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Dare to Downsize

St Pats Church in Tacoma

As I walked toward the train station to meet my wife on her way home from work I enjoyed the unseasonably warm March day until a depressing thought hit me: we probably needed to spend the evening doing yard work. Then I remembered—I no longer had a house—I no longer had a yard requiring my care. It was someone else’s responsibility. We had recently moved into an apartment—an important step toward downsizing and living a “Houseless, not Homeless,” lifestyle.

During our three plus decades of marriage and travels we had accumulated lots of…stuff. One thing we realized is that we didn’t so much own this stuff as it owned us. If we wanted to spend time accumulating experiences, we had to free ourselves by shedding belongings.

Here’s how we approached our downsizing. I think you’ll find it useful whether you want to downsize to an RV, a smaller dwelling, or just want more space in your current home.

  1. Digitized Recipe

    Digitize Documents. Laurie had over a dozen cookbooks and hundreds of loose recipes. We had scrapbooks and other loose paper mementos. We selected the items we wanted to keep and scanned them. Then we loaded them into Box, a cloud storage software. Box is like Dropbox, but I find it easier to use with better security. Now it takes up no physical space and finding each item is easier.

  2. Digitize Music. I ripped 300+ CDs to my computer and then subscribed to iTunes Match. For $25 a year my music is now available for download to any of my devices. Well, as long as we have Wi-Fi.
  3. Change Your Attitude. I was looking at an interesting knick-knack in a resort store with a friend. He said it looked cool but it was really “SAS” or Sit Around…Stuff. Things you buy are things that you eventually must dispose of. Marie Kondo wrote a New York Times bestseller on decluttering. She advocates evaluating items to see if they “spark joy.” If they truly do, keep them. If not, dispose of them. Or even better—don’t buy them in the first place.
  4. Do it in Phases. Laurie and I love the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. One of the methods they talk about for making better decisions is “ooching” which is making major decisions in phases to make sure they work out. We did our major downsizing in two phases. First we downsized from a four bedroom, three bath house. We sold belongings using Craig’s List and Offer Up. We gave stuff to friends, our church rummage sale, and the local Goodwill. We were practically on an exchanging-Christmas-cards-basis with the guys at Goodwill. Then we moved into a two-bedroom apartment—with no yard or associated yard work.
  5. After two years of living in an apartment we moved almost everything into a 7’ x 7’ storage unit. One measure we used for deciding what to keep and what to store was to determine the cost per cubic foot of storage for three years. In our situation, it was roughly $10 per cubic foot. If an item was easily replaceable and cost less than that per cubic foot, we got rid of it. We didn’t want to pay more to store an item than it was worth. We also made a big mistake. We rented a space at Public Storage on Sprague Avenue in Tacoma. Several weeks before we returned home it was burglarized. It was at least two days before the break-in was discovered and another before the broken hasp on our unit was replaced. The District Manager was less than responsive to our follow up requests and questions.

When we rented a new storage unit we asked about break-in history and found one that had individually alarmed spaces. Good insurance is no replacement for preventing a burglary in the first place.

Walking out of Castrojeriz

Downsizing to the extent we did lends itself to a lifestyle where we can spend most of our time traveling both in the US and abroad. We can often stay in Airbnb spots or other furnished rentals for less than the cost of an apartment. We’ve learned that we’d prefer to accumulate experiences and friendships, rather than stuff.

Note: If you’re interested in trying Airbnb for the first time click here for a $40 credit.

Do you have downsizing questions or suggestions? Please post them in the comments section.

8 thoughts on “Dare to Downsize”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. We’re downsizing from a 5 bedroom home with huge yard to a 3 bedroom apartment. Of course, it’s a little complicated because we had six kids, with only one now living at home.? We have to help them downsize, too. Started digital scrapbooks for each kid. Now to keep on purging!

    1. Not only have you purged belongings, you’ve purged five of six kids! Well, just relocating them I guess.
      The fun thing about digital scrapbooks is it’s easy to see and share.
      Glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for suggesting the topic.

  2. I do appreciate receiving your posts! My experience has been similar in many ways. I began by selling a 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath townhouse and putting into storage the things I hadn’t sold or given away. The winter that followed I house-sat, then began walking the Camino de Santiago at st Jean, Learning that the sister with whom I shared the storage locker was going to Seattle for cancer treatment, I flew back to help her pack, and (sorting and downsizing once again) packed my own stuff as well. My sister’s daughter lives in Tacoma so Sue and I found a house to rent. She put up a good fight against the cancer that had come up in 2012, but died the end of July 2015. I am now in a one bedroom apartment in the Stadium area of Tacoma. This morning I deposited 3 bags of shredded “important” papers into the dumpster. The reason for coming here from North Carolina was a sad one but I am happy to be here and to have once again shed a lot of things that brought me no joy.
    This is not my first moving story; I lived on a sailboat for about 10 years. Good practice for learning the mantra “I have everything I need!” 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing your story, and reading this. Perhaps we’ll meet at one of the APOC meetings.
    Jane Silverman

    1. Sorry that it was a sad event that brought you to Tacoma–but you’re in a great area now. We lived at 1 St Helens in the Stadium District for two years and really enjoyed the area.
      There is a great Camino group that meets at Cutters Point in Tacoma the second Thursday of the month at 9:30. We try to make that when we’re in town.

  3. This obviously is not practical because it is not possible. After living my
    current life of 79+ years to date, if I had a true opportunity to begin again
    then I would hopefully remember all the money I wasted in my first life
    on everything that I truly did not need over 5 years later, and therefore
    not buy it in the first place. However, I have no concerns for what I do
    have still now, as if my relatives can’t divie it all up per my requests, I will
    not know about such so it won’t be my concern. I won’t need anything in
    Heaven, and since I came into the world with nothing, that’s what I will
    still have to take with me to Heaven.

  4. Well written Dennis! We did essentially the same thing when we sold our house and moved into our rv. I haven’t been able to give up the momentos in our (small) storage unit for the cloud yet but I may someday. It would take a lot of time to go through all those slides from our younger days! It did feel good though to get rid of all the furniture and big “stuff” that just isn’t worth storing.

    1. We did save some scrap book stuff but most of it wound up scanned.
      However, we are still working our way through culling and scanning photos and slides. It’s actually been fun to see some of the old ones back before my hair turned salt and pepper.

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