How a Devastating House Fire Set Me Free

What might've been a massive loss for blogger Vivienne Palmer turned into an inspiring opportunity to let go of baggage—both literally and figuratively.

Vivienne Palmer
Courtesy Matt Siegel

On November 20, 2003, a fire burned Vivienne Palmer’s house to the ground and turned her possessions to ash. At the time, she was devastated—but later, a surprising state of euphoria set in.

“After getting over the shock, I would remember a certain thing and think, It’s gone, and let go of it. It felt amazingly freeing,” Palmer says.

Now, ten years later, she looks around her cluttered house and wants to reclaim that freedom. Her plan: Project 3650, a commitment to let go of at least ten things every day for a year (culminating in a total of 3,650 donated or sold items).

A friend warned her: Don’t set yourself up for failure; that’s a lot of stuff.

But Palmer is reveling in the challenge. Everything is fair game—from the practical (the drawerful of plastic forks and knives she’s accumulated from take-out orders) to the emotional (the rabbit costumes she made for her young sons for Halloween one year). “You just get on a roll,”she says.

On February 7, it’s a Davy Crockett “un-coonskin” cap for kids. Bags of plastic bags. Four random cloth napkins, six bandannas, two tablecloths. Not one but two “nightmare-inducing” cymbal-clapping toy monkeys. And a toy dog, made of real animal fur. OK, the husband wants to keep that one. He thinks it’s cool. Palmer thinks it’s disgusting. It’s tabled, in purging purgatory—for now.

To keep herself accountable, Palmer posts images of her tossables on her Process of Elimination blog, where she gives away many things free. And it feels good.

“I honestly get a little rush from getting rid of stuff,” she says. “And that has replaced my desire for a shopper’s high.”

Beyond peace of mind and room to breathe, there’s another motivator: By selling some items online, Palmer hopes to raise enough money to fund a family vacation to Southeast Asia.

“Everything is swirling around: There’s the writing, the trip, me wanting to get rid of stuff, me wanting to make money, me wanting to create a new good habit,” Palmer says. “It’s a huge process, but it’s energizing. And I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more.”

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Aimee Heckel
Aimee Heckel is an award-winning Colorado-based journalist whose work has appeared in Reader's Digest,, TripSavvy, USA Today, Fodor's, and the Huffington Post, among other publications. She has traveled the world covering in-depth features—from humanitarian issues in Africa and Haiti to arts and culture in China, Peru, and Aruba. Travel is her jam.