of the job ahead of me.

A job I still wouldn’t be able to properly start for another week and a half because of the hectic pace of work deadlines I was juggling.

To kick things off, let’s start where most people would find themselves, should they be in a similar situation…

Stage 1 – “How the hell did I end up with so much shit?”


It’s worth mentioning that my intention was to leave Canada for good. So, there was no point in putting anything into long-term storage.

After booking my 2-days off, I looked around at the stuff I had accumulated in my sleepy Point St. Charles apartment.

Long-term storage wasn’t what was needed. Ruthlessness was.


Me, looking at my stuff during Stage 1

With just over two weeks to go until my departure date, I looked around and wondered…

“How the hell did I end up with so much shit?!”

While my uncle had agreed to take a handful of boxes for the long-term, I still had to mercilessly eliminate 95% of my stuff from my permanent possession.

With just over two weeks to get the job done, I looked around and wondered…

“How the hell did I end up with so much shit?!”

You see, I’d already been through the experience of eliminating most of my possessions once before, when I left Ireland for Canada in 2009.

I arrived in Montreal with one suitcase and a carry-on bag. And it was my intention to leave in 2-weeks with the same amount of stuff. 

But after 7 years of living in another country, I had naturally accumulated (and inherited) a whole new generation of stuff.

It’s funny, but in that moment, glancing around at the little universe of stuff in my apartment, what came to mind was the Great George Carlin’s classic bit, “Stuff”.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you check it out here:

Little did I realize it, but so much of Carlin’s wisdom would resonate over the following two weeks, and beyond.

The first thing that rings true from his genius is this line:

“That’s all your house is — a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get MORE stuff.”

In the final 2 years of my time in Canada, that’s essentially what my life had become.

Similar to the story my friend James emailed me, I was wasting away in my old job.

Each day, I’d leave my house, trudging to work to earn the cash I needed to pay for more stuff. Stuff that would make me feel slightly better about how my existence revolved around working in a job that made me miserable.

Rinse, repeat.

The daily grind.

Sound familiar?

(If so, check out this amazing article about why you buy stuff you don’t need, by Margo Aaron. It’s well worth making time for.)

With work deadlines piling up, I knew the pressure was on. I had to figure out how to deal with all of the shit that had been slowly building up around me.

Now, I don’t know how other people operate, but when the pressure is on, the first thing I do is come up with a mental model for making quick decisions.

I’m gonna highlight a number of these mental models that I used to make it through this whirlwind, starting with…

Stage 2 – “Can I take it with me?”


The first thing that became very obvious (very quickly) was practically nothing was going to be coming with me.

If you’re planning on staying fleet-of-foot on the global highway, your everyday possessions can’t afford to be much much larger than a laptop… or a pair of shoes.

I realized the only things I’d be bringing with me were:

  1. Essential technology (phone, laptop, iPad, headphones etc.)
  2. Important personal documents (passport, relevant work papers, proof for certain immigration applications etc.)
  3. Work essentials, journals and a few select books
  4. A thin slice of my clothing collection
  5. Essentials kit (toothbrush, toiletries, towel etc)
  6. A random assortment of yet-to-be-determined smaller items
  7. Various pieces of luggage to carry it all

In short, if it didn’t fit in this suitcase, it wasn’t coming…


Basically, I was going on perma-holiday.

Only I had to empty my house of EVERYTHING ELSE before leaving.

With the time-crunch I was in, selling stuff wasn’t an option.

Even though I COULD have sold a bunch of my stuff, the time involved in:

  1. Posting ads
  2. Checking and waiting for responses
  3. Dealing with the time-wasting bullshit of people hunting for bargains in personal ads (YOU KNOW WHO YOU FUCKING ARE!)
  4. And then arranging purchases….

… made it a non-starter.

At that point, I also decided to be a responsible environmentalist and divert as much stuff from the landfill as possible.

So, in a nutshell: everything (or as much as possible) had to be given away – no strings attached – to willing receivers.

To figure out what would be worth keeping, I had to start thinking in three — and then four — dimensions…

Stage 3 – The Four Dimensions of Stuff


The first dimension of stuff we’ll explore is how much space it takes up in your world.

Size matters for a reason.

When you’re plotting to get rid of your stuff, you naturally start to think about how you’re going to offload the larger items first.

“I definitely can’t take that couch, so I’m gonna need help moving it out of here…”

“That bookshelf is gonna have to find a new home or go out on the street…”

You don’t start thinking about the nitty gritty details, like the spoons in your cutlery drawer, until much later.

The first dimension of stuff we’ll explore is how much space it takes up in your world. Size matters for a reason.

(Which is funny, because it’s that stuff that takes WAY more time to deal with… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

When you start evaluating your Big Stuff, you start to think in two additional dimensions:

  1. Monetary value – How much did I pay for this? How much is it now worth?
  2. Functional value – How practical is this, in general? How useful/burdensome will this be to me/someone else?

For me, another model started to emerge, with things falling into 4 quadrants:


1) High monetary value – High practical value – Car, TV, games console, couch, nice clothes and good furniture etc.

2) High monetary value – Low practical value – Art, collectables, local currency, etc.

3) Low monetary value – High practical value – Inexpensive or old IKEA furniture, cheap home printer, office supplies & stationary, kitchen ware and utensils, food, good clothes, books, etc

4) Low monetary value – Low practical value – All of the rest of your shit that no-one will ever want and which, realistically, you only still have because you haven’t gotten around to throwing it out yet.

When you start dividing your possessions into these quadrants, you start to see some interesting patterns emerge.

First, it’s easy to see the stuff other people will most likely want, and the stuff they won’t.

Obviously, the more monetary and practical value something has, the higher the chance someone will want it.

But, as I was sorting through my possessions, there was an odd pile of stuff growing on my sitting room floor, defying all the rules.

Everything was small in size, and had little-to-no monetary OR practical value.

By anyone’s measure, this is the stuff that should have gone straight in the bin!


But I couldn’t bring myself to ditch it.

That’s when I realized that there was a fourth dimension to stuff.

And that fourth dimension was Emotional Value: how much of a connection you have to a certain item.

Thoughtful cards, pictures of loved ones, small tokens of appreciation, articles featured in local newspapers, landmark career reports, or letters that signified progress on a personal journey…

This Little Pile of Memories posed another question: which memories would come with me, and which would stay in Canada?


The Little Pile of Memories is something we all have. Sometimes gathered, sometimes dispersed around your home — but always there

That question would be answered later, because at this point the 2-days of packing was fast approaching.

And I still had an apartment full of shit.

I had to start moving stuff. Fast.

That’s when stage 4 began…

Stage 4 – The Big Sort & Giveaway


The weekend before the 2-days of packing, I started the sorting process.

This was a systematic “root through” all of my possessions, room-by-room, evaluating each item and deciding it’s fate.

Me, evaluating most of my stuff

As I emptied boxes, drawers, cubbies and shelves, piles started to form around my apartment, each ruled by its category and relative position in the Four Dimensions of Stuff.

If I found something I didn’t want, and it fit into Quadrants 1, 2, or 3, I’d post pictures on WhatsApp or Facebook for my friends and family to evaluate.

These were quick fire ads, shot from the hip, to let people know that I had a snappy set of snow gear, ice skates and an office printer up for grabs.

(PRO TIP: Picture only one item at a time. And don’t take pictures where your item has a background of clutter. People will only imagine it adding to their own mess.)

As people started to agree to take stuff they wanted, I couldn’t help but notice the emotional dimension never came into play.

Naturally, no one cared how much emotional value I had for my stuff. If I was giving it away, clearly it was non-existent.

And they (of course) couldn’t have any emotional value for stuff they’d never had before.

So, their decisions were made primarily on the dimensions of monetary and practical value.

They were basically asking themselves:

“How useful will this be, and how much would I have normally have to pay for it?”

Everything that fell into Quadrant 1 (high monetary, high practical) wasn’t a problem to get rid of.

Someone was always willing to offer a home for it.

Friends and family either had already asked, “When you’re leaving, what are you going to be doing with that couch?”

… or as soon as I asked “Do you want a new TV?,” they were only too happy to oblige.

The major decision I had to make here was WHO to give each item to. Each high value item had multiple potential suitors.

I mean, who WOULDN’T want a free HD-TV, amirite?

Determining who got what, boiled down to two factors:

  1. Who would get the most use out of the thing?
  2. Who would appreciate the thing the most?

The only caveat here is that the larger something is, the chances of someone wanting it are proportional to how much space they have available. 

In other words, people are only interested in stuff if they have room for it in their home!

“No shit, Ross!”

This rule applies to every quadrant.

So, something that has high monetary value, high practical value and is small in size — like an iPad or a new Xbox gaming system — will be gone in a shot.


The only exception to this rule is if someone already has an item of similar use that is higher in monetary or practical value.

So, someone with a newer or better iPad doesn’t want your shitty 2 year old one.

While someone with no iPad, who sees the practical value in it, is more than happy to take it.

When it came to Quadrant 2 (high monetary, low practical), this stuff obviously had a harder time finding a home than Quadrant 1 stuff. People will only want this if they’re willing to take the time to sell it, if it suited their tastes, or if they felt like they could attach some emotional value to it.

“I’d like that painting!”, and “What are you doing with your Canadian change?” were the only two consistent takes from this pile.

Stuff from Quadrant 2 made up the majority of what I ended up putting into storage, largely because it had high emotional value for me.


“Every pile has it’s purpose!”

The stuff that landed in Quadrant 3 (low monetary, high practical) surprisingly had an easier time finding a home over the stuff in Quadrant 2. But it did require some active advertisement that it was going free to a good home.

Depending on whether someone had an active desire for it’s practical purpose, they either couldn’t care less or were mildly interested.

What’s interesting is the relationship of Quadrant 3 to the space dimension.

Someone with “space to spare” is happy to take something with SOME practical value, because it COULD become useful some day.

“Sure, I’ll take that drill/printer/lamp/blender… it might come in handy” is a typical expression I heard while flogging Quadrant 3 items.

This tendency for folks to take practical items if they have space is probably why your garage is bursting to the seams with shit, after 10 years of accumulating things that “might be handy to have… someday.”

And finally, Quadrant 4 was where the bulk of my stuff (or should I say shit?) landed.

This is the stuff that had little monetary value and had little practical value. The vast majority of this was totally useless and had to be recycled, or binned.

As I sorted through the items, what surprised me was that the value of every item is dependent on your personal context.

This tendency for folks to take practical items if they have space is probably why your garage is bursting to the seams with shit, after 10 years of accumulating things that “might be handy to have… someday.”

That fancy frying pan your mother gave you for your birthday, which cooks your veggies and steak to perfection every evening, isn’t something you’d ever THINK about giving away under normal circumstances.

But what use will it have when you’re about to start a world tour?

On the flip side, I’d been holding onto an old Xbox 360 gaming system that I hadn’t touched in 2 years, apart from wiping the dust off it every few months.

But a friend’s 12 year old son JUMPED at the chance to get his hands on it, along with the hearty collection of games I had to dig out of a storage box.

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” or so they say…

With my network tapped out, there was still a ton of stuff in my house that had practical value.

And huge portion of that fell into one category of stuff: clothing.

Stage 5 – The Clothing Charity Run


Sorting through your clothes, deciding what you’re going to discard, is a pretty emotional experience.

So much of our identity is tied to our clothing. The fashion industry spends billions of dollars a year making sure that’s the case.

Even if you don’t care, you care enough to make a point of not caring.

“It takes a lot of effort to look that casual,” as my father says.

And clothes are one of the few categories of stuff that you’re gifted by close personal friends and family. You need to know someone pretty well in order to be able to buy them clothes they like.

Looking through the photos of the major events from your life, each one is distinguished by where you were, who you where with, and what you were wearing that day.

As I tore through my closet, I couldn’t help but think back through where I’d been and what I’d worn over the past 7 years. Coming to the surface were the people who had cared enough to gift me clothes (in their own little, generous piece of identity influence), and how much my identify had shifted in that time, echoed by the evolution in my style.

The memories flowed freely to the front of my mind.

A tear was shed, and emotions abound, I started making decisions about what to keep.

This led to 4 piles forming:

  1. “New and crisp”
  2. “Still relevant, but not new”
  3. “Haven’t worn in 6+ months”
  4. “I could never throw that away”

Everything in pile 1 was kept, to be packed for my journey.

Everything in pile 3 was automatically bagged for a charity run.

I then went through pile 2 for a second pass. Unless it had big practical value (like a bathing suit), I asked “what are the chances this won’t be used in 2-3 months?”

If chance were low, it made it’s way into the charity bags.


In less than 30 minutes, I’d eliminated over 50% of my clothes

Pile 4 were clothes that ANYONE else would have gladly thrown in the charity bags, but they ended up in a separate “keep” pile because they held some emotional value for me.

A sentimental hoody that my brother had given me, a treasured t-shirt from a friend’s band, the team sports jersey that I wanted to remember…

The Little Pile of Memories, in clothing form.

All of these made it into a separate bag, to be kept for future Ross.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that at this point in the process, with less than 48 hours until my plane was scheduled to depart, I still hadn’t removed a single possession from my apartment.

But I DID have a clear picture of what I was keeping, what I was storing, and what was being taken by my friends and family.

So, the night before my 2-days of panicked packing started, it was time to pack up what WAS staying in Canada and get it out of the apartment.

To begin The Purge, I loaded those possessions into an Uber, along with the bags of charity clothes, and took my final trip across town to visit my Uncle…

Stage 6 – “Get your ass to the Plateau…”


As I mentioned, I’d managed to wrangle a little storage space for the long-term from my Uncle, who lived in the Lower Plateau.

After dropping off the charity bags at the Salvation Army, I landed outside his apartment building, where I’d lived for the first 4 years of my time in Montreal.

(Funny, how things come full-circle… eh?)


Books, paintings, memories and tax papers – all that remains of me in Canada

In the end, there were only a slim selection of items going into his locker:

  • 4x boxes of books – 2 to be sold, and 2 to feature on my future bookshelf
  • 1x big bin of equipment that would hold it’s practical value in the long term (studio headphones, hard-drives, recording devices etc),
  • Assorted memories and physical music (CDs and vinyl).
  • A box of local tax papers
  • Artwork that I had purchased or been gifted

Apart from the equipment and the tax papers, both of which were being held for their future practical value, everything else was being held onto because of the emotional value it held.

It was funny to conclude that none of my wealth was tied up in the physical realm, because nothing was staying due to it’s monetary value.

After dropping my stuff off at my uncle’s house, the next step was meeting the demands of people who’d expressed interest in my stuff.

I’d arranged for everyone to come to my place at roughly the same time the next day. The original idea was to minimize interruptions in my packing schedule, as people would naturally want to say their last goodbyes.

What I didn’t expect was the effect of having everyone there at the same time…

Stage 7 – The Friendly Feeding Frenzy


Since all of the packing was being done during the week, I’d asked the squad to roll into my place after work, around 6pm.

After a day full of sorting things into relevant piles to be shown to people, a handful of friends started to arrive to pick up their new stuff, right on queue.

As they arrived, my natural salesman started to emerge.

“I know you here for that, but any interest in this…? It’s got this handy doo-hickey that does this. It’s in great nick… very high quality. No? Well, I know what you’re into… so how about that other thing instead?”


My Inner Del Boy got to work

Even as I hocked my wares, I found myself only bringing stuff from Quadrants 2 & 3 to people’s attention — stuff I knew had some value to the right person.

At that point, all of the Quadrant 1 stuff had been claimed, and I didn’t want to waste attention on stuff no-one would ever want from Quadrant 4.

What I didn’t expect was — just as I was walking through the house pitching items to my friends — my neighbour, who’d previously expressed interest in a good portion of stuff, came in and started putting POST-ITs on the items she wanted.

This created a sort of small feeding frenzy, as people’s “greed glands” started to flare a little.

“It’s like the vultures are descending,” one of my friends joked, as people started snatching things up.

“You know, that might actually be handy to have…”

Some folks who arrived for only one item, gladly left with another 1 or 2.

“It’s like the vultures are descending,” one of my friends joked, as people started snatching things up.

And he wasn’t wrong.

The Fire Sale was on — everything had to go!

I’d later try to replicate that with my neighbours, when I asked them if they’d like to come over (at the same time) for some food…

Stage 8 – “Don’t forget the food”


One thing people never tell you about moving out is how much food you never knew you had.

After sorting through all of the cupboards and storage in my place, and emptying everything into the open space, food took up the most space… BY FAR.

Beans, rice, canned food, jars, pasta… there was no end to it.

You name it, you probably have it. And there’s more of it than you expect.


This is about half the food I had in my place

Being aware of the Western problem of food waste (and feeling guilty about potentially binning it all), I invited all of my neighbours over to check out my expansive (and impressive) food collection.

Surprisingly, most people I invited came over.

Surprising because I’d invited plenty of neighbours over to check out my stuff for things that they might want. But only 2 of 7 came to visit.

Out of the 5 people I asked to take a look at my food, there was an 80% conversion rate.

Turns out that food, specifically, is more appealing than “general stuff” — who’d have thunk it?

After the neighbours took their share, it was bedtime.

I needed my sleep to make sure I had energy for the final two stages…

Stage 9 – The Street Level Giveaway


As I woke up on the morning of my flight out of Montreal, panic started to set in.

Looking at the sheer amount of shit still in my apartment, I was starting to have serious doubts that I’d be able to get through it all and still make it to the airport in time.

Plus, I still had to pack my luggage with the stuff that I was taking with me.

Pushing the panic aside, I dove in and started to move onto the next stage: The Street Level Giveaway.

Montreal is one of those fantastic cities where you can put anything of REMOTE value on the street and, within 24 hours, the streets will have magically gobbled it up and found it a new home.

(Like fairies, but with French Canadian accents.)

Anything that friends and family hadn’t taken from Quadrants 2 and 3 ended up on the street. 

Kitchen ware, pillows, rugs, bookshelfs, storage containers…

If the streets didn’t want it, the bin man would take it the following Tuesday.


The streets of Montreal – nature’s way of sorting what’s valueable from what’s actually junk

As I ran shifts in and out of my apartment, lining stuff up on the streets, I smiled as I noticed people beginning to rummage, looking for anything that caught their eye.

I knew Montreal wouldn’t let me down.

But I couldn’t stop to thank them…

With about 2 hours to go before my “SERIOUSLY, This Is The Absolute Latest I Can Leave” deadline, things were becoming desperate.

I still had a mountain of Quadrant 4 shit in my house and the clock wasn’t so much ticking, as it was violently hammering.

Stage 10 – The Black Bag Job


Stage 10 descended into full-on panic.

By now, I figured I needed to get my bags packed to leave.

After tactically cramming as much stuff as possible into my 3 bags, my only remaining objective was to get the remaining shit OUT of the apartment so I could make my flight.

All that was left was stuff that – clearly – NO ONE would ever want because they already had too much of it themselves.

Old water stained glassware, those extra chopsticks you get when you order enough sushi for 2 (but just for yourself), crappy mugs and crockery, random party decorations in cupboards, that endless collection of plastic bags…

It had gotten to the level where the only decision was “recycling or landfill?”

Blitzing through the remaining stuff at a reckless rate, I don’t think I’ve ever filled as many black bags in such a short period of time.

Final count was 9 black bags and 7 recycling bags.

After dropping the final bag in the collection area — and at this point running 30 minutes late for the airport — I took a brief moment to assess the now empty apartment.

My life had been successfully reduced to 3 bags, in less than 48 hours…


It’s always worth taking a brief moment to acknowledge your success… however big, or small

That brief moment was all I could afford.

Calling an Uber, I said my last good-byes to my next-door neighbour (now in possession of 20% of my stuff – she was just moving in, and had lots of space) and made my way to the airport, nibbling my nails the entire way, wondering if I’d make it on time.

After a small hiccup at check-in (my suitcase being WAAY overweight) and a friendly chat with Bill, the US Customs guy, about why I was leaving Montreal for good, I arrived at my departure gate, 66% of my luggage in hand.

Noticing the crew hadn’t yet opened the gate, I realized I’d made it.

A small sigh left my body. A strange mixture of relief, resignation, and remembrance.

I’d taken many flights out of Montreal, but as I boarded, this one felt different.

Scanning the seat numbers, I shimmied down the aisle and stowed my stuff in the overhead bins.

I afforded myself a smile as I plonked myself into a window seat.

It seemed fitting that I’d get a unobstructed view of the city that had given me so much over the past 7 years.


My final view, leaving Montreal – October 2016

I thought back, one last time, to George Carlin’s genius:

“That’s all your house is… it’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it.

You see that when you take off in an airplane, and you look down.

You see everyone’s got a little pile of stuff.

Everyone’s got their own pile of stuff.

The hum of the engines came to life.

We rolled out onto the runway.

With a steady whine and rumble, I was airborne, peering down at the little piles of stuff accumulated by the Montrealers I’d grown to love.

I smiled to myself and thought, “Time to go and see some more stuff.”

Meet the Author