Ginger Dunn says less is more!

Less Things = More Freedom

In my post Get Rid of Clutter, I promised to share the inspirational story of my mother who got rid of all of her material possessions.

In honour of her 70th birthday….  Here’s some inspiration to have less things and more freedom. 

About 27 years ago my mother sold her big house in Minnesota, all of her furniture and her car and relocated across the country to California. (Sleeping on my sofa until she found a place of her own!)

As a single lady whose kids had flown the coop, she was ready for a new adventure.

She bought a pickup truck and meagrely furnished a small one-bedroom apartment, including mismatched dishes and silverware from charity shops.

She became a true minimalist and loved the freedom it gave her.

She moved to several beach cities over the years and downsized each time, living in small studio apartments.

Ironically, she started working with a corporation who managed self storage units across the U.S. She witnesses first hand how people who aren’t able to let go of stuff actually pay to store it because their garages are so full they cannot even park their car.

She also saw the agony of people who had to go through all their parents stuff when they died, often paying to store it instead of getting rid of it.

Right then she vowed to never do this to me.  Thank you, Mom!

Over the years she developed a true passion for travel and by living so meagrely she was able to go on many adventures and discovered the concept of Volunteer Travel.

She has worked in an orphanage & AIDS hospice in Thailand, fitting shoes on kids feet in Haiti, built houses in the Dominican Republic and worked with sea turtle preservation projects in Mexico.

The next step was when my Mom ‘retired’ 10 years ago, giving up her apartment and furniture and hitting the road in her truck.

Everything she owned now fit in the back end of her beloved Toyota. I’m not kidding!

She drove around America, doing volunteer work in exchange for room and board.

She also discovered seasonal work in National Parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and worked up in Alaska for a summer.

On a recent trip she even zip-lined from Zambia to Zimbabwe!

All of this is possible because of her minimalistic approach to life.

My mother often counsels other retirees to downsize and de-clutter. It’s a big job when someone else has to finally come in and get the house ready to sell.

Much of the stuff could be sold and donated. She suggests they photograph things before they part with them as they can always look at the picture and remember them that way.

Now this is a very extreme example and I’m not following in her footsteps anytime soon – but it does inspire me to get rid of stuff I really don’t need.

Look around your own house and notice duplicates. Why do you need two ice scream scoops? Or eight hammers? Or Tupperware containers with missing lids. (Believe me, they will never turn up.)

How many times have you had to try three pens before you found one that worked?

Get rid of stuff you don’t need. Throw out anything broken and donate or sell the rest. To quote my mother, ‘You never own stuff, stuff owns you.’

That something in the back of your cupboard that you’ve kept for years ‘just in case’ could be used every day by someone else who really needs it.

Those old frayed towels and sheets? Animal shelters desperately need them. Extra pots and pans taking up massive space? Soup kitchens would be grateful. Clothes you never wear could go to a women’s shelter to help those escaping domestic violence wearing only the clothes on their back.

We drop old toys off to the waiting room of our local children’s hospital where they’re played with every day. I give kids clothes away as soon as they’ve outgrown them.

Try not to be too sentimental. If you begin to view your extra stuff in a charitable light, it’s easier to let go of it.

Release it from dusty attics, grimy garages and closed cupboards and give it a new lease of life.

Never have I given something away and later regretted it. Oh, there may have been a time when I had a retro costume party to go to and thought ‘Why didn’t I keep those fun bell-bottomed jeans?’, but it’s rare and no big deal.

Having a big home clear out is liberating and it helps other people.

Selling things takes more time and effort than giving it away, but if you’ve got the time, turn it into a money making project.

Once you get a handle on the clutter, make it a policy that anytime you bring something new into the house you have to get rid of something.

Keep a cardboard box at the ready and once it’s full, take it away and start over.

You may never find yourself getting rid of everything and living out of a pick-up truck, but take it from my mother who says: The less things you own, the more freedom you’ll enjoy.

Happy 70th Mom!  You make the world a better place. 


In the comments below, share what you think. Are you a bit of a pack-rat or more of a minimalist? What do you feel sentimental about getting rid of? Are you more likely to sell or give stuff away? Do you agree that less things means more freedom? 

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  1. Karen on July 9, 2016 at 8:37 PM

    What a cool mother you have! Please send her over to my house to help me clear my clutter. I try to get rid of stuff, but this is making me realise that I need to make it a project and give it some top priority. It’ll only get worse before it gets better! Thanks for the great inspiration. x

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on July 9, 2016 at 8:41 PM

      Ha ha! She needs to turn this into a side business – travelling around the world helping others to clear their crap! I’ll run it past her. Glad you’re inspired Karen! You can do this!! x

      • Vicky Howden on March 21, 2022 at 9:04 PM

        Love your mother’s philosophy! I regularly have clear outs and enjoy giving stuff to charity so it can be used by others instead of gathering dust. Her retirement plan sounds a great way of enjoying life and exploring the world.

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:44 AM

      Thanks Karen. Glad the story gave you some inspiration. Always need to just get started. Once the ball is rolling it becomes easier.

  2. Henna on July 11, 2016 at 9:49 AM

    Kelly, lovely article !!!! And you are so lucky to have a mom like her !! I would like to be like her one day…. some day. I have already curtailed my purchases. I feel today’sindulgence is tomorrow’s clutter. I buy things that I absolutely need.

    Wishing you a happy and safe transition to London 🙂

    • Kelly on July 12, 2016 at 11:14 AM

      You sound like you already have the right mindset Henna and that’s always the best place to start! Thanks for your well wishes

  3. Candy on July 11, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    Wow! what an inspiration! Thanks for sharing. I’ll be saving this article.

    • Kelly on July 12, 2016 at 11:16 AM

      We’re so happy it’s inspired you Candy! 🙂

  4. Carrie on July 11, 2016 at 3:01 PM

    What an inspiring life your mother leads! Not only in her minimalistic approach to stuff but also in her willingness to always be giving back. What a RICH life she’s living and definitely a wonderful example on so many levels. Lucky you, Kelly! Happy birthday, MoM (Mom on a Mission!) XO

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:17 AM

      Thank you for the birthday greeting. Love the MoM as I indeed am always on a mission of some sort.

  5. Dale on July 11, 2016 at 5:16 PM

    Hey Kelly! Im here in your homeland getting solar-charged. I just fantasize about dong what your Mom did and stating in Cali. Theres a whole world out there waiting for us! Tell her she has major cojones to be able to just do it! She is such an inspiration to live in the moment!!
    On the more practical side of downsizing, in Madrid I have not found it that easy to donate used stuff. I do take bags of clothes to be recycled but where can you bring used toys with parts missing? Are there really places to bring used kitchen stuff and furniture? Where? Is there a list of addresses you know of? Do any of them pick up big stuff? What about trading or selling stuff? Theres no yard sale or even consignment culture that I know of for the expensive stuff. That money could help a lot of people. We have been collecting used childrens books and redistributing them in exchange for a donation to my ONG which helps kids with hearing disabilities. If anyone has good children’s books we want them!!
    Thanks for this wonderful article! What will we do without you in Madrid?!

    • Kelly on July 12, 2016 at 11:27 AM

      My mom has seen your great comment Dale and she’s here saying thanks (and I’ve explained that cajones is Spanish for balls!)

      I’m happy to guide you towards some great resources for donating your unwanted things to good causes in Madrid.

      Fiet Gratia helps support women who are trafficked into prostitution in Spain. Not only will they accept items for the women’s shelter but they have a charity shop if you have a lot of stuff they’ll come to collect it, or there’s a drop off address in LaFinca I can direct you to.

      The Brirish Ladies Association of Madrid have a charity shop (more like a warehouse!) in Europolis and sales of your donations are spread across a few different charities in Madrid.

      I’m sorry I’m traveling and can’t include their websites here but a quick Google will bring them up for you.

      It’s wonderful that you have your own ONG going and are accepting children’s books. I’ll spread the word on that.

      You do so much good in the world yourself Dale. xx

  6. Lizz Mears on July 11, 2016 at 5:22 PM

    Your Mum rocks!
    She’s basically done all the things I’d love to do!
    We are moving home too this coming Saturday and I’ve really been being ruthless with getting rid of stuff! But if your mums free! Send her on over! Xoxo

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:20 AM

      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you got a handle on it already. Good luck with your move.

  7. Amy on July 11, 2016 at 5:50 PM

    When we moved into our new house eight years ago, I vowed not to let get to the point where I had to face decluttering but of course that’s exactly where I am. Oddly, my sticking point is the attic space where I’ve stored hand- me-down clothes and shoes and toys that I never did reuse (we have 8 kids so I was trying to be frugal) cause I cant ever find the right size for the current season and the correct gender (eyeroll). It feels like I gotta start there for some reason and it overwhelms me. But your mom is such an inspiration, her story got my heart beating a little faster at the possibility of taking care of this burden NOW. I wonder how fast I can get through it? 😉

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:47 AM

      Glad we gave you the inspiration needed to get started. Go for it girl!

  8. ErikaJ on July 11, 2016 at 6:07 PM

    Hi Kelly! Happy birthday to you mom! Her story is truly inspirational!

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:21 AM

      Hi Erika. It was a great birthday here in Pamplona with Kelly. Glad you liked the story.

  9. Paola on July 11, 2016 at 7:34 PM

    Hi Kelly, my mother is the complete opposite of yours! for years every time I visited her I de-cluttered her wardrobe, after a while I realised I was only wasting my precious holiday time. She did not want to be helped and in fact she keeps on accumulating stuff. Luckily I’m quite the opposite, and I’m glad because I’m about to move. I’m following a bit your example, I try to sell what I can and give the rest to friends or charity, so it feels right. I put the money I get from the sale in an envelop and only count them when the sale is over, in this way I appreciate more the result and I invest the money directly into a project. Happy birthday to your mum

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:25 AM

      Hi Paola, It’s hard when you can’t get someone on board. I had to work for years with an old friend of mine in California to clear out his house to get it ready to sell, but one day he was finally ready. Of course by then it was such a big job but we got it all done in one week and sold his big house and today he is happily living in a small apartment. He says he wished he had done it sooner. Thanks for the birthday wish.

  10. Fabiane on July 12, 2016 at 12:16 AM

    Hi Kelly, thanks for sharing your Mum’s story it’s such an inspiration. I love everything you share with us. It feels so good to read beautiful stories from wonderful people like you and your Mum. Lots of love xxx

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:28 AM

      Hi Fabiane – glad you liked the story and heard you are now a mom yourself. I find so much of what Kelly writes inspirational.

  11. Helen Joy Butler on July 12, 2016 at 12:46 AM

    Well you know I love this Kelly! What an inspirational and amazing Mum. I’ve worked with many clients including retirees who simply can’t get rid of their stuff. We put such attachment onto our things but your Mum shows that it’s not the things that matter, but the experiences and love we share in this lifetime. I love that your Mum has devoted the past ten years to giving, helping and supporting those in need. I know I can easily say that I wish I had a Mum like yours. I hope you have a wonderful time running with the bulls!!

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:40 AM

      Helen, Through Kelly’s website I have read some of your articles and know that you are a true clear the clutter expert. So I am honored you found my story inspirational. I do indeed believe that experiences are worth more than stuff. My biggest focus lately has been on the Christmas celebration of gifts, wrappings, decorations, etc. Families would be so much better off to use all that money to just take a nice trip together as those memories will last a lifetime, whereas all the “stuff” is so short lived.

      I’ve had a great time here in Pamplona with Kelly. Spectacular event.

  12. Jamee on July 12, 2016 at 5:05 AM

    I am sending this to my mother my neighbor and my boss ❤️I have always been so enchanted with Ginger loveher to pieces and proud to call her my friend but really she’s that old now? No way ! Xo

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 12, 2016 at 11:13 AM

      Hi Jamee, What kind words to hear from you. Kelly and I are enjoying our time together. See you next time! xx Ginger

  13. Louisa on July 12, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    Just WOW. I bet your mum gained a ton of clarity and incredible freedom (that most of us can only dream of) from doing this. Inspirational story. Thanks for sharing. Have fun on the road! PS – What do I do with my ridiculously huge diary collection, going back to my teenage years?! Tempted to burn them, but eek!

    • Kelly on July 12, 2016 at 11:43 AM

      As a fellow teen diary collector I hear your struggle with this. Our diaries were such an important outlet during those years of angst and incredible highs and lows. What I find now as my kids are teenagers themselves is that my old diaries serve as a unique parenting tool.

      I can pick up my diary from age 16 and zap myself back to that 16 year old mentality where the small stuff felt GIGANTIC and my mother NEVER understood me. It helps to remember what it feels like to be that age and to parent with this added perspective.

      If I had girls instead of boys it would be even more valuable and I’m sure we could even sit together and read some of the pages so they could realise I was once their age and i know how they feel.

      So don’t be too quick to burn those diaries. I wouldn’t consider them clutter. You can revisit the value in keeping them once you’re kids are grown up. Who knows – maybe you’ll be famous one day and they’ll be worth a fortune! 😉

      • Louisa on July 12, 2016 at 12:04 PM

        You’re right, Kelly. I’ll resist the urge to burn them- for now! They are an incredibly insightful tool for shedding light on the teenage years. But they’re kinda cringe-worthy too! Anyway, enjoy Pamplona – that balcony looks like a fab place to watch the bulls from. Wouldn’t want to get much closer than that!! PS – Your mom’s story has inspired me into visualising some cool things to do once my boys are “all growed up”! Looong time away, but you know how I like to daydream! X

  14. Miisa Mink on July 12, 2016 at 4:00 PM

    I love your mom! So cool! Thank you for sharing this story Kelly xxx

    • Ginger (Kelly's Mom) on July 14, 2016 at 2:15 PM

      Thanks for the “cool” comment – glad you liked the story.

  15. Christina Bosmans on July 16, 2016 at 6:55 PM

    This is such a fab article, what an inspiration your mum is! I generally believe I?m fairly good at throwing things out, but I really struggle with books. Even when I know I won’t read them ever again. I also find it hard to give them away. We have books in 6! languages in our house and I don’t know a place who’d be interested in all of these languages… so they are sitting there in an ever growing bookshelve in the our cellar. x

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on July 21, 2016 at 8:56 AM

      Glad you enjoyed the post Christina. The way I look at books that are gathering dust on my bookshelves is that they could be bringing joy to someone else, who may then pass them on to someone else. Think of all of the people who could be reading those books instead of them being neglected. This is not to say that I don’t have any books on my shelves! But I had a another HUGE book sale for charity recently and it was fun to see people walking out with smiles on their faces and books tucked under their arm. Whatever was left I donated to more friends and the library and a charity shop. The charity shop had shelves with different languages.

      I think if you get creative and put your mind to it, you will come up with a great solution! Here’s a post about me shedding my books (and so much more): 🙂

  16. Gabrielle on July 16, 2016 at 11:28 PM

    OMG! How inspiring!
    Love your mum’s story!
    It gives me some ideas…
    Great way to feel younger and live a more fulfilled life once you retire.
    Thank you so much for sharing, Kelly!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on July 21, 2016 at 8:58 AM

      I’m happy her story has inspired you Gabrielle! 🙂 XX

  17. […] is a total free spirit who prefers to travel around and mingle with people much younger than her (you can read her inspiring story here) than to ‘act her age’. And what does that mean […]

  18. […] Here’s an inspirational story about my own mother who gave up all material possessions to live a life on the road doing volunteer work in exchange for room and board. It’s a very extreme example, but one we can all learn something from: Less Things = More Freedom. […]

  19. […] comforting.  You can read the full post here.   I followed this one up with another popular post: Less Things = More Freedom. This is the inspirational story of how my mother gave up all material possessions to live a life […]

  20. Julie York on January 25, 2022 at 5:29 PM

    Wow! This is so impressive, I am in awe of your Mum! I thought I had a good clear out after Xmas, but I think I have a long way to go now! I do love the feeling though afterwards, so I will hold on to that thought..

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on March 21, 2022 at 5:49 PM

      It is such a light and free feeling to let go of things that are only taking up space. Keep going Julie! xx

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