Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Letting Go Revisited

storage unit

Our 10’x20′ storage unit with items placed in there 2+ years ago

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Letting Go Revisited

I have a dirty little secret: though we live full time in hOMe, our 207SF tiny house, we have a storage unit in town. And since we are being really honest here, I have to tell you that it’s a large unit (10’x20’: nearly the square footage of our tiny house). Up until about 3 weeks ago we lived in a cozy state of denial that this unit was still there. We had been turning a convenient blind eye to the contents held within. Until recently.

Andrew and I finally became motivated to go through the unit. A few pep talks ahead of time provided us with the determination to finally bore our way through the contents we had shoved in there two+ years ago. We lay down some ground rules ahead of time knowing that the process wasn’t going to be easy and that we would be tempted to keep things that we hadn’t even missed in those years.

When we rolled open the large aluminum door though, no amount of pre-meditation could have prepared me for the sense of dread and overwhelm I felt. The song, “Hello darkness my old friend” flitted into my awareness and in that moment I wished that a spontaneous fire would magically incinerate everything. Despite all of the work and reflection we had done over the last few years in our downsizing process, here I was face to face with all of the justifications, rationalizations, and self doubt that I had struggled with in our initial purge.


Creating new memories with heirlooms by taking photos

The first day was brutal. I was fueled by an intense desire to just give everything away but conflicted when old inner voices whispered to save so much. We managed to work for about two hours and despite the inner battle of dialogues, two full car loads made it to Goodwill. The second day was much easier. The sense of overwhelm had subsided and I felt hungry to take on the challenge. Decisions as to what to give away and what to keep came effortlessly and we began to have fun with the process. Our son was there for a while and we enjoyed a trip down memory lane together. We snapped pictures of ourselves with various items that we had been lugging around for decades (my second place trophy from the karate Jr Olympics for example) and in the process we were able to appreciate those items at a deeper level by encapsulating them in photos.

The third day was a breeze. We went through box after box of photos (thousands) and threw out the ones that weren’t stellar. In the end we were left with a pile of about 1,000 photos which we will digitize by using a service (costing around $200). Before we knew it we were down to just one heirloom box each, our best camping gear, our SCUBA gear (you can pry that gear out of my dead cold hands…don’t care if I live in a tiny house, those things are staying), and two boxes of photo albums.

We will be digitizing our journals and letters too and that will lighten our load quite a bit. Digitizing photos, letters, and journals is something that completely makes sense to us. We can index each item and thus have the ability to search for items based on specific criteria. We have been digitizing years of receipts and documents already with great success (read about how we do that here), a process that has eliminated about 15 boxes. I know going digital isn’t for everyone (I get that for some people it’s important to have the real object in hand) but for someone like me that is so visually oriented, it’s a total fit.

Spirit House

One of the items I was so happy to reconnect with in storage: a spirit house my father built by hand for me

Going through our storage unit was a humbling process that reminded us that no matter how ‘over it’ we think we are with things in life, that there are always various levels and that the journey never quite ends. It reminded us that material possessions have a weight and a pull to them and that the rational mind can easily be clouded by the one patterned by fear. It reminded us that even in moments of challenge, that there is always a shift and a release of tension and to just trust that that moment will come. It reminded us to be grateful of how far we have come with our relationship to material goods and that what we thought were “essential” items two years ago we now see as dispensable. Lastly, it reminded us to recognize how deeply our relationships to materials goods are and that the process of downsizing is one for the warriors out there.


53 Responses to Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Letting Go Revisited

  1. Jacquie R. August 26, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Love this blog! The spirit house your dad made for you looks really cool. Was that one of the things that you kept in your heritage box?

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      Hi Jacquie! I kept things that I want to be able to give to the grandkids. I have a couple dresses from when I was an infant, my baby silver rattles, a couple of my favorite books, and a few select small things that have been given to me by those closest to me.

      • Mo December 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

        Sooooo nEEd to build my dream tiny home..taking steps now in that direction. I haven’t seen anything (yet) regarding using existing furniture as part of my tiny home design. I have 2 significant-in size/weight?-armoires that I would like to “install” as shelving units as they are now. Both are antiques and beautiful, and there is my childhood bow-front dresser too. I know it is about the downsizing but they are so important to me I don’t think I could part with them. My plan would be to bolt them to the wall panels and use them for clothing/supplies-between windows with more shelving above. Any restrictions/prohibitions with recycling them into my new life? Thanks for the inspiration…Mo

        • Gabriella December 3, 2014 at 9:47 am #

          Thank you for writing Mo! I love your idea of bolting your armoire/dresser. I think it’s so important for people to be really honest with what’s important to them and keep those things that are. Sounds like you’ve come up with a way to do that! 🙂

  2. Jacquie R. August 26, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Sorry, I meant “heirloom box”.

  3. Miriam V. August 26, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    I am downsizing too. I read and get encouragement from your inspirations.
    I also moved 3 1/2 hours from the city. Every time I come to town
    To pick up another load. I am afraid to think the day will come
    When I no longer have room for that last document that someone
    Will ask for before agreeing to give me a loan or sell me healthcare
    Insurance. Right now I have 20 years worth of proof of income.

    • Keith August 27, 2014 at 1:54 am #

      @Miriam…do yourself a favor…unload the 20 year’s of income proof. A lender only cares about your ability to repay a loan today and in the future…they won’t look at anything more than 3 years old…and even that is a stretch.

      • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

        Miriam, great you are downsizing!! Have you considered going digital with your documents? That way you can essentially keep all of it if you want but you don’t need to have it in hard copy. I agree with Keith too in that there isn’t a need specifically for more than 3 years of proof of income, etc. That said, you should do what you are comfortable with.

  4. Kathy August 26, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    Great job! I have been going through a similar process – its not easy sometimes. The photo boxes are some of the last remaining challenges for me and I’d love to digitize them. I’ve lugged 5 huge tubs of photos from state to state for moves and also frantically packing and dragging them to the car for hurricane evacuations. Please write more about your process with this; it would be a huge help! Thank you for the inspiring articles and information.

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

      Thanks Kathy! I will do a follow up post for sure with the process of digitizing the photos and our experience with hiring a service.

  5. ELI CAIN August 26, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS! I need all the encouragement I can get. Good luck!

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

      Good luck to you too Eli!! You’ve GOT this!! 🙂

  6. Trecia August 26, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Thanks this came at the right time as I spent 3 days making myself get rid of stuff. I had already gotten a lot gone but it just seems to still be more. I had in fact thought of a storage unit to hold some of it “just in case”. Thanks for the encouragement to continue on. Anyone who thinks downsizing is easy hasn’t done it, very emotional and I never expected how much it would be.

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

      “Anyone who thinks downsizing is easy hasn’t done it, very emotional and I never expected how much it would be”…so well said Trecia!

  7. Hayes August 26, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    Thanks for that look! Me and my Gal downsized to move to Montana. Still had a 17′ truck full. When we unloaded we made another purge and off to thr Rescue Mission it went. In the planning stage of our Tiny Home and by the time It’s finished (starting next year after the thaw) I think we will be down to what we need! Again great Blog!

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

      Get in touch when you guys get building Hayes…would love to see what you guys come up with!

  8. Debbie August 26, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    I lived in a 40ft rv for 5 years and csme from a 32 x 80 mobile. It took a month to get rid of thongs to fit in the 40ft rv. But when i moved from the 40ft rv i took a 7 x 14 enclosed trailer full of stuff to the auction. And still had another 7 x 14 trailer full that i kept for my 3 bedroom house. But here i go again downsizing into the 8.5 x 24 tiny house. I plan on keeping my living room chair, tv, laptop, mattress sng clothes. Everything else is just material stuff and dont need. So it is auction and donation bound. Oh yeah i gotta keep the Harley for the porch seat on the tiny house. Lol

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

      It’s a process isn’t it Debbie? Great you are getting ‘er done!! 😉

  9. Laura August 26, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    Thank you for this wonderfully honest post. Sometimes it’s more helpful to hear about the struggle than about the happily ever after! Congratulations on tackling the storage unit and getting rid of so much more.

    What is a heirloom box, if I may ask?

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks Laura. I appreciate hearing that. An heirloom box is nothing fancy, just a rubbermaid storage tote that I put my cherished items from my childhood.

  10. Suzanne August 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    Oh boy I’ve been waiting for this article!! Thank you for being honest .. -I was wondering what you did with all your ‘stuff’ in this process.. I too am downsizing after a divorce it’s taking me forever I’ve got rid of most things with garage sales and craigslist.. But I still have a scary room that needs tackling and I’m running out of steam!! I totally love your comment about a spontaneous fire incinerating everything!!!!

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Suzanne, I have total faith that you will tackle the scary room with clarity and determination and that you will relish in an amazing sense of relief when done. Let us know when it’s done and we’ll raise our glasses in cheers to your accomplishment! 🙂

  11. Suzanne August 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    Oh boy I’ve been waiting for this article!! Thank you for being honest .. -I was wondering what you did with all your ‘stuff’ in this process.. I too am downsizing after a divorce it’s taking me forever I’ve got rid of most things with garage sales and craigslist.. But I still have a scary room that needs tackling and I’m running out of steam!! I totally love your comment about a “spontaneous fire incinerating everything!!!! ” .. I SO FEEL LIKE THAT!! .. Ugh .. Well congrats on your progress ..and thanks for sharing! -inspired

  12. bob August 26, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    Great post. Thanks for making it “real.”
    It’s inspiring to hear of all the successes so many have at downsizing to fit into a Tiny House or even a small house, but it’s even more inspiring to bring in the reality that downsizing is something most, if not all who do it, struggle to get through. After all, it is really hard to let go of things you spend so much effort to justify keeping in the first place. I also have that dread that some document that I get rid of might be just the one I need sometime in the future. Enter digitization. It’s great, isn’t it. Otherwise I’m not really that attached to things. Oh, maybe a little. But I like the plan to put things away for a year and then come back and realize I didn’t really need it afterall. I’m still finding boxes that were moved into our house 15 years ago and still haven’t been opened in all that time. I guess those things can go 🙂

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

      Yes, I would say that the boxes that you moved into your house 15 years ago that you haven’t missed can go! 😉

  13. greg August 26, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Storage units can be very dangerous — particularly large ones. You keep putting more stuff in there that you’ll make a decision about next month. Quickly it fills up and not organized as originally intended. Then you think you’ll go through and get rid of a bunch, but no weekend or night after work turns out to be when you want to do it. Eventually, years can easily go by and you’ve spent thousands storing things that you don’t decide to keep when you actually do go through it. I thought I was the only one who did something this stupid, but talking to people at work, I found out I wasn’t. I could have bought a really nice car instead. It’s a drug. Stay away from it.

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

      Greg…storage units are like credit cards. So dangerous and a waste of money. I will never have another storage unit with personal belongings once we clear this one out (we will have a very small one for business inventory like DVDs which take up a lot of space) just like I will never have another credit card again. Both of those lessons have come at a high financial cost. We freed ourselves of credit cards 5 years ago and look forward to releasing the shackles of the storage unit too!

      • Lesley October 15, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

        How do you manage without a credit card? I have a child and it seems like so many things they need for registration for sports programs, etc. need to have a credit card for online transactions. How do you get around those online transactions that don’t give you other choices of how to pay?

        • Gabriella October 20, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

          Hi Lesley! We have a debit card with Visa emblem on it. The only time it gets a little complicated is with some car rental agencies (who need strict credit cards, not debit cards) so we just need to make sure to rent from companies that accept debits.

  14. Peter ODwyer August 26, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    Enjoyed this read. We’ve gone through this process twice. 8 + years ago we sold / gave away almost everything, simplifying our lives and moving to San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. We moved into a 450 sq ft home. We’ve had several place since and our currently enjoying life in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.

    Life changes and we feel it’s necessary to return back to the US and get ourselves setup to welcome our parents into our home to care for them. And guess what…. we find we are doing the downsizing/simplifying thing all over again!! What we’ve managed to acquire in 8 1/2 years! We close on a home (not a tiny home, but modest 1000 sq ft) in Oct, but have already started getting rid of stuff in our rental that we won’t take NOB…

    Simplifying is an ongoing process indeed. With stuff you have 5 decisions: 1 replace/upgrade, 2 save/store 3 sell, 4 throw away 5 give away. I find giving it away the most satisfying.

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Love your 5 decisions list Peter! And I agree, it’s easy for things to creep their way into a house in time (which is why we love tiny house living bc there is an obvious limit as to how much we can bring in) and so even after just the months we have been living in hOMe, I just did a mini purge of things we don’t need and managed to fill about 3 grocery bags of things.

  15. Carol and Gil August 27, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Beautiful, honest writing, and thank you for the motivation! We too are in process of finishing our 416 s.f. retirement home, and I needed this encouragement as we’re moving things from the current 1450 s.f. home to a much smaller home that actually feels much bigger.

    LOVE-LOVE-LOVE the suggestion of taking photos with the objects and letting go of the actual object! Then to digitize the photos/documents. . . wow! In a similar vein, I took just a small piece of the fabric from the hem of my mother’s high school cheerleading outfit and then donated the actual uniform: same memory, much less space needed.

    Perhaps in a future post you could help those of us who are trying to find this “cloud” all the young folks are talking about– that seemingly magical place where documents and photos can be stored as saved files that don’t need a flash drive?

    • Gabriella August 27, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

      Carol and Gil, I LOVE the idea of taking a piece of fabric from your mother’s cheerleading outfit! Our son has amassed a hefty number of ice hockey jerseys over the years and we are thinking of cutting them and turning them into a quilt. Ah yes…that magical ‘cloud’. I rarely see it myself so I don’t think I’m the best person to give you the tour! 😉

    • Jessica September 5, 2014 at 6:39 am #

      We put all of our photos on a digital photograph (about $120 for a larger capacity one). We theme our moving picture frames: vacations, family, Older memories (we pick our favorites from the other two themes and add to this one once a year). It’s a fun way to have photos on our walls-enjoy the memories and not have to deal with the cloud which became a digital storage (that I never looked at and dreaded cleaning).

      • Jessica September 5, 2014 at 6:39 am #

        sorry-digital picture frame

  16. Betsy August 30, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    What were your “Ground Rules” when you went in to the storage locker? I’m moving this week, and I intend to purge drastically as I pack. I’d love to hear your strategies!

    • Gabriella August 30, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Betsy! Our rules were as follows: if we hadn’t missed it or even thought of it in the 2 years it had been in storage, it clearly was not needed and essential so it had to go. If we hadn’t missed it BUT it serves a purpose (i.e., office materials and supplies) within the next 6 months, we would consider how much space it takes up and then decide whether to keep it or not. In terms of heirlooms and keepsakes, the goal was to minimize another 50% from what we had already done from our initial purge 3 years ago. As we went through it all we set aside a pile of the items that we can digitize at some point this winter when things mellow out a little bit for us. Also, we decided to take photos of ourselves with some of our heirlooms that we were ready to part with physically but not so emotionally. Hope that helps!

  17. davy crocket August 30, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    You guys are geeky nomads….ive got a massive house and i keep whatever i want………….

  18. Gale September 1, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Loved the article Gabriella. I have lived in 380 sq ft. for 13+ yrs. in Ocean Beach, CA. I did a lot of downsizing when I moved from WV to CA; I had already rented my beach cottage when I went back to pack up and move. People are always amazed at how well organized I am…but, they do not see in the closets where space could still be used more wisely. I am super excited that I have come across this wonderful Tiny House movement. Over the past couple years I have been thinking of retirement and would like to head out on the open road and see this beautiful country and the people. This will require downsizing…again. I have already begun…your article has given me a lot of great encouragement. I’ve noticed…the closer I get to my dream…the less attachment I have for “things”.

    • Gabriella September 3, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      So wonderful to hear from you Gale! 🙂

  19. Jessica September 5, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    Thank you for this post. I haven’t made it to tiny house status yet (the other half is a bit wary); however, we have downsized from a 1250 square foot 2 bedroom and office house with 2 car garage to a 650 square foot (awkwardly shaped one bedroom with wasted space open floor plan about 500 sq ft of usable space). The hardest challenge in the beginning was finding furniture that was multi-functional and becoming comfortable with the idea that a closet could be in the living room if it didn’t look like a closet. But we too have had a storage unit that we have slowly been going through that we’d like to eliminate. I love the idea of digitizing memories-I have about 5 boxes of “memories” that I haven’t gone through in years but they are nostalgic. I think the digitization might just be our next step to our lives. Thank you!

    • Gabriella September 5, 2014 at 9:32 am #

      Jessica, so true about the challenges of finding dual function furniture but so worth it once you find it. We challenged everything that went into hOMe to have not just double, but triple function (if at all possible).

      • Gabriella September 5, 2014 at 9:33 am #

        And thank you for the digital frame idea! I have seen those but hadn’t given it thought to do it in our place. I think it’s a great idea and we may take it up ourselves.

  20. Bowman26 September 17, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Great article you hoarder!! LOL Just kidding. But I think the space issue is one many people need to honestly address. Just because you live in a Tiny Home doesn’t mean you a a devout Monk with no needs but food, water and a prayer mat. I look at doing this as a way to get me back outside more doing things I always enjoyed like hiking and fishing etc. You need gear to do those things and any other things you might enjoy. As such they have to go someplace.

    It is like a catch 22. If you pay for the big house and all the room to store all the stuff you use (or never use, IE- China Cabinet) odds are you are working harder to pay for it just to exist and do not have much funds to actually go do things with your things. Whereas with downsizing and a Tiny House you have more income to go experience things with but less place to put the things you use while doing those experiences. I don’t want for much but what I have I want to keep and use. One site I saw the guy had just bought a nice small enclosed pull trailer for his secure storage outside of things. Some people might have to rent a small spot for gear if they have it thinned down it shouldn’t cost much. But you need that gear anytime you go fishing etc. I don’t think the objective it to totally rid your life of possessions so much as it is to rid it of unused crap and clutter and simplify things from living to finances.

    I’m doing the same thing with my old trophies right now. I’ve literally hauled them in the box I packed them in 20 years ago and never opened it! Going to take a pic of each and into the trash they go. Then all the pics I have on my computer that I never look at (much like the crap I never use in my house) I will sort through and put them all on a SD Card and hang a digital picture frame in my TH that slide shows through them all constantly allowing me to actually see them and remember them without hauling them around. I am currently working on my 3rd thinning of things it is a process to be sure.

    I think one spot where some people overlook space in a TH is overhead. If you build it long enough and high enough you could make a flying attic of sorts over your head. My design will give me over 200 cubic feet of storage space right over my head that lowers on cables and a winch. When not needed it will be pulled up to the rafters and designed as a ceiling feature with lights and everything. You won’t even know its full of fishing gear etc. Hopefully this will keep me out of a storage unit or small trailer for space 🙂

    Are there any good forums for Tiny House minded people? They all seem to be spread out and single blogs.


    • bob September 18, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

      There are some forums around for Tiny House and Small House minded people.
      Here is one that’s been around for a while and I’m sure others will post up here about possibly others.

      Small House Society website:

      Small House Society forum:

      You’ll need a Yahoo account to login on the forum. I created an account for just this and one other forum hosted on Yahoo but don’t use Yahoo for email or anything else.

    • Gabriella September 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks for your great insight Bo! Appreciate hearing about it. To answer your question about tiny house forums, if you are a Facebook guy, check out Tiny House People. It’s a very active group. 🙂

  21. bob October 1, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    Was just thinking on the title you gave this blog post and was led to the need to revisit the Simon and Garfunkel album “Sounds of Silence” and was struck by the relevence of the lyrics of the title song and this small house movement and the Tiny House movement. How those who leave behind the excess also leave behind the tendency to maintain isolation from community and association with others, except on electronic devices where they silently tap out messages looking for replies, and the world of “silence” and “darkness” they keep themselves to…

    “In restless dreams I walked alone
    Narrow streets of cobblestone,
    ‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
    I turned my collar to the cold and damp
    When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
    That split the night
    And touched the sound of silence.

    And in the naked light I saw
    Ten thousand people, maybe more.
    People talking without speaking,
    People hearing without listening,
    People writing songs that voices never share
    And no one dared
    Disturb the sound of silence…”

    *random thought process happening here*

    • Gabriella October 2, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

      I love how music works! This song was rolling around my head for days before and after working through our storage unit. Now I have a better understanding of WHY I was singing it.

    • Pixiebob Mom October 5, 2014 at 8:36 am #

      Many thanks to all of you for the great insight on the challenges of “letting go”. My husband and I are seriously considering downsizing from 1760 sq. ft. to 399 square feet in a park model RV home. So far, we’ve not found a place to park it that is not too expensive for us. Unfortunately, in Mississippi, the tiny home concept has not even been considered by most people.
      I will continue reading for any ideas you may have on downsizing and getting rid of “stuff”.

  22. Bridget January 7, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    Thank you for writing! I love reading other people’s stories and knowing I’m not along in my struggles!

    Last night we purged the dreaded linen closet and my boyfriend made a funny remark about how this one towel was his favorite but he never used it. “It’s like your favorite pair of underwear that you never wear because you want to save them and keep them nice but then you end up just never wearing them…”

    I was so excited when I heard this because I thought I was the only one who did stuff like this! So we finally resolved to use our favorite items around the house and I’m down to three towels and he’s down to four (major progress from the 16 towels we had before!)

    So, it’s possible! And even when you think you might get resistance from your roommates, you never know when they’re going to surprise you! 🙂

    • Gabriella January 7, 2015 at 10:41 am #

      Fantastic Bridget!! And YES to wearing our ‘special’ underwear and all those things whenever we want to! 😉

  23. Jacky January 16, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    These are great reads….real life experiences that help you understand all the details, emotions, struggles, work, etc. that go into a major lifestyle change. I’ve thought a lot about what is really important to have. I’m trying to figure out how I can fit my all quilting supplies in, a full kitchen as I have food allergies, a bedroom and bath all on one floor without going over 300-400 sq ft. A loft is nice for storage but impractical as one ages.

    I’ve noticed from all my research that the biggest and most important obstacle in the whole process, is where to park your tiny abode once you’ve built/bought it. From my perspective it seems one would work that out first, in advance, whether by purchasing property, renting lot space in a park, researching legal requirements of where they’d like to be and the like.

    I’m in Sarasota County FL and it’s extremely expensive to live here. I’m going to sell my house, rent a small apartment as my “test run” and buy land way out in the country where it is still affordable. I figure once I “buy the dirt”, then I can start stashing my reclaimed materials there. Once my youngest finishes college 5 years from now, I can build my own little cabin in the woods.

  24. Mireya Meyers December 11, 2020 at 6:45 pm #

    I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative and amusing, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I stumbled across this during my hunt for something relating to this.

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