You have probably figured out by now that when we decided to downsize into a camper, I was excited, not apprehensive. The idea of living with less stuff felt incredibly freeing to me.
So … What Do You Do With All That Stuff?
That said, we still had to decide what to do with all that stuff. Ultimately, it came down to three options:
Well, I guess I should back up. Obviously there’s one more category of stuff: the things we chose to bring with us into the camper! For us, most of those items fit into a handful of categories: clothes, books, computers/electronics, kitchen tools, and camping gear. (I’m planning on doing a small space living series in January, so you’ll probably get to see just about every item we own!) Anyway, choosing which stuff to keep boiled down to two basic questions: “What do we truly NEED?” and “Do we have a space to put it?” We had a pretty defined storage area for each category of stuff, and that ultimately determined what we were able to keep.
If you’re considering downsizing into a camper (or other small living space), you may be thinking about getting a storage unit to store your items in the meantime. When we were beginning to downsize we read about many full-timers who did just that. If we had decided to keep any furniture at all, we probably would have had to do that. But luckily (I guess???) our furniture was all highly replaceable … mostly IKEA and thrift store finds. That made the decision pretty simple for us.
I should mention here that at one point, back in our apartment days, we did have a storage unit for a while. We had moved from a roomy apartment into a much smaller one, but we weren’t planning on it being a permanent situation. In fact, we upgraded to a larger apartment in our same building about nine months later, and were happily reunited with all our stored goods.
I’m saying this just to point out that if downsizing is just temporary for you, or you have a very definite space of time in mind, it may not be worthwhile to get rid of everything. Selling all your earthly belongings is a time-consuming task, and you have to consider the cost you’ll re-incur down the road when you have to go buy every stick of furniture over again.
Consider “Alternative” Storage Methods
Since we’re planning on traveling indefinitely, we knew we didn’t want to deal with the potentially-costly issue of paying for storage. That brings me to the second possibility when it comes to storage: “Hi, Mom!”
When we started going through our stuff, we kept coming across items we didn’t need on a day-to-day basis, but we were still loath to part with — like the nativity that had been handed down to us by Ryan’s grandma, or boxes of photo prints from the pre-digital age. We slowly gathered those items into a pile, divided them into bins, and sent a few to my parents’ home and a few to Ryan’s.
The test that stuff had to pass was: “Is this item replaceable?” For us, furniture and clothes are replaceable; family heirlooms are not. (And we’re very grateful to our parents for lending us the storage space!)
Digital Storage Options
There’s just one more gray area when it comes to decided what to do with your stuff when you downsize: the option to digitize things like documents and photos. I personally didn’t do much of that, beyond checking to see if a few manuals were available online in PDF form (most were). For one, I’ve yet to find a service that will digitize your photos without costing an arm and a leg — and I’m certainly not patient enough to scan them one by one.
I also consider myself a paper-lite person in general. I open my mail over the recycling bin and choose paperless billing whenever possible. We were able to condense our files down to one four-inch expanding file folder that now holds pesky things like old tax information and electronics warranties. If you’re not sure what things to keep and what you can toss, I found this book detailed and helpful, and Marie Kondo’s perspective on paper clutter is also very freeing. [affiliate links]
Once we had separated out what we could/needed to keep, and we we could store with family, the remaining task was simple: Sell everything we could and donate or trash anything that was left at the bitter end!
How did you decided what to store and what to sell when you downsized?
Downsizing from a 1,000 sq ft apartment into a 200 sq ft camper gave Ryan and I a unique opportunity to take a good hard look at our stuff and how we felt about it. We took a survey of our stuff, figured out what we did and didn’t use, determined what was beautiful, what was useful, and what just wasn’t valued or necessary. Perhaps most importantly, we decided early on we did not want to just put everything in a storage unit — meaning a LOT of stuff had to go. Here’s how we sold 90% of our stuff!
For Ryan and I planning invariably starts with making a spreadsheet and running numbers together. Selling all our stuff was no different: our very first step was making a spreadsheet. A Google document entitled “Sell All the Things” would become the organizing force behind the task ahead. I divided it into six sections, one for each room in our home: Living Room, Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom, Office, and Miscellaneous. Then we took an hour or so and went room by room, listing all the big stuff — couches, tables, chairs, etc. — and assigning estimated price values. At this point, we priced things generously, knowing we had a good eight weeks ahead of us to move everything.
The next step was color-coding the spreadsheet. (Yes, we are both slightly OCD and organization dorks.) I had three colors. One meant “sell now” — stuff we could live without immediately. One meant “wait until the last possible moment” — for stuff like our bed, which we definitely wanted to keep around as long as possible. The third was a nebulous in-between indicator — stuff we’d like to have around for a while, but wouldn’t ruin our lives to go without.
At that point the tally on our spreadsheet was just around $2,000. This helped to set a baseline for selling our stuff and also gave us an idea of a budget for our camper renovation, since we planned to use what we made selling our stuff to update the Rambler. (I should also note that because we were moving into a camper, rather than just a general downsize, I knew we’d be selling all our furniture, as the camper itself would provide replacements for everything we truly needed.)
Next, Ryan took a Saturday afternoon to take pictures of all the items listed on our spreadsheet. He cleaned, polished, and vacuumed as needed, then took photos from every angle, in the best light possible. He also made a super-helpful spreadsheet of dimensions for me, which made my life much easier when I was emailing with potential buyers.
With the groundwork laid, it was time to start listing our first items! I put them up on Craigslist with detailed posts and an overload of pictures, and … crickets.
Now, here’s the thing about Craigslist. I had used it before — mostly when we were in the middle of a move — with varying results. It seemed like each sale was a tremendous amount of work, from haggling about prices, to no-show buyers, to people asking for dimensions/pictures/general info already included in the ad (my biggest pet peeve!). But this time, after a week or so of listing, stuff just wasn’t moving.
Just when I was starting to panic, Ryan suggested I join a Facebook selling group called “Loudoun County Upscale Resale” that he’d heard about from a coworker. I checked it out and could tell things seemed to move fairly quickly. I cautiously listed an item, and had a buyer in under fifteen minutes — and she picked it up later that day. I was floored.
Once I began using the Facebook selling group, the big items moved quickly — so fast, in fact, I could only list them when I knew I had a block of time to dedicate to working with buyers and arranging pickups. I’m planning on writing a full blog post dedicated to using Facebook selling groups. I had never used them until this spring, but given the sheer amount of stuff we were selling, I learned a lot in a very small amount of time. It proved to be an invaluable resource with many advantages over Craigslist.
With that process well underway, I began tackling the more time-consuming part of the equation: Selling, donating, and trashing the little stuff, like books, decorations, and household items.
I was determined to actually sell as much as I could, before resorting to donating. With that in mind I ended up utilizing four resources for selling our stuff:
Ebay. This was mainly for clothes, but also worked to move some knick-knacks and books.
Amazon Trade-In. This made getting rid of books and dvds a breeze: just type in the ISBN and Amazon tells you how much they’ll give you for your item (in the form of an Amazon gift card). With books, we literally chose how many books we could keep based on the measurement of our one bookshelf in the camper. Everything that didn’t fit was fair game, and if Amazon offered anything at all in trade-in, I shipped it off. (They give you a pre-paid shipping label, too!)
Amazon Marketplace. For books not available for trade-in, I turned to Amazon Marketplace. Typing in the ISBN gives you a pre-filled listing, and you can set your price as desired.
Yard sale. This was the most irritating and least profitable part of my selling experience. I had a yard sale a couple of weekends before our final day in the apartment. It might have been because everything at the yard sale was stuff I literally couldn’t sell anywhere else, but I got almost no traffic and only made around $30.
But my “secret weapon” to moving the little stuff ended up being the Facebook selling group once again. For a while, it had me stymied: this particular group had a $20 selling minimum, in part to avoid people selling just the yard sale type items I was trying to move! But I finally figured out a way to get around it: BUNDLING.
I’d gather up a group of objects that were somehow related. A couple of throw pillows, blankets, and a basket became a “cozy bundle” that sold in an hour.
A batch of fall decor sold in no time.
We even sold a big box of Christmas decorations — in June! And before we knew it, there was nothing left!
The very, very last item to go was our mattress — sold to a lady who picked it up at 6:00pm our last day in the apartment.
When all was said and done, we made $4,000.95 selling items from our apartment — double that initial estimate. I’d say about half the money we made was from the little stuff that fills our lives … books we’d never read, duplicate kitchen utensils, unneeded knickknacks. As to the rest of it, we were pretty pleased considering that our apartment furniture was for the most part a collection of thrift store and IKEA purchases — no designer goods here! In fact, with many items I was able to make more money than I’d paid for it to begin with! Yay for cheap refinishing/recovering projects!
So here it is: my summary of tips for selling 90% of your stuff:
Start early. The more time you have to get rid of something, the more firm you can be with your price. I had to be much more flexible in selling items I listed two weeks before moving into the camper than with the stuff I listed two months prior.
Begin with the easy stuff. Knowing you’re going to part with most of your belongings can be emotionally trying. If you start with the stuff you don’t care about or never really liked, it can help you to catch the vision and get excited about what you’re doing. After two weeks of selling stuff, we were shocked at how full our apartment still felt — and were pretty excited about the envelope of cash we had. It made getting rid of the stuff we loved just a little easier.
Diversify. Don’t limit yourself to just Craigslist, just a yard sale, just whatever. It takes a little more work but finding the best outlet for whatever it is that you’re selling can help you get the most bang for your buck.
Make the effort to create great listings. A half-hearted listing, whatever your venue, isn’t going to get you much traffic, and the people who are interested will just ask you a million questions anyway. Take awesome pictures, include every measurement you can think of, and be straightforward about anything that’s wrong with what you’re selling.
Don’t sell yourself short. When it gets down to the wire, you can always drop your prices. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to price items ambitiously. A wooden bench we’d bought for $15 and revamped with a little spray paint and a fabric remnant sold in an hour for $50. Don’t focus on what you paid for something — focus on what it’s worth.
Nothing is too small to sell. Seriously. Nothing. I bundled up a box of old office supplies and a homeschool mom bought them for $15. Not a huge amount of money, but $15 is $15 and I’d have trashed or donated it otherwise!
Hold it loosely. Remember that your ultimate goal (if you’re downsizing) is getting rid of it, not getting rich. The more you can sell, even if it’s for less than you wanted, the closer you’ll be to your new, lighter life.
Stay organized. That Google spreadsheet was my lifesaver, helping me keep on top of everything from what I had already sold (color coding!) to what I had made, what needed to be listed, and how much I’d made. One simple document is all it takes to keep you on top of what’s coming in and what’s going out. (**Update: here’s a mostly-blank version of my spreadsheet that you can use as a jumping-off point.**)