I am writing you this blog post while making my way across the US from Seattle to Atlanta.
You’d think that moving almost every year since graduating high school (I’m now 30 years old) would’ve sufficiently kept my life fairly downsized. This is only partly true. There is no better motivation to downsize your life, than a move and packing up all your belongings into boxes is a sure-fire and convenient way to reduce your lifestyle footprint.
But what I’ve learned from my many moves, is that if I give myself the space for it, I’ll probably end up keeping it.
Let me give you a little backstory: I am a musician. I’ve gone through a career pivot over the last 5 years. Once a full-time cello teacher, now a full-time creative entrepreneur & singer-songwriter with a super rad podcast called Bare Naked Bravery.
I have a guitarist friend who refers to my business as an “income quilt.” I’ve got lots of exciting things happening this season: prepping for an album release (available for pre-order now!), working on my third draft of a book all about Bravery, recording new podcast episodes, teaching a couple cello students, and giving marketing lessons to fellow creative entrepreneurs. “Income Quilt” is an accurate description.
In an effort to finish up some of those “quilting squares,” 3 months ago, I made the decision to take a Sabbatical in 2017. This decision required unplugging myself from the financial obligations to stay in the Northwest, thereby freeing up my finances (and also my calendar.) I knew this decision would give me the freedom to spend the time doing the creative endeavors I had already decided to finish.
Conveniently, my elderly grandfather in Atlanta also is in need of some company and a fellow lover of American Pickers. Atlanta became my first Sabbatical destination as a brand new digital nomad!
[Side Note: Yes, I’m a fan of the TV show “American Pickers.” A television show dedicated to the adventures of two dudes who drive across the country picking up other people’s treasures. I realize that this is a blog post all about downsizing. Dichotomies make the world go round and the irony is not lost on me.]
When I made this rip-the-band-aid-off decision to become a digital nomad, I was living in a precious tiny house behind my landlord’s house. My tiny house consisted of 2 tiny bedrooms, a tiny living room, a tiny kitchen, and a tiny bathroom. It was perfect. Everything I loved and needed was held within those walls, including my home recording studio. But what wasn’t held in those walls was my geographical freedom. It was time.
So 3 months ago, I delivered the news to my landlord. She and I agreed that if I moved out ASAP before a couple house-sitting gigs (income quilt, remember?) this would give her plenty of time to find a replacement tenant and she would, therefore, let me out of my lease early. So kind, so understanding, right? Which brings me to…
Downsizing Surprise #1: Most folks will want to help, especially if it’s easy to do so.
Let the downsizing commence! Knowing that I would be moving into a house with way too much stuff (American Pickers, remember?) I knew I didn’t need any of my furniture, not even my precious memory foam mattress.
The plan was this: Downsize as much as possible immediately. Put the majority of those things in a storage unit while wrapping up house sitting gigs and the final 2016 meetings and lessons in the Northwest. Then I would pile everything into my van and make the trek cross-country to join my grandpa in Atlanta around the 1st of the year.
The first objective was downsizing and selling the stuff I knew I wouldn’t need. So I walked around my house making a list of everything I couldn’t take with me. Like everything. The list was several pages long, single-spaced. Kitchen items, furniture items, books, everything.
The second objective was to price each item on that list. Not the amount I valued it at, but the amount that I knew it would actually sell for. That grand total was disappointing. When I added up the amount of money I’d get if I were to sell each item on that list, It wasn’t much. Which just goes to show you…
Downsizing Surprise #2: Your stuff is not as valuable as you might think.
When the amount of money I’d receive from selling each item was compared with the amount of time and effort it would take to sell each item, it just didn’t add up. That almost brand new $10 kitchen whisk which was used only 3 times, would sell for only $3 (if that.) The time and effort required to make a post on Offerup or Craigslist and then wait around for some stranger to show up (or not show up) to hand me 3 bucks? It just wasn’t worth it.
So I turned to my friends and neighbors. Maybe one of them would want my $10 kitchen whisk for an earlier Christmas gift? This brings me to…
Downsizing Surprise #3: Facebook is your best friend. Someone there will want your stuff.
There are a couple Facebook groups I’m a member of. Both are exclusive to local neighbors. One a bit more utilitarian and less friendly. Which for my strangely shaped toaster oven worked perfectly. The other Facebook group was filled with a bunch of wonderful neighbors who were clumped together in solidarity around a common theme of neighborly generosity.
I discovered through these groups that GIVING AWAY my stuff was way more fun than trying to sell my stuff on craigslist or offerup.
Downsizing Surprise #4: Giving it away makes letting your things go feel good.
I was so surprised by how comforting it was to know that I was giving my stuff a new life and that new life was going to be fantastic. Unbeknownst to me, the sense of loss I feared from this downsizing project vanished when I unintentionally replaced it with a sense of generosity.
- I gave neighbor #1 the gift of color, as she was looking for some bright throw pillows for her drab couch at home. (She also walked away from my house with a lot more than pillows – I gave her a couple other colorful home decor items too!)
- I gave the gift of sound to neighbor #2, as she was in need of some “new” headphones. She received a bonus pair of earbuds and ALL my previously released albums too. Just because!
- I gave the gift of bossiness to neighbor #3, as she was in need of some white erase boards for her kid’s new chore charts.I gave the gift sight to neighbors #4 & #5, who were both looking for full-length mirrors for various purposes.
- I helped neighbor #6 with decorating for her wedding, by gifting her my rose-colored vintage glassware from my vanity dresser. So gorgeous.
- Neighbor #7 got a bag of super fun jewelry for her next trip to Burning Man. A worthy cause!
- I gave the gift of education to neighbors #8, #9, #10, and #11! They got a huge pile of brand new, unused school supplies (former office supplies) for their 2017 year of homeschooling adventures!
Those were just a couple of my favorite gifts. The others were just as fun and just as meaningful.
I didn’t give it all away, though. My aforementioned memory foam mattress went to a friend’s bedroom. She got that thing for a steal. But still, it was nice knowing 1) where my stuff was going to live next and 2) that I won’t be stuck with it on my move-out day.
It helped to just breathe when the anxiety of letting something go started to encroach on my chest. But not every item sold gave me anxiety. There were a couple items I was surprisingly thrilled to get rid of…
Downsizing Surprise #5: Selling your ex’s stuff is exhilarating!
My boyfriend from a couple years ago… (yeesh, that’s embarrassing to admit, since I haven’t had a boyfriend since! But I digress…) Two years prior, I witnessed him go through a similar downsizing in an effort to squeeze all his stuff into a shipping container. My relationship with him ended when he moved to a different country to begin his dream job.
Good for him, right? Yes. But guess who was the recipient of most of that stuff? Yep, me.
So zooming forward a couple years to my own downsizing project, I was shocked by how much of his stuff I still had hanging (sometimes literally) around the house. Granted, it was all stuff I used regularly. Vacuum, couch, etc. – all stuff I didn’t want to purchase again for myself.
But it took my own downsizing project to realize that selling/giving away all his stuff was surprisingly freeing! I had no idea how much of a weight off my chest it would be to sell that couch to a West Seattle couple (via craigslist) who were looking specifically for that discontinued IKEA couch sectional! They were stoked to have their old (yet in better condition) couch back! I was stoked to have a piece of my own life back!
Even though my ex-boyfriend and I ended our relationship on good terms, holding onto his stuff was not something I needed to be doing any longer. Phew! Freedom!
Downsizing Surprise #6: Moving is much easier to do when there’s less stuff!
This should be obvious. It’s a scientific fact of the matter. If you have less of it, there is less of it to move. But boy was this a pleasant surprise! As a professional mover (akin to Vienne from the movie “Chocolat”) I was comfortable using my car/van as a cross-city moving truck. Even though I did a regular purge of my American lifestyle, every move still took a couple trips.
But this time, as I drove away from the Pacific Northwest earlier this week, I kept reminding myself “No, Emily Ann, you did not leave anything behind. Those are just ghostly worries. Phantom habits of thought. There is literally nowhere you could’ve left it. All of it is with you right now.”
Because, yes, all my belongings now fit (still rather tightly, since I had to bring all my recording studio stuff) into my Dodge Grand Caravan.
Downsizing Surprise #7: Your friends will want to help when you’re in a pinch!
You’ll notice from the video above that there was still some stuff that didn’t fit into my van. I was expecting that. I had to make some hard decisions that day.
Fortunately, one of my friends generously offered to pick up the stuff that didn’t fit into my van. A couple of my favorite vintage lamps, some camping supplies, etc. She has instructions to sell that stuff and keep the proceeds 50/50 as a thank you for helping with the final last strings.
Bottom-line: I highly recommend a drastic Downsizing project to anyone looking to get some good and welcome surprises.
The big thing I’ve learned is this: letting go of your stuff doesn’t have to feel constricting and awful. Letting go can feel like generosity, towards yourself and towards others.
Go forth! Downsize!
Post by Emily Ann Peterson
Emily Ann Peterson is a musician, singer-songwriter, teaching artist, and host of the podcast Bare Naked Bravery – which is available on iTunes and everywhere podcasts can be found. You can follow her nomadic story of adventure on Instagram, on her podcast, or on her own blog at emilyannpeterson.com