Friday, August 24, 2018

Shrinking Our Lives Into A Suitcase

24 August 2018

Well, shrinking our lives into two rolling duffels.

As our time in the US tends to be, things have been rather uneventful.  As ever.  The usual doctor visits, plus some extras this year.  Richard has seen a round of doctors for his back, confirmed that it seems to be purely muscles, and is going to physical therapy here.  And me?  For dramatic effect, I came down with pneumonia.  In August.  (We blame the air quality here - there have been ongoing forest fires in British Columbia as well as the Cascade Mountains to our east.  Even smoke particulates blowing up from California.  Yeah, not clear out there, especially for those of us with sensitive lungs.)

Anyway, so nothing new or exciting going on.  Enjoying television and newspapers where we understand the language.  Also enjoying our favorite eateries around town.  And, well, both of us working on getting better.

But the point of this blog post is how to downsize.  We spent the summer of 2012 downsizing our three-bedroom apartment, getting ready for our life of travel.  So I thought I'd share how we did that, thinking it might help people who are trying to get rid of their stuff and head off travelling full time.

Because when you think about it, if you aren't paying monthly rent or mortgage fees, plus utilities and all, you can use ALL of that money for travelling!  

If you want our strategies for budget travel, here's a link to that blog post:

So, down- sizing.

We started by contacting family members to coordinate someone to be our person - the person to get our mail, have a joint bank account to pay bills, that kind of stuff.  Took a couple of tries, but my brother was willing to do this, and we try to keep the work minimal.

Then, Richard and I both went through our stuff.  What did we own that we wanted to keep, that we just couldn't live without?  This differed for each of us, but we both had sentimental things we wanted to keep.  We both had photographs, writings, candlesticks from our mothers, whatever.  Personal items that we wanted to save.  These were boxed up and mailed to my brother.  (We found that the US postal service was the easiest and least expensive way to ship things from the US Virgin Islands to Washington state - flat rate priority mail, open an account, print the shipping labels on the computer, and get free tracking.  Perfect!  And you can mail up to 70 lbs in the large box!)

I should add that I created a table on the computer so I could keep track of our boxes.  I know, it's a bit compulsive, but I figured we'd eventually forget what was in each box, so I wanted a record.  Each box was labelled - H for house, B for books, K for kitchen, etc.  Then a number added.  I input a short list of what was in the box.  Then, as they were shipped, I added the date the boxes went to the PO.  I tracked them, and when they arrived, I added a check mark.  (And once all the boxes arrived, I removed the date shipped and check mark columns, making a smaller table.)

Next came the household items we wanted to keep.  We didn't want to keep much, since we had no idea when we'd have a house or apartment again.  A few family items were sent off to family members.  A few household items (my Le Creuset cookware) were packed and shipped.  And, done.

Clothing was a biggie.  I'll admit that I like clothes.  And while I've downsized what I pack and how much I carry as we travel, I probably have some 40 boxes of clothing in storage.  (My plan when we get to Yakima is to downsize once again, and give away a batch of clothing.)  My initial way of packing was to ensure each box held a capsule wardrobe - dark slacks, a skirt, a basic dress, some tops, a coordinating sweater, and maybe a jacket.  One pair of Birkenstocks.  So I could have box #XYZ shipped to me in Mongolia and I'd have coordinating clothes to wear.  Now, I'm rethinking this, since we come back each summer.  I might just do a few boxes of tops, a box of sweaters, etc.

At any rate, organize your clothes in a way that makes sense to you, record it on the computer table or spreadsheet, box it up, and mail it to your storage place.  (Yeah, if you live near your storage center, just drive it over.  We were 4000 miles away.)

Then, furniture.  We decided not to save any furniture.  And we had a lot of household items still.  Plus some clothing.  So, we had a house sale.  We had mailed 90% of what we wanted to keep, and our clothes were in the closet.  To make our lives easy, we moved clothes to sell into one closet.  We priced NOTHING.  I know, it would make sense to price things, but it was busy, it was my birthday, we skipped putting prices on things.  We had put an ad for the house sale in the newspapers, and that morning we woke up to the early birds.  Asked them to wait, and promptly at 8 AM opened the door.

We were in luck - people milled around, asked prices, and we sold stuff.  Sold some antique furniture I had, sold our dishes and small appliances, kitchen linens, silverware, cooking utensils.  I even sold hangers out of the closet!  And any woman who looked about my size, I told her about the clothes for sale in the closet in the back.

By the end of the day, we still had some large furniture - so we listed those items on craigslist, and managed to sell them.  The small household items went to our synagogue for their annual arts and antiques sale.  The antique furniture and other good stuff also went there, and my brother received the check in the mail later in the year.

Unsold clothing went to the women's shelter and the homeless shelter.  Items like pillows, towels, sheets, and blankets went to the animal shelter (to be used as animal beds).  Be creative with give-aways - you'd be surprised at how things can be re-used by someone or someplace that really needs them.

Our last day in our apartment, the lady who bought our bed came by to pick it up.  I gave her the sheets on the bed, as a starter set.  

Then we stayed in a hotel (owned by friends) for a week while we finalized the sale of both our cars.  (It takes a little while to do this.)  Made sure the utilities were turned off and our accounts closed.  Hired a cleaning lady to clean the apartment, to be sure we got our full deposit back.

And then, we were gone.  (Some of you might have noticed Cleo, our cat, in the photos.  Sadly, she passed away during the summer.  We knew she was quite ill, at 18 years of age - so it was expected.  But that way, we didn't need to leave her behind.)

Now, if you live near family and friends, you can head off to parts unknown.  We did a farewell tour across the US, visiting family and friends, and then made sure all of those boxes were packed into a storage unit near my brother.

But we also cashed in our frequent flyer miles and booked tickets.  The hardest part was figuring out a starting point, not knowing how long we'd be travelling.  We finally agreed we should start in New Zealand, and slowly make our way west and north, eventually (in however many years) coming back to the USA.  Didn't quite work that way, but we did head off to NZ.

At any rate, we headed out without keys, with only one rolling bag and a day pack each, ready for the world of adventures.

So, it really wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as we thought it might be.  Once the first box was packed, or the first item sold, it just got easier.  Our lives became lighter and free-er.  

We became unencumbered.

We became voluntary nomads.

And life is good, on the road.