People have a lot of questions when they learn about our trip. We’ll answer the most frequently asked and strangest ones here. One of the first and most common things we’re asked is: What did you do with all of your stuff? The answer is as complicated as our downsizing process was long (and painful).
The first step is that we stopped buying things. Long before we started preparing for the trip in earnest, we became much more conscious about the things we were bringing into the house. Our friend Ben once was explaining how he trained himself to stop eating candy bars. His approach was to mentally associate candy bars with gross thoughts, until even the thought of eating a Snickers disgusted him. This has stuck with me, and I do the same kind of thing whenever I feel the urge to shop. A cute shirt will still catch my eye, and I still buy things here and there, but I resist the automatic buy impulse. You need to think hard not only about the value of the item, but of the value of the space you’ll be putting it in, along with the number of things already in that space.
To deal with the stuff already on hand, we created five categories:
1. Bring (5%). This was a challenge, because we weren’t exactly sure what we’d need (and we still aren’t). We are still shedding possessions — last week we took advantage of being in Chicago to pack up another box for the storage unit. We have the staples, and if we need any accessories (like a snow brush) we can pick them up on the way.
2. Store (30%). We rented an 8′x8′x8′ storage unit in Chicago and packed it full with the majority of our clothes, books, kitchen items, and small pieces of furniture. We wanted to keep anything that was useful (i.e. that we’d have to buy again on day one in a new place) or not replaceable, like furniture from Paul’s grandpa. We didn’t have a car at the time, so we rented a minivan or a Honda Element from I-GO for something like four weekends in a row. I lost count of the number of times we drove between our place and the storage unit.
3. Sell (10%). All of our large pieces of furniture were things we’d bought from IKEA eight years earlier, so they were already close to the end of their functional life cycle. We managed to sell a few nicer things, like our desk, table, couch, and a bike, but most of our stuff ended up in the fourth category…
4. Donate (50%). Our donate category was divided into two subcategories: things we could easily take to Salvation Army, and things that we needed people to pick up from our place. The Salvation Army got lots of clothes and miscellaneous household items that we didn’t regularly use. We combined our Salvation Army runs with our storage unit trips to make best use of the car share time. And then there’s free, via craigslist and freecycle. People will take anything for free. Some of the things we tried to sell ended up taking a short trip to the alley, where they never lingered long. Some things we gave away to people who came to buy other items — the coffee table with the couch, the bed frame and dresser with the mattress (which was also free — we were getting desperate). We managed to get rid of all kinds of things in this way — even during our remodeling days, people came over to pick up our demo byproducts, including windows, tiles, cabinets, countertops, and sinks, which allowed us to save hundreds on disposal fees and diverted a lot of waste from the landfill.
We also gave things to friends, but we tried not to be obnoxious about it by only giving them things they really wanted. Two friends split up our plants, one took the wine fridge, our cousins took the beer making equipment and porch furniture, our brother borrowed the Wii, and so on. It’s nice to picture these things with our friends and family, whom we miss! It’s like leaving a piece of yourself with them.
5. Trash (5%). This was the last, and least desirable, option. Still, there are things that you can’t keep and that no one wants. We ended up throwing more away than we wanted to. On move out day zero, you’ve got to make some tough choices.
Sorting our possessions into these five categories was really difficult and time consuming. When you’re moving everything from one place to another, you throw it all in a box, move it, then unpack it all into a similar room in the new place. When you’re breaking things into five separate piles, you’ve got to consider and classify every single item that you own. Things are loaded with memories and meaning, but do you really need the thing to keep the memory? If you don’t use or particularly like the incense burning Santa your grandma gave you three days before she died, take a few pics of it and donate it to the thrift store, where someone who really loves it can bring it home to scent their nights.
It’s interesting to picture the distribution of things that were once contained in our condo. It’s like a delta of possessions that spreads out behind us as we make our way upriver, going against the current.