Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

5 Tips for Breaking Up With Your Stuff

My wife and I are in the final phase of purchasing a home in Brooklyn, NY. In true LifeEdited spirit, the apartment is on the cozy side. The realtors call it 675 sq ft, but our tape measure says something quite smaller. In this space will live two work-from-home adults and one plays-from-home one-year-old boy. We chose the place for a number of reasons. It has a flexible square floor-plan (we’ll keep you posted on designs). It’s in a charming building filled with other young families. It’s near many of our friends. But the main reason is its location: it’s directly across the street from Prospect Park and in a very good school district.

Our little space requires all fat be trimmed from our lives–there is no room for backups or also-ran stuff. Our current place has ample closets and room for unused phones, computers, vases, photos, purses, etc. Our new place will have storage for what we love, need and use and not much more. In preparation for this new, leaner life, my wife and I spent the weekend editing our lives.

We always knew that our current home would be more pitstop than final destination, so we never fully unpacked, and many of the items considered this weekend were things that had been boxed up for the last year. Similar to Graham Hill’s 2011 TED talk, the question that kept creeping up was, “What’s in the box?” Not “what’s in the box” literally–we labeled them pretty well–but “what’s in the box” that’s so important that we can live a year (and often longer) without?

You’d think that things we hadn’t used in a year or more would be easy to get rid of–particularly for a guy who’s job is to promote the “luxury of less” and his wife who has strong minimalist leanings. You’d think we would edit with abandon. You’d be mistaken.

Weaving through years of accumulated objects brought up fond memories and appreciation for objects we once cared enough to bring into our lives. Gifts from loved ones. Pieces of art that we were either given, bought or made. Cherished books. Framed photos we no longer had the wall space to hang. Objects that were sure to be collectible one day like my first generation iPhone. Sports equipment I’d been holding onto for years, sure that I would eventually use it. But would I really? When? Most of these things made the chopping block and it wasn’t easy.

There were also tinges of regret–all of the things we now realize were far from necessary: that second water pitcher, that $1K watch–expensive things that we will attempt to sell on eBay or Craigslist for a fraction of their purchase price. We wondered if maybe we shouldn’t have got them in the first place?

Whether conscious of it or not, I wondered if this emotional process was the reason many people don’t downsize? Might the prospect of getting rid of stuff be enough to stay in a too large home or live in a less-than-ideal neighborhood?

If you are considering downsizing or just editing your life, here are several valuable lessons–both practical and emotional–I learned this weekend editing our stuff:

  1. Ebay is great for smaller, commodity items. I actually sold $600 worth of stuff this weekend, but it was name brand stuff (old phones, bike components, watches, etc.). No-name stuff hasn’t really moved.
  2. Etsy is best for selling curios, handmade art and other non-commodity stuff. My wife sold a miniature dollhouse couch on Etsy, which she never thought would move. If you have weird stuff, Etsy might have a weird buyer.
  3. Craigslist is good for the big stuff like furniture, but our experience is that people want deals. Also, the bigger stuff might take more time, so you need to stay on top of it. More tips here.
  4. Editing might be a little painful, but that’s okay. Comfort is not needed. As Graham Hill says, “edit ruthlessly.” In many ways, getting rid of stuff is like breaking off a relationship. If it’s a horrible relationship, ending it can be easy. But most relationships, like most stuff, have some elements that work and others that don’t, and the prospect of letting go of the things that do work can overshadow the preponderance of things that don’t. If you’ve made a decision to let go of something, stay firm in your decision, despite discomfort, and edit away.
  5. Focus on the other side. Many of the intellectual arguments for editing your life–less to deal with, store, clean, etc.–get lost when presented with a potential emotional loss. Try to create a stronger emotional connection to the other side. We are editing our lives because it allows us to move into a clean, amazing, albeit small, apartment in a neighborhood we couldn’t have otherwise afforded. We visualized a life where our son could hop over to the park on a moment’s notice; where we could walk to our friend’s houses; where we could reunite with our beloved Park Slope Coop (don’t believe the slander–it’s the best); where we would be living within our financial means and not have to stress out about high mortgage payments. Connecting emotionally to this vision proved far more powerful than a pro/con balance sheet of why we should hold onto the cheese knives.
  • Marrena

    Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is. It’s easy for a bachelor to live in a tiny apartment, your situation will be much more challenging. Report back!

    • David Friedlander

      thanks marrena. full reports will be posted in the coming months.

      • Jay Bee

        You’ll find it both a lot easier and even more rewarding than you know. DH and I work from home (and also have offices based on the nature of our work), and have a 5 yr old. We’re in 480 sq ft. It’s lean, simple, fun, and functional! It works! 🙂

  • YoungSally

    NY Real Estate traditions usually dictate simply including everything possible in the measurements for an apartment – closets – walls – other available dimensions in parallel universes….I think a lot of agents simply measure an apartment as the longest available length by the longest available width….no messy geometry involved.

  • lbdsgn

    The cost of holding onto things adds to its original purchase price, so don’t feel too bad if you can’t recoup what you wish for each item you sell. It would cost more to hold onto it. I used to pay for a storage unit, and eventually realized that if I had thrown out everything in the storage unit, and continually purchased and threw out each thing in there that I needed just when I needed it, I’d still have saved money vs paying to store it “just in case”. That’s how much our stuff costs us.

  • Todd Hannula

    Fantastic transparency. Keen to see this in action. Trying to move my family into this kind of thinking as we own a house that is probably 4-5x bigger than we need, even 2x bigger than we want, I suspect. Keep us posted.

  • cindyw

    As someone who is retiring and downsizing, I have a LOT of stuff to eliminate, including stuff I inherited from my parents years ago and haven’t gotten rid of yet. For sentimental or expensive items, I’ve taken digital photos along with creating a log identifying each item. The photos and log have several purposes:
    1) a record of my stuff that I can view and wax nostalgic about at any time
    2) photos to post with items I plan to sell
    3) supporting documentation for any charitable contributions for which I plan to take a tax deduction
    I thought this might be useful – it certainly reduced my anxiety about purging things I’ve kept around for sentimental reasons.

    • David Friedlander

      thanks cindy! very useful.

  • Rebecca

    I used to think that the best way to get rid of the excess was to buy a new house, but keep the old one. Move only what you actually need and love and can’t live without. Then, when you really need something, go to the old house and get it – and only it. At the end of the year, anything left behind goes! Of course, this plan is a bit impractical…

    Now I have a new thought. Take the most beloved and needed items to the new place and call in the estate sale folks. I don’t want to see it again, or I might change my mind. I’ll probably get more money for my stuff than I would at a garage sale and I don’t think my excess would excite anybody on either Craig’s List or Ebay.

  • Ray Russell

    Giving up stuff can be so hard. Last year I gave away three guitars, one was an old Strat I loved dearly. I still miss them. But I also know they were just things and couldn’t love me no matter how much I love them. I still have one guitar. But, I live in such a small place (a semi truck) there is simply no room for it. I guess it’ll have to go too. I just need to find it a good home.