This guest post was written by Betsy, co-author of Married With Luggage.
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 10-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 3+ 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. The Reverse Birthday Party
For my 39th birthday I picked 39 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 is 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. The Craigslist Store
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 2 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 1 month out, 6 months out, or whatever. I will be blown away if you end up going back for even 10% 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 (you know, 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. 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.
Final Thoughts 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 4 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 5 methods above into your current (cluttered) lifestyle. I promise, you’ll find yourself in a clutter-free state in no time.
Betsy Talbot is one half of the blogging team at Married with Luggage. When she’s not writing, she’s paring down, saving up, and getting ready to travel the world with her husband Warren. Betsy shares her secrets on saving money in the free ebook How We Saved Enough Money to Change Our Lives (and How You Can, Too!).
Photo by: Dustin Diaz
I really like your Reverse Birthday Party idea.
That’s a creative twist on fostering your friendships while de-cluttering your life.
In general, before I just throw something away or put it on sale somewhere, I always think of my existing contacts first. Is there someone who would like or could use this?
It’s rewarding to see someone treasure your item and put it to good use.
P.S.: Good luck on your upcoming journey. 🙂
Alex Blackwell says
You know, as I approach my late-40s, downsizing my life just feels better. The clutter Mary Beth and I acquired while raising our children is no longer needed. We just want “simple” in our lives now.
Shannon OD says
I absolutely LOVE the reverse birthday party idea – that is just brilliant. I just finished from a year RTW trip, and coming back from that trip helped me release my attachment to many of the items I was still keeping (even though I downsized massively before I left). It’s just amazing once you get into the mindset to see how little you need to be happy 🙂
Great! this is perfect for my mom!
You HAVE to put social links in the end. I always share this kind of articles and it’d really help your traffic… 😀
I think Im gonna try the reversed gifts. Sounds fun.
Will Blog for Shoes says
This is awesome! Very inspiring!
I am a minimalist so your post rings true for me. I have an organizing business and often try to help people declutter. It’s amazing to me what people hold on to….and it’s a very difficult challenge trying to get them to let go. I am not sure how good I am at convincing them of it, but for me it is definitely free-ing to not be so tied down to stuff. I like your “one thing in, two things out” rule.
Tomas Stonkus says
I have done this. The feeling is fantastic!
Less things to worry about, less things to keep track of, to maintain, to worry about losing and so on!
Right now, I can fit all of my belongings in a suitcase and a backpack 🙂 I mean everything!
Congratulations on the upcoming trip and being able to downsize your life! Not many people do this, but I am glad that you were able to move on and create new memories instead of hanging to old ones.
Betsy Talbot says
It is hard for me to convey how much the Reverse Birthday Party meant for me. Even if you aren’t ditching everything to travel, you will LOVE the space this opens up in your home and fills in your heart. It is by far my favorite thing we have done in the downsizing process. If you want to read more about how I did it you can click here:
And if you ever do host one of your own I’d love to hear about it.
John Rocheleau - Zen-Moments says
It’s too bad we have to call it “downsizing.” That sounds so negative; like we’re losing something in the process. But as your title implies: it’s really about up-sizing our lives.
Downsizing is all about simplifying. When we simplify our lives, we increase our satisfaction because we have more available focus to engage the right-now-core-aspects of life. And that’s positive.
If we simplify our lives — we will deepen our relationship to life; to ourselves, our friends and family, our work, and to nature.
The concept of downsizing is simple. The rewards, if done with good intent, are deeply satisfying in a quiet and powerful way.
Craig Thomas says
Downsizing is something I take passion in – I need several reasons for every item I use or have – or I won’t use or have it. That way I’m not clammed up with distraction.
Travis Alexander says
The more things we have, the more things we want. The less things we have, the less we realize we need. Its the simple things in life that truly matter.
Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice says
OMG I love your reverse B’day party idea! I was looking for something new to do this year for my b’day and I can add that to my list! 🙂
Betsy Talbot says
For those of you who like simplicity you will appreciate the quote I just ran across today. Happiness for me means I need less stuff.
“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.” – Eric Hoffer
Travis Alexander says
Betsy, that quote is awesome! Uploading it to my long term memory…
Avish Parashar - Motivational Smart Ass says
Nice post with some good ideas. I spent last Memorial Day weekend “de-cluttering” my condo. I thought it would take a day and half or so, but three days later and I still hadn’t gotten through the whole place! It’s amazing how stuff accumulates. And of course it’s started to creep back – I need to apply the “one in two out rule” – or at least start with a “one in one out” rule!
very nice article, i will start down sizing right away:)
Newlywed & Unemployed says
These are fantastic tips! Incredibly user friendly and easy to implement ASAP.
My sister taught me the ‘take a picture of it’ trick and I wish I’d known that before I emptied out boxes of childhood memories, but oh well.
Also, one thing I do is keep a Goodwill box by the door so that as soon as I don’t want something, it’s immediately out of the drawer/closet/shelf and that much closer to out of sight, out of mind.
Lovin’ the reverse bday party!! :-))
Meg at Demanding Joy says
Love, love, love this post! I firmly believe that you have to get rid of old clutter, whether it be physical or psychological, in order to make room for new, great things to come into your life. Too much stuff distracts us from our true intentions. Happy purging!
These are some excellent ideas. I’ve been living out of a backpack for many years now and use the simple 1 thing in, 1 thing out rule to maintain my downsized life. And as time passes by, I realize more and more how little influence my few possessions have on my overall happiness…
These are some great ideas. I’ve been living out of a backpack for quite a few years now and use the simple 1 thing in, 1 thing out rule in order to maintain my downsized life. And as time passes by, the more I realize how little influence my few possessions have on my overall state of happiness…
Japanese Phrases says
I did this a little over a year ago when I left Tokyo. It feels really great. The less you have the easier things are.
Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says
Downsizing is huge! pardon the semi-pun. Outside clutter is a reflection of inner clutter so sort one out and the other will benefit.
Marc Winitz says
I’ll give you a $1000 if you call my mom and tell her to do all this. 😉
The benefits of purging of things are truly an amazing thing! Recall how uplifted you often feel when you move to a new place, travel lightly (just a carry-on), or even get a blood transfusion. Off with the old, on with the new, always feels spectacular!
I just recently got rid of most of my old electronics (vcr, dvd player, cd player) and replaced it with one media streaming device that handles it all. not only was I able to get rid of my bulky media cabinet, and replace it with something as elegant as LLUM (thellum.com), but I also realized how easier it is to breathe now in the room.
Purge of old things, they are useless!
I am in the process of slowly doing the same thing. I was actually the “family repository” for everyone’s stuff – the whole 2nd floor of the barn where i used to live was full of other people’s stuff! That’s all gone – and soon as I finish some legal stuff, I am going to FINISH going thru and eliminating. I am hesitant on my clothes, for now, b/c i have lost a bunch of weight and will gain some back when i eliminate cigs after legal.
But — I LOVE the “one in, two out” RULE! Going to be a MUST DO.
Also love the concept of the reverse birthday party – but haven’t had a birthday party since my mom died 12 years ago.