Monday, December 12, 2011

Decluttering & Forging a New Normal

Just like I don't have a comprehensive plan for my year of traveling the world, I don't have much of a plan for the preparation.

I'm pretty freaked out about all the things I need to do before I leave in February, including:

  • Figure out which vaccinations I need and how to get them
  • Figure out which visas I need and how to get them
  • Figure out all the gear I need and where to get it

Do you see a theme here?

I think it's the "figuring out" portion of all these to-do items that scares me. I've pored over dozens of travel blogs and bookmarked valuable links and bits of advice about everything I need to do, so it's not that the information is tough to find. There are just so many choices involved, so many decisions to make.

And wherever there's a decision to make, there's also the feeling that I could easily make the wrong one.

I know that feeling is irrational, but it's there, and I'm giving myself some time to organize my life and breathe a bit before I jump into the really important stuff.

After all, everything I knew to be normal a few weeks ago is now gone. I used to be a girl who spent her days proofreading at an ad agency and her nights and weekends training for a marathon. Then I quit the job, ran the marathon and found myself faced with a blank slate of a life. It's time to forge a new normal.

That starts, apparently, with making my bed.

I've never been a bed-maker (sorry, Mom), so forgive the wrinkles and that weird dent in the comforter. I quickly figured out that I needed an up-and-at-em routine to get myself out of bed now that I no longer have a cubicle to slink into at 8 a.m.

It includes jumping out of bed when my alarm rings, immediately making the bed (so I won't crawl back in), then flinging open my black-out curtains to let in a glorious flood of morning light.

Then I'd like to eat a quick breakfast, exercise (go for a run or hit the gym), shower, get dressed like a real human being and work on travel preparations. Oh, and eat some more.

I'm also making a conscious effort to appreciate all the luxuries that I won't have for much longer, like my super-comfortable bed, my private room and all the familiar furniture. I probably won't miss any of it while I'm out adventuring (well, except for the bed), but I think it's good to be grateful regardless.

I rent a townhouse in Seattle with two roommates, and it's by far the nicest place I've ever lived as an adult. My parents were extremely relieved to tour the place and find that, unlike the residences of my college years, it could not be described as a "condemned structure" or "complete shithole." I'll be a little sad to leave it.

Our lease runs through January, which explains my February departure, and I have some stuff to get rid of before then. And by "some stuff," I mean all the clutter that has built up over the course of this year thanks to my "throw it anywhere" method of organization.

My desk and its top shelf are a magnet for random mail and papers that I deem semi-important, but don't want to deal with right away. This weekend I turned on some festive Christmas music, spread everything out on the floor and went through it piece by piece. I recycled most of it, filed away a few essential items and left a small selection of relevant materials on the shelf (Meet, Plan, Go checklists, travel guidelines, etc.).

I also relegated old trophies, a few stuffed animals and most of my books to a bag bound for Goodwill.

I still can't keep all this stuff — some of it I intend to sell or give to friends, and some of it just needs to hang around a little longer before I can part with it (my childhood bear...) [edit: I'm keeping the bear!]. I plan to declutter in a few stages, and the final stage will be utterly ruthless.

The toughest things to get rid of so far have been notes and gifts from past boyfriends (sigh), and stubs from the five-figure bonuses I used to receive at my job. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I found those, and I may or may not have feverishly repeated, "I made the right decision, I made the right decision, I made the right decision!"

Moving on.

My dresser was another crap catchall, particularly for running gear and swimming stuff (from when I trained for my first triathlon). Many things seen here went to Goodwill or the recycling bin, and all my running accessories fit nicely into a little bag for easy access.

Much better! (The race bibs and medals ain't going anywhere for a while.)

My closet is a fun adventure. The middle section holds most of my clothes — a sea of plain tanks, tees and sweaters with a few stripes and prints thrown in for when I'm feeling adventurous — and my laundry hamper. Note the running shoe boxes, softball gear and Canon/Apple paraphernalia up above.

Judging by my friends' closets, I have very few clothes, and yet I still have still way more than I actually need or wear. I pretty much live in my favorite $8.50 Old Navy t-shirts.

I'm a simple girl. Feel free to make fun of me (for the t-shirts or the photos, or both), but I love those damn tees. And my commitment to inexpensive shirts has helped me save enough money to travel for a year, so there.

The left side of the closet: Coats, shoes, more running shoe boxes (I'm psychotic) and beach towels (for all the beaches in Seattle...).

The right side: Dresses and skirts I rarely wear, my college graduation gown, more boxes and God only knows what on the floor.

I only did a quick sweep of my clothes this weekend and ended up with an overflowing bag of items. I'll try selling them to local thrift stores, then donate the rest to Goodwill.

There's so much more to get rid of, and I haven't even peeked inside my dresser yet. I'm going to need many, many more bags.

So far, the decluttering process has felt cleansing. Very few things hold meaning for me, and luckily they're compact things, like photographs and race bibs. My goal is to end up with a few medium-sized boxes of stuff and a garbage bag of clothes to store at my dad's place for when I get back from my trip... whenever that may be.

I'll be selling all the furniture in January, so holler at me if you're a Seattelite with your eye on something.

With my bedroom clear of most visible clutter, it'll be a much more pleasant space to focus on things like vaccinations, visas and gear to cram into the backpack that will become my life (which I still need to buy).

I know one thing for sure: At least a few of my favorite tees will be along for the ride.


New here?



  1. Looks like you're off to a great start! A couple of books I've found really useful for preparing to go travelling and for decluttering are: The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, and The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. Hope this helps :) The Rough Guide will make you think about so many things you'd never even considered before!

  2. Sounds like you have everything in order Devon. I would hazard a guess that the garbage bag full of clothes will never get used again though...

    Get rid of it all!

  3. Hi Devon,
    A suggestion regarding the immunizations-- I'm guessing that Seattle has a travel clinic (perhaps at a university?)-- I'd recommend paying them a visit and letting them know that you will be traveling, with an uncertain global itinerary. They'll give you everything you need. Some may need to be given over a period of time, so please go sooner rather than later so you can get everything in before you leave.
    I am enjoying all your posts! I sat on the sofa the entire time you were running the marathon, watching your splits. And then I went on my first run/walk yesterday morning. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. So excited for you, and a little jealous! I have been saving and focusing on big travel myself- this year I went to Ireland on a vacation and Haiti on a medical mission. The health department in my area had a nurse specifically designated to help world travelers receive the right vaccinations and stay healthy while traveling. That person can help you figure out where you would need things like malaria prophylaxis too. Like Sarah says, go soon because some vaccines are multi-dose and you might want to spread the others out a bit so you don't feel crummy after.

    Sounds like you are on the right track by taking things one step at a time. Keep us updated and best wishes!

  5. If you need help with gear, visas or travel vaccines, I might be able to help! I traveled a lot a couple years ago. I went through a travel vaccine clinic and they were amazing in telling me the risks and dangers of things and getting me on board with what was needed. I also have a friend that has traveled to just about every corner of the earth that can help too! His website is Let me know if I can help:)

  6. Keep the bear! I mean, it's clearly up to you, but I think it's important to keep some childhood stuff.
    It sounds like you're off to a great start, and I'm really impressed with your lack of sentimentality when it comes to clutter.
    Do you mind if I ask how you got your job that you just quit?

  7. I just wanted to say hi!
    I found your blog the other day and I love your story and what you're doing. Way to go on living your dream and travelling. It's a big step but it will all pay off in the end and be an experience of a lifetime!

  8. i'm excited to read all of your travel preparation posts - but perhaps more excited to read when you actually start traveling :) I was wondering what travel blogs you are perusing? I haven't yet found a lot of travel blogs that I really enjoy!

  9. @Karen: Thanks for the book recs! I'll start putting in holds at the library since the last thing I need right now is more books : )

    @Wayne: You might be right — I'll see what I can do!

    @Sarah: Thanks for the tip, and so glad you headed out for a run/walk. Keep it up!

    @Melissa and Ali: Thanks for the info; you're helping me feel the urgency to get moving on those vaccinations.

    @turntowardsthesun: My bear thanks you for the vote. I got the job on Craigslist : )

    @Sabrina: Thank you, and thanks for stopping by!

    @Laura: I'll do a post soon about travel blogs I'm reading. There are so many great ones!

  10. Great way to start! we also found that un-cluttering (or going minimalistic, like we call it) left us with this clean, light, free sensation, and we love it.
    We have to un-learn from society so many things, and among them is that we need to keep our memories in our head, and not in stuff.

    I too have traveled a lot because of my profession, and I've visited 3rd world countries, in extremely poor places, and never crossed my mind to get vaccinated. I've never taken any special vaccinations. And I rarely get sick wherever I find myself, I love the "winging it" feeling, and I trust my immune system very much :)
    Of course I can't recommend it, but I would say don't worry that much.

    Bear also has my vote! Don't keep a lot, just one thing from your childhood.

    For travel gear, I recently turned to and I'm ecstatic with it. They're serious gear, made in the USA, with outstanding quality and thinking in the traveler, designed by travelers.
    I own a C-Ruck backpack ( and love it. They're expensive, but worth every cent.

    Hope to hear from you again soon!


  11. You're braver than me, I am such a pack-rat, although I have gotten much better, but I couldn't imagine completely decluttering my whole life!!

    Also not to compare you to anyone, but since Liz of One-Twenty-Five fame recently had to do a lot of what you are about to do, have you thought about maybe emailing her with some questions. Or checking out the packing and organizing she had to do before her trip. I'm sure you'll find some of it helpful. She has a ton of links on the right side of her page about her Big trip etc.

    Wish you all the best!!

  12. @Piracanto: Corduroy (the bear) has gotten many pleas to be saved, including a frantic email from my mom! Don't worry, I'll keep him. Thanks for the gear recs!

    @Stacey: Yes, I followed Liz's trip preparations with interest and will definitely be referring back to what and how she packed! Thanks for the reminder : )

  13. I just moved to a new apartment, and that decluttering process was so so great. I felt like I started a new life in so many ways :)

  14. Great post Devon, your 'new normal' sounds amazing. I am in the process of doing the same thing and am selling off everything that doesn't fit in my backpack. I have found the process very cathartic! I'm really enjoying your blog and wish you all the best for your future travels :)

  15. @Emily and Hannah: I think the idea of getting rid of stuff is scary to most people, but it's so amazing how good it feels to actually do it! Life is just so much lighter.

  16. Hey Devon,

    Are you planning on doing a blog sale or anything with your clothes. I am recently starting a new job after a few "down on our luck" years and need some dressy clothes! Just a idea.
    Ps. we share a great name and your blog is so inspiring and amazing!

  17. Haha, I'm the same with the shirts. When I saw that v-neck for $8.50 at Old Navy, my first thought was "This is pretty much the ONLY thing I'm going to wear on my trip."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...