Jun 26 2013

Downsizing: It’s All “Stuff”

By Tom Bunker

To ship or not to ship. That is the question. There are many differing opinions on this subject. Here’s a perspective on the joy of downsizing. Marcia and I have gone through this process twice and we can give you a few tips and things to consider. If you get nothing else out of this, remember the words of the philosopher George Carlin who said, “Did you ever notice that your stuff is stuff and other people’s stuff is crap?”

The first time we downsized was when we were in our mid 30’s. We had moved to southern California with everything we owned after more than 10 years of accumulating “stuff.” One of my goals was to become a sailor, having caught the bug after just one test sail. I took lessons, joined a club I could rent from, and became a very active sailor. After gaining experience, extensive reading, and visiting many boat shows, we bought a 37 ft. sailboat and decided to move aboard. Marcia was an avid sailor, but not totally sold on the move. Our compromise was to keep paying our rent for the apartment until we were sure we had done the right thing. So we paid to have all of our “stuff” live in our apartment while we moved aboard our boat.

First we got rid of the apartment. We held a couple yard sales to part with some of our “stuff,” entrusted some of it to friends, and put the rest in a large storage unit. After about 2 years of writing checks and not even seeing our “stuff” we decide to get rid of most of it. I don’t remember exactly what we sold and what we gave away. I do know that we didn’t get enough to cover the storage charges. We did keep some “stuff” that would fit into a much smaller storage locker at our marina.

A few years later, we decided to move up the coast to a different marina in Ventura County. At that time we got rid most of the “stuff” in our small storage locker. Life continued in Ventura County. In 1995, a number of factors led to us moving ashore. We rented an apartment, bought two lawn chairs, and borrowed an air mattress. We were now renters with an empty 3 bedroom apartment who also owned a large sailboat. We quickly started accumulating more “stuff.” Years of frugal living built the savings up, so we didn’t have a problem buying furniture to fill the place. After a year of renting, we bought a house and moved our “stuff” into it. Now we had a mortgage and a boat.

1995 was a busy, stressful year for us. I spent much of it working on a project on a ship off the coast of Norway and Marcia divided her time between working in California and traveling to Wisconsin where her mother was having more and more health problems. During that year, I continued writing checks to keep the boat in its slip. I managed to see it a couple times to make sure it was still floating, but hardly ever stepped aboard.

It wasn’t long before we decided to move mom in with us. Her son was living in her house in Wisconsin and her car was in the garage. We knew that she would never be able to return to that house, but it still took time for Marcia to come to terms with having to sell the house. With me at home with mom, she would have to do this without my help. Her mother’s house was full of what I have to admit was some really nice “stuff.” Marcia’s family had lived all over the world while her father was a career Army officer. She also liked antiques and had a lot of collectibles. I avoided that stress, and mom and I got along fine. Much of the higher quality “stuff” and family heirlooms were shipped to California while Marcia sold, donated, or tossed the rest. Most was sold for very little.

The years went by, mom was no longer with us, the boat was gone, and we retired early in California. I’ll skip the decision-making process on why and where we moved. That’s been covered before. The decision on “stuff” was to convert all but the “can’t-live-without stuff” into cash and take as little with us to Costa Rica as possible. That way, we would have maximum flexibility to move on if we had to.

That was a very liberating experience and it also was very eye-opening. Remember the Carlin principle. When people look at your “stuff”, they see crap! It doesn’t matter what you paid for something, it doesn’t matter what the internet or some expert says your crap is worth. The only thing that matters is what someone is willing to pay for it. Once you come to terms with that, you can sell most of your furniture and appliances and household goods. When it comes to the rest, get used to parting with it. Now is a good time to give gifts to friends and family. If you want your children, grand-children, or friends to have something after you die, why wait? You’ll get the chance to see how much it means to them. Donate to local Red Cross, Salvation Army, or other organization. All that “stuff” can be a real help to someone.

We got down to leaving some artwork with friends and a few boxes of family albums and small items with Marcia’s brother. What a feeling it is to step onto the plane with six suitcases and two cats. After three years, I miss some friends, but I don’t miss my “stuff.” It turns out that they have “stuff” in Costa Rica! Sometimes it’s different “stuff”, but there’s plenty of it.

If you are an artist who needs special supplies, or a master carpenter who need his tools, by all means bring them with you. Before you load your bed, furniture, pots and pans, dishes, and other used “stuff” into a container and ship it to wherever you are going, think about this. You are buying your own used “stuff” at a premium price, a price that no one else would pay.

One thing we’ve learned here is from the philosophers The Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want. But, if you try, sometimes you’ll get what you need.”

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