Moving Abroad – Downsizing Life to Fit in a Sedan

Moving Abroad Downsizing to a Car

Considering a move to another country? But what about all your stuff? Moving abroad, is not like moving across town. It is usually best to get rid of most of your possession and start fresh. First, it is often very expensive to bring your old stuff with you. Whether its expensive shipping or import taxes, the costs can be exorbitant. Plus, if you’re looking to make a big change, why literally drag a ton of baggage with you?

So, you can store your stuff or get rid of it. Unless you’re able to store for free in your parents garage or something, storage is going to cost you. And if you’re not planning to come back within a short time period, it really doesn’t make sense to pay for storage….or saddle your friends or family with the responsibility of keeping it.

Getting rid of things to move abroad can be painful, cathartic, freeing, fulfilling…all of the emotions, basically! Quite the roller-coaster ride. There’s tons of experts on organization, cleaning and getting rid of stuff. Like most things, there’s many ways to do it, so you have to figure out what works for you.

My move abroad was from the US to Mexico by car. The plan is to stay a few months in a place and move on, renting furnished places along the way. So, I downsized from a 3 bedroom house to only what would fit in a Volkswagen Jetta, including my partner, dog and cat. I don’t think that its very often that people try to downsize their possessions to what will fit in a car, at least not on purpose!

Here’s my experience with getting rid of the vast majority of my possessions. I hope that if you’re considering a move abroad, you will find some inspiration, camaraderie, comfort that it will be okay. And even if you don’t plan to move, you might look at your possessions a little differently.

Where to Start Downsizing

Stop Acquiring

Really the first thing I did was commit to not buying anything new, unless it was immediately needed. Instead of strolling through TJ Maxx on the weekend to ‘see what they had’ I made myself only go when I identified something that I absolutely needed.

Before I bought something, I would try to find a lending situation to meet that need. Could I borrow it from a friend, check it out of a library? I would avoid deciding I needed something and actually buy it in the same day. For instance, I put it on a wish-list in Amazon, and then wait several days. If after that time, I still thought it was needed, I would purchase it.

I also adopted a one in, one out method. If I decided I really needed a new pair of pants, I’d make myself get rid of a pair of pants that I hadn’t worn in a while. The process of deciding I needed something was a great time to take stock of what I actually had and assess what all was not needed. Often, I’d end up giving more like two or three pairs of pants!

Start Early

As soon as you even have a hint that moving abroad is something you might want or be able to do, start getting rid of things. It takes time to do it right. You can just call Goodwill and have them back up the truck and haul it all off. But you will probably have regrets. Having to put your hands on everything you own and ‘deal with it’ is powerful. But it takes time. It was a solid two years before we loaded up the car that I began actively trying to slim down on stuff. And it still came down to last minute purging and some tears.

Start Anywhere

You don’t need to have the most efficient, most productive, purging plan to start. Definitely DON’T start with the hard stuff, like memorabilia, or your most loved belongings! Anywhere, anything else, though, is a good enough place to begin. I think I started in the bathroom drawers. I got rid of tons of expired medications. Not exactly profound, but it started flexing the muscle purging muscle that I needed to build.

Sell or Donate?


Donating is nice, but selling can not only earn you a little money for your trip, but it can teach you the ‘value’ of the stuff you’re holding on to. It can also give you the opportunity to see your beloved stuff go to people who are going to love and appreciate it.

We all have things that are taking up valuable space in our homes, energy in our minds. Many times, we hold onto things because we paid a lot for them. And when we go to sell them, we think we should get a lot for them. Often, that is not the case and you’re not able to get as much as you think you should.

For example, I had a pricey juicer that I had used frequently at one point in my life. However, it had sat on the shelf, taking up a lot of space in my kitchen for the past couple of years. When it came time to sell it, I listed it for half of what it would be to buy new….and waited, and waited, and waited. Not even a nibble. Finally, I sold it for about 20% to someone who was ecstatic to get it!

I had let that juicer sit there, not being used for at least two years. Why? Because it had been expensive. I thought maybe ‘someday’ I’d get back into juicing. I wasn’t ready to give up the identity of ‘juicer’ owner :). Someone should have to pay me a lot of money to give that up, and make me feel okay for spending so much money on it in the first place.

‘Value’ Lessons

A couple of lessons can be taken from this experience. First, if you pay for something, consider that money gone, and be comfortable with that. The money you paid has nothing to do with the thing you bought as soon as the money leaves your hand. Don’t let the thing represent the money you spent on it. It only muddles the usefulness of the object.

Second, a things worth is what it is actively doing for you, or what someone will pay for it. If something is sitting on your shelf for two years unused, its worthless. If you can only get 20% of what you paid for something originally, well…that’s what its currently worth.

Another lesson, it can be fulfilling to see your ‘worthless’ things that have been sitting on your shelf get new life with a new owner! The person who got my juicer was having medical issues that was hard on her stomach and her wallet. My idol, discounted juicer may well have gone from worthless to lifesaver!


A note on donating. While there are some great organizations, unfortunately a lot of what we donate ends up broken, getting thrown in the trash, or priced unreasonably. There is some stuff that no donations centers will take. For example, window blinds. I have no idea why, but no one will take used blinds!

I hate the idea of useful stuff rotting in a landfill. Before throwing something away, try listing it for free on Facebook, Craigslist, etc. There are usually Facebook groups in every town for people to list freebies. And sometimes, people really need stuff and can’t even afford that used store

I would also just set things on my front yard with a sign that said ‘free’ and watch as people would walk off with their new treasures. This was acceptable in my semi-ghetto neighborhood….sorry to those with HOAs, you will miss out on this joy!

Tactics to Downsizing

There’s a million experts with blogs, vlogs, books, that you will provide ideas and support. Here’s the tactics that got me through.

  • Out of Sight – During my daily/weekly purges, I put things in a bag or box in the spare closet. Sometimes, I would put things in there that I was feeling conflicted about or emotionally attached to. Once a month or so, I would go into either take stuff to donate or sell. Often, after having the thing put away, out of sight for a while, I would have no problem donating it. Sometimes, I would still have problems parting with it, so it would stay in the closet. Often, after a few rounds of that, I would be able to finally let it go.
  • Nostalgia Photo File Folder – Not to start gathering digital clutter, but a picture of things you’re having trouble parting with can help with letting it go. I created a specific folder in my photo storage for this stuff. With these things digitally stored in the cloud, they’re actually safer in the long run than rotting in a box.
  • Phone-a-Friend – Its always great to check with family, and friends to see if they can use things that you’re needing to get rid of, especially for those things that parting with is difficult. Knowing that your grandma’s casserole dish is going to be used by someone else in your family, and you might have a chance at seeing it again can help. But definitely don’t saddle people with stuff they don’t want or need!
  • Scan, Scan, Scan – I bought a scanner for about a $100, and also ended up using phone camera scanning app, and converted all the old pictures and documents and such to digital, cloud based media.
  • Sell – Discussed in depth above, but I mostly used Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. I got pretty good at weeding out the bots and scams on Marketplace. I didn’t want to be bothered with shipping, so I didn’t do anything like Ebay or Poshmark. I did try local consignments shops with no luck.

What I Kept

I did not end up getting rid of everything except what fit in the car. In my defense, we do plan to spend a significant amount of time in the US over the summer doing our favorite outdoor activities. So, I kept all the things that facilitate outdoor activities, and associated specific articles of clothing. Also, my beloved camping truck, Paula, had to be tucked away in my mom’s garage. So, look forward to more camping adventure blogs under the Outdoor Adventures section of!

Then there are the things I couldn’t part with quite yet, for no good reason. Original artwork made specifically for me by talented friends had to stay. I kept one box of nostalgia stuff that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of, yet. I also kept a couple of pieces of antique furniture that have been in my family. It all fits in about a 5X8 shed (that’s on my rental property, so its free.)

This is still probably too much, and I will have to make another pass through things. Hopefully, I will find the courage to let those things go off to be loved and used by someone new in the future. But I won’t let perfection get in the way of celebrating progress now!

What came in the car

Four living beings came along in the car: me, my partner, one cat and one dog. The humans each got a carry on sized bag of clothes, one bag of shoes, one bag of sports equipment. (Moving to a warm spot in Mexico, so not a lot of bulky clothes were needed.) The pets got their food bins, big bag of favorite treats, and medical stuff. The dog got two dog beds, she’s pretty spoiled! There was also room for one bottle of whiskey, for the medical needs of the humans 🙂

What Surprised Me

Its been two months since I moved out of my three bedroom house. I’m very surprised how little I think about or miss things that I literally cried over! I’ve perused the ‘Nostalgia’ photos, and smiled…no tears, no regrets. Not yet, at least.

Also surprising, I feel like I have currently have too much stuff! The crammed clothing bag is definitely going to get a purging here in a month or so. I thought I was done using my downsizing skills and muscles, but it is not so. I will still have to constantly evaluate what I need, what I’m using.

The acquisition muscle is still getting flexed regularly, as well. Everything I eye and think “I could use that” has to be carefully evaluated. Where will it fit? How long will I need it? How will I get rid of it? A few things have made it through the filter, but most have not. I’ve had to get creative to meet some needs at times, but its all been fine! The feeling of not having so many things to take care of and worry about is generally worth whatever temporary inconvenience I might be experiencing.

I am not my stuff! My personality does not depend on my house, my decor style, my fashion sense. Without all my stuff, I don’t have the easy way of signaling to the world who I am, what I like. Without all my stuff around me, I don’t have an easy way to remind MYSELF who I am, what I like, etc. It is humbling, liberating, terrifying.

Can you Downsize to Upgrade?

Whether moving abroad or not is your goal, there may be some of these downsizing lessons that can help you upgrade in areas of your life that are important to you. Are you wanting more financial freedom? Are you wanting to spend less money and energy on things so you can be more active, maybe get outdoors more? Check out more GetLostBlue on the topics, or find out how to work on your goals directly with me on the Coaching Services tab.

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