“Do I really need all this stuff?” you ask yourself as you step into your garage that can no longer fit a car; search for something in your overflowing, disorganized closet; or bump into a chair in your furniture-crammed room.
“Nope.” you reply and suddenly you feel a tiny tingle of fear because, hey, just the idea of downsizing seems scary-impossible. I know this fear because I’ve been there. Really. But I finally tamed the downsizing demon and I think you can too.
Our downsizing experience
Last year Mrs. FF and I sold our suburban home, negotiated apartment rent in downtown Philly, and moved. We downsized from 2,100 to 1,150 square feet. Our old house had many crammed, cavernous closets and an over-sized two-car garage stuffed with woodworking equipment, bikes, lawn mowers, gardening tools, ladders, and much more. The garage even had an attic full of boxes, folding tables, and other things.
So downsizing our stuff was not easy. We’d been in the house for over 15 years and accumulated more crap than could possible fit into our new apartment. I hummed the theme from Mission Impossible whenever I looked around at all the stuff we needed to part with.
We started chipping away by giving things to Purple Heart, Philly Aids Thrift Shop, and the local library. When it was worth the trouble, I slowly sold smaller items on eBay and Amazon Marketplace. I’d carefully pack each sold item in a box, print a label, and schlep it to the closest post office or UPS store.
I also took pictures, created fancy descriptions, and posted larger stuff on Craigslist. Here’s a long list of all the Craigslist items I sold:
- Tower Bookcase
- Corded Drill
- Electric Train Set
- Japanese Sharpening Stones
- Leigh Dovetail Jig
- Router Table with extras
- Trek 7.3 FX Bike with extras
- Router Table with extras
- Soldering Gun
- Router Table with extras
- Dewalt 2HP Router with extras
- Router Bits – Whiteside
- Homemade Bench Press
- Black leather chair and footstool
- Child’s rocking chair
- Dual Motion Sander
- Chair – white solid
- Chair – white wood
- Hardwood – kiln dried
- Woodworking Vise with extras
- Brad Nailer – Porter Cable
- Bosch Belt Sander
- Natuzzi brown leather loveseat
- Indoor/Outdoor Cafe Table
- TV Stand
- Casio CTK-710 Keyboard with stand
- Power Rack
- Adjustable Workout Bench
- Plastic patio chairs
- Patio chairs and table
- Black table with glass top
- Pfretzschner violin 4/4
- Large Woodworking Clamp Set
- Dewalt DW682 Biscuit / Plate Joiner plus bonus
- Extension ladder
- Natuzzi brown leather couch
- Wine Rack
- Adjustable Music Stand
- Twin frame and mattress
- Area Rug
- Precor Rowing Machine
- Dumbbell Rack
- Olympic Weight Set with extras
- Elliptical – Octane Q47e
You get the idea – it was a this-will-never-ever-end amount of work.
Mrs. FF was and is a pro at getting rid of stuff. She just lets it go with little emotional baggage and says bye-bye. Not so for me.
I’m a certifiable Book Junky and I had to get rid of almost all my books. I had to sell all my woodworking tools I’d used to build furniture for our house. We were able to keep most of the furniture I built except for the large Outdoor Mahogany Garden Bench. We have no outdoor space in our city apartment.
I had to sell my Red Warrior Bike that my Dad bought me when I was 12. OK, it was a piece-of-crap bike, but I’d used it my whole life! I even let my sons use it to commute around Philly when they lived downtown for school or work. I liked the idea that they were riding the same bike I rode as a kid. Selling it felt about as good as the first 12 hours after my last root canal. It hurt. 🙁
Fortunately, I gradually grew comfortable with downsizing because of a bag of tricks I picked up along the way. Some tricks came from Mrs. FF while others I just found by accident.
These downsizing tricks are really just mental Jiu-jutsu to help re-frame how you think about parting with something. If you’re downsizing-challenged like me, these tricks might help you too.
- Start easy, build momentum. I started out by letting go of a few easy things – coins from an old coin collection and books that I felt nothing for. At first, It felt a little painful. But once a few things were gone something odd happened – I felt relief. Like the relief I feel when I’ve just put down a so-heavy-its-gonna-break bag of groceries. Or like the relief I feel when I’ve just finished my taxes and realize I owe nothing. I felt the freedom and lightness of having less stuff! It felt so fantastic that I looked forward to getting rid of more easy stuff. And so I did.
- Think of the savings or extra money. This is an easy trick to perform since you’re probably Freaky Frugal already. Whenever I sold something, I thought about how I could put the money to good use. Sometimes I saved it and other times I spent it on other things we needed. I also thought about long-term savings – think Rule of 25 – when it cost money to maintain or store whatever I was getting rid of.
- It’s just stuff! It helped me a lot to see stuff as just stuff. It’s not relationships or health or life adventures or dark chocolate. It’s just an object. A thing. Inanimate. I thought of the quote “Love people and use your stuff because the opposite never works.” that I heard on Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things. Great movie, by the way.
- You’re freeing a useful asset. This trick helped with useful items. I asked myself when was the last time I used this thing. If it was a long time ago, I thought about how somebody else could get good use out of it and it would make them happy. A useful thing is meant to be used not just stored. Free it!
- You’re just a temporary caretaker. I spent 7 years at Soji Zen Center and eventually became a Senior Zen Student. One thing I learned and accepted is that everything is impermanent. That includes you, me, our houses, our cars, our children, earth, everything. This helped me realize that I’m just a temporary caretaker of all the stuff around me. It’s not going to be with me forever because I’m not going to be here forever. My house, for example, may feel like it’s mine. But it’s just temporary because someday I’ll move or die and then somebody else will own the house. It’s not really mine. This trick helped me to let go of things that had more sentimental value.
- Does it spark joy? This question came from the wildly popular Tidying Up book that Mrs. FF read. Get it from your local library. The book has some wacky ideas (sushi roll your socks, anyone?) but it also had a good idea about holding things in your hand and seeing how you feel. If it doesn’t spark joy, thank it for its service and get rid of it. I rarely needed to even hold a thing in my hands to realize it didn’t spark joy. And if it didn’t spark joy, then it sparked my desire to get rid of it.
- Take a picture as a keepsake. If I wanted to keep some memory of a cherished thing I was parting with, I’d take a picture with my phone. I did this with my Red Warrior Bike. I don’t spend much time looking at the pictures but it’s comforting to know I can.
Just do it!
Things have gone so well since we downsized that I don’t even think of it as downsizing anymore. I think of it as rightsizing.
So do you have crammed closets, garages, attics, crawl spaces or – gasp – storage lockers? If so, you’re ripe for rightsizing your stuff! Just get started. It’ll be easier than you think. Honest.
Thanks for reading! Do you need or want to downsize? Or have you already downsized? Got any downsizing tricks of your own?