Who Are You Without All Your Stuff?

Imagine a moving company comes into your home, packs up every item you own (and I mean everything, including the clothes on your back), and puts it all in storage. How do you think you’d handle that level of exposure and vulnerability?

I’ve been riveted by a new show on Bravo TV called Stripped, where participants volunteer for this exact scenario. For a variety of reasons, they choose to have everything they own taken from them and put into storage for 21 days. This includes the keys to their car, all technology, money, clothes, food, toiletries, furniture, etc. They’re given water, toilet paper, and MREs (meals ready to eat) for their basic survival.

Every day, each participant can choose one item from storage, but they must walk 1/2 mile to the container. That means on Day 1 they’re walking with no clothes or shoes. People have been very creative, covering themselves with large plant leaves or trash they find along the way. They can ask people for money or find ways to earn it, but that money can only be used for food or transportation.

The idea is to strip them of all their vices, distractions, and shields to see how they operate on the bare necessities.

One woman learned how self critical she was when she found it difficult to leave the house without a “proper” outfit and no makeup.

One man learned how unworthy he felt of his wife’s love and that he feared never being enough for her.

One woman had to face the reality that it was time for a difficult conversation with her father.

Another woman feared being forgotten by her friends because she couldn’t be in constant contact with them.

As each person chooses one item a day to retrieve, they quickly learn what their priorities are and can then evaluate how aligned those priorities are (or aren’t) with the vision they have for their life.

What makes someone choose a cowboy hat over soap? Or stiletto heels over a mattress? It’s a fascinating experiment to watch.

When you think about being stripped of all your belongings, how does it make you feel? Are you stressed? Terrified? Excited? What are you relieved to be relieved of?

There is a sense of freedom that comes with clear spaces, yet there’s also the likelihood of your mind getting crowded. When you sit in a stark, empty room, the only thing you have is your thoughts and that can be terrifying for some people.

As one participant said, “I have no choice but to feel all the emotions I usually distract myself from.” And what a powerful discovery this invites — that those emotions we’re so afraid to feel are, in fact, fleeting when we let them in instead of trying to keep them out. You see, the clutter is actually your resistance, not the emotions.

Whether physical, emotional, or mental, spending time with your clutter and learning from it is where your power lies. Not in ignoring it or running from it. When you clear out that which no longer serves you, you open yourself to powerful insight while making space to welcome in that which you desire.

Try and put yourself in the scenario of this television show. What would you choose on Day 1? Day 9? Day 21? For shits and giggles, consider listing out the 21items you’d choose, and then see what your choices say about you. What are the items you thought were important but that remain in storage at the end of the experiment? Why did you choose the items you did? What do they mean to you?

Could your possessions be getting in the way of you making the changes you want to make in your life? Maybe they’re preventing you from even knowing what those changes are. That has certainly been the case for many of the show’s participants thus far. It’s often not until they’re faced with a complete blank canvas that they can connect with their personal values.

You don’t have to go through such an extreme experiment to get in touch with your values, however. Instead, you can challenge yourself to a miniature version.

Try this:

  1. Choose a category of items you own. It might be clothes, toiletries, makeup, shoes, purses, ties, jewelry, or anything else you feel you have an excess of. Choose a category that feels difficult to limit. 
  2. For one week, pay attention to what you use or wear versus what you don’t, then separate them from one another. For example, hang everything you regularly wear in one half of your closet and everything else in the other half. Or put your frequently-used makeup in one container and leave the rest in another. Make it so the items you don’t use often aren’t as easily accessible as your go-to pieces.
  3. Now, in week two, only allow yourself to use those frequently-used items you identified in week one. This will begin to show you what you could live without.
  4. Make note of how you feel or what thoughts come up for you as you realize those other items cannot be in the rotation. Are you annoyed? Relieved? Indifferent?
  5. At the end of week two, spend 15 minutes journaling about your experience. Did anything come up that surprised you? How did it feel to be limited with what you could use or choose? Did it help you identify some things you’re ready to let go of? What did you learn about yourself?

At the end of each episode of Stripped, the viewer is told how many items the participants let go of as a result of their experience. One woman donated 35 pairs of shoes, and one couple donated 1,000 pieces of clothing!

It’s incredibly liberating to be freed from the weight of too much stuff, but it can also be uncomfortable, particularly if you use clutter as a safety net, a boundary, or an excuse. And before you scoff at that idea, keep that in mind as you review the journaling you do at the end of the above exercise. Most people who use clutter in this way don’t realize they’re doing it. Instead, they simply wrestle with not being able to move their lives forward and can’t seem to figure out why.

And that is the power of uncovering the message in the mess. Looking at clutter this way — whether books, clothes, paperwork, draining relationships, or limiting beliefs — can help you heal aspects of your life you’ve likely struggled with for a long time.

If you’re brave enough to take on my proposed challenge, I’d love to hear what you discover. Join the conversation in the comments below. And if you feel ready to really dig in, check out my Clutter Video Course that starts February 6th. You can read all about it here.

Also, be sure to check out my book, “What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You: Uncover the Message in the Mess and Reclaim Your Life.

2 replies
  1. Julie K
    Julie K says:

    Great article, Kerri.
    While not as dramatic in my own case, I’ve recently had some appreciation for this concept due to a looming change in pharmaceutical laws. The changes mean an over the counter pain relief drug I’ve used occasionally for severe headaches will soon only be accessible by prescription. While getting a script is an option, I wondered if I could manage without the drug at all. The thought alone gave me feelings of anxiety at the potential lack of control I’d have over this. But with limited options, I needed to try an alternative.

    So, the next time I had a headache I tried EFT tapping to relieve the pain (and anxiety). I wasn’t sure it would even work, so I was surprised when it did. It has worked on two separate occasions now. No need for pain relief drugs at all. None. The process pushed me out of my comfort zone, but as a result, I’m now empowered and feel like I have more control over my pain management than the drugs offered anyway. I’m also more productive the next day rather than feeling tired and foggy. More power to me!

    I have managed to improve my own health over the past several years where mainstream medicine couldn’t help, and this experience is just another step in the right direction. A liberating step which I’m now so glad I’ve taken. I’ll be looking for other areas to challenge myself going forward.


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