“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Why We Collect Stuff
Your stuff lives in your garage, your attic, and your cupboards. It’s likely that you have stuff in a storage unit too, as most of us do. Our stuff is everywhere, but the reality is that you don’t need the vast majority of it.
Stuff collects in much the same way everything collects. Over time we get more things than we give, sell, or throw away. The formula is something like: stuff you buy/receive/inherit minus stuff you give/sell/toss equals the stuff you currently have. When you extrapolate this over a period of time you end up with a lot of stuff!
Some of this stuff is useful and even necessary, especially if you’re living a standard American lifestyle. Of course it’s the stuff that isn’t necessary that takes up most of the space. This stuff usually falls into 3 categories: Sentimental stuff, projects (usually incomplete), and hobbies or activities (many of which you no longer participate in).
Stop Clutter Before it Starts
Hobbies and Activities can take up tons of space! I’ve been involved in Backpacking, Camping, Mountain Biking, Tennis, Paintball/Airsoft, Photography, and Snorkeling and one thing I’ve learned is that every hobby and activity has a literal truckload of gear that goes with it.
Like most people my interests changed over time. Unlike most people when my interests changed I identified it relatively quickly and sold the old gear to help pay for the new. I recommend you do the same – your garage (and wallet) will thank you![/box]
Public storage has another solution for you, but of course it’s in their best interest for you to have as much stuff as possible:
How Kathy and I Dealt with our Stuff
Hitting the road and leaving your stuff behind sounds great until you get into the nitty gritty details of what that really means and the amount of work it involves.
As difficult as it is to pack everything up when you move, at least you know where everything is going. When you decide to get rid of your stuff you have to figure out where it’s all going to go and how it’s going to get there!
In the beginning I proposed simply selling everything – and I mean everything. I’m about the least sentimental person on the planet and I don’t attach feeling toward inanimate objects
Kathy completely hated that idea. Kathy is a bit of an interior designer, and when we had our house everything was designed to go together and look perfect. Most of our furniture was relatively expensive – from Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Department Stores and so on, and not only had she spent lots of our money on furniture and accessories, but she’d spent lots of time finding all the right stuff in the first place.
We struggled with this for a bit, and finally reached a compromise. We’d put most of our stuff in long-term storage to see if we really wanted to travel long term. That way if we decided we hated traveling we’d have a complete house worth of stuff and could easily pickup where we left off, but if we loved traveling we’d come back and get our stuff out of storage and sell it.
This plan has some drawbacks. First of all, it costs to store things. It also costs to hire movers, buy boxes, and packing is exhausting. I hated the process as I figured we’d be back in a year or two to sell everything anyway, but Kathy was right when she said that we might hate traveling, and even though our stuff wasn’t worth anywhere close to what we paid for it, it was still far cheaper and better to keep it all in storage for a year than to replace everything if our travel plans fell through.
Back in California
Fast forward 14 months to the day that we left and we found ourselves back in California moving into an apartment.
Just to be clear, We temporarily moved into an apartment for 3 reasons:
- Kathy was offered a temporary assignment that paid too well to pass up.
- Our online business was suffering due to the way we were traveling.
- So we could sell our stuff.
We almost didn’t rent an apartment, and had discussed staying at an extended stay and selling our stuff out of a storage unit. In retrospect that would not have worked well at all, but I’ll get to that shortly.
A few days after we moved in, our stuff arrived by truck (long-term storage is in vaults that are stacked in a warehouse) and the fun began. Even though we’d downsized and donated a ton of our stuff before we left, we still had tons more – and it was up to me to get rid of all of it for good – although first we were going to use a lot of it one last time.
I put all the useful stuff (bed, bureau, TV, couch) in the apartment, and everything else in the garage (we made sure to get a unit with a garage!). The first day I made several trips to Goodwill and this would be a recurring event.
We then began dividing our stuff into piles. We had piles of things that Kathy wanted to give to specific people. I recommend against doing this for the most part. Other people already have more stuff than they need – especially in California where space is at a premium. And while it’s nice to think they’ll want your stuff too, the reality is that they (generally) only care about the valuable stuff – not the sentimental stuff.
We also had a Goodwill pile. It was amazing how much stuff we gave to Goodwill. Most of it was in great shape, and it made me happy to think that we were helping the less fortunate while decluttering our lives.
Finally, we had a sales pile. This included most of the furniture, the electronics, and anything else that I knew I could sell.
You see, while we’d decided to keep traveling, we also wanted to have a better base for our travels. We planned to sell our furniture to turn it into a downpayment for an RV. More on that in a future post. 🙂
Selling our Stuff
While donating and giving stuff away is relatively easy, selling stuff isn’t. In fact, it’s a demotivating, horrible, pain in the ass!
Here’s the simple, 3-part sales strategy that I used:
- eBay – If it’s worth something and can be shipped, sell it on eBay. I used to sell collectibles on eBay, so have good feedback which makes this easier. I recommend eBay over Amazon or Craigslist simply because it’s still a huge marketplace, and because you’ll get the most money with the least amount of hassle.
It’s very important that you only list things that can be easily shipped!
- Craigslist – This takes a lot of work. I sold most of our furniture on Craigslist, and people on CL are flaky! I listed most of our furniture in individual posts (I’d recommend this) as this creates a larger footprint. I’d get several emails or calls every day, however I’d estimate that less than 30% of people would actually show up to look at whatever they expressed interest in. This is the PITA part, as you spend a lot of time waiting for people to show up and are often disappointed because they don’t.
That said, you get more money for furniture and large electronics on Craigslist than you will from my 3rd option, and you’ll do much better than in a yard sale too. It’s a pain, but if you give yourself plenty of time it’s worth it!
- Consignment – This is where everything that was left over ended up. We waited until the day before we moved out of the apartment to put everything else on consignment. Originally we planned to put everything on consignment, but here’s the thing – the consignment shop takes 50% of whatever they sell your stuff for! That means you can sell it for 60% of the price and make out better than if you sell it through consignment. Keep that in mind when selling stuff on Craigslist.
In the end, I sold about 75% of our stuff myself, and put the rest on consignment. We made about 50% more money than if we’d put everything on consignment, and that’s assuming that everything would have sold in the 3 months they give you – speaking of which, everything that doesn’t sell in 3 months on consignment gets donated, so you’re really better off trying to sell stuff yourself first.
Downsizing all of your stuff is incredibly liberating! Without a bunch of stuff you don’t need somewhere to put it. This may sound obvious, but it’s also very novel as most of us spend our lives storing all of our stuff.
I have a confession, and it’s that in the end we did keep some stuff. I talked Kathy down to a 5′ x 5′ storage unit at smart storage that costs around $40/mo. It was the smallest and least expensive storage unit we could find, and it was a good solution for keepsakes and stuff that we really didn’t want to sell or give away.
We also kept stuff that would work in an RV – but again I’ll get to that in another post soon!
So that’s the story of how we dealt with our stuff. I’ll add that we had a few fights while downsizing, and it wasn’t always a smooth or easy process, but now that it’s all gone we have no regrets!