For those moving overseas, there are those who are looking forward to staying there permanently and those who plan to return to their homeland. Either way, they will be faced with the dilemma of deciding what to bring and what to leave behind.
When work required us to move overseas, we didn't know when (or if) we might return. We did know we wanted to sell our house and that we didn't want to pay for storage. This left two options: keep it or get rid of it.
Should you ship everything you own?
It's impractical to take everything along. Not only would it cost a fortune to ship, packing everything up is a lot of work. It's at times like these when you're smacked in the face with an unarguable truth: Fewer possessions make for easier moves.
There are so many advantages to downsizing and decluttering before you move … or actually, even if you plan to stay where you are. It creates more space in your head to think – physical clutter can be really mentally draining. There is so much less to concern yourself with. Science has proven it.
Maybe monks have discovered something here. Simplicity is good. If we're honest, most of us no longer care about, need or want most of the things we own anyway.
Decluttering action plan
Realizing this, we created an action plan for everything we wouldn't need to leave behind.
- give keepsakes and other mementos to our children
- stage the house with the necessary furnishings
- title the car in our son's name
- sell as much as possible on Craigslist, etc.
- hold a yard sale for the rest
- give books to the local library's book drive
- donate leftovers to nearby charity thrift stores
- throw the remainder away.
Tip: Rent a dumpster; it's not that costly. We're talking about eliminating a lifetime of junk here, far more than any weekly trash service can handle.
We took an old notebook and began to inventory everything that can be sold. As we went, we moved the sellable items to a central location, which in our case was the garage. (Conveniently, the garage was full of Dan's tools and sports equipment, They stayed where they were.)
Next step: research current prices on Craigslist and advertise everything on free sites. We had the best success with Craigslist.
Tip: Beginning with the easiest room gives you an immediate sense of accomplishment.
As soon as the dumpster arrived, we began with the basement.
- All the stuff we'd been holding on to “just in case” or “needs just a minor repair.” went into the dumpster. No exceptions.
- Home improvement items (paint, extra flooring, wood, nails, etc.) went to Habitat for Humanity's thrift store.
- Tools went on Craigslist.
- We donated the best books to the library. The others went to the curb, with a big sign that said “FREE.”
- We gave a bag of construction odds and ends to a particularly nice man who paid full price for a power tool. It doesn't take much to make someone happy. 🙂
The empty basement was so inspiring and freeing, that we attacked the rest of the house with gusto.
Discovery: The hardest thing about downsizing and decluttering is allowing yourself to let things leave your life.
Life is full of downsizing opportunities
Thinking back, this is not the first time we've been reduced to little more than a suitcase full of possessions. I'll bet you can think of a few yourself. Feel free to tell us how you felt in the comments.
- The first time was when I moved back east from California. I was 24 then and two of my four suitcases got lost in the move.
- A few years later, my then-husband and I loaded everything we owned into our old Ford Maverick and left Albuquerque with our 5-month-old daughter. Aside from 2 suitcases each, most of what we took with us was baby paraphernalia. (Come to think of it, we didn't have much then, either.)
- I lost more during my divorce. Most of my precious possessions were family heirlooms, and the bank foreclosed on my ex before I could retrieve them. Losing everything was bittersweet. I lost cherished mementos while starting a new life.
- In 2004, Hurricane Charley hit our (furnished rental) home in Florida while we were out of town. We returned to find no roof and a soaking wet home. Happily, our photos survived, but a lot of other things had grown moldy and ended up on the curb.
Downsizing to leave
Downsizing doesn't necessarily mean you're reduced to a few suitcases. True, that's all we took, but we left a lot of things behind for staging the house while it's on the market. Our son would stay in the house for security. If and when the house sells, our son can have the furniture in his new place.
We kept the family heirlooms and mementos. Well, actually, our children did. They now have the clock Dan's grandpa made, photos of my great-great-grandparents in the original frames, my Granny's furniture, and pillows my great-grandma quilted. That's the way it should be; they would get it when we pass on anyway. I pray that they will cherish them as much as we have.
Tips for downsizing
Here's a helpful tip: Take “just in case” out of your vocabulary. Remember, you have to pay for everything you carry/ship/move. Anything you will need can be purchased there (often for less money) and if you can't find exactly what you want, you can always order it online and have it shipped.
If you're not sure you'll need it, don't take it.
Go room by room, and don't move on to the next room until the current one is complete.
- Distribute your heirlooms now. They're going to get them eventually, anyway. Photos, furniture, keepsakes … wouldn't you rather watch your heirs enjoy using your precious mementos while you're alive?
- Lend it. If you plan to return, perhaps you know someone who needs a TV, table or sofa? Let them use it while you're gone. We've done that a few times. Win-win.
- Sell what you can. We found buyers on Craigslist and a neighbor offered to price and sell things for us at her monthly garage sale. However, if you think something might be valuable, research it online before you sell it for pennies.
- Donate it. Give home improvement items to Habitat for Humanity. Find a local charity that wants your clothing.
- Give it away. A pile of unwanted books and trinkets by the curb with a “FREE! HELP YOURSELF!” sign will quickly disappear. Also, many local junk dealers will haul things away for nothing, if you have items they may be able to sell.
- Trash it. If it's chipped, broken, ripped or stained, toss it. Charities won't be able to sell it and rarely repair donated items.
- Store it. In my opinion, this is a last resort option. You should only consider this if you really can't stand the thought of getting rid of something. If so, perhaps someone can hold onto it for you or you can keep it in a storage unit. Before you decide to do this though, ask yourself:
- How long will it be in storage before I use it?
- How much will that storage cost me? Less than buying it again later?
- How will I get these things back, if and when I need them?
How does downsizing feel?
Oh. My. Goodness. We had never expected how remarkably freeing it is to be rid of unnecessary things! All that clutter had also cluttered our minds.
And we've given our children the gift of less emotional trauma as they go through our possessions after we're gone.