DOWNSIZING – OUR STORY
Three years ago, as part of our preparation for retirement, we downsized. We wanted to simplify our life and reduce our expenses. We went from a 2400 square foot house with a half an acre of lawn to a 1200 square foot condo. As many empty-nesters find out, we ended up with much of our house with rooms that weren’t being used. We would frequently walk though our house and say “we don’t use that room, we don’t use this room”. Their only purpose was to store unused furniture and stuff. We realized that it would be best if we right-sized our life to fit our lifestyle and set a one year goal to find the right home and purge our stuff to fit into that home.
Downsizing, or rightsizing your life can be a huge step towards having a financially secure retirement. It can also be a big part in simplifying your life as you grow older. As a result of our kids moving out many of us are living in a larger house than we really need. To go along with the larger house are the larger costs for utilities, taxes, insurance, landscaping and maintenance, never mind the physical work to clean and maintain it.
WHY CARRY EXTRA BAGGAGE?
What tends to make downsizing complicated is our need to hang on to the past and all it’s relics. We all share the experience of realizing how much stuff we can collect over our lifetimes. There are mementos from trips, gifts from special people and things from important moments of our life. We have attics, basements, and storage units full of things that are too valuable, we think, or too important to part ways with. The emotional attachment is hard to break but the burden of keeping these things grows steadily as time goes on. The cost is financial if you are paying for storage, and physical if you keep having to move piles around. I have a friend that has three full dining room sets in her house. Her set in the dining room, and both her mother’s set and his mother’s set in their basement. It’s time to think of the burden that you are passing down to your family. How many times have you heard the story of the family who had to rent a dumpster to clean out their parent’s house? Our journey is hard enough as we get older; you don’t need to carry around extra baggage.
Part of making our downsizing happen was to get rid of 1200 square feet of things. Some of this stuff included things that haven’t seen daylight since we moved into the house 15 years before. These were easy to get rid off, but probably only represented 10% of what we had to deal with. The other 90% which included a lot our favorite things, was the challenge. They included items that we loved but served little or no purpose and we just weren’t going to have room for them.
Part of what made this hard was the thing that most people our age discover, our kids don’t want our junk. Heck, they didn’t want their old junk that we still had. Younger people don’t want good china or formal dining room sets. They didn’t want my old Canadian flag or the cheap pottery we bought in Mexico. Brace yourself, because not only do our kids not want our stuff, but when you remembered what you paid for things, you assume there is value in them. When you start doing your homework to sell things, you end up being disappointed at what they are really worth.
The process of shedding your things can be emotional. There were many of our favorite things that we have a strong attachment to; my in-law’s old rocking chair, my Bose tower speakers, my favorite chair, and my golf clubs. Music is probably the most important non-human thing to me. So when we decided to downsize, I knew dealing with my wall of CD’s and albums was going to be a challenge. I prized my music collection. But it was a necessary part of the mission to find new homes for my music either by having family and friends take what they wanted, selling some and donating the rest. But thanks to music services like Apple Music, I survived by having access to most of my collection right on my phone or talking to Siri.
Another painful part of our downsizing was dealing with our library. We had hundreds of books. Just walking by the shelves I felt I was absorbing knowledge through osmosis. But they weren’t going to be read again, and we weren’t going to have a place for them, so even though it was hard we donated the books to our local library book sale and felt good about it.
THE GOAL – NO STORAGE UNIT
People want to down size without getting rid of things that are “too important”. They end up paying hundreds a month on rental units to store things they’ll never use again. Now what? What’s going to happen to the stuff now that you’re storing it? Who will end up dealing with it? Our goal was to not store anything. We have a small area under our basement stairs that we store seasonal decorations, our luggage, and a plastic container of photos, that it!
It wasn’t easy by a long shot. I don’t know which cliché you want to use, “pulling of the band-aide”, or “breaking the seal”, but once we crossed the emotional barrier and began getting rid of stuff, things started to flow out the door. We started by selling the easy unemotional stuff and built up momentum. My wife became a Craig’s List expert. https://moneyinc.com/tips-for-selling-on-craigslist/ She was listing and selling everything from a canoe, a lawn tractor, collectibles and kitchen gadgets. We rendezvoused with buyers at the Home Depot parking lot, Friendly’s, and at out local police station to sell things. Our garage looked like a flea market. We’d set up an appointment with someone to buy one item, and they would end up leaving with their arms full. We gave away a ton of stuff. We donated tools to a young area artist, supplies to a teacher, and bags of clothes to various charities. We did keep some of our small favorites and we do regret getting rid of a couple things, but for the most part, we’re very happy with the results.
The advice we have for everyone we share this story with is “don’t wait to start getting rid of stuff”. Even if you don’t have plans to downsize, simplify your life by reducing it’s contents. Look around at what you’re storing. What can you get rid of? What haven’t you used in the past year? Start with the easy stuff and have a goal to find a new home for one good sized thing a week. Your family will be grateful.