Interview with Sarah Elena: Decluttering Before Moving to Costa Rica (Questions to Ask)

As I prepare for our permanent move to Costa Rica in July of 2022, I’ve been busy decluttering on a massive scale. Already a self-proclaimed minimalist, I still had an unbelievable amount of things to sort through. While I’d already decluttered to the things I felt I needed to run a household of four and decided what items I believed brought value to our lives, this was still far too much for an international move which will first include a rather nomadic way of life. We decided our goal was to reduce our belongings down to just TWO SUITCASES per person. I’ve been decluttering/downsizing/selling/donating/trashing/packing for six months now, and I’m very glad I started early. It has been quite the process! I have been documenting this on my own YouTube channel (get ready for a big update video soon!) and I also had the honor of chatting with Sarah Elena just a couple of weeks ago!

Sarah Elena moved to Costa Rica in 2015. After navigating the challenges of relocation to a foreign country, she began building her own company to offer the support and valuable information she wished she had. Her company gives full relocation support and personalized assistance throughout the transition. She has 1:1 video calls, group calls, helps you find your first rental, set up your new phone, tour your new town, sets you up with a residency lawyer, search for a vehicle, get your pet and container of belongings to Costa Rica and checks on you after you have settled in (and so much more!). She becomes her clients’ most helpful friend while navigating the many challenges involved in resetting your life you in this new country. She also generates amazing free content on her YouTube Channel where she gives all her tips and tours and interviews experts in a variety of fields helpful to hopeful expats. Her website is lasarahelena.com. She also has a robust and active Facebook Group called “Moving To Costa Rica.”

I was delighted she wanted to chat about the process I’ve put into place for downsizing a lifetime’s worth of belongings before starting over with a clean slate in the tropics. I think this interview would be helpful to anyone wanting to tackle a serious decluttering purge–whether relocating somewhere or not. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

In the interview, I promised I’d give a list of the questions I ponder while decluttering, a quick summary, and a list of resources. Scroll below to find all of this information.

If you’re new here, be sure to follow along and stay in touch!

~Meg Nordmann

@MegNordmann on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, & Facebook. Check out my YouTube & Podcast as well!

Refresher from the interview:

First step: Get a clear vision of future lifestyle

Second step: Clarify the AMOUNT of stuff you are willing to move / Remember “container theory”

Third step: Began working backwards to declutter.

Decluttering the Excess:

-Trash

-Sell 

-Donate

Where to Start (in your home):

  • Non-sentimental items first. Decluttering is a “muscle” and you need to strengthen it before you try sifting through sentimental items.
  • Clothing next. 
  • Then hobby items. 
  • Then furniture. 
  • Then sentimental.

QUESTIONS TO ASK

The famous question, coined by Marie Kondo, is “Does this ‘spark joy’?” …but this question, while sometimes helpful, is not always enough. You must dig deeper. Here’s a list of questions to get your brain analyzing WHY you are holding onto an item and whether it’s something to hold onto, let go of, or perhaps replace at a later date:

1. Is this item enhancing my life? (right now) /Does this item add value to my life?

2. Is this something I’ll want my children to see one day?

3. Do I already have five of these? Or more than 1?

4. Would it be too expensive to replace?

5. Can I consolidate?

(toss original containers, store together)

or, Do I have another item which will do the same job?

6. When I wear this, do I feel good?

(only confidence-boosting items)

7. Do I know someone who might want this more than I do? Someone who might benefit from this item more than I do?

8. Would I move this to a new home?

9. Does keeping this item make more work for me?

(get rid of the clutter and the chore) (i.e. dry cleaners, maintenance)

10. Do I have the time/energy/resources available to maintain this item?

11. Could I make some money selling this?

12. Have I used this item in the past year?

12. Will I use it in the year ahead? (NOT “might” use it.)

14. If I was shopping right now, would I buy this again at full price?

15. If it is broken, is it worth fixing?

16. Do I use this item often?

17. Do I have something that works better?

18. Do I REALLY need this? (Is it ESSENTIAL).

19. Is this necessary for my CURRENT lifestyle or my FANTASY lifestyle? ** (an interesting one when making this big move. Because perhaps the answer is different when you plan to make the fantasy real….). /Does this properly represent who I am or who I want to be?/ Is this something I would like to bring into my future?

20. Do I love LOOKING at this item? (determine if you enjoy the item)

21. Am I holding onto this out of guilt? (feelings of wastefullness or sentimental guilt)

22. Am I saving this “Just in case?”

23. Am I holding onto this out of fear? Is a “poverty mindset” or a “lack mindset” subconsciously making me hold onto this?

24. Am I holding onto this because of sunk-cost bias? (Like, I spent $100 on this item, then another $100 renovating it and then another $100 maintaining it…getting rid of it would be a waste of $300!)

25. Are these items keeping me from using this space in the way I want to? (even when moving, you can ask this. For example, perhaps you want to take a jewelry box with you, but it’s overly stuffed.)

26. Is this item a need or a want?

27. Can I live comfortably without this item?

28. Am I just being sentimental? Will this sentimental item fit into my designated sentimental box?

29. Am I just trying to fill up blank space?

30. Would I be devastated if I lost this item?

31. Is this item something I could easily borrow from a neighbor or friend?

32. Can this item be replaced inexpensively again, should I ever happen to need it?  

33. Am I holding onto this because I’m afraid I will lose memories? (Remember that memories are NOT in our things; our memories are inside us.)

34. When planning this move, I ask myself constantly: Is this worth paying for twice? (And what I mean by that is: Is this couch SO special to me, that it’s worth the $1,500 I paid for it initially/already…and then also the hundreds or thousands of dollars it will take to ship it there? If you can sell now and replace later, that equals out to the same as only purchasing once.)

RESOURCES

TIP: Listen to audiobooks or podcasts on minimalism/decluttering WHILE you are decluttering. It’s like having a decluttering coach in your ear while you are sifting through your belongings. 

If you have a library card, you have access to FREE audiobooks. Ask your library which app (Hoopla, Libby, OverDrive, etc).

Dana K White “Decluttering at the Speed of Light” (also great for “Creatives”)

Fumio Sasaki “Goodbye, Things”

The Minimalists podcast (also on YouTube), 2 Netflix documentaries, & their newest book “Love People, Not Things” 

Allie Cassaza podcast (great for decluttering toys) 

Joshua Becker (all of his books) 

Simple Families podcast (Denaye Barahona, p.h.D) 

The Minimal Mom on YouTube

Marissa, A to Zen Life on YouTube

Matt D’avella on YouTube

And, of course, you can check out my book “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” in print or audio (free via library apps!) or browse my blogs on megnordmann.com. 

Stay connected & let’s chat on social! 

@MegNordmann on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, & Facebook. I’m most active on Insta.

I have a podcast called “Journey to Freedom” where I discuss both minimalism and financial independence. I’ve been very interested in interviewing people who have moved to a different country. I think you’ll find some interviews of interest there.

I’ve recently started my own YouTube channel as well: https://www.youtube.com/c/MegNordmann_JourneyToFreedom

I have already loaded some videos of my decluttering process as we plan for this move and have a few more slated to upload soon. Once we are in Costa Rica, I will be documenting our search for a lot to begin permaculture homesteading off-grid on the Osa Peninsula. Please stay in touch! 🙂

I hope to run into you in Costa Rica very soon!

Pura Vida!