Is it Time to Downsize?

By: John Levan | December 24, 2018

Toward the end of the summer, my wife alerted me that we needed to have a serious talk. I asked her if I should pour a glass of wine first, and she suggested I bring the whole bottle. Now, we’ve been married for nearly forty-nine years and have gotten along very well, but I still half-jokingly asked her how much time she was giving me to clear out my things.

As it turned out, she was letting me know that she wanted both of us to get rid of decades of accumulated stuff and move to a smaller house in a more convenient location. In other words, we were going to downsize.

On the surface, downsizing sounds like an activity that would be fun and easy. In reality, it’s neither of those. Instead, it’s hard work, hard choices, and long hours.

Initially, there are lots of decisions to make. You and your spouse–and sometimes children and grandchildren get into the act—have to agree on which items make the cut and which don’t.

Once you have decided what must go, you also have to settle on where the unwanted or unneeded things are going. For most people, it comes down to four options:

  • Throw it out
  • Sell it
  • Donate it to charity
  • Give it away

We were moving from a two-and-a-half acre country home to a townhouse with a homeowners association. There would be no more mowing grass, planting flowers, trimming shrubbery, killing thistles, mulching beds, or dealing with autumn leaves. I would no longer be responsible for removing snow from a two-hundred-foot-long driveway, a large deck, and various walkways. The HOA would be taking care of these tasks—for a price.

I’ve always been a firm believer in buying the right tool or piece of equipment for the job. And after twenty years, I had purchased almost everything imaginable to keep my property well groomed. The list included a small tractor, zero-turn mower, various trimmers, a pull-behind lawn vacuum, a chipper for grinding up fallen branches, and all those power saws and hand tools that are necessary to tend a large property.

Also, there was a snow blower to save my back during those winter storms, and a generator for when those storms took down the electric lines. None of this equipment would be required after we moved, so the decision to sell it was easy. But other choices would prove to be harder.

First step: Rent a large container

Not long after our talk, I called our trash collector and ordered a 20-cubic-yard container. When you look at an empty dumpster, it seems like overkill, but we filled it with little trouble. You see, we had so many places to store junk—above our garage, in the basement, in the attic, and our storage building—that we were never compelled to throw things away. All of those items that I kept on the off-chance that they would be needed someday (and I don’t think that even one of them was ever really needed!) were now filling up this large receptacle rather quickly.

We would be moving to a house that had no storage building, no basement, and no attic. There is a one-car garage, and the car barely fits, so we had to be ruthless in tossing out all but those few irreplaceable keepsakes that didn’t take up too much room.

One thing that I discovered during the purging process: There is a sense of freedom that goes along with letting go of personal possessions that you have held onto for no good reason. Unburdening myself of all this stuff was cathartic, maybe even therapeutic. I doubt that I’ll miss any of it, and even if I do, I won’t have any space in the new house to replace and store things.

Sell your stuff locally

There are advantages to selling what you can, the most significant being that whatever money you receive will help offset the cost of moving. We were on a fairly tight deadline to vacate the property, so my goal was to get rid of things quickly. And I priced everything accordingly. As a result, there was very little haggling, and almost everything sold in a day or two after it was posted.

Taking my daughter’s advice, I used only local sites to sell things, and it worked well. The buyers picked up the items at our house and brought cash. It couldn’t have been easier. People who are experienced at buying and selling online will roll their eyes at my unsophisticated methods, but my goal was to jettison many of our possessions, some of which had been accumulating for nearly fifty years, in the shortest time possible.

Donate it to places like Goodwill

I probably made a dozen trips to our local Goodwill store, each time with a car filled with everything from Christmas decorations to clothing. It’s an excellent way to let go of stuff that you can’t take with you and, you get to help someone else in the process. Of course, there are other ways to give away your things, and some of them help others and make you feel good to boot.

Give stuff to your family and friends

As I mentioned, I had lots of equipment to help me maintain my property, but now I was relocating to where there would be nothing for me to manage. Of course, my first thoughts were filled with delusions of vast amounts of cash flowing into our coffers as we sold each item from the storage building. That only lasted until I discovered the paltry prices that used lawn and garden equipment were bringing.

So, we decided to give most of these things to our son-in-law, who has a large property in South Carolina. He and my daughter were most appreciative, and that’s worth more than cold, hard cash.

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