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Downsizing: Lessons from the Pros

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

moving boxes and items in a garage in preparation of a yard sale
Yard Sale Staging

Once we made the decision to sell the house and move into an RV the first step was downsizing. Obviously a 3,000+ square foot house will not fit into any camper. No matter what size house you are moving from this is a step that you are going to need to complete. The steps are simple enough: first, store what you can't bear to part with, but isn't needed in the camper, and second, get rid of the rest. However, like most things it's easy to say, but hard to do. Especially how do you handle the process when kids are involved.

  • Downsizing?

    • Store some possessions.

      • Items with sentimental value

      • Items that you don't want to part with yet.

    • Decide what to take with you.

    • Get rid of the rest.

      • Trash items.

      • Sell items.

      • Donate items.

      • Pass on items.

Downsizing: Storing some items

If you are like we were, you'll notice that stuff tends to accumulate around your house, especially once you add kids to the mix. So how in the world do you decide what is worth storing? Our first step was to pack up things with special meaning to us. That's going to look different to everyone but for reference I'll share what it was like for us.

We started with the kids rooms. They were the messiest and seemed a place that not only needed to be tackled sooner, but a place that I and the husband didn't have too much emotional investment in ourselves. It helped to start with things that we weren't tied too. We started by running up to Lowes and picking up a small black and yellow tote for each of the kids. They were told that anything at all that was special to them, but wouldn't be taken to the camper should go in that box. They did really well with the process, only the three littles needed my help. They wrapped up breakables, chose special toys, combed through their art work, etc.

For me that looked like going through my collectables and books. I have a few special knick knacks, like the teapot my aunt made on her pottery wheel, my china, and a box of Abigail's keepsakes, our daughter who passed away. The hardest thing for me to personally to sort through was my books. Everyone who knows me, knows I horde books. When starting work on my master's, I planned to also be certified in library services. Books are special. They are items of enjoyment, a saved memory of who and where you were each time it was read, and a connection to those who gift them to you. Last move I had more than 40 boxes of books. Each move we made I've gotten rid of like 4 by donating them to the library, of course I'd also added countless numbers each time we've lived somewhere...

For the kids they chose the books they wanted and would often pass on books they had outgrown or were no longer interested in. Each of them kept around 2.5 boxes of books (not in their totes). I then of course went through what they left behind and pulled out books to save for younger kids and books that were extra special. Some of the books on their shelves had been mine or my mother's as a child. Among my books I did the same thing. Asking myself what I couldn't bear to part with and what I was sure I would reread again.

Finally, I went through the house, noting what furniture items we didn't want to part with. Some items were easy. I have my grandmother's hope chest, it's 70 years old, as it was made when she was 16. My great-grandfather picked out the design with the carpenter. I'll never part with that piece. For another example, I also opted to save a dining room table in pristine condition that can also fit our entire family. A table that would probably cost me between $8000 and $10,000 to buy new, but that I found on Facebook marketplace for $100. Perhaps one day, if we stay on the road indefinitely those types of items we will sell, but I'm not ready to let go of that yet. Other items like basic bookcases and couches that we had no sentimental attachment too were easy to let go.

Downsizing: Pack the Camper

This step works better if you already have your camper, and can move the items you want to keep right into place. In our case, we can't buy our camper until we finalize the sell of our house, so we are separately packing our items that will eventually go into the camper. Each of the kids got a book bag to pack with their special items in it. One of the girls chose to bring 6 journal books and all the art supplies she could stuff in, another chose to bring several toys, a stuffed animal, and some books. For mine and the husband's items, and general supplies needed for the camper, we will pack most of that later right before we move out. After all we still need toothbrushes and school books right now.

Downsizing: Get Rid of It

Once we knew what we wanted to store and what items we were going to take with us, everything else had to go. Our first step was to actually sort out what was trash and what was worth putting in a yard sale. It was shocking just how much trash and junk had accumulated, particularly in the kids rooms. Some items also weren't fit to be put in a yard sale, so in the trash bin they went.

Step two was to hold a yard sale. Depending on your items and your area you might prefer to sell items on an app or site such as LetGo, Facebook Marketplace, or Ebay. One piece of advice though, you get a much better turn out in our experience if you call it a moving sale rather than a yard sale. We are planning to have a yard sale Friday and Saturday of this week, and get rid of as much as we can while earning as much as we can. Every little bit helps by going back into the budget, and it means fewer items to store.

Once you've sold all you can sell, the next option is to donate it. This step is a little tricky. You have to ask yourself what is worth getting rid of just to have it off your hands verses what is worth it to store instead. I anticipate after the yard sale that there might be some large items that we have to determine this. For example, if my desk doesn't sell, it isn't made anymore, and I have painted it up and fixed it just the way I like. Is it worth it to store, or to just donate?

Also, you have to find the right place to donate items. We have really liked looking for local run ministries or thrift stores. Places, that invest back into our local economy and build up those who need help in our area, rather than donating to the big box stores that just make money on your stuff like Goodwill. However, sometimes these places are restricted by not having the room for too many large items or not taking certain types of items. In that case anything we can't donate to our local ministry, Jericho Ministries, we will call Habitat for Humanity about picking up.

Downsizing Complete

Perhaps knowing a little about how the process looked for us will help you. Whether you just want to declutter your home, or make a drastic life change like we are the process is fairly the same. After you downsize, all that's left is to organize what remains, but that's a subject for another day.

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