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Tip: Different ways to get rid of all that “stuff” to downsize

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.

Start early!

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?

Sold!

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.

Craigslist

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.

Estate sale

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Donate

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.

Storage

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.

Related:

Full-time RVing: Tips for downsizing your possessions

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Cathi
4 months ago

Our transition was a bit different, because we moved from the ‘family home’ in 2010. Our kids helped with the garage sale and removing their possessions. We moved 16 hours away, so the physical distancing had already begun. 6 years later we were ready to sell the house and hit the road. As I was liquidating, tossing or giving away the contents of the house, I asked each family what they wanted. We kept out those small things to be delivered later. We did rent a 8×10 storage unit because of sentimental items I wasn’t ready to part with. During the last 5 years we have been searching for a place to purchase that would allow us to have the RV and stored possession on site. We purchased an RV lot in an Arizona community in March. Then we started our planned 6 months of travel.

Judy G
4 months ago

Similarly, I invited friends and relatives to come and take anything they wanted. Then had a garage sale. Then hauled remainder to Goodwill. In the relatively rural Brown County, IN, it worked really well and quickly.

Kamwick
4 months ago
Reply to  Judy G

We did too. Two nieces took any furniture and plants we didn’t want. Additionally, the friends who cleaned our house were willing to take ANYTHING left over, so they could distribute them to family and their church’s charities. Our real estate agent, a friend, had a free moving service associated with her business. We didn’t have a lot to store. She had her movers take our storage stuff to her warehouse where she is storing them for FREE (won’t let us pay her). We were SO fortunate to have people willing to take and move all the stuff.

Paul Haugen
4 months ago

Thanks for the article, Nanci. I enjoyed your personal story.

Glenda Alexander
4 months ago

In 1992 I sold my 3-bedroom house and moved into a 31-foot Bounder and have lived in an RV of some sort ever since (currently a 26-foot Lazy Daze). The hardest things to get rid of were my MANY books and all my musical instruments except for an electronic keyboard. Not having children prevented the collection of a lot of that “stuff” and dealing with the sentimental aspects. I scanned all my photos and threw away almost all the prints. When I had all those photo albums I never looked at them; but I occasionally look at the digital versions. I don’t miss that stuff.

Grace
4 months ago

Great article Nanci! We did the same thing about 18 months ago and it was more difficult for me than for my husband. We used some of the same avenues you did. I actually had a free table at work that things disappeared from quite quickly. The last thing I had to downsize was all of my cherished pictures. It took 5 days of scanning but once you put your mind to it, done. Feel oh so light now and once it was all gone I didn’t give it much thought. I told my son that he is a very lucky individual. When I go he may have to go thru a few boxes. Kids, quite frankly, usually do not want your stuff. Out of sight out of mind certainly applies here.

Pat
4 months ago

I had a small three bedroom house, and a lot of tools, antiques, and gardening supplies. I ran a long ad in two papers that said. EVERYTHING MUST GO, and listed tools and antiques first. I sold everything by noon. Only one garbage bag left. What I wanted to keep in the RV, I put in one closet and taped shut. It was really strange that evening, thinking about how quickly my entire life’s accumulation had gone.

I had previously taken the family antique rocker to my brother’s house for safekeeping, and given him a couple of family items. One day I will get the rocker back.

After four years, do I miss it? No. It was very freeing to just have what I travel with, in a 22 foot Class C. In fact, I have never missed it.

Larry Lee
4 months ago

Thanks Nanci, for giving us a good view of the many factors which go into “down-sizing”. We ended up with 6 storage units because the house sold so fast and we had to clear it out. We celebrated by getting in the motorhome and spending the winter in Naples, Florida. Decided to give it one year before going back to dispose of more stuff. Meanwhile, having a great time and my sweet wife got her new knee in April so recovery is in Florida. Nice.

Adorable Deplorable
4 months ago

I enjoyed this article so much because it brought back so many memories. Six years ago my husband and I moved to Florida to a newly built home. Although it is larger than RV we still had to let go of 50 years of stuff we had accumulated living in New Hampshire. Of course the snow stuff went, some sold some given away. It was the clothes, furniture and “stuff” that took the longest to go through and get rid of. Second hand furniture does not get as good a price even if it was expensive at the time of purchase.

I set all of my dishes, glassware and etc. out on the dining room table and decided what I wanted to keep and packed what I wanted then and there. What was left went. Some furniture sold some went to Goodwill. Clothes were difficult. I did keep some Winter clothing as I knew we would travel North. – 1 coat, 1 jacket, gloves, scarf and boots. The rest went to Goodwill. I found I did not want to sell anything, but if you want to take the time, lots, then do so.

Michael
4 months ago

10 years ago, we did the same thing, except we had a 12 x 15 storage unit packed to the gills with stuff we absolutely couldn’t live without. That lasted a couple of years before we decided that paying to store the stuff indefinitely was a losing proposition. We gave away, sold and auctioned off the contents. Now, we have a couple of boxes and some wall art in my sister’s basement. Every year, we whittle that down, too.

It’s very liberating not having all that ‘stuff’. I have asked others, ‘Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?’

Jill
4 months ago

My husband doesn’t get sentimentality of “stuff”. But he is graciously and lovingly trying to understand and realizing that it is a process to say goodbye to stuff. And now a new load of stuff is showing up as we empty my mom’s storage unit. 🙃

Although we are full time there have been several temporary hiatuses since caring and helping family comes first.

Good article, Nanci

Last edited 4 months ago by Jill
Michael m
4 months ago

Well written article!

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