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Living With Less: How to Get Rid of All Your Junk, FAST.

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You’ve probably noticed the lull in blogging around here lately. I apologize.

Let me give you a short history on our Stuff.

Foc'sle, Charles W Morgan

Foc'sle, Charles W Morgan

I used to live and work on sailing vessels. I had a teeny-tiny amount of personal space. You know, like a 6’x3’x3′ bunk, with a curtain. Myself and all of my possessions had to fit into that space! Now, anyone who sailed with me will tell you that my Stuff always overflowed my space, and I had a duffel bag here, a guitar there, and usually I would sleep in odd places because my bunk was full of Stuff. But basically, it fit in my bunk with me. At this time I didn’t have a home anywhere else, but I did have a 5’x5′ storage unit in Seattle, stuffed to the ceiling with who knows what.

When my husband and I stopped sailing, we moved into a 4-bedroom house with separate living and dining areas, enclosed porches with storage areas, and a full basement. We went to Seattle and brought back a bunch of Stuff. The house was enormous, and our Stuff didn’t fill it up, so we thought we were fine.

Then we moved into a 3-bedroom townhouse. We crammed Stuff into every corner and stacked it up in boxes in every room. We felt trapped. I made excuses because one of the bedrooms was my sewing room, and one was my stock room and studio. So I let the Stuff take over, and spread out where it would.

We soon realized that we hated our house full of Stuff as much as we hated the climate in Indiana, and it became our goal to move back to California. We found the perfect little town, Morro Bay, and the perfect little (and I do mean little) apartment, and once we got excited about the new place, it was easier to let go of all the Stuff we’ve become so attached to. We’ve had a very short time to do our Extreme Downsize, but we’ve done it in phases. Here’s how:

Phase 1: Decide what you want to keep. We each made a list of our 100 most prized possessions, and made sure to set all those things aside. We went through our clothes, our toiletries, our kitchen wares, our wall art, everything. We set aside only the things we really need and will use regularly. This became very difficult when it came to books! But we kept at it.

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Phase 2: Put things up for sale. We did this in 2 ways: We listed larger items on Craigslist and our local university classifieds, and had a moving sale with everything else, plus what was listed on Craigslist. Things to remember when selling your beloved possessions: 1. People do not want to pay what you think your Stuff is worth. People want a bargain, and that’s why they’re going to yard sales and checking out Craigslist! Visualize yourself in that new state of Freedom from Junk, and lower the price! 2. If you have valuable books. like current textbooks or hard-to-find nonfiction, list them on Amazon. It’s a great system, and Amazon reimburses you for shipping costs. You can also check out prices for used books before you list, so you know if they’re worth listing or not. I recently made $45 off an Anthology of Children’s Literature in good condition. You can also do trade-ins. 3. List smaller, more valuable items on eBay with a short end date (like a 3 day auction instead of a 7 day). Smaller means less shipping hassle, and if you list things on Craigslist and eBay before your yard sale, you can still try to sell the leftovers at the yard sale. 4. Try not to pay for advertising for a yard sale, unless there are multiple families splitting the bill. A 3-day ad in our local newspaper costs $40 and up, and it’s the shortest ad duration you can buy. Imagine taking $40 out of your yard sale profits and handing them over to the newspaper, when you could list elsewhere for free. 5. Put up good signs. Arrow shaped signs, or at least signs with big, bright arrows on them will tell people everything they need to know about your sale. List a few specifics on the sign for people that are really looking closely, but most people will drive by your sale to check it out instead of stopping to read the sign. However, you SHOULD post a start date and an end date, and then TAKE DOWN THE SIGNS WHEN IT’S OVER! 6. Price things to go. You don’t want to cart Stuff back home after this sale.

Phase 3: Give it all away. That’s right. If nobody has bought it by now, it’s time to give it away. If you have valuable furniture in good condition, you can try selling it to a furniture or antiques dealer first. But you may be surprised at just how good it feels to give stuff away, especially to a person who really needs or loves it. In fact, you might want to skip phase 2 entirely and proceed straight to giving everything away. If you can, donate things like blankets, baby and children’s items, and clothing in good condition to a local women’s shelter. If you have time, post a “curb alert” on Craigslist, saying “Hey! I’ve got free stuff outside at this address! Come and get it!” Otherwise, haul it off to the thrift store. (Some larger thrift stores will pick up large items, but they may require up to a week’s notice!) If you find it difficult to give things away, remember your ultimate goal: freedom from Stuff. Anyone who takes away your Stuff for free is helping out your cause! If there’s anything left over at the end of the day, be responsible and get rid of it yourself, especially if you’re moving out. Don’t leave it for somebody else to clean up! You can also call a junk hauler to haul it away. A note of caution: many “junk haulers” you find in classified ads are just people who have a truck. They are not necessarily a business with a reputation to keep up. I once paid someone to haul away my Stuff, drove away to my new home, and later found out that they had not hauled anything away. Jeepers.

My Trunk on the First Day of Moving Small Stuff
Image by DJOtaku via Flickr

Phase 4 (and this is important, so pay attention): Go through your stuff AGAIN. Yep, all that stuff you thought you were keeping: As you pack it up, think “What else can I get rid of?” How many of your favorite books could you pick up again for 25 cents if you really wanted to read them again? How many times have you used that cupcake pan in the past year? Do you really want to hang up this same old faded painting of flowers in a vase in your new home? How many wool overcoats are you going to need in California? When are you going to fit into those DKNY jeans again? Wouldn’t it be more fun to buy yourself a new pair when you get down to that size again? And at that point you could implement a “one in, one out” rule and get rid of your current pair. You get the idea. Once you feel the relief of getting rid of Stuff, you might not want to stop. (But do make sure to consider carefully before getting rid of any heirlooms or other sentimental items. You might be ok with letting them go, but you might regret it.)

Keep your end goal in mind, and visualize your new, clutter-free life! You can do it!

Here are some more articles to get you motivated:

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June 13, 2010 Posted by | Living With Less | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Minimalist Epiphany

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What happened is this: We have a lot of stuff. Some of it is from my business, but most of it is just stuff. And ever since we moved from a huge house into a smaller (3 bedroom) townhouse, a bunch of our “stuff” is still in boxes making our living room look like a shipping warehouse.

So here I am feeling all hemmed-in and drowning in “stuff” (most of which is books, clothes that don’t fit anymore, little I-don’t-even-know-why-I-have-this junk, and a few souvenirs), and I got the brilliant idea that the solution was to move into a bigger house, so we decided to move somewhere cheap (like the SoCal desert where I grew up) where we could afford a lot of house.

And then I realized, if we’ve been able to leave all these things in boxes for this many months and haven’t needed them, why would we carry them with us to a new place? And if having so much stuff is confining us to some not-so-desirable location where we can spread it all out, is it really worth having? We’re just two people! How much do two people need?

I started investigating answers to that very question, and I stumbled upon something called the 100 Things Project. I started reading about minimalism, not as an abstract, austere philosophy of existence, but as a low-stress, uncluttered, practical way of life! The more personal stories I read, the more doable it seems. The greatest thing is: It feels like what I’ve been seeking all my life. Ever since I was a young child, I’ve struggled with clutter, and emotional attachment to “stuff.” I’ve always felt and worked best in an open, uncluttered environment (like a huge house with one or two empty rooms, or a 100+ foot sailboat out at sea).

I always thought the answer lay in being better organized, in spending money on better shelving systems, or labeling the “stuff” so I would know what was inside all those boxes that were ruining my life. But that’s not it. Letting go of all the things that are cluttering up my home, my life, and my brain is the only way out. And now that I’ve decided to do it, the preliminary decluttering is not as hard as I thought it would be.

We’re doing an Extreme Downsize. Our goal is to move all the way from Indiana to California with only the things we can fit in our minivan. In addition to freeing us from our stuff, we won’t have to rent a moving van or moving service, we won’t be overwhelmed by moving in and unpacking, and we can live in MUCH LESS SPACE, which means we can afford a tiny place in a town we love.

Hooray for minimalism!

I know that decluttering won’t be so easy once we get down to a few things that we really cherish, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

That reminds me. Do you know what towns in California are known for having public transportation or being “Bike Friendly?” Portland, Oregon is probably the best known West Coast town with that reputation, but we’re looking at the Central Coast or Southern California.


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April 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments