As I walked toward the train station to meet my wife on her way home from work I enjoyed the unseasonably warm March day until a depressing thought hit me: we probably needed to spend the evening doing yard work. Then I remembered—I no longer had a house—I no longer had a yard requiring my care. It was someone else’s responsibility. We had recently moved into an apartment—an important step toward downsizing and living a “Houseless, not Homeless,” lifestyle.
During our three plus decades of marriage and travels we had accumulated lots of…stuff. One thing we realized is that we didn’t so much own this stuff as it owned us. If we wanted to spend time accumulating experiences, we had to free ourselves by shedding belongings.
Here’s how we approached our downsizing. I think you’ll find it useful whether you want to downsize to an RV, a smaller dwelling, or just want more space in your current home.
Digitize Documents. Laurie had over a dozen cookbooks and hundreds of loose recipes. We had scrapbooks and other loose paper mementos. We selected the items we wanted to keep and scanned them. Then we loaded them into Box, a cloud storage software. Box is like Dropbox, but I find it easier to use with better security. Now it takes up no physical space and finding each item is easier.
- Digitize Music. I ripped 300+ CDs to my computer and then subscribed to iTunes Match. For $25 a year my music is now available for download to any of my devices. Well, as long as we have Wi-Fi.
- Change Your Attitude. I was looking at an interesting knick-knack in a resort store with a friend. He said it looked cool but it was really “SAS” or Sit Around…Stuff. Things you buy are things that you eventually must dispose of. Marie Kondo wrote a New York Times bestseller on decluttering. She advocates evaluating items to see if they “spark joy.” If they truly do, keep them. If not, dispose of them. Or even better—don’t buy them in the first place.
- Do it in Phases. Laurie and I love the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. One of the methods they talk about for making better decisions is “ooching” which is making major decisions in phases to make sure they work out. We did our major downsizing in two phases. First we downsized from a four bedroom, three bath house. We sold belongings using Craig’s List and Offer Up. We gave stuff to friends, our church rummage sale, and the local Goodwill. We were practically on an exchanging-Christmas-cards-basis with the guys at Goodwill. Then we moved into a two-bedroom apartment—with no yard or associated yard work.
- After two years of living in an apartment we moved almost everything into a 7’ x 7’ storage unit. One measure we used for deciding what to keep and what to store was to determine the cost per cubic foot of storage for three years. In our situation, it was roughly $10 per cubic foot. If an item was easily replaceable and cost less than that per cubic foot, we got rid of it. We didn’t want to pay more to store an item than it was worth. We also made a big mistake. We rented a space at Public Storage on Sprague Avenue in Tacoma. Several weeks before we returned home it was burglarized. It was at least two days before the break-in was discovered and another before the broken hasp on our unit was replaced. The District Manager was less than responsive to our follow up requests and questions.
When we rented a new storage unit we asked about break-in history and found one that had individually alarmed spaces. Good insurance is no replacement for preventing a burglary in the first place.
Downsizing to the extent we did lends itself to a lifestyle where we can spend most of our time traveling both in the US and abroad. We can often stay in Airbnb spots or other furnished rentals for less than the cost of an apartment. We’ve learned that we’d prefer to accumulate experiences and friendships, rather than stuff.
Note: If you’re interested in trying Airbnb for the first time click here for a $40 credit.
Do you have downsizing questions or suggestions? Please post them in the comments section.