We lived in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, with a large front and backyard. We worked hard to find just the right pieces to fill it with. Sarah and I are both designers, so shopping at Rooms to Go was not an option and neither was filling every room with IKEA furnishings. We had many one-of-a-kind pieces we found in the back of antique stores, thrift stores, garage sales, and craigslist. We had mid-century pieces we salvaged from heavy trash and refinished to look like new. We had a huge redwood Rainbow brand fort and swing set in the backyard. We had a two-car garage that we never parked in because it was full of storage and projects; we also had the tools and the space to do those projects (the time to do those projects was another thing, though).
Several garage sales and almost 100 craigslist posts later we had a 15’ truck, packed to the gils with our most valued possessions, and we were ready to move to phase 2 of our plan – downsize into a smaller place.
We went from said 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, to a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment at 700 sq ft. Talk about transition. When we unloaded the truck, it filled the living room of the tiny apartment. Thanks to Sarah’s jedi-like tetris skills, and even more downsizing, we made it work. August slept in a teepee in the master bedroom.
A year and a half later, we moved into an even smaller apartment at 600 sq ft, in an area we’d always been curious to live for awhile- Galveston (an island by the sea, about an hour away from Houston). Our final move would split our stuff between a 5×5 storage unit and the RV.
When space is limited you really question everything you bring into it. This process broke down our attachments to “stuff” and strengthened our “get rid of it” muscles. It wasn’t easy, but I can confidently say, it feels good to let go of things.
Early on we took pictures of each room and then in Skitch, on the iPad, we wrote in sell, store, give, donate or keep for all the big things. Anything we priced at $50 or more, that we hadn’t planned on giving to friends or family, we put on craigslist. Anything less, we donated or put in the garage for garage sale days.
*note that not all the stuff labeled keep traveled with us. Most of it got stored.
Your stuff really falls into a few categories:
- KEEP – Stuff you need on a daily basis – if you’re going to be full-timing, you’re going to need this stuff, so keep it.
- STORE – Stuff you don’t need but could never replace – your wedding dress, that first guitar, those one of a kind antique books (all things we kept btw). This stuff can’t travel with you, you don’t access it on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis in some cases. We stored this stuff in the smallest climate controlled, upstairs, storage unit we could find in Austin, TX.
- SELL – Stuff you don’t need and can sell – Sell that stuff. Get as much money as you can for it and put it toward your dream. Give yourself time to do this so you don’t get desperate and start selling stuff too cheap.
- DONATE – Stuff you don’t need and can’t sell – if it’s usable, donate it. There’s someone out there that can put that stuff to use. You can drop it off at a Goodwill and get a tax receipt so you write that stuff off and lower your tax liability. If it’s big or not worth it to drive it to the donation center contact Purple Heart or post it on Freecycle or Craigslist as FREE with the condition that people come to you to pick it up. If you have the time, you can also photograph groups of things and send them to friends and family/post to Facebook to give loved ones first dibs.
- GIVE – Stuff you want to give to friends and family – This is our favorite category. We were able to give a lot of great stuff to people we love. You get to be super generous and your stuff goes to a good home.
The Truth About Downsizing
You will never be “done”.
I think it’s impossible, psychologically speaking, to process everything at one time. We’re still finding stuff in our rig that we were sure we needed but now realize we should have stored it, sold it or gave it away. We load up a grocery bag full of donations almost every month. Living this way forces the habit of intentionality. We’re constantly asking “Why do we need this?”, “Where does this fit?” and ever more frequent “Where did this come from?” 🙂