The Downsizing Dozen: Giving It All Away

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This July marks the beginning of a new series on Suburban Satsangs. Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics.

What do you do when you have a houseful of furniture to get rid of, and less than two weeks to do it? You panic.

And then you email photos of all the stuff to be sold to your local consignment mogul, who ignores you. Then you panic again.

As you wait for a reply that never comes, hours tick away and you realize that it’s really too late to contact an estate or auction company, organize your own yard sale or set up that dreaded Craigslist account that you’ve put off forever. You panic some more.

To my great surprise, our house sold so fast, with such a tight deadline to closing, that we were faced with the interesting predicament of either a) taking it all with us b) placing everything in storage or c) piling anything combustible in the front yard for a giant neighborhood weenie roast.

Well, you guessed it, none of those were viable options and here’s why: we were attempting to stuff three adults and a cat (who needs his space) into a 900 square-foot, third floor apartment without an elevator. There was no way we could fit all the furnishings from 2,000 suburban feet of house acreage into that space, much less carry everything up two flights of stairs. Nor did we have any desire to move items that we didn’t need or want twice, once to a storage facility and then later to the nearest auction house or high, windy cliff. And as for the third option, well, the fire station around the corner wouldn’t have been amused by the bonfire and burnt front lawn, much less our buyer.

So back to the initial question of what to do when you have no time to deal with the disposal of home furnishings? You open your doors.

That’s right, you fling the front door open and invite your neighbors in to take what they want. You hop on Facebook and ask all your local friends to come and get items for free, as long as they can haul it away for you, or spread the word on your behalf if they don’t need anything themselves. You lift the garage door and drag stuff that nobody wants out to the curb with a big “free” sign on it.

Here is what we gave away: two sets of living room furniture, a dining table and chairs, computer desks, two dressers, one full-size bed and mattress, numerous side tables, armchairs, lamps and accessories, a 24-foot ladder, the overworked lawnmower and gas can, our well-used Weber grill, an old patio set and yes, even the trash can!

Here is what we gained: pleasure in one more chance to visit with our neighbors and in some cases, get to know them better before we moved; relief that our unwanted stuff was recycled and re-gifted rather than dumped into a landfill; the satisfaction of knowing that our friends were benefitting rather than a dealer or company making a profit off our plight.

This is what I learned:

1) Your stuff isn’t as valuable as you think it is. Antiques certainly aren’t worth as much as they were before the recession. There are too many consumer goods out there and everyone is trying to sell theirs. If you enjoyed the item and it served its purpose, then you got your money’s worth.

2) Luck is on your side. When you can genuinely let go of your attachments, the Universe helps you. Our next door neighbors just happened to hold a yard sale on the very weekend we desperately needed some help. We brought over the dining set, a sofa and matching love seat, and our neighbors added to their summer vacation fund. It was a win-win.

3) Don’t forget charities. As extra insurance in case anything large was left that we couldn’t drop off ourselves, I scheduled a truck pickup with one of the local charities for the day before we sold our house. (I’m happy to report that I was able to cancel the pickup due to lack of stuff.)

4) I was dismayed to learn that no charity accepts gently used mattresses anymore, thanks to the bed bug epidemic. It really is a shame to haul a perfectly good guest mattress to the dump, so if you can find a new home for it through word of mouth, Craigslist or Freecycle, by all means, take that opportunity. At the very least, put it out by the curb on a sunny day. I guarantee someone will take it.

At final count, our belongings were distributed to 10 households. We hope they enjoy them as much as we have, and we look forward to a few carefully chosen furnishings that suit our new home, and benefit rather than burden our lives.

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21 thoughts on “The Downsizing Dozen: Giving It All Away

  1. Wow. I feel as though I’ve just walked through some kind of typhoon. Your account is so measured and well crafted that it’s easy to come away with the impression it wasn’t all so hard. But yikes! The upheaval and urgency must have been wretched.

    You are so very right that things aren’t so valuable as we think they are. But that’s easier said than lived by. I am fascinated by your story and reflections, and look forward to the coming year of installments.

    Oh, and I loved the reference to the high, windy cliff.

    1. So much for carefully laid plans, Maureen, but we did make it through! And this gives me something to write about. As always, I appreciate your support as I feel my way through. Oh, and I knew you’d catch the cliff reference.

  2. Finding God Daily

    I am trying to de-clutter, so we make regular trips to GW. Funny, I never seem to miss the stuff and I know I can’t out-give God. He knows what I do and he “loves a cheerful giver”. I’m sure everyone who benefits from your generosity will always remember your kindness and that in itself is worth more than “stuff”. Thanks for the post!!

    1. I never miss the stuff, either, and I certainly don’t mourn the responsibility of taking care of it all. Throughout the giving process, I did get the impression that we were traveling new territory with our friends and neighbors. If nothing else, I hope this momentum continues in the spirit of paying it forward. Thanks so much for your lovely comment.

  3. Shirah

    I love that image of the lovely, empty floors. At my end I, too,, am finding it amazingly easy to just pick everything up and clear it out. (And it is a pleasure to give much of it away.) All those stacks of articles and how-to-improve-your-life suggestions that I absolutely had to revisit. All those books that I haven’t yet read but and were shaking a finger at me for my sloth, stacks and stacks of magazines. I’ll stop here while I’m ahead. I look forward to every detail of you adventure. You’re way, way ahead of me.

    1. Jumping into action is easier when you are motivated. Having a deadline cab be a good thing. You are doing wonderfully under the circumstances, Shirah. I remain in awe of what you are accomplishing already.

  4. Thank you for doing this! It will be a real treat to read your downsizing dozen and I will look forward to each installment. I’m thinking about your #1, and will continue to think about it often in the coming months. I’m getting rid of some things, slowly, and need to constantly remind myself that much of my stuff is just stuff, and not very valuable at that.

    1. I hope that my findings will help, Bonny. This doesn’t apply to sentimental items, of course. I find it very hard to part with items my daughter has made or loved as a child. I’ll try to tackle those in a future post. As always, thanks for following along!

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  10. Very intrigued by your tale, and, as always, I so appreciate and enjoy your strong and wry writing. Thank you for coming by so I would find you again. Looking forward to the other installments. Happy New Year in your new, less fettered life!

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