How I Began to Declutter My Life

As most people who follow my adventures know, my journey didn’t start on a whim. I constructed the foundation of my present lifestyle over a decade ago. It started with my desire to live more remotely and simply. Over time, it evolved into a complete lifestyle change and a steady exercise in the art of decluttering.

First, I think it is important to understand that I grew up in a small town in the mountains of California. So my plan of living off-the-grid in the Pacific Northwest is not as drastic a stretch for me as you might think. I didn’t start my personal decluttering adventure entirely in the dark. 

During my life, I have lived in numerous cities across the country. As I have aged, I have become more disenchanted with, and disengaged from that type of living. Urban living is not a bad lifestyle; it’s just not for me anymore. Too much noise, too much drama, and too much of all the mental and material clutter made for a sad Gary! 

Growing up poor in a single-wide trailer, with very few neighbors, you would think I’d never want to return to such a lifestyle. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Growing up that way gave me a different perspective on what matters. Sure, things were tough at times growing up, but it made me appreciate everything I had that much more. I now look back and consider myself incredibly lucky to have had these experiences. I was fortunate enough to know most of the people in my town. When I waved at them, they’d wave back. That’s all but vanished from today’s urban settings. Is it any wonder that thirty percent of millennials admit to having zero “real world” friends? I think social media has a lot to do with this.

I have fond memories of racing home from football practice before sunset to catch an hour of bird hunting. Heck, I would have my shotgun behind the seat of my truck to save time. Yes, that would mean I had a shotgun on school grounds, and I wouldn’t have been the only one. A lot of us were hunters. That’s just how it was. Can you imagine what would happen to a kid doing that today? 

All this activity was based on pure simplicity. I didn’t wear any special hunting outfit—just the clothes I’d worn to school. My shotgun was used and inexpensive. But it worked just as well as a shotgun ten times the price. Matter of fact, I still own and use it today forty plus years later. This practice of keeping useful things for decades is another habit that has all but vanished from our society. Yet another reason so many are caught up in the Cult of Clutter. 

At eighteen, I left for college. I had few opportunities to do the things I enjoyed growing up—hiking, fishing, hunting, or just being in nature. For many years, I yearned to return to that type of living. It is hard to explain to someone who didn’t grow up experiencing this lifestyle. But I’ve always been the happiest when I had time to spend outdoors. 

To me, living in highly congested areas has become completely overwhelming. Why sit in traffic if you don’t have to? The thought of going to the mall makes me cringe. I’m not saying you should cut these activities out of your life. My point is to get you to question how much these (and other everyday experiences) clog up your mind with mental and emotion clutter and gnaw away at your happiness, like a lab rat chewing on the cage that it is trapped in. 

Now I can’t state this enough: a lot of planning went into my escape from The Cult of Clutter. I had numerous false starts and made many mistakes along the way. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe I wish someone had already written The Simple Life books! That would have made my life much easier. 

Like most people today, I was locked into the day-to-day grind—living in what I call “The Grid”. At this point, I’d spent almost half my life working for the government in one form or another. Needless to say, I was utterly burned out and questioning many aspects of my life. I remember sitting at my desk, after another joyous meeting with one of my bosses, thinking…

What the heck am I doing with my life?”

My mind was often too cluttered with other nonsense to even think about an alternative answer to this question. Too much of my “mental bandwidth” was jammed up with worries about things that looking back, didn’t matter that much. If you can relate, I know you’re going to love what The Simple Life is all about. 

I was living in congested Southern California. I had a ridiculously expensive house—crammed with stuff I never used. I had more debt than I’d ever wanted or was even necessary… I was slowly losing my mind. I knew I needed a plan. But what was that plan? Again, I’m sure you can relate to this. Every time you start to think about pursuing a better life, a long list of other crap starts scrolling through your brain on autopilot.

Although I know now that my dissatisfaction wasn’t unusual, I remember thinking… 

“Is there something wrong with me?”

If you feel this way, you are not alone. Since publishing my Off-Grid and The Simple Life books, I have spoken to and received emails from hundreds and hundreds of people who feel the same way. More and more people are searching for a way to live a “simple life” of their own. They’re no longer willing to accept the modern-day societal expectations, which force us to grind ourselves to oblivion chasing someone else’s idea of happiness. But most of them just have too much other crap going on in their lives even to take a minute to think about escaping The Grid.

Thankfully, there is a better way—a simpler, happier way.

How My Mission Began… Sort Of 

My original plan was simple—find someplace quiet to get away from the noise. Somewhere I could think, plan, and live my life without unnecessary distractions. I started looking at remote land or cabins in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Montana. It was just a cursory look. Since it was the middle of the housing boom, remote properties were just as overpriced as the typical family dwelling in more populated areas. I called a couple of Realtors to get some basic information, but nothing serious came of it. At that point, I was a little discouraged that my plan seemed like a mere dream.

And, of course, when I become discouraged, the laundry list of mental clutter came marching back into my mind like ants at a picnic. So I shelved my plan and continued with my daily grind. After more than a decade of research, I discovered that everyone goes through this type of discouragement. Maybe you have too. I’ve also learned that there’s nothing wrong with people like you and me because we want to escape the soul-crushing machinery of The Grid. I consider this way of living more normal than the alternative. It’s simpler, it’s happier, and it’s got less of what doesn’t matter—and a whole lot more of what does. It’s just less popular. 

This is an important point. Especially if you’ve had people accuse you of being a “dreamer” or “Luddite” for wanting a simpler, clutter-free life. I have never fit into the mold of today’s American lifestyle—the nine to five jobs, the physically and mentally grinding commute, the cookie-cutter suburban homes, the toe-curling list of worries and concerns scrolling endlessly through your mind like the credits of a bad sitcom. Like you, I have always been more of a freethinker. But it’s hard to think freely when your mind is jammed with mental minutiae, which, if we’re honest with ourselves, was never ours to begin with. 

So, sometimes, it takes us a few failures to figure this out. Especially, when we’ve spent so long living as a piece of The Grid machinery. I started my own side business a good ten years before hatching my idea of a mobile lifestyle as the means of getting out. I knew that to be free, I would have to run not only my own life, but possibly my own business. It is not always necessary to run your own business to live a more mobile lifestyle—but it sure helps. 

If you’re overwhelmed, or just worn out with the daily grind, and you’re serious about living a simpler, more mobile lifestyle; the best advice I can give is to find a business model that fits that lifestyle. Today, telecommuting is becoming more common for jobs, which don’t require you to be in an office every day. So don’t let your 9-5 job discourage you from planning your own escape mission. I consider running your own business to be the advanced rung in the process of living The Simple Life.

My Real Mission Began with a Kick in the Butt

Fast forward a few years—my frustrations with the daily grind, and dreams of a simpler life were still running in the back of my mind. Somewhere in all the other clutter and noise, due to many life-changing circumstances, I wasn’t pursuing my dream—I was still Gridlocked. The stress of trying to run my own business weighed on me. Numerous recent deaths of loved ones, including one of my best friends, hit me hard enough to knock my dreams out of my everyday thoughts. But I knew if I kept saying, “I will get to it next year,” it would never happen. 

So I rekindled my dream and put my plan into action. I knew I had to start, not only with freeing myself from the consumer lifestyle, but also freeing up my mind to focus on what matters. My thoughts about living a simpler, more remote lifestyle had evolved a lot by then. I had begun a new business, I had sold my house and most of my belongings, I was debt free, and in a much better place to pursue my dream. My original plan was to have a remote getaway, but now, my plan was to live off the grid for at least part of the year, and to focus on being mobile rather than being stuck in one place. 

I was fortunate to have traveled all over the world while working in the government. I also found traveling to be addictive. I had caught the nomad bug and couldn’t stay in one place for very long. The housing bubble had also taught me that the “American Dream” of home ownership—aka, saddling yourself with a big fat mortgage—can quickly turn into the “American Nightmare”, by taking away the ability to move, thus greatly inhibiting your personal freedom.  

Most people assume that living off-the-grid means living in a beat-up van, cave, or shack with no running water, no electricity, and a cracked five-gallon bucket for a toilet. Today that couldn’t be further from the truth. You can now live a comfortable life on a piece of isolated land. Or, you can travel around in a state-of-the-art RV. I know this for a fact! Not only have I been doing it for years, I have run into more people than I can count who are doing the same thing, or something similar. 

While we’re talking about false assumptions regarding the mobile lifestyle, let’s tackle one of the biggest myths. Countless people have claimed that my story and my strategies for going off-the-grid don’t apply to them, because I am single and have no kids.

Further, they assume that a simpler type of lifestyle is unobtainable for “most people”. The fact is, I have met so many people who are married with two to three kids, not to mention multiple pets, who are living exactly like I am. 

I’ve noticed that people with kids sometimes use their family as an excuse not to pursue their dreams, which would make EVERYONE in their family happier in the long run. I’d also add that J.S. Bach had twenty children, and historians have said that his body of musical compositions was the most rigorous and expansive body of work ever produced by a single human mind. Obviously, having children didn’t slow him down. 

So I’m telling you with firsthand knowledge, anyone can live this lifestyle successfully if they want to. It all boils down to whether you want make it happen, or if you just want to make excuses and complain about your life. As a matter of fact, you’ll discover later that those complaints and excuses make up a big part of the mental and emotional clutter that’s robbing you of the life you could be living. 

Single people who have no children have their own list of excuses about why they can’t pursue their dreams. Excuses are excuses, we all have life clutter to deal with. It just comes in a different package for some of us. Yes, that’s a little tough love, but someone has to say it. This life is as simple as coming up with a plan and putting it into action, instead of waiting for a miracle.

The best part of this adventure is that most Americans can afford to do it exactly like I am. I do not come from a long list of millionaires. I do not have unlimited resources. Still, I won’t deny, it does cost money, especially in the beginning. I know there are books and seminars that claim you can take off with a hundred bucks in your pocket. Some people have even done it that way. But I like to live in reality and talk about what is plausible for most people—not a selective few.

Hopefully, you will enjoy my adventure, even if you’re not interested in such a lifestyle. Maybe you will learn a little something to make your own life simpler, more peaceful, and less jammed up with the stuff that keeps all of us from being truly happy.

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4 thoughts on “How I Began to Declutter My Life”

  1. Gary,
    Reading this blog was like I was reading my life story, problem is after working 42 years and doing all the right things financially, taking care of myself physically, decluttering my life as you suggested, I have allowed myself to become complacent, stuck in the big city I have hated my whole working life, hopefully I will find the motivation to get unstuck.
    Best regards

    1. Hey Mark,

      The key is to realize you have the freedom to do what you want, you just need to do it. We all get stuck and think things are what they are, but in reality it is us who is making us stuck. Keep at it my friend and you will get to where you want to be.

      1. Thanks for the encouragement, we decided a week ago to just jump in our car and fly by the seat of our pants and see as many national parks and forests that we can, we’ve made it to Bonners Ferry, Idaho and will be working our way back home, it’s been a great experience thanks again

        1. Hey Mark,

          Glad I could be an avenue of encouragement! Yep, sometimes you just have to do it, no fan fair or in-depth plans… let life happen the way it was intended – to live free 🙂

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