Say Good-Bye to All of Your Stuff: An Amateur’s Guide to Downsizing

by Chloe Jeffreys · 11 comments

in Women in Midlife

barcelona kissThat Fire Sale on my life I promised back in November of 2012 is nearly over. By this time next week, all of my earthly possessions will either have been sold off at garage sale, placed in a metal container at a self-storage unit, donated to the local humane society, or thrown into the trash.

Downsizing is Not For Sissies

If you really want to experience all of your emotions at the same time, let me suggest that there is nothing quite like putting your hands on every single, solitary thing you own, reliving every memory and feeling you have ever had that’s attached to that thing, and deciding whether or not that thing–along with all of its memories and feelings–will continue to be a part of your life or cast away as useless flotsam upon the ever-receding sea of your finite existence.

If you want to know what downsizing is like, imagine going through the five stages of grief over everything you own. Over that old secretary desk you got at someone else’s garage sale twenty-five years ago, over the finger-painting your four-year old created for your birthday, over a roll of old Madonna and Child Christmas stamps you’ve been saving since the 1980s for some unknown reason you can’t quite explain. And on and on and on it goes.

My husband’s criteria has been very simple. He only asks himself one question:

“Do I ever want to move this thing again?”

Since I have a man to move my things for me–no matter how heavy or unwieldy–physics plays no part whatsoever in my decision-making. For me, it’s all about how I feel. There is a utilitarian component to it though, which is answered by my guiding question:

“Does this thing serve me?”


But that one question leads to many others:

  • Does this thing make me happy?
  • Does this thing make me sad?
  • Will I use this thing again?
  • When was the last time I used this thing?
  • Is this thing still in the same box I packed it in when we moved to the Mountain eleven years ago?
  • Do I like this thing?
  • Do I love this thing?
  • Have I always hated this thing but never had the courage to get rid of it?
  • Will I cry if I put this thing in the pile of things I no longer want?
  • Will I have a panic attack if I even dare think about not having this thing anymore? (This is the category that precious finger-painting fell into)

And on this will go until we reach the very last thing, which by my calculation should be sometime this Saturday afternoon.

The Answer is 42

And thus, the first leg of this twisty-turny journey my husband and I began on the second day of January, 2012, will be complete.

Or maybe our journey really began on the day we were born. Did the angels bet God that there was no way on earth these two people, so very, very different, and yet so very much alike, could possibly stay together through thick and thin?

Who knows? Who knows what manner of events, or the timing thereof, conspire to put us on the path to our destinies. Do we even have destinies? Is the trajectory of our lives God-ordained fate–Does Jesus have some wonderful plan for our lives?–or are our lives so entirely random that they are in fact utterly pointless?

It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that we’ve done it. We’ve really done it! We’ve let go of everything that was enslaving us to a life neither of us was happy living. And through it all, time and time again–even when it cost us dearly–we’ve chosen one another over every other consideration.

In November of 2012, we decided to walk away from our house after losing over $200K in equity, post-housing bust. And while there have been some rough patches–including California taking us to the cleaners in taxes–we’ve never looked back. It was without a doubt the best financial decision we could have ever made. Not having any other debt, our credit score barely felt the jiggle. But even so, we were willing to risk it. We were willing to risk everything for a life worth living with each other.

That house, and all of its stuff, was holding us hostage to a life that was making both of us miserable. It, and all of its useless–not-even-worth-moving-again–contents, failed to serve us. And we decided we’d be damned if we’d continue being indentured servants to some things.

Dreams Do Come True

In December of 2011, I had a dream (I know this because I have a post in my drafts file about it that I never published). I dreamed that I woke up and looked out the window of a house I’d never been in before, and everything that was stealing my peace and joy was gone from my life. What I remember most about this dream is how happy I felt. And I clearly remember the words I said to myself in this dream as the sun poured through that window. I said, “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Maybe Kris Kristofferson was right and freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. All I do know for sure is that right now I have a peaceful, easy feeling.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Hazel Owens May 5, 2016 at 6:52 am

I think that the questions you listed are some good things to ask yourself when deciding what to keep. While you can always place some stuff in storage, there’s no point in paying to store something that you don’t want. Going through everything you own can be an emotional experience, but it can be worth it in the end when you aren’t overwhelmed by possessions anymore. Thanks for the article.


Jenn December 7, 2015 at 11:30 am

We are about to move for the second time in two years. Of course, it wasn’t even 3 months ago that we finally cleared out our storage unit and finished moving in, before life came along and we needed to move again! We’re downsizing a lot this time, so we can save some money on all those things we didn’t urgently need, and not have such a large storage unit this time.


Jenn October 27, 2015 at 12:59 pm

This sounds like it was an incredibly freeing experience. We too have a ton of stuff that we rarely use and don’t have room to store. Some of it is gathering dust in a storage unit. Other things are hogging space in the few storage closets we have. You’ve inspired me to downsize!


Wendy Cartright October 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm

You are so right! Downsizing is not for “sissies.” I am preparing to move into my new tiny house with my husband in a few months and I have been sorting through all of our things, decided what gets to stay and what I have to say goodbye to. There are a few things that I don’t have a problem selling or donating, but there are also a few things that I am just too emotionally attached to. I am trying to be strong because I know it will be so good for us in the end. Truthfully, I will probably save a few special things in a mini storage unit that we can’t fit in our new home. Thank you for sharing your story!


bryan flake August 14, 2015 at 4:02 pm

It is so cool how all ten of your bullet point questions matter. I think that when it comes to storing things, you really have to start asking yourself questions. When you look at an object and how you use it, from many different angles, you can really evaluate if it is worth storing away or throwing away.


AJ July 27, 2015 at 10:47 pm

This is miraculous to me. You’re so courageous and wonderful.


Suzanne July 22, 2015 at 7:00 am

It’s funny how when your life as an “adult” begins you begin this mad dash to collect “stuff” and then you hit a certain age and you begin to divest yourself of that very same stuff that seemed so important to you years ago. We too have gone through several downsizes and are about to embark on an even more significant downsize soon. Now is the time to get rid of things I don’t want to pay to sit in storage. (Do I really need ornaments for TWO Christmas trees?) I congratulate you on this brave new move. We are trying to do the same.


Suzanne Fluhr July 21, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Having downsized 3 times for us and twice for my parents, at this point, I’m pretty ruthless about being able to part with things. The first time was the hardest. Deep breath. Now you get to move on. Congratulations.
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Shorty July 21, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Was it really Jan of 2012? I cannot believe how the time has slipped away- I too feel a slave to ‘things’- precious, cherished things that are in boxes since our last move over 10 years ago. Things that have a cherished history to me but my children grew up without (since they remain in boxes) and one day they will throw away- if I don’t do it first. Thinking that, hard as it is, I should toss the stuff now, as I have forever lost the opportunity to share why these things were (are still) precious to me. Too much loss, overall… and, just maybe, not the same happy end to look ahead to. Life can be a bitch sometimes. Love you though, girl- happy for your outcome. You have earned it. <3


House Crazy Sarah July 21, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Yep, I sometimes envy those who lost everything in a natural disaster. How twisted is that? But it just illustrates how tethered we are to “stuff”. It never used to be that way. Houses barely had any storage 100 years or more ago, and if they did it was for food. My ancestor’s life-long possessions could fit in a trunk. One trunk. How did we get to the point where we need storage units just to house boxes of junk we haven’t looked at in 10 years?
House Crazy Sarah recently posted..Big changes at House Crazy!My Profile


Liv July 21, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Wow! It sounds so freeing – much like a dream. Congrats!
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