In Pursuit of Downsizing

Fortunately for me, I’ve lived my entire adult life in apartments, and that has limited the amount of possessions I could own at any given time. To date, I have gotten rid of about 6 trash bags full of stuff in preparation of living in a small RV. About half of them have been clothing, the other half has been everything else: a combination of books, movies, stuffed animals, and random decorative nick-knacks. This past summer, my roommate and I moved, so most of this downsizing happened just before that, so that there would be less to pack. Laziness was a pretty good motivator for me: “Eh, do I really want to pack this up in the moving truck? Nope, out it goes.” But since the move I haven’t done any more downsizing at all.

I’ve already disposed of all the easy stuff, things I wasn’t attached to and served no good purpose. Now it becomes more challenging as the things I have remaining I’m either emotionally attached to, I feel like it might come in handy while full-timing, or I feel like I could make a little money off of selling them. Some other items like the majority of the kitchen stuff I’ll be hanging onto until just before the move because I’ll be needing them right up until then.

If you’re just getting started downsizing yourself, or have started but are currently stuck, here are a few things to consider.

Like with most projects, if you are just starting try to get a scope of the size of it. How much downsizing is going to be necessary in your case? This includes factors like are you keeping a residence, how much storage your rig is going to have (not just general ‘space’, but actual storage room and cargo carrying capacity – it can vary widely even among rigs of the same size), do you have friends or relatives who are willing to hold onto some things for you, and are you willing to pay for a storage locker, etc.

If you are now looking at the amount of stuff you’ll need to sort through and despairing over how big of a task it’s going to be, try this. Just like in my Planning For Your Dreams article, instead of looking at it as one big task, break it down into smaller parts. Maybe pick one room or closet or cabinet, whatever you feel like you can get done in a week, and only worry about that small section at a time. Looking at the whole project at once might be daunting, but if you can just focus on one piece at a time, it will happen slowly but surely. Also, if possible, give yourself enough time to get through it all without rushing, and start downsizing long before your planned departure date.

Then comes the difficult task of figuring out how to actually get rid of the stuff. There are a number of ways to go about it of course, and likely you will be doing a combination of a few different methods. Think about your relatives and friends and what they might be able to make use of. Then there are charities like Goodwill and such that are always looking for donations. If you feel some of your stuff is worth the money and effort to sell, you should consider yard sales, consignment shops, and online sales venues like Ebay and Craigslist.

Here is where I have run into some difficulty. I have some old console gaming stuff that I no longer use but I feel like I could make some money off of. I’ve tried selling some of it through Craigslist without luck so far. In the end, will it be easier to just give it away and be done with it? If you also find yourself in this situation only you can answer this. You will just need weigh the pro of having one more part of the downsizing complete with the con of not having that extra money. In my case, I’ll probably give it one more go on Craigslist and if that doesn’t work, give it away. Yes, the extra 20 bucks or so would be helpful, but it isn’t necessary, and having the stuff gone will be a weight off my shoulders and one less thing to worry about.

On the other hand if you are having problems downsizing because of emotional attachment, here are two tips that are helping me. For starters, don’t worry about trying to get rid of everything in one fell swoop, this advice follows along the lines of my advice to break the job up into manageable chunks.

Get rid of what you can now, then keep going back and doing more as you feel able to let things go that you had an attachment too. The passing of time as you gear up for your exciting new life on the road will allow you to look at things in a different light and should make getting rid of sentimental things easier.

Distance can also help. Try packing up the items that you just can’t let go of a box and put them out of sight for a while as you work on other easier downsizing stuff. If you’re not being reminded of their presence every day, their hold on you will lessen. At some point you may not even remember exactly what you put in that box anymore, and at that point getting rid of the contents will be easier.

It’s also very possible that some heirlooms and items will just mean too much to let go of. If you have some things that fall in this category and no house to keep them in when you go off RVing, then follow the advice above and try seeing if a relative or friend will hold onto them for you, or look into renting a spot to store them in.

Some people who go full-timing will end up getting rid of everything from their old life that they aren’t taking with them in the RV, and some people won’t. Remember that RVing is a highly individualized activity, and wherever you fall along the spectrum, it’s okay as long as it feels like it’s right for you. It’s also pretty likely that your opinions on the matter will change along the way. Perhaps you’ll start off with some stuff still in storage that you think you might end up needing while on the road, and once you discover that you don’t need it all, you’ll get rid of it.

So, if you’ve started downsizing already, what kind of progress have you made and what has been the most difficult thing for you to let go of? If you haven’t started yet, how much time are you planning to allot for the task?

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18 Responses to In Pursuit of Downsizing

  1. Isherwood Wildwalker November 21, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    I recently moved again after significantly downsizing a year ago. I was amazed at the amount of “random decorative nick-knacks” I still have with this latest move. The struggle to downsize is a constant, and the seemingly natural instinct to gather more items is strong.
    Great Post!

  2. Becky November 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Glad you enjoyed it Ish! Those random decorative nick-knacks sure are a crafty lot and seem to have a way of sneaking into my apartment without me realizing it. Perhaps I should be setting out traps…

  3. ntexas99 November 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Hi Becky … enjoyed the post. I’m in a different place in my life, in that I’m over 50 and have accumulated lots of STUFF. Even with that, I’ve also taken to purging more and more of it in the past few years, partially due to moving, and partially due to the overall recognition that I just had too much stuff. I like your suggestion about breaking it down into doable chunks.

    One place where I ran into difficulty was the whole “do I sell it or give it away” question. I still have trouble with this one sometimes. One, if using craigslist or something similar, you always have to worry about safety. Two, when thinking about selling something, it often may have more value to you than someone else would be willing to pay. And third, assuming you can come up with an attainable and reasonable value, that doesn’t necessarily translate to finding an appropriate buyer. All things to consider.

    I am someone who can sometimes have difficulty letting go of things, (more on the emotional attachment than based on monetary value), but I was surprised to learn that the more I practiced “just getting it out the door”, the more I experienced a feeling of accomplishment, and a feeling of overall relief. This resulted in each subsequent batch of goods that ended up in the give-it-away pile becoming easier and easier to let go of, and lead to the surprising lesson that giving something away often holds more value than hanging on to it. That was an eye-opener for me.

    Which takes me where I was headed when I started this comment. One of the things that I’ve found the most useful in downsizing, at least for me, was that I do it in stages. I might go through everything in the house and get rid of perhaps 20% of my overall possessions. If I started with, for instance, 100 things, now I only have 80. Then maybe, a few months later, I decide to try again, and go for another 20% purge. Now 80 becomes 64 things. Then, because I’m finding it easier each time to get rid of things, maybe the next time I go for a 40% reduction. Now I’m down to only 38 things. And so on. If you keep doing that several times, eventually you’ll find yourself with a much smaller pile of stuff. Of course, this method requires time and wouldn’t work in a time crunch, but it also allows the reduction to be a gradual shrinking of the total number, and doesn’t feel so intimidating.

    Again, enjoyed the post. Good luck in your continued downsizing. Makes me want to go empty out another closet, or get rid of that third spatula. After all, how many spatula’s does one person really need? 🙂
    ntexas99 recently posted..oh happy dayMy Profile

    • Becky November 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      All very good advice Nancy, thank you for sharing your experience. I agree with your “practice makes perfect” mentality on downsizing. The more you do it, the easier it seems to get. 🙂

      I purposely posted my old console gaming stuff on Craigslist for less than I thought it was worth. I did have several people express interest in it, but in every case something came up that kept the sale from happening. First off I wanted cash, it just seemed the easiest way to go about it (and I was only asking $25). One person didn’t want to pay cash, so that fell through.

      Then another couple people sent me an initial e-mail saying that was okay, but when I tried to arrange a time for them to come get it they either never responded or we never found a time that worked for both of us and they lost interest. I needed to be able to invite them over so that they could test the console and equipment while it was hooked up to my TV to prove that it was all working right, and I refused to have a stranger in my apartment without my roommate being around as backup in case something happened.

      As I said, I’ll have one more go at it, and then like you said I’ll probably just give it away. At that point the hassle of dealing with it just isn’t worth $25 when there is so much other stuff on my plate right now.

      • ntexas99 November 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

        As a young single woman, you really do have to remember to keep safety first, but from what I’ve read, it sounds like you are someone who takes a measured and thoughtful approach to most things, so I’m sure you’re keeping personal safety factored into the equation.

        I also loved what you said about one of the more difficult categories … those things that “might come in handy while full timing”. When sorting through things, sometimes it’s hard to know whether the things that could be sorted into that pile will make the final cut, but at least you’re already thinking ahead to what fits into your master plan. It can be a fine balance between being prepared and holding on to too much. Until you’ve actually lived the life of full timing, it can be hard to gauge what “might come in handy” one day.

        BTW, I’m truly enjoying having the benefit of observing you going through the motions and steps to make your dream a reality. I hope it won’t sound odd coming from someone you don’t know personally at all, but I’m proud of you for allowing yourself to step outside of the usual and expected path of life, and into a life that is a more accurate reflection of who you want to be in the world. Bravo to you for casting aside your fears, and stepping boldly into a new reality!
        ntexas99 recently posted..Surprise, SurpriseMy Profile

        • Becky November 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

          Thank you. When it became clear to me that RVing was what I really wanted to do, I wanted to sing it for the world to hear. More than that. I want to show others that they could do it too. And so I write about RVing topics in a way that I hope will be educational, but it’s not just about that. It’s about looking inside yourself and making that decision to live deliberately, instead of just letting life happen to you. I can only hope to inspire others to do the same, because really the only thing stopping us from doing so is ourselves.

          One way or another, I’m going to make this work. It’s hard right now, much harder than just drifting through life following the standard template of school, college, marriage, house ownership, children, retirement. But now that I’ve seen another way there just really isn’t a choice. 🙂

  4. Cherie @ Technomadia November 24, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    Ahhh.. purging all that stuff. I remember those days well. It can be fun, liberating, emotional and frustrating.

    One thing we both did before we hit the road was host a ‘House Cooling Party’. For the things that we had emotional attachments to and thus couldn’t bring ourselves to just donate, or things that would be too difficult to try and sell.

    The idea was, our friends would come over for a bit of a ‘until next time’ party. But unlike a House Warming where you’d bring a gift, the guests each had to take at least one item. And we had them sign a guest book telling us what they took and how they’d use it.

    It’s so much fun now to go back and visit our friends, and also visit our art work, plants, furniture, collectables, etc.
    Cherie @ Technomadia recently posted..Five Years of Love on the RoadMy Profile

  5. Sam November 24, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    Hi Becky, my name is Sam and I’m a full time RVer.

    Each of us arrives at this lifestyle for various and sundry reasons. I wish I could claim that in some romantic sense mine has been the result of a dream. But, I can’t. Mine was born out of the fact that as an extended traveler earning a living on the road, full time RVing simply became more convenient with less stress. I’ve loved the business I’m in, but hated reserving accommodations where cleanliness was cosmetic at best and dinning out was always a constant issue. You might say that I backed into the lifestyle. Nevertheless, that hasn’t negated the serendipity of full time RVing.

    Today, I walk out my front door to million dollar views that heretofore I could never afford. Most days are shorts and t-shirt weather and I awake to song birds which have replaced the electronic rooster. There’s little noise or light pollution. Reality TV shows and sitcoms have been replaced by campfires, smores, and a heaven filled with stars. Wildlife abounds. Fresh fruits and veggies from the local farmer’s market have replaced the sodium rich TV dinners and restaurant menus. The commute to work is whatever I want it to be, 5 minutes or 1/2 hour. Sure, my home on wheels has all the comforts and conveniences short of a washer and dryer, but includes HD satellite TV, stereo, broadband internet, full kitchen and bath, queen sized bed with 500 thread count, 100% Egyptian cotton sheets and electric mattress pad warmer. A generator ensures power on demand when heavy appliances like air conditioning are desired. Home is where I park it.

    Although I’m of an older generation, it appears we all are subject to similar experiences in making the transition. We are conditioned all our lives to be upwardly mobile… to accumulate stuff. Yet, over time, we become a slave to it, economically and/or emotionally. We horde it. We store it. Once in a blue moon we check on it. We even insure it when in fact it has no value to others, even within our own families. There is a element of empowerment, a degree of liberation when we can let those things go. As I watched my parents and their parents in their latter years, it was very obvious that they placed far greater importance on relationships and life experiences than on material possessions.

    It’s interesting to see the mental processies you are making to arrive at the full time RV lifestyle. At your age, it’s outside the norm and beyond your years. Thanx for sharing. Best of luck and may you always have a tail wind.

    • ntexas99 November 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

      Hi Sam – enjoyed your comment, and the perspective you shared when “backing into the lifestyle” versus following a gran plan. Do you keep a blog? Would love to have the opportunity to observe things through a more mature lens, from someone who is already out there living this lifestyle. I’m interested in both sides of the equation (both the preparation stage, and the implementation stage). So, how about it? Do you blog?
      ntexas99 recently posted..Surprise, SurpriseMy Profile

      • Sam November 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

        Hello ntexas99. I’m simply not a blogger. I lack both the discipline and the writing skills to keep a blog current and interesting. While I do stay in touch with family and close friends via cell phone, Skype and e-mail, beyond that, it would seem too much like work for me.

        Besides, as mentioned, my journey evolved from an inspirational dissatisfaction. I sought to continue my vocation under better circumstances and wound up with an avocation in the process. Never did I considered blogging about it because, from a personal viewpoint, it’s much more fun to read about one’s passionate journey to a destination, than one’s arrival by default. It’s the difference between watching a sprinter’s 100 yard dash and a 26k marathon. While both require speed, endurance and strategy, I suppose I’m a sprinter trapped inside the body of a marathoner.

        Read and absorb all that you can with two thoughts in mind. First, this isn’t for everyone. Secondly, there is no right or wrong way to live this lifestyle. If you decide it’s something you want to pursue, I encourage you to enter it debt free and have an exit strategy. Be safe and healthy.

  6. Becky November 24, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Cherie, that house cooling thing sounds like a great idea. I’m already thinking about who I would invite to the theoretical event. This certainly deserves some consideration, thanks. 🙂

    Sam, thank you for commenting. You sumed the experience up much more eloquently than I ever could.

  7. Spotted Pony November 26, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    I find it slightly amusing that I’m reading this post the day after “Black Friday” while I’m pondering what to get you for for the holidays. 🙂

    Thank you Becky and everyone else fore sharing these “how to” downsize ideas. I may not be planning on RVing in the near future but these are helpful tips for bringing my stuff to a more manageable level for my current living situation (moved from a house to an apartment). 🙂 I tend to be the “well it isn’t broken, I may have a use for it later” type, so the idea of the gradual purge to get used to getting rid of things sounds reasonable for me to try.

    By the way Becky this is an awesome blog, I very much enjoy reading it, and I’m soooo excited you are following this dream! Keep it up I look forward to your future posts!


    • Becky November 26, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

      Thanks Lizz and I’m glad you found it useful. 🙂 I’m telling family to get me Amazon gift cards for Christmas. I came by a Kindle a few months ago which would allow me to take all my favorite books on the road for a lot less weight and space, now it’s a matter of getting them in digital format. 😛

      I heard from Julie that things are going pretty good for you up there. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving, be sure to hug the horses for me!

  8. Carolyn December 23, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Another great blog post.

    The day I purchased my RV (Dec 2009), I started getting rid of STUFF. I have always tried to keep my life simple and free of STUFF, but not always successful. At this stage in my life (I am 56 years old), I have come to realized that I don’t want the STUFF to own me. I want to own the STUFF. Less is more!

  9. KateH. January 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Becky – Your article hit upon the main ways to start to downsize – great job! Downsizing becomes difficult when you know you have to deal with stuff that is tied to you emotionally and getting it untied takes time and energy. That’s why it’s best to start the process early. We all can learn from you – I know I certainly have!
    Thanks again!
    KateH. recently posted..START To Downsize Book Review – “1001 IDEAS FOR KITCHEN ORGANIZATION – THE ULTIMATE SOURCE BOOK for storage ideas and materials” by Joseph R. ProveyMy Profile

    • Becky January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Thanks Kate, welcome to IO. 🙂

  10. Karen July 18, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    This is a very old post, but if anyone is “backreading” or hopping around IO, I thought of an idea I’d read that might help with letting go of some things. The thought was to take a picture of the item. That way, for sentimental items, you could enjoy looking at the item in a photo without taking taking up the space that the actual item would.might work for some things.

    • Becky July 18, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

      Certainly not a bad idea Karen, thanks for sharing. 🙂

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