I’d wanted to downsize my life for a while. I don’t know what it was about becoming a homeowner. Maybe the knowledge that belongings would more likely accumulate rather than get thinned out every few years during future moves. Or maybe it was all of the eco-friendly renovations and the knowledge that came with them. Whatever the reason, by the time I decided to take my round the world trip, my belongings were starting to nag at me. And once I’d determined that I was taking that trip solo, I knew that by the time I left, I would have far fewer material possessions.
When I moved out in January, I left most of the furniture without a second thought. The vintage telephone table I’d scoured shops, antique fairs, and Craigslist for months to find. The limited edition art deco coffee table I’d managed to get a screaming deal on. The 100% natural latex mattress with the organic cotton and wool cover that I’d fought to make a priority. I left them all and much of the contents of our 2.5 bedroom house…and I was ready to.
But right then, when I was giving up so much- my house, stuff, partner, and the neighborhood I loved, I wasn’t ready to give up everything. My music collection-the records- many of which I’d had since I was in elementary school, my books- I even had my Judy Blume books- all the material evidence of my life that I’d managed to hold onto in spite of moving at least every three years for my whole life. I couldn’t decide what to keep and what to get rid of while dealing with grief.
So instead, I went through every piece of paperwork in the house, shredded anything I didn’t have to keep, and recycled it. I went to local liquor stores and got a bunch of used beer boxes to pack my things, and moved everything I wanted to deal with later to my friend’s garages. And that was grueling enough.
But it seemed that minimalism took on a life of it’s own. Like if I wasn’t going to deal with my stuff, it was going to deal with me. During one rainstorm, my friend Josh’s garage ceiling collapsed and while none of my stuff was destroyed, it did need cleaning up, and couldn’t be put back. Less than two weeks later, in a separate storm, Leslie’s garage flooded and boxes of my books and some clothes were ruined. I got the message. I couldn’t just park this stuff, take off, and come back to deal with it later like I’d started to think I might. Hmm…
So when Leslie suggested the yard sale date of April 30th, what would have been my 5-year wedding/10-years together anniversary, I was ready…ish. In an attempt to do better than yard sale prices, I listed items on Craigslist with photos the week leading up to the sale. I took my books to a used bookstore called Moe’s in Berkeley. I sold my vintage/used clothes and shoes to resellers Mercy Vintage in Piedmont, Crossroads Trading Co., and Buffalo Exchange. I may have made more money selling on Ebay, but I wanted to avoid items being shipped (not as green, although you can buy carbon off-sets). Fortunately, I’d already made a pretty penny while knowing my stuff would have more local life, before yard sale day even came.
It took three yard sales on a busy street (Leslie’s) in Oakland, individual item Craigslist ads linking to yard sale posts, and amazing friends, neighbors, and strangers, for nearly all my stuff to sell. In the end I donated all of my leftover books to the Longfellow Community Association (a neighborhood group I co-founded with Leslie) for their White Elephant Sale this summer. I sold all my leftover CDs and cassettes to a music store, Rasputin in Berkeley, and donated leftover clothing and miscellaneous items to Goodwill. I used a drop box and donated all my underwear, socks, things that can’t be re-worn by others and usually get thrown out to USAgain- a for-profit business that sells them to textile recyclers for use as filling. All of my empty, already recycled boxes were put in the recycle bin or given to a friend for her move.
With everything out of both my friend’s garages, I spent the last week before my June 8th departure going through every single thing I had left and vetting it for importance. Most of what I now own is important paperwork, things from my Grandmother, and printed photos, and a few things I just didn’t have time to recycle properly as my conference deadline loomed. Knowing I had too much to ship and store at my Mom’s, I hunted for the smallest, most eco-friendly storage unit I could find. I was so excited to find that Point Richmond Self-Storage, in Richmond, CA., not only had the smallest, most affordable units – 4’w x 3’d x 4’h lockers- but that they are also powered by solar electricity. The owners also are partners in other facilities in other parts of the U.S.
I feel pretty happy with the approach I took and the voraciousness with which I downsized. I feel lighter and am happy knowing that others are enjoying the things I was ready to let go of, and very little, if anything, ended up in the landfill. My one regret is that I couldn’t find a more eco-friendly, waterproof (I’ve learned my lesson!) alternative to the two 22-gallon plastic tubs I’m using to store my most treasured items. My goal is to return to the Bay Area between my road trip and international trip and scan all my photos and paperwork to further reduce my footprint, and then move that extremely tiny footprint to my Mom’s place while I travel the world…lightly.
Have suggestions for living and traveling lighter? More eco-friendly? Waterproof alternatives to plastic tubs? Love your comments as always!