Monday, November 3, 2014

Step #5 Downsizing

Downsizing is the next of the 12 steps I’ve identified to create an environment for living free. I’m sure you’ve heard people say (and maybe said it yourself from time to time) “less is more.” In my experience, this is a universal truth. Unfortunately, we live in both a society and a world where abundance and prosperity is measured in tangibles or, as I like to call it, “Stuff.” Ultimately, most people are, to some degree, pack rats. There is a small percentage who are minimalists by nature and finds great comfort in acquiring and maintaining only that which they truly need to live comfortably. On the other extreme, there is another small percentage we call hoarders. These people will collect just about anything, often with no reason, and just stack it up in their homes, businesses and even rent additional storage space to keep it. It appears that their satisfaction in having all the stuff is simply to have all the stuff.

While I have gone into some depth for the first four steps of the 12 Steps for Living Free and Downsizing is no less important or challenging, I’m going to breeze through it and the remaining seven steps. The book titled 12 Steps for Living Free will provide more detail and depth.

I recently read Courtney Carver’s ebook, Simple Ways ToBe More With Less: Life On Purpose, and I’ve posted a review of it, you can read the review if you click on the title. Courtney is on the same track as I am and vice-versa and I’ve gained some interesting ideas and insights from her book.

No Punches Pulled

So, on to this challenging process called “Downsizing.”  

I’m not going to pull any punches. No matter who you are, you have stuff you don’t need. Further, you likely have TOO MUCH stuff you really don’t need. So, let’s examine some of your excuses . . . oops, I mean reasons (that’s how you’re rationalizing your stuff) for keeping this stuff:

1.   I’ve hardly worn these clothes and they’ll come back into fashion one day
2.   I may need “this” someday (whatever “this” is – a left handed corkscrew, I’m right handed)
3.   I love books and I invested a lot in my library, I need them for reference, I’ll read them again
4.   Vinyl sounds so much better then CDs – it’s a warmer sound
5.   I’ve had these plastic model airplanes, boats, cars, (or whatever) since I was a kid
6.   I have three sets of dinnerware in storage that I’m saving for the kids
7.   These tools belonged to my father and my father’s father before him
8.   I have 350 baseball caps from everyplace I’ve ever been, including the local supermarket
9.   I have five large cartons of old photos and negatives dating back 150 years, these are valuable
10. We love music so we’ve been collecting CDs for years, probably have over 2,000 by now
11. We have the 16mm & 8mm home films and the VHS videos we shot dating back to the 40’s
12. I have my wedding dress (all three of them, actually), my high school and college prom dresses
13. I have my college blazer from the Class of ’67 and all my military uniforms
14. I have all my college textbooks; they were just too expensive to get rid of
15. I have all my tax returns, receipts, and records of my doctor visits since 1979
16. I have all the kids baby clothes and school papers, drawings and so on from all four kids
17. We have holiday decorations dating back to when we were kids, some are 60 years old or more

This list could go on to infinity, but I hope you’ve received the message.

The “Stuff Warehousing Business”

That’s what I call it. You’re in the business of warehousing stuff. Why call it that? Be serious! Go down the list and look at it realistically, I know, you think you are, but most of us don’t and you’re likely just like most of the rest of us.

Why do we do it? I listed a few of the excuses we all use to rationalize irrational behavior. I’m not sure if collecting stuff and being a pack rat isn’t some form of mental illness that afflicts most people or not. I’m not a psychologist. But, it seems that there may be some characteristics of potential neurotic, OCD and insecurity issues. Am I calling you crazy? No! I’m calling all of us a little crazy. A little crazy is probably normal since I can’t exactly define normal behavior either.

The process of downsizing is very cathartic for most people. We each attach meanings and values to things that are very personal and often meaningless to others. Perhaps you’re attached to a ragged, worn old chair or a “lucky” football jersey you wore out years ago, but still wear. It may be a scarf your mother gave you when you were 16 or a baby tooth you carry in a small charm on a bracelet you wear when you need grounding. You have them just as I do and everyone else does.

The process of doing a major downsize is stressful, emotional and sometimes heartrending. You will find yourself sitting at a table or on the floor surrounded by boxes and piles of your “stuff” laughing, crying and in moments that may grow into minutes or even hours of reverie as you find some old letters or a journal or a diary written by a parent, a former lover or a long since out of the nest offspring. This step, along with steps #8 and #9 are, perhaps, the most emotionally challenging and difficult to get through. You’ll have a difficult time deciding what to get rid of. It’s easier not to get rid of anything, which unfortunately, many people choose and then, when they die, leave this personal responsibility on the shoulders of their children who now have to wrestle with their own emotional issues regarding your life and “stuff.”

Prepare to be insulted when you’re offered $50 for the couch you paid $2,500 for 30 years ago. People will come to your yard/garage/moving/downsizing sales and insult you, never intentionally, just from the perspective that they don’t have the emotional ties to what they are interested in buying from you as you, the seller, do.

Steel yourself as I ultimately had to when I took 20 large, heavy cartons of books I considered valuable to a used bookstore. Out of all those books they only found enough to offer me $20.00. They wanted to load the rest back into my van. In a split second I said, no thank you, just donate them to the local library or someplace. $20.00 for thousands of dollars in value . . . at one time. Sure, I could have continued taking them from place to place, but to what end? I could have ended up investing hundreds of dollars of my time and gas for the van to end up with . . . maybe $100.00?

Be prepared! This is one of the most important steps in moving from where you are to living free, but it’s also one of the hardest. I’ve been there and done it. I turned down the tee shirt; didn’t need it.

Hang On, The Wild Ride Begins

1.   Older Clothes – newer fabrics, patterns, cuts will come back into fashion, but these won’t. Get rid of the pedal pushers, culottes, Nehru shirts, bellbottoms, and tacky gold neck chains – Today! We all end up adhering to the 80/20 rule for some reason – we wear 20% of the current clothes we have 80% of the time and the other 80% we seldom wear even 20% of the time – and we don’t wear the older clothes at all. We just warehouse them.

2.   I may need “this” someday (whatever “this” is) No, you won’t! It’s way cheaper to buy new then to pay to store it - IF you ever do need it again. Clean out the junk drawer(s), closets, shelves, etc.

3.   Books – you might use a few for reference, the rest are dust collectors – You’re not going to read those books again. And guess what? We have libraries. If a book is that important, you can borrow it for free. Off to the yard sales, flea markets, used bookstores and the occasional dealer if you have any first editions of important books, especially signed first editions.

4.   Vinyl records – get a life, most of this is crap and hype from a few nuts that believe they can hear the wind blowing on Mars. I’ve been in the recording industry for nearly 50 years and it’s full of BS to get people to buy more stuff and believe old stuff is cool – even Oldsmobile is past tense. Make digital copies if you must, it will preserve all the surface noise, clicks and pops and take up way less space. If you have some collector’s items, research them and sell them, use the money for a vacation.

5.   Plastic model airplanes, boats, cars and so on are so ancient history. I went to a model store the other day and all the brands of model airplane motors that my dad and I had no longer exist, like the Oldsmobile. These take up expensive space. Take digital pictures and store them on a hard drive. Who is going to want this stuff when you die and how long do you think your kids are going to take deciding which truck going to the landfill is going to deliver them. Save them the time NOW!

6.   Old dinnerware is just what your kids want. First, much of the older dinnerware wasn’t dishwasher safe and who wants to wash dishes by hand anymore? Second, they want their own stuff based on their own tastes and lifestyle. Third, while some of it MAY have some antique value, most does not. Tell the kids you’re downsizing, there are some things they MAY be interested in – take a look, take it now or it’s gone. Maybe you can find a dealer who sells replacement pieces to other pack rats who are still keeping old dinnerware or a used “stuff” dealer or a local auction house. It’s not that hard to research to see if it has any value at all and if it does – take the money and run.

7.   Old tools and that’s exactly what they are, old tools. Obviously, you’re not using them; you’re storing them for posterity. Fahgetit! Just like the old dinnerware, there may be a few pieces that have some value. Go through the same process with the kids. They likely won’t want them. Take the time to research if you want to sell off the potentially valuable stuff and just get rid of the rest.  

8.   Baseball caps, cards, comic books, magazines, buttons, thimbles, jelly glasses and whatever else are taking up space and costing money. Let’s face it you’ve blown hundreds and maybe thousands on items like these. I had Hard Rock Café tee shirts, other tee shirts from many other places I visited and a collection of baseball caps from everywhere I went. This stuff all takes up space and ends up valueless. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Photographs are a much better way to remember someplace you’ve visited. Keep a very few hats and things and get rid of the rest. By the way, don’t be surprised if all that collectible stuff doesn’t have the value you thought it did? Times change and so do demands, interests and values.                

9.   Photographs can be another space waster. Photographic prints, negatives, slides, slide trays and photo albums were the primary method of retaining graphic memories of time and people past. Photographs still are, but convert to the 21st Century and digital photography. Learn to scan old stuff into your computer and store it there and on CD’s. Create screen savers where you can watch a selection of these memories pass by like an animated art gallery. Eliminate all the space and inconvenience of those old memories with digital files, backed up and they won’t deteriorate. Give any old photos to people they will be meaningful to and dump the rest.

10. Music CD’s can also become costly and space wasting. You may have a collection of a thousand or more CD’s by certain artists, plus box sets of the “Music of Your Life.” You really only listen to a limited number of these CD’s on a regular basis. The rest mainly collect dust. Sort through the CD’s, identify the must have music and transfer them onto your computer or iPod. Then sell them, give them away or whatever. By the way, you can hear almost any music you want to hear on Pandora and several other music services commercial free on the Internet.

11. Oh my God! What are you going to do with those old 16 and 8mm home movies and the VHS videos you’ve been shooting since about 1977? Wonderful memories are stored on these media. But, it’s hard to find good, working, reliable 16 and 8mm projectors any longer and most of those films don’t have sound anyway. VHS video has also joined the dinosaurs and is rapidly becoming extinct. To the best of my knowledge, no one is manufacturing a stand alone VHS VCR any longer. So, purchase a little transfer kit that allows you to feed the video or film into your computer as digital data and store them on DVD’s and a hard drive. Or, if you don’t want to become more techy, pay someone else to do it for you. Do it now while you still can. The longer you wait, the harder and more expensive it will become to transfer and salvage your important memories. Then, dump the film and videotapes. More stuff gone!

12. Wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and prom dresses - I have four words – Get Rid Of Them! If you have one (or more) wedding dresses you wore them one time for one special occasion. They don’t work for any other occasion. They have likely yellowed with age. They probably don’t fit your daughter(s) or granddaughter(s). They are totally out of style. And, there are few new brides who REALLY want to wear a “hand me down” wedding dress. The same applies to prom dresses and those typically awful bridesmaid dresses that you would have rather gone naked before consciously choosing one of those dresses. These all have one use one time.  Some consignment stores specialize in vintage (yes, I said vintage) dresses of this kind. There are prom dress rental stores that might buy them if they are modern enough. Also, high school, college and community theaters are always looking for donations they can add to their costume departments. Let them go.

13. Old blazers, athletic clothes and military uniforms all had their time and purpose. But, that isn’t today. Ask yourself; will you be in high school or college again? Will you ever play football or run track on the college team again? Will you ever be in the military again? Do any of these clothes still fit you? If, by some slim chance they do, would you ever wear them to any occasion other then a costume party? Take digital photos and then – Get Rid Of Them! Enough said.

14. College textbooks are another issue. What compels us to keep these old books? Is it because they were so expensive (read overpriced) when we bought them as “required texts?” Is it because of all the valuable, outdated content you probably never read? Is it because one day you’re going to read them? (Unlikely!) Is it because having all these books on shelves collecting dust proves you are literate and intelligent? Here’s the fact. They are old, outdated and valueless. If your literacy or intelligence is ever in question, let your resume stand on its own. Your local used bookstore will likely not want them, so prepare for another trip to the landfill.

15. Old tax returns, receipts, records of doctor visits from a decade (or longer) ago are all a valueless waste of space in your Stuff Warehouse. There may be a few documents that are important to keep like birth certificates, death certificates, Social Security papers, marriage licenses, divorce, custody and similar papers. They shouldn’t take up half of a file storage carton. The rest of the carton can hold tax returns from the past seven years along with any documents the IRS or your state and local governments require or suggest you retain. A CPA or licensed tax advisor can fill you in on these requirements. Or you can go online to any of the government agencies and find a list. Everything else needs to be burned or shredded . . . period. 

16. Virtually, all parents are nostalgic about their offspring. You save baby clothes, little league jerseys, ballet tutus, school papers, report cards, graduation announcements, newspaper articles, coloring books, finger painted pictures of ??? and more. We’re all guilty. But, there comes a time when serious choices have to be made. A few things (including school photos from every year) you should want to keep just for yourself. These are things your kids may relish having back one day, either before or after you die. Carefully sort through and pick out your meaningful items. Ask the kids if they want anything back before you dispose of it. They most likely won’t. Get rid of the rest. You’ll downsize, have all the memories and be freer when you’re done.

17. Holiday stuff is another big category. I had six large cartons of decorations, two Christmas tree stands and other assorted “stuff.” Some of it dated back 40 or more years. You have the same thing. Ask yourself, do you still celebrate the holidays as much as you once may have? If you’ve decided to downplay or eliminate formal holiday observances then you don’t need this stuff. Go through it. You’ll find a few small things that have sentimental value. Pack them away. Again, ask the kids if they want any of it. If not, get rid of the rest. Donate it or toss it. It’s likely to have little value.

This Is Just The Beginning Of Something Small

There is a whole lot more stuff stored in your home, office, garage, workshop, warehouse and business that is no longer used, needed, wanted or even relevant to the current world and your life. You probably have furniture that takes up space and is there, well, just because it’s there.

Downsizing is a huge project. On the one hand, while it may cause a huge amount of stress and even some distress, downsizing rapidly and massively as I did toward the end of 2008 may be the best way to do it. I guess my analogy is like having medical adhesive tape removed from a wound on a part of your body where you have hair. You can do it little by little, one small ouch after another. Or you can do like most doctors do, grab it and yank it off in one fast move. It hurts a lot real fast and then it’s over and done and the pain is gone. Personally, this is my recommended method. The slow “hair by hair” method can take forever and the pain is around a lot longer.

However you choose to undertake Step #5 for Living Free, it is absolutely necessary to ultimately achieve the freedom you are seeking. Don’t put it off. Make a plan, begin and don’t stop until you’ve achieved your goals, whatever they may be – moving to a smaller home or apartment, moving into an RV full-time, leaving a big city for a country lifestyle or vice versa or whatever else your dream of living free is. And, here’s the best part. You won’t miss it and you won’t look back once you’re free of this anchor I call the “stuff warehousing business.”


  1. Ed, I am doing this now, and just took two large bags of books to the bookstore, one a complete series that I got $10 for the lot. It does hurt, but I'm glad that's one less thing I have to carry. I've already made one album of my kids photos for one child and will do the same with the rest for my other two, saving myself one small 4 x 6 album. Doing these things has made me realize how much emotion I (and most people) attach to "stuff", as in my case, the equipment and texts from medical school 10 years ago, which are no longer relevant in my life. I have sent the link to this blog entry to a lot of people.

    1. Going through this process is really tough work, both physically and emotionally. There are some psychological and even some spiritual issues to deal with, too, usually. But, once you get through it, you'll feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from your shoulders. And, remember, unless you have a drop dead deadline to get this done by, take some time and take short breaks in the process to allow yourself to rejuvenate. And, don't allow the prices you get or are offered for your stuff demoralize you. We all have at least some items we place sentimental values of some kind on and are offended when we get low ball offers. Remember, it's going to cost you money to keep it, so the best thing to do is take whatever you can get for it and run.

      I appreciate you sending out the link on the blog post, Kathryn. I hope it benefits those you've sent it to as it has you.