We Downsized Two-Thirds of Our Stuff

What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Blogging-Part 2—

My plan to stop squandering opportunities—to travel, write, and experience more—hinges on decreasing our monthly expenses. When Ron and I move to Atlanta, we will downsize from a four-bedroom house and a two-bedroom condo—to just a two bedroom condo.

This means that two-thirds of our belongings had to go!

The easy way out would have been a trip to the dump. (Actually many, many trips to the dump.) I admit to a few dump trips, but whenever possible I’ve tried to find new homes for my belongings. Places where they will be appreciated—or at least kept out of the landfill for a few more years.

I am happy to say that almost everything that was still usable has found a happy, new home! This is what we did:

Reach out to the community. I couldn’t have succeeded without our Peaks Island community email list. (Thank you Chris and Carol). I repeatedly leveraged the list to let my neighbors know what I was selling or giving away. This led to new homes for rugs, couches, desks, dressers, our dining room set, housewares and Christmas ornaments.

Get real about the value of things. Getting the most money possible for things would have taken extra time and effort. I decided that my time was too valuable to waste giving showings of used furniture. Instead, charged only for the most valuable items—then gave the rest away free. And I made sure that the prices I set for the items we did sell qualified as an “Offer you can’t refuse.”

Give away as you go. Rather than piling up the non-keepers for one big yard sale, I sold them off or gave them away every time the pile got large. Otherwise, there would have been no place to store them all. Plus, the continual progress made me feel like I was really making headway.

Leverage the power of “free.” I had things I wanted to do far more than I wanted to spend every Saturday engaged in a yard sale. (Yard sales are fine for people who enjoy haggling, but for me, spending twenty minutes arguing about whether a 20-year old pillow is worth $3.00 or $4.00 just isn’t worth it.)

So instead of selling my stuff, I left most of it in the front yard beside a sign that said: “Free stuff. Donations to Peaks Island Tax and Energy Assistance appreciated.” I repeated this half a dozen times. My front yard became a gathering place. I watched people come and go, often the same people over and over again. I grinned as neighbors departed with our artificial Christmas tree, framed watercolors I painted two decades ago, and the world’s largest assortment of plastic bathroom caddies.

Eliminate in rounds. Trying to cut directly to the keepers made my head spin. So I took an approach more akin to what they do on American Idol. I eliminated in rounds. With my cookbooks, I started by donating the half that I never use—and never plan to use—to the Peaks Island Library Book Sale in July.

That seemed like enough downsizing at the time, but just like the second round of Idol tryouts, I realized that some of my initial picks really weren’t going to pan out.  Over time, I pulled out a few more. How dare you even suggest that I make a dish that requires this much chopping and prep work, I thought as I gleefully tossed Charlie Trotter into the giveaway pile.

A week before the movers arrived I packed the remaining books into five boxes. Still way too many considering that I really only use a dozen of them and I get most of my recipes off of the internet. The following morning, I unpacked my cookbooks for another elimination round. This time my criteria was more harsh. My favorites that I use frequently, like Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, Cold Weather Cooking and Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone stayed. The ones I wanted use, but probably never would use, got voted out. Really, are you ever going to buy a slow cooker or bake your own bread? I asked. And if I do, I can always purchase the book again.

Final tally: four bookshelves culled down to one.

Adopt aggressive sales tactics. No one who visited my home left my home empty handed. Whenever someone came over, I showed them stuff until they agreed to take something. “OK, the couch is too big for your house. Do you need a microwave? Or how about a painting of a crazy rooster?” I said. When my cousin came to tea, I gifted her a cobalt blue Emil Henry soup tureen.

Be merciless in deciding what stays and what goes. When it comes to downsizing, sentimentality is the enemy. I’m not saying there isn’t room for emotional picks. But you do need to exercise moderation. We haven’t put up a Christmas tree in a decade (we do Christmas at Nana’s house) so I gave away all but the three ornaments I like best. I also got rid of all of the gymnastics medals I won in middle high school. I did keep the ‘70s hippie beads I bought at a small shop while my mom got her hair cut next door at Cosmo’s Facory for Hair. I can’t explain it, but those are my priorities.

Now all of the extra stuff is gone, the possessions that made the cut to come to Georgia with us are in storage, and Ron and I are living in a rental while Ron closes up the ice cream shop for the season. Whew!!!!

What surprised me was that before I started giving stuff away, I’d assumed that the process would feel sad. And while it did make me a tiny bit sad at first, the deeper I went in getting rid of stuff, the better I felt. In the end, it felt really good. Almost as though I’d been lugging all of those items in my arms all these years and now I was finally free of their weight. Every time a large item like a table or chair left our house, I skipped around the living room and hooted.

Another thing that feels good is knowing that my belongings are now scattered like breadcrumbs around the island and with off-island friends. The other night I found an oversized mug I’d given up in my friend Cynde’s cabinet. Her daughter had grabbed it from among the free stuff , taken it home and adopted it. Standing in Cynde’s kitchen, holding the mug made me smile. I am leaving, but a small piece of me, my mug, is staying behind.

I am proud that my painting of the New Orleans French Market hangs in Robin’s living room. Pleased that Roxanne’s grad-kids eat dinner around my old table. Thrilled that my coffee table presides in the living room of Jean’s father’s house. It all feels very symbolic. Like I’m leaving on one level, staying forever on another.

(Ok, maybe I’m just a little bit more sentimental than I let on.)

The thing I wonder is why did I ever want all that stuff in the first place? And how do I stop myself from accumulating more stuff in the future?

Your suggestions are appreciated…

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