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Fire sale in the home or “How I decluttered my life.”

By admin

The last few days we have become ebay and craigslist demons. Everything must go. Furniture, sporting equipment, the lot must go. In the process I’m leaning some important things about how to declutter your life and what to expect from the process.


Why on Earth am I selling most of my world possessions? To tell you, I have to jump forward a bit in time from my last post, so the first few entries in this blog might not be strickly written in true chronological order.

The final result of the conversation I started in my previous post was the rather startling conclusion that we should sell many of the trappings of modern life we had accumulated, buy an Airstream trailer and hit the road. I plan to earn our keep by running a couple of business ideas we have been hatching. To learn how the hell we came to this conclusion and how we aim to become the first “Trailer Toofs” read the “The Idea” series of posts.

So back to the present. If you know me, then you know that I don’t have a lot of stuff to begin with. A lifetime of regular change of house has thought me how to keep it light. To my parents, however, I’m still a pack rat. I used to be able to quite easily pack all my worldly possessions into an original mini cooper. I think at some points in their lifes, it would have been a small backpack for my parents.

Sadly, a slight book hoarding tendency and 9 years in higher education have meant that I have accumulated way more bits of paper than I ever thought possible. These bits of paper will have to go at some point, I can’t do without them, so some compromises will have to be made. I just can’t face that yet so, thats for another day.

Today, the task is “sell everything else”. I have to condense a large 2 bedroom townhouse’s worth of stuff into well under 1000 lbs. The Airstream has a total max curb weight of about 7400 lbs, and a dry weight of 6000lbs, leaving about one thousand pounds for personal belongings (and some change for propane, water etc…). While this is very respectable for a camper trailer, its nothing compared to the contents of your average home.

The ever growing pile of stuff to sell!

We have to be out of the house by the end of the month, and the only place we will have to go is on the road, so we must do a massive condensation exercise, and fast. Our situation is quite extreme, not too many people will be moving from a large house in the suburbs to a 25×8ft box, but I’m willing to bet that if the housing crash continues in the way it does, there will be lots people moving into smaller homes. Therefore, this article may have slightly broader appeal than the crackpot Airstreamers.

Selling the whole of one’s life like this fills me with mixed emotions. On one hand there is a definite feeling of liberation. All that heavy stuff that you knew you were going to have to do something with at the end of the month now is someone else’s problem. The sense of a much more controllable life is a warm fuzzy feeling; you realize you are rapidly approaching the point where you can pick your entire life up and go with about 20mins warning. There is also the very satisfying by-product of decluttering, organization. To declutter you have to first organize, so not only do you have less stuff, but you also end up knowing where it all is. I have also meet some genuinely nice people while selling this stuff, and some of it has gone to some great homes that will defiantly appreciate it. However, there is also a slight feeling of fear. Its not that I’m attached to my junk, not at all, I just don’t want to have to buy it again in a few months if this whole “life experiment” just doesn’t work out and I have to retreat to a Wall Street job and the safety of a condo.

So the tips for trimming down ones life, from someone that is living through the experience. Firstly, and most importantly, start early and take it easy. If you have a deadline, don’t leave it until the last minute as you will end up doing one of two things; either getting so frustrated that you throw everything in boxes, thus delaying the declutter until you open the boxes on the other end, or you will start throwing out everything, including things you really do need, resulting in costly replacements.

About a month ago I started keeping track of what I use. There was no need to write this down, just to be aware of it during day-to-day life. By the end of the month, I knew exactly what I actually use , or am likely to need in my near future. As I went through this exercise, I was on the look out for trash and things out of place. I became obsessive about throwing out stuff (sorry, recycling stuff). All the stuff I absolutely know is trash; old magazines, newspapers, boxes things came and broken stuff (unless I could mend it). You will be surprised how much this clears out of your life.

Once I had done this, I started to identify the things that I really did need. These are the “core items”, things you depend on to make a living, function in the environment you live in or just stuff you really enjoy (and I mean REALLY, not that crap souvenir from Disneyland). Core items usually overlap broadly with the the group that can be labeled thus: “things I would grab when the house burns down”. For me these things were pretty easy to identify:

  • Laptop and backup drives. Its my work and my link to friends and family.
  • Letters and photos from family and some limited heir looms.
  • Most importantly of all, passport, birth certificate etc…

These core items are the things that you should spend money on, buy quality and buy it once because in some way your life or livelihood depends on them. Now is a good time to assess damage and maintenance of these items. Some good examples for me where: “Do I have a good backup strategy for my laptop?”, “Do I have to renew my passport soon?”, “Do I have copies of the documents stashed somewhere safe off site, like at a my parents house etc…?”.

Once I had worked out what these things these were I set a desk up in a spare room and cleared it of everything but these items. Then everything else had to earn its place in that room. I go though the house making two piles, stuff I think I want to keep and the stuff that I know I can live without. Getting rid of later will make the choices about the former easier. Once you have rid of the latter, you can remove duplicates from the “undecided pile” and think carefully about what you need and what you can do without. This is always the hardest part, and there is no way one can council another about whats important to them. Be firm but not ruthless.

I’m going through that process right now, Craigs-listings and ebay listing coming out of my ears. Obviously, as I’m moving into an Airstream I will not need any of the usual furniture, so the “things to be sold” class is getting rather large. Since it is only two weeks until I have to be out of this house, its also getting a bit frantic. I will probably spend the next two days waiting for people to come view beds, tables, chairs, sofas, appliances and posting things to ebay customers. However, every time another sofa leaves the house, I will feel a little twinge of joy as there is one less thing I have to worry about.

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