It’s autumn already! We’ve been busy this summer settling into our house on Lake Shawnee in North Jersey. Our days were filled with unpacking, arranging and rearranging furniture, and discovering repairs that were needed on both our house and RV. But the hardest part was behind us. Here’s what was happening in June!
We were moving from a four-bedroom house with a full attic and basement, plus a two-car garage, to a 950-square-foot cottage and a 37-foot RV. Radical downsizing was essential!
So day by day, room by room, and drawer by drawer the two of us (mostly Kathy because Jeff was still working fulltime at our church) sorted through the accumulated stuff from 20 years of marriage and raising three kids. We found things we didn’t even remember we had: treasures from our childhoods, vacation souvenirs, special gifts and cards our kids had made for us over the years. We also found lots of things that we didn’t know quite why we had saved (because we really liked it, because the kids might need it someday, because we might need it someday—probably the day after we get rid of it, because we couldn’t decide what to do with it).
As we handled each item, we asked ourselves several questions, ranging from the esoteric to the practical:
- Does this bring you joy?
- If you haven’t missed this until now, will you miss it in the future?
- Is this the right size and style of furniture for our small lake house?
- Will we need this for our RV?
- Does this clothing still fit? If you haven’t worn it for two years, what makes you think you’ll ever wear it again?
- How many of these shoes/dishes/tools should we keep? Which ones?
What an overwhelming job!
We found encouragement and practical advice from the excellent book The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, by Joshua Becker. He’s a minimalist who believes that getting rid of our excess stuff can free us to enjoy what matters most in life. He also happens to be a Christian who draws from the teachings of Jesus for his personal motivation. But he’s not preachy at all, and he gives his readers ample permission to ignore the Jesus stuff if they want. (If you buy the book using the link above, we will receive a small commission from Amazon. Your price stays the same.)
We also decided that it wasn’t worth the time and effort it took to sell things on eBay or Craigslist or in a yard sale. We sometimes had no idea how much an item was even worth. So we decided to have an estate sale, to hire professionals to handle all the stuff we didn’t want to keep but didn’t know how to sell. By the middle of June, we moved everything we wanted to keep up to our lake house, into our RV (where we would live for the next two weeks, parked in our driveway), and into a small storage unit. The rest remained for our estate sale.
We interviewed agents from two companies, and easily chose the company that seemed the most savvy and had an appreciation for our possessions. After we moved out of the house, the two estate-sale ladies swooped into the house and began to appraise, move, and organize all our remaining stuff. It was somewhat disconcerting to walk into the house and see our belongings displayed on folding tables and pieces of furniture where they had always been, but were about to be no-longer-ours.
“I’ve come to realize that we don’t really own anything,” Jeff observed. “Sooner or later everything will break, wear out, go out of style, get lost, get sold, or be left behind for someone else to worry about when we die. We think we are buying things, but we’re actually renting them.” Our rental periods were up, and it was time to pass along our stuff to people who wanted or needed it more. From Kathy’s grandmother’s beautiful sterling silverware to Jeff’s smoker to boxes of kitchen gadgets, these were the things we’d either inherited or spent our hard-earned money to buy. but it was time to sell them, let them go, and hold on to the memories alone. We had used and enjoyed them, and now it was time to pass them on to others to use and enjoy.
We made ourselves scarce during the two-day estate sale. We figured it would be too hard, too weird, to watch people buying our stuff and taking it away. The sale was successful at selling our large-ticket items to dealers or individuals—a big relief—and we were handed a nice check that was certainly far more than we would have made trying to sell everything by ourselves, even at the standard 25% commission.
Unfortunately, we still had a LOT of stuff unsold! The fine china we inherited from our parents? Nobody wanted it! Our furniture? Virtually untouched. Computers, printers, books? Still sitting in their places. Baby-boomers, take note: The “valuables” you’re keeping in the attic that you hope you’ll sell someday for a lot of money? Nobody wants them!
THE BIG GIVEAWAY
The next day, Sunday, Jeff announced at all three services at our church that everyone was invited come to the house and take whatever they wanted or needed. If someone wanted to make a donation, they could, but as far as we were concerned, everything in the house was free!
It’s hard to put into words what a joy it was to see our church family and friends being blessed as they carried home everything from books to furniture that we no longer needed but would now be useful to them. Many of the folks at church are first-generation immigrants from Latin America who barely have enough money to pay the rent and feed their families. Most wanted to know how much things cost, and we’d explain that it cost whatever they wanted to pay.
We watched as one young couple look at our sofa again and again, then asked “how much?” They explained that they didn’t have much money to furnish their apartment, and their living room was virtually empty. They couldn’t believe that they could have our sofa for free! They actually gave us $20 and hauled the sofa away, with big smiles on their faces and tears of joy in our eyes.
One teenage boy asked how much we wanted for a desktop computer, monitor, and a bunch of computer games. “How about $20 for all of it?” Jeff suggested. He ran off and retrieved his father, who said with a smile, “I was hoping you would say $100. If it’s only $20, he can afford it!”
By the end of the day, ALL our furniture except for a couple of computer desks was gone. Computers, toys, plates and cookware—gone. It was amazing to be able to share our belongings with our church friends. It’s all God’s anyway. We were just passing it along.
We received some $600 in donations that day. And we didn’t have to pay a clean-out service to haul our stuff away (and probably dump still-half-way-decent furniture into a landfill). We get to know that our “brothers and sisters in Christ” are now enjoying them. We also received one of the greatest rewards: the joy of giving.
Much of what was STILL left, we donated to our church for yard sales that would raise money for mission trips—boxes and boxes and more boxes of stuff, now our trash but soon to be some else’s treasure. Occasionally through this whole process of several weeks, we (usually Kathy, the more sentimental of us) would “rescue” an item that she decided we could still use or that had sentimental value that no one else could appreciate.
Even so, we still had stuff left—and by now it was feeling a lot more like junk. Over the next week or so we were able to hire a few guys from church to haul the rest away.
Letting go. It was time.
Have any thoughts or questions about downsizing? Please leave them in the comments below!
COMING NEXT: We drive away from Dunellen to our new life. And we demonstrate once again the importance of remembering that whatever can go wrong, will!
©2017 by Jeffrey & Kathleen Wildrick