We are full-time RVers and people usually have the same three questions for us. They ask us about how long we have been full-timing, how do we get our mail, and what we did with all our “stuff” to downsize. The first two questions are easy – almost six years, and a mail service in South Dakota. The third question about stuff usually requires a bit more explanation.
On a whim, we had listed the house for sale never thinking it would actually sell before we left to go south to RV for the winter. It sold on Thanksgiving. Who the heck buys a house on Thanksgiving? Once the sale was confirmed we only had two weeks to get rid of everything or lose our hard-to-find camping reservations. Even six years ago it was hard to get reservations at state parks in Florida for the winter.
I had already started clearing out the crawl space before we listed the house. Unfortunately, it spanned the entire bottom of the house and was stuffed with all the things the kids left behind each time they moved back in. I diligently sorted through it and, every day when my sons were at work, I used my set of keys to their apartment and dropped boxes off. The youngest finally called and said, “Mom, this isn’t funny anymore.” Did he think I was trying to be funny?
We had hardly any time, less than three weeks to clear everything out of our five-bedroom, three-living-room house with a shed, a greenhouse and a large workroom. Don’t get me wrong, it was no mansion. It was just a too-big house with too much stuff squirreled away in every nook and cranny.
I immediately ran ads on Craigslist for the big items. Lawnmowers, grills, furniture, tools. A lot sold, a lot didn’t. (Other places to list things for sale include eBay, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Mercari and Nextdoor.)
“Free to good home” ads
I ran a “free to a good home” ad in our neighborhood’s online newsletter for my beloved plants. Several were more than 40 years old and one had been started by my stepmother. It was like saying goodbye to family the day I carefully helped put them in peoples’ cars. It did make me happy they were going to a new, good home though.
We set up an estate sale. The original estate salesperson bowed out at the last minute, so we did it ourselves.
Our intent was to get rid of stuff and make some money.
- We asked the kids, grandchildren, sister, niece, nephew, and friends for a free-for-all please-take-what-you-want day before we opened to the public. I was so glad they took some stuff that was dear to me. Some items I really liked but knew we couldn’t take or store. My husband pretty much didn’t care about the sentimentality of items – he just wanted them gone.
- Ran ads in the major city newspaper, our local papers, and our neighborhood’s online forum. We ran the ads in Craigslist and local papers daily.
- Not wanting to deal with labeling everything, we just set aside rooms with different prices: the dollar room, the five-dollar room, the ten-dollar and the twenty-dollar room.
- Anything higher than $20 was marked. We just asked what room it came from and figured if someone was fibbing that was on them.
Turns out my husband was the consummate salesperson. People were coming back buying things just to talk to him!
After three days a whole lot was gone, but not enough. After three large rental truckloads to Goodwill and a load to landfill, the house was finally clear.
I kept photos of every item we donated for tax purposes, and it did add up quickly.
I had separated out the things that were important to me – the photo albums, my mom’s china, the silver, and some of the kid’s drawings and school projects. I also kept some winter clothes and coats, a few of the major electronics – the stereo system, printers, paper shredder – and my favorite kitchen pots and pans. They were all going into two 5×5 storage units in case the full-time idea did not work out well!
After year one we went back to the storage units and cleared out one 5×5 unit. At year two, we cleared out the other storage unit. We were paying to store stuff we didn’t use and didn’t need. We have not needed the winter coats or boots, the stereo or scanner/printer. The china is at the family cottage along with two containers of photo albums and a rather lonely box of memories.
Photograph the most important stuff
People ask: Do I miss the “stuff”? Because some things were hard to part with – my walnut and brass engraved desk, the wicker porch furniture, my World War II Necchi sewing machine, and the lawn swing that had been with us since the kids were little, I was glad I had taken photos of each item. After six years I can still look back and smile a bit nostalgically.
I will never have so grand a desk again or a porch with a green wicker recliner. I don’t have the library of cookbooks I was the photographer for. They just won’t fit in the motorhome nor do I want to pay for them to languish in storage.
Unforeseen emotions when you downsize
I was so busy moving stuff around, planning the sale, the details and the upcoming trip that I didn’t think about our children’s and grandchildren’s reactions. One of our sons is still a bit disjointed about selling his childhood home. My granddaughter told me that she cried every day that first year we were gone. While it is our life and we earned it, in retrospect I would have spent more time talking with family and asking them about their feelings.
People ask if we miss our house. That is a resounding “No!” Don’t want a house, don’t want the cleaning, the raking, the lawn mowing or snow shoveling. Did I love raising a family there? Yes! Did I love our family gatherings? Yes, but I don’t miss the house we did it in.
What a relief!
What a relief to have so little stuff to care for. It is amazingly freeing. I have let the stuff go, but have not let go of the memories.
My questions to full-timers: How did you get rid of your stuff? How have you downsized? Do you miss the house or the stuff? How did you let go? How were your children with you going full-time? Please leave a comment below.