By Heather McClenahan
A major consideration in any move overseas is: what are you going to do with all your stuff?
You could take it with you… but in most cases, the cost of buying all new things is less than the cost of bulk shipping.
That said, we all have those mementos and heirlooms that we can’t part with, meaning shipping and storing some items is necessary.
My husband and I plan to spend the next three years traveling and living in various countries around the world and have decided to store our stuff.
Once we decide where we want to end up, the contents of our storage unit will join us there.
For the past 20 years, we lived in a 2,168-square-foot house, which we shared with three kids and multiple dogs… You can imagine the amount of downsizing we needed to do to file our possessions away into a 10-by-12 storage unit.
Squishing the bulk of our worldly possessions into such a small space has been a huge challenge, forcing us to question some fundamental beliefs and reexamine what we value.
At times, it has also been a test for our relationship…
If you plan on going through the downsizing process, here’s some advice.
1. Get An Early Start And Set A Tentative Deadline
Having a deadline is important. Otherwise, you’ll keep putting this tedious and sometimes painful process off…
Whether it’s a real deadline (we’re closing on the house in four weeks) or one that you set artificially, try to stick to it.
This process takes a tremendous amount of time, and even if you start early, you’ll still be rushing at the end. Be prepared for that.
We set a tentative “retirement time” about 18 months prior to the actual event. The date slipped by a few months, but at least we had a general target to shoot for.
You should also celebrate once finished with this project. Congratulate yourself on a job well done when you get there.
2. Take Your Time
Even with a looming deadline, don’t rush this.
You need to go through your stuff. Empty the boxes in the attic, basement, and garage.
Go through your books, remembering that you can check out nearly every book on the planet from a library, including online. (It’s okay to keep the Pulitzer Prize-winning book signed by the author.)
Go through your closets, whether it’s clothes closets, linen closets, or “storage” closets.
Get rid of the clothes you’re saving for when you lose weight and the four sets of extra towels that you were given as wedding presents that you don’t use because they don’t match the bathroom.
Go through the kitchen cabinets and drawers. Each item needs to be looked at, and that takes time.
If you don’t do it this way, you’ll end up throwing things in boxes towards the end, and that won’t help you in the long run.
3. Lists And Measurements
As you begin the plan to relocate, make a list of the items you want to keep and start with the largest. Measure those large items to determine if they’ll fit in the storage unit or shipping container.
Pare down and edit the list as needed. Keep doing this until you know everything will fit. Remember that you have cubic feet (the height of the unit) at your disposal, too, not just the square footage on the floor.
We found that using uniform box sizes also helped. The large, medium, and small boxes purchased from the hardware store fit together like puzzle pieces and made stacking them into a confined space much easier.
4. Realize It’s An Emotional Process
We’ve all heard of Marie Kondo, the downsizing guru who tells you to ask yourself if an object sparks joy when deciding whether to keep it or not.
There’s something to that, on one hand…
On the other hand, while our daughter’s preschool art still sparks joy, it’s wrinkled, falling apart, and takes up tremendous amounts of space.
Digital photographs of the art are better than keeping the originals. The process goes beyond sparking joy, too.
So many memories get tied up in stuff. Somewhere along the line, I realized I didn’t need either of my grandmothers’ knickknacks to remember them.
The handiwork that one did, such as an exquisite crocheted bedspread, and the recipes handed down by the other are important. Those are worth the storage space to me.
The other items, such as a little ceramic dog that sat on a shelf collecting dust and then in a box in the attic, don’t need to be kept.
Acknowledge emotional ties to objects. It’s okay to be sentimental, but weigh those sentiments against the amount of space you have, and remember that space equals money, whether it’s a storage unit or the size of your house.
5. Cut Your Partner Some Slack
If you’re going through this process with your partner, be nice to him or her. Remind him or her to be nice to you, too.
It’s hard on both of you. Some items that are vitally important to one of you may be worthless trash to the other.
Learn to compromise. Communicate why certain things are important to you—why you feel they belong.
Take time apart to cool off when necessary, and realize that, in the end, your relationship, not the stuff you have, is what’s most important.
6. Thrift Stores Are Your Friends
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
We filled our SUV with eight loads for the nearby Goodwill. We also donated countless items to a charitable thrift store in our hometown and felt lighter after every load, content that those items were being used for good causes.
Give bulky items like trampolines or barbecue grills to relatives and friends. This is a great way to get rid of things that are cheaper to buy in your new location than to store or transport.
Remember to get receipts and keep records of donations if you itemize your taxes. Depending on how much stuff you get rid of, it could pay off with the IRS.
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Throw Things Away
I tease that my husband has an Irish last name but a Scottish soul. He’s tight with money.
The idea of throwing away perfectly useful items goes against his grain. Still, there’s no justification for keeping seven partially used bottles of sunscreen.
It’s easier to throw that kind of stuff away earlier in the process than try to scramble as your deadline approaches.
The thrift stores can’t use your old VCR, the library doesn’t need your old cassette tapes, and nobody wants the sheet you cut holes in to make a Charlie Brown ghost costume and then kept because you never knew when you might need it again.
These things are trash; toss them.
8. Go Through Everything A Second (Or Third) Time
As you get rid of stuff, you’ll find the process gets easier the more you do it. So, do a first round.
Then go through what you’ve kept and get rid of more stuff. By the time you get to your deadline, you may find yourself tossing stuff that you originally thought you couldn’t live without.
Downsizing is a process. It takes time, physical and emotional energy, and a great deal of patience.
In the end, though, you’ll be less weighed down by stuff and freer to focus on enjoying the rest of your life.