Four years ago Chris and I rented out our house, stored all our belongings, and backpacked southeast Asia for a year. At that point we had only lived in our home for two years, so we hadn’t acquired too much stuff, and we could utilize a free pack/move/store deal attached to Chris’s retirement. So I didn’t really have to do much to prepare.
This year, as we started making plans to take a year off and travel around “middle” Asia, I realized we would have to do it all ourselves. We needed to start thinking about downsizing our ever-growing belongings, storing what was left, and what to do with our house. After much discussion and analyzing, we decided to sell our house instead of renting it out. Thus, our downsizing and decluttering would need to take place at the same time as getting the house ready to show and sell.
I started by reading a couple of books for some guidance: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, and later, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margreta Magnusson. I listened to “The Year of Less” by Cait Flanders. These books helped me get a handle on what to keep. We also watched the Netflix documentary “Mimimalism”, and perused their website. Through a Twitter tip from a cyber-friend, I discovered the “Sell All Your Stuff” blog, and started reading their posts. In a happy coincidence, my friend Amy, also on a decluttering kick, invited me to join the Poshmark and Mercari sites, two apps that allow you to list your items and sell them online.
Around the time that we started getting serious about culling and Goodwilling items, two friends came visiting to DC. We had actually met Tricia and Kurt on our cruise from LA to Australia four years earlier, and had told them about our year-long travel plans. Unbeknownst to me, they had followed my blog for the intervening years and had decided to they should also downsize, rent their home, and head overseas. I like to think we inspired them! When we reunited with them in DC, something they said made me really think. I asked them about how they were able to get rid of the things in their homes… those awards, those paintings, those souvenirs that you like…. but don’t necessarily want to keep your whole lifetime. Tricia told me “I looked at every item and thought “If I died, would my kids keep this? If yes, we put it in storage. If not, it went to Goodwill or was sold”.
And so I resolved to do the same. At around the time we started working with a realtor to sell the house, I started listing unused or seldom used furniture on Facebook Marketplace, and I doubled my efforts on Poshmark and Mercari. My efforts paid off, and I earned about $2400, while still keeping items we will need when we eventually “land” again in the US, such as our bed, some clothing items, kitchenware, etc. For items that didn’t sell well, or were just too low-priced to be worth my time, I offered up to my local “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook.
After leaving our house in June, we are taking a 4 month road trip, first to Alaska, and then down to Burning Man festival. We were able to think of our car as an intermediary between having a house full of stuff, and only a backpack. We created a camping kitchen kit, a first aid kit, and a car emergency kit. We separated the items we would need for our “bedroom” in our tent, and we will take more clothes than we probably need, because we have the room in the car and because we will pass through several temperate zones. Once we return from camping, we will need to once more downsize that load of stuff into just what we can carry in our Osprey backpacks. For more information on what we carry for long-term backpacking travel, I wrote a post about that here.
Parting with items is hard- whether it’s selling them, donating them, or giving them to a friend who has always admired them. But you also feel a little bit lighter with every item that leaves your house. As Americans, we are pushed by a consumer-driven economy to buy, buy, buy. We are bombarded with dozens of advertisements a day. We mortgage houses that are too big for us, and then shop to fill them up with items. Chris and I have talked a lot about how we want our next space to look. We plan to combine offices, for one- both of us only use our “office” a few hours a week. Although we’ve had a full guest suite, I think next time it will be a fold out couch in the shared office instead (sorry, Micah). Public libraries and nearby stores often loan out items such as kitchen items (ice cream makers!) and tools (Autozone and Home Depot), so you don’t need to keep all those barely-used items at your house. Also check your local Buy Nothing group: I had a hankering to try dehydrating some foods and asked for a lesson from a neighbor; after trying it out for a weekend, I realized I did not actually want to purchase or own a dehydrator! There’s probably dozens of items in most of our homes that are rarely used.
What are some creative ways you’ve been able to downsize? And what are the must-haves we need to take on our road trip? Leave me a comment below:
9 thoughts on “Could you Downsize from a Townhome to a 40 Liter backpack?”
Charles and I downsized in our pre-kids travel days. We plan to do it again someday but probably not to backpack level. I like the idea of asking whether your kids would keep something as a way to decide what to part with.
Yes, that was great advice from Tricia! It was great for us to have the car as an intermediary level between the house and the backpack- and of course eventually we will be able to unpack the storage unit and find some of our stuff again one day (albeit about 40% less than what we had two months ago!).
I love this and we are also planning for a similar adventure in about 18 months. A couple years ago we spent many months living out of backpacks in Europe and the car around the country following a retirement. I can’t wait to get back to it and will enjoy following you along on your adventure in the meantime. Happy trails.
It is amazing what you can scale down to once you put your mind to!
This is incredibly sound advice! I really like the suggestion of “would my kids keep this?”. Being an Army brat, it is always hard to say good bye to things with memories, but it is more difficult to spend a life time spending money on storing those items. Best to remember and let go, then live with regrets and a lot to clean. 🙂 Great article!
Ps. Also love the thought of combining offices and using a hide-a-way for guest! That is an excellent way to save on space.
Don’t worry, wherever we land, you can still come stay in our guest room/office/exercise space!
Great post! I so need to reduce the insane amount of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ll ask Gracie to read the books you recommend 🙂
It was a pleasure meeting you and Chris at the state park in Maryland. The weather was nice, the scenery was incredible and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much wildlife in one weekend.
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Hi George, glad to hear from you and Gracie. Yes, it was great to get out and see some nature, some wildlife, and just generally reconnect. Good luck on the downsizing! Stay tuned for our next post coming out tomorrow!!