Downsizing was one of the most daunting parts of our trip preparation. The actual logistics of getting rid of most of our belongings were pretty overwhelming. All our possessions had to be sorted out, and then when it came time to actually sell/ give away/ donate there was also an emotional burden that we didn’t really anticipate.
Essentially, selling everything you own is hard work on many levels. If you are considering a transition like ours do not underestimate the time, effort, and emotional work you will need to do to unload most of your possessions. Here's how we downsized to prepare for travel!
The first big item that I needed to get sorted out was my car. It was fully paid off and was a newer model with very few miles on it, so if I tried to store it somewhere it would just depreciate in value while I paid to keep it parked.
The obvious choice was to sell it. But where? To who? I offered it to friends at a discounted price, but unfortunately had no takers. I listed it on Craigslist, and had a couple inquiries, but what I found was that a newer car with less miles falls into a tricky category of used car where most people don’t want to risk purchasing it private party since it is still quite expensive.
After leaving the car listed for a while I decided it was worth having it appraised at a dealership.
I took it to a local dealership that specialized in my car’s brand. Turns out they were looking for my year and model because it was a sweet spot for buyers looking for lightly used cars.
After looking my car over carefully, giving it a test drive, and reading up on it’s history they made me a good offer. I told them I would need to think about it for a day or two, and they raised the offer significantly. I ended up selling the car that day for just a little less than I would have gotten from a private party. I was able to avoid the hassle of showing the car, and handling DMV paperwork. Also, I walked away that morning with a check- it was almost too easy!
If your car is 3-4 years old with low mileage I would highly recommend getting an offer from a local dealership. The worst that can happen is they offer you less than you’re willing to take and you keep the car listed. But you could have an experience like mine and save yourself a huge headache by going this route! This was the first big step in selling everything so it felt great to have it done!
Between the two of us Tom and I owned a LOT of books, we are big readers, and we both love to collect our favorite books. However, books are heavy and bulky to store, and we both have Kindles so we couldn’t justify hanging onto hundred of books.
The first place to take your book collection is a local used bookstore. A buyer at the store will look through your collection, pull out any books they want to purchase from you, and offer you a price for the books they would like to buy. There will often be a higher “store credit” price and a cash price. “Store credit” means you get a credit to purchase books in the store, and cash is….well, cash. We, of course, were only interested in the cash because we are trying to get rid of books not buy more!
We managed to sell a huge portion of our books this way, the rest either were sold in our garage sales, or were donated to local tiny libraries and friends.
For the most part, clothing has very little resale value unless you have a lot of name brand/designer items, which we don’t. We sold some of our clothes in garage sales, a few name brand items on ebay, but most of our clothes were donated to local charities.
I prefer to donate clothing to churches and charities who will then give the clothing out no-charge to people in need, so that is where most of our clothing went.
Going through our clothing was quite an eye-opening exercise. At least half my closet was full of clothes I had not worn in years! It felt great to unload so much excess, and I found purging my clothes to be my favorite part of the downsizing process.
First we offered furniture to friends and family. We had quite a few takers, and giving furniture to friends and family meant that we could hang onto it until the last minute so we weren’t living in an empty home for weeks before our departure.
The remaining furniture we sold on Craigslist or donated. Craigslist is an excellent option for big items like furniture because it is a local listing service, whereas Ebay usually requires items to be shipped to a buyer.
We tapped into our social networks to see who wanted our more specialized items. Homebrewers for Tom’s mead-making supplies, dog-lovers for Indy’s extra toys and beds, and the Burning Man community for our extra burner gear. Many of these items we gave away at no charge to people who we knew would get a lot of use out of them.
Had we wanted to invest more time and energy we probably could have made at least some money off of the vast majority of our belongings. As it stands, we probably made money from about 50% of our possessions, and the rest were given as gifts or donations. It’s up to you how much you want to sell versus give-away, but keep in mind that selling items takes much more time, so start very early if you want to sell more than you give away.
Handling the Emotions of Downsizing
We were really surprised by the emotional toll of re-homing our belongings. Both Tom and I were excited to downsize, to free ourselves of the stuff that was tying us down, so it came as a pretty big surprise that there was a sense of panic and loss when we began the process.
I think the emotional side of downsizing is a direct result of cultural pressure. Culturally, our sense of accomplishment and identity is very tied up in material possessions. Even those of us who try hard not to attach much value to stuff cannot help but get caught up in the stuff=success mindset. This became abundantly obvious to Tom and I as we downsized. The feeling of freedom and lightness that unloading things afforded us was matched by a feeling of panic and uneasiness.
In my experience it takes about a month to adjust to major lifestyle changes, so I expect it will take that long before our minimal possessions feel like a normal way of life. Until then we keep reminding ourselves to roll with the punches, since pretty much everything feels new and unusual these days!