On the surface of it, Brent and I had a very simple motivation for our last extreme downsizing: we wanted to try roaming the open road for a while.
But a lot of factors played into how we dealt with our belongings, and as I engage more and more with people looking to do their own downsizing, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on some of those considerations.
Everything about how we downsized flowed from two fundamental decisions:
Selling our apartment, and
Not renting a storage unit for our stuff.
Selling the apartment
In all honesty, the fact we would have had to do a lot of tough negotiation with our strata council to rent out the apartment indefinitely probably played a significant role in helping us make the decision to sell.
It’s a hard call whether to jump out of a crazy housing market in a place like Vancouver, and a very personal one about lifestyle preferences and priorities. At the end of the day though, Brent and I agreed we ready to make the leap.
So why not rent a storage unit?
It makes no financial sense to pay indefinite storage fees.
It’s not hard to figure out the economics, but here’s a good article by GoBankingRates, a US-focussed “personal finance resource” on why renting a long-term storage unit is never a good idea.
We didn’t want to move the big stuff.
We’d done that already. Several times. Most significantly, we moved from a 4,000-square-foot family home to a 1,100-square-foot apartment in 2007, so we knew what was involved with making a million decisions, packing, hiring a moving company, etc.
It was just too exhausting to think about doing it all again.
Mostly though, we didn’t want to be tethered to things. Even though we had some luxuries that we knew we’d miss (like a king-sized bed!), we decided that truly jumping into the unknown meant not trying to predict what we would need (or want) in the future.
We had somewhere to store the little stuff.
Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, having access to even a small, borrowed space meant we didn’t have to (immediately) grapple with some of the harder challenges people face when truly divesting a home of all its possessions:
- What do we do with the heirlooms like china and silverware sets that we don’t use and our kids don’t want?
- What do we do with all the kid’s stuff we’ve saved – everything from toys to school projects to baby clothes?
- What do we do with the artwork that we created or bought or someone gave us?
- What about the books? The art books, the textbooks, the cookbooks, the novels, the travel guides – so many books!
- What do we do with all the photographs and videos? Years and years of images and memories.
- And Christmas ornaments? Don’t even get me started.
(Feel free to add any other collections – tools, figurines, model airplanes, you name it – to the list!)
Brent and I didn’t have a lot of collections, but sentimental things we did have – and weren’t ready to part with – went into the loft.
Out of sight; out of mind
In retrospect, the loft was a psychological life saver. Because it’s surrounded by snow in the winter, and requires a ladder to access year-round, it’s not simple or easy to get into; what’s up there has tended to stay up there, sight unseen.
Now that we’re renting a house for awhile, we’ve got the physical and mental space to start going through it. My great-grandmother’s china was the first to go. The books are next. And now I’m actually looking forward to finishing what I could only start three years ago. (I’ll let you know how that goes!)
What is the opposite of a pack-rat?
We have a lot of words like “pack-rat” and “collector” and even “hoarder” for people who accumulate a lot of stuff. But what do you call someone who is the opposite?
I’m fortunate when it comes to downsizing because I don’t tend to collect stuff anyway. I really don’t like clutter. And I can talk myself out of buying just about anything. (Except ice cream, of course. There is always a reason to buy ice cream.)
I’m also fortunate that Brent (with a little encouragement) is willing to go along on my extreme decluttering journeys with me.
The winning combination
For Brent and I to embark on our mobile, minimal lifestyle, we had what I call the “Lucky 3.” And although they may not seem directly related to downsizing, they were fundamental in helping us to “let go.”
We didn’t have relationships that required a lot of hands-on attention. Our kids were grown, happy and leading independent lives. We didn’t have aging parents who needed our daily care. We didn’t have grandkids who needed our love and attendance. The timing was perfect to pull stakes for awhile.
We had the physical ability to live “on the move”. We’re both keenly aware that your health status can change in a moment’s notice, and we wanted to take advantage of our current physical health and abilities. We felt like we could go “be kids” again.
Although lots of people do it, I couldn’t imagine living an RV life on my own. It’s one of the great good fortunes of my life that I have a partner who has a similar interest in roaming, and a shared sense of what constitutes “comfort”. And who would want to squander that?
What’s your end game?
Despite all the current buzz around “decluttering” and “downsizing” and “minimizing” and “cleaning up in a life changing way”, I think the first question to ask yourself when thinking about doing this is: “Why?” What’s your motivation”?
Personally – and even though I am quite minimalist by nature – I don’t think I would ever have had the energy and stamina to deal with all our accumulated stuff hidden deep, deep into cupboards and closets and garages over the years unless I’d had clear and compelling reasons to do so.
I think (because I do have an opinion about everything) that any reason you have for wanting to get rid of stuff is a good reason. Except for the reason that goes: “I should get rid of stuff.” That’s a lousy reason that makes you feel bad. IMHO.
On the other hand, I believe having a clear goal state in mind can make what one friend summarized as “the thankless, lonely task of weeding through your stuff” a whole lot more manageable. And ultimately, rewarding.
For us, it’s been well worth the journey.
The beginning of the adventure
I’d actually forgotten that I made this little videe-oosical of our inaugural trip in the Vanilla Guerrilla back in the day. I think it pretty much captures our excitement about collapsing our lives into an RV. Music and lyrics by the highly talented Max Gomez.