Downsizing — are you up for it?
It’s been said that among life’s most stressful events, changing your job and your living situation are two of them. I fully agree. Since my epic plan to check out of corporate America included selling our house and also leaving the city we’d called home over 15 years, you can bet hilarity did not ensue.
Yes, there was an air of excitement at the thought of change, and there was the anticipation of adventure and the unknown ahead of us. There was also the fear, panic and second-guessing when you’re lying in bed and your mind is racing when the finality of those decisions starts to weigh on you. I was fully prepared to disengage from the job, I was ok with selling the house, but I wasn’t prepared for the task of downsizing our lives. I was about to take a few lessons in humility.
This was the plan: since we weren’t yet sure where we’d actually settle down to call home, We’d get a truck and a fifth wheel travel trailer. Great plan, right? Allows us to be temporary residents somewhere without all the complications of renting a place, deposits, utilities, etc, etc, and we have the flexibility to simply move when the urge strikes or the next opportunity surfaces. This brings me to the first challenge though: the truck we found was in another city, and the trailer we wanted to buy was in a neighboring state. Plus, we had to be out of the house in less than a month and also find a place to park and live out of our new home on wheels while I finished out my last 10 days on the job. The logistics of that whole stress-circus is a story for another day because I don’t want to lose focus on the fact that the task of downsizing alone ended up being so monumental we almost didn’t make the deadline. So, here are a few things we discovered when attempting to downsize our lives from a 4 bed/2 bath house with a pool, to a 36 foot trailer (full disclosure: we did rent a 10x10 storage unit for some select items and furniture that we anticipated we’d need in the future and were worth the cost to store):
Humility lesson #1: You have more shit than you realize.
I’ve always been pretty organized and maximized the space I had, but I think it actually worked against me because it also allowed me to maximize the amount of stuff we accumulated. Even with my wife, “the purger”, and several garage sales over the years, once we really started to dig into the task it became overwhelming how much stuff we needed to work through. For example, between the two of us, we donated 8 trash bags full of clothes — that was after selling some at our 2 garage sales, and we both still have plenty of clothing for all occasions. Decorations, tools, Tupperware, clothing, cookware , linens, books, spare parts, photos, sporting goods — how much did we really need to live? Why did we have 4 colanders?
Humility lesson #2: It’s going to take longer than you think.
Boy did I underestimate this one! Thank God for my wife who always kept focus and forward progress while I sometimes stood motionless and in shock of what to do next. Whenever I’ve moved in the past I was an efficient packing and moving machine! For some reason, this time I was a confused, panicked mess. Every time we emptied a cabinet, closet or drawer to work through it, I was stymied by the volume of stuff and what I should be doing with it. I think the main cause for my stunned inaction was that up until now, every time we had moved it was to a larger home. However, this was a whole new ballgame, we were falling behind and we were quickly running out of time. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that I was still putting in a lot of hours at work where we were constantly understaffed, so I felt obligated to the job and to not abandoning my employees. Here’s a quick, free nugget of advice: Do yourself a favor and start digitizing your CD collection and cleaning out your paper files now, even if you never plan on moving from your current digs. C’mon, you’ve been meaning to do both of those tasks for at least 3 years now anyway, right?
Humility lesson #3: Other people don’t value your stuff as much as you do.
I was amazed at the types of things we ended up giving away, including things like home electronics/stereo equipment, CDs/DVDs, housewares, yard tools, sporting goods. I found it ironic that when you purchase some of these things new they’re a fortune, yet in the secondary market they have almost no value. That felt like a sucker punch.
Humility lesson#4: You’re going to have to make some tough decisions!
When the deciding factors about what you’re taking with you end up being questions of how much does it weigh, how much space will it take up, and how often will you actually use it, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. However, where it really gets tough is when you start looking at things you received as gifts or that have family or sentimental value. This requires you to be as realistic and objective as possible about what may still have a place in your future life — not as easy as it sounds.
The real takeaways
We were fortunate that with the last minute help of family and friends we pulled off what felt like an insurmountable task. We literally got the last of our things out of the house about an hour before we had to relinquish the keys. We both damn near had a meltdown during the process from fatigue and frustration. I’m glad we made the commitment and took the leap to do this, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.
As cliche as it sounds, less is more. Less to manage, less to maintain, heat, cool, insure, etc which translates into more time and resources to invest in myself, in experiences, and in figuring out the rest of my journey. Sure there are things I miss and we’ll probably get another house at some point, but it’s also kind of novel when I go to Costco and I can walk past a lot of cool things they’re offering because I have no need for them now (…and no space either).
And on the days I’m struggling with finding the direction of my career compass or even adapting to living in this smaller space (I bump into things…ALOT!) my wife reminds me why we embarked on this journey: “I didn’t say it would be easy, I said it would be worth it.”