Imagine relocating across the country and waiting for the moving truck to arrive so you can unpack your life and get settled. Only the truck never makes it to your destination because it caught fire in New Jersey. Everything you own is now ash, and through the magic of the Internet, you find out that someone actually video-recorded the fiery truck on the highway and uploaded it to YouTube. Burn, baby, burn.
This actually happened to a friend of mine. And he said that after an initial ten-minute freak-out session, he started embracing the idea of starting over with a more simple existence. “Not a bad idea,” I thought.
The Cost of Ownership
No matter what you own, there is a maintenance cost. We can speak in dollars—insurance, taxes, interest. Or even in time—cleaning, updating, protecting. But the hardest maintenance cost for most people is simply sentimental value. We transfer our feelings and memories onto an object and decide we can’t let go because we’ll risk losing the feeling or memory. Before long, we become surrounded by these visual reminders of our memories and no longer have room to make new ones. It’s hard to move forward in your life when your past is crowding your present.
The answer, of course, is to get rid of some of this stuff. But that’s way easier said than done. We often need to be compelled to do this with a move or a lifestyle change. Imagine how much richer life would be if we moved the junk out and made room for new opportunities instead of grudgingly making room only when it was forced upon us.
My husband and I are currently simplifying our “physical” lives down to a couple of boxes and two backpacks. That’s a big change from our starting point in a packed 3500 square-foot house. We’re leaving on October 1 for Ecuador and three-plus years of exploring the world. We’ve been working for a while to get to this point, as you can imagine, and along the way we’ve found a few creative downsizing strategies to help you simplify a little (or a lot) of your life.
1. Have a Reverse Birthday Party
For my thirty-ninth birthday, I picked thirty-nine of my favorite things—things that were special, but not quite special enough to make it into my one box. There was the silk scarf from France, the leather purse I bought on my honeymoon, a cocktail ring with more bling than my lifestyle required, and several other little treasures.
I wrote out a tag for each item detailing its history and why it was special to me. Then I put them all on a shelf in my living room and invited all my friends over for my birthday party. The rules were simple:
- If you find something you like, write your name on the back of the tag.
- If you are the only one who wants that item, it’s yours.
- If more than one person wants the item, a “face-off” would occur and a democratic vote would decide who won.
- In lieu of gifts to me, winners of the items could donate to our trip in an anonymous box on the bar.
This kind of party accomplishes a few things. You get to share and make wonderful memories with your good friends and continue to see your favorite items used by your favorite people in the future—much better than an anonymous eBay sale. And your friends help you get through the pain of giving up the more sentimental things. Take a picture of you with your friend and the item and you’ll still feel like you own it in a way.
2. Use Craigslist
I can’t say enough about the wonder that is Craigslist. Just about anything can be sold or given away on this site. We’ve sold everything from a $500 dresser to a $5 box of random cords, and we’ve rarely had an ad out more than a week without a bite.
The key to successful Craigslist selling is to set up your own store. Do you have several pieces of furniture to sell? Put them all together in a staging area. When your buyers come by, they get a chance to see your other items and you can wheel and deal to get rid of more things. People love a deal, so throwing in a rug you don’t think will sell for much with a piece of furniture a buyer is waffling on may help make the sale.
Think of your downsizing project like your own little retail store and you’ll sell twice as much in half the time.
3. Put It in a Box with an Expiration Date
People tell me all the time they can’t get rid of things for all sorts of reasons. But you know, reasons don’t really matter for this trick. It is all about “Out of sight, out of mind.” Take a few things you don’t use, but think you can’t live without (even though you haven’t used them in two years), and put them in a box. Label the box with the current date and the contents and a sell/donate date. Set the sell/donate date one month out, six months out, or whatever. I’ll be blown away if you end up going back for even 10 percent of these items before the sell/donate date.
4. Take a Photo and Clear Your Space
This is one of my favorite ideas, especially for old clothes. Do you have a photo of yourself on the night when you looked really hot in that outfit (on that unforgettable night out with your friends)? Keep the photo and get rid of the actual outfit if you no longer wear it on a regular basis. If an occasion arises someday that requires a similar fancy outfit, treat yourself to something new and stylish. Sometimes a photo that acts as a visual reminder is all you need to re-experience the joy of an item, and having it out of your space lets you live in the present instead of being cluttered by items you no longer use.
5. Follow the Rule of One Thing In, Two Things Out
This is the lazy man’s solution to downsizing, and it can be effective over the long-run. You simply decide that for every new item you bring into your house or office, two items will go. New socks? Get rid of twice as many old socks. Mom sends you new towels? Get rid of twice as many of the old, raggedy ones. See how this works? It’s a smaller effort, but an everyday one. Once you get to your perfect balance, you simply keep this up with one thing in, one thing out.
More on the Benefits of Downsizing
I like to say that downsizing will upsize your life. I know it sounds catchy, but it’s true. Since my husband and I started downsizing over four years ago we have more money, time, and opportunity than I could have ever imagined. There is no way we’d be planning a trip around the world if we were still weighed down with all the miscellaneous stuff we had acquired over the years.
So start small, like we did, and slowly integrate the five methods above into your current (cluttered) lifestyle. I promise, you’ll find yourself in a clutter-free state in no time.