Have you grown tired of stuff? Maybe it’s time for you to consider downsizing.
The mantra of “he who dies with the most toys wins” led us down the wrong path. We believed the lie that being rich meant the accumulation of stuff.
Seven years ago we lived in a four-bedroom house with three full baths. The house had a fireplace, a 2.5 car garage, a deck, a formal dining room, a living room, and a family room. We managed to full every room with stuff. And there were only two of us.
As I Boomer, I grew up in a culture where more and bigger were better. All you need to do is examine the car industry from 1955 to 1965. Every year the cars grew longer and during this era, people began thinking about getting a second car to park in the driveway.
This attraction to more and bigger, followed Boomers through the decades. We needed two or three of everything; and the bigger the better. Our accumulation of stuff swelled to the point we needed to construct outbuildings for storage. We added on to our house; or moved into a bigger one. Some readers have so much stuff, the car hasn’t been able to be parked in the garage for years.
Do I have your attention?
As we move toward retirement age, an amazing change is taking place. People who have spent a lifetime amassing stuff now feel trapped. They feel as though they are drowning in a sea of stuff.
This is not the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It is the dawning of the Age of Downsizing.
Here’s why you ought to consider downsizing:
1. The more stuff you have the more you are tied down.
You are entering into the time of life where mobility is more important than ever. You want to travel and see the country. There are many trips ahead to see those grandkids. When the phone rings, and your best friend invites you on a road trip, you want to be able to go.
But the more stuff you have, the more tied down you are. Who will water the plants? Can you find someone to mow your 10 acre yard? Is it safe to leave your trailered boat sit in the driveway for a month?
2. The more stuff you have the more money it will cost.
Keeping your things insured isn’t cheap. If you have a boat, motorcycle, three cars, and a collection of rare tools you know what I’m talking about. The more stuff you own, the more you will spend on insurance.
Maintenance also is an issue. It costs much more to keep three cars running than one. The more animals you own, the greater the feed and vet bills. The bigger your yard, the more it costs to keep the grass mowed and weeds pulled. Your big driveway will cost a fortune to replace when you get tired of the huge cracks. And if you have a large house, a roof replacement might force you to take out a second mortgage.
3. The more stuff you have the more it clutters your mind.
Like a mother hen struggling to keep track of her hens, we struggle to keep track of our stuff. How many times do you want to ask yourself, “Now, where did I put that?” Or, “Who did I loan that to?” The more stuff you have the more difficult it is to mentally maintain the inventory.
4. The more stuff you have, the more there is for your inheritors to fight over.
I know; it won’t happen in your family. Can I be honest? You are wrong. When you are gone and your stuff is sorted through by surviving family members, the emotions run high. No one means for it to happen, but the claws will start to come out. Everyone wants his or her own special thing associated with good memories of you. But if there is less to fight over, there will be less of a fight.
Here’s what to downsize and how to do it:
1. Downsize your expectations regarding the retirement years.
Our culture has conned many Boomers as they head toward retirement age. We’ve been told these will be the years of laying beside the pool while we sip iced tea. We have dreams of jet-setting around the world; or at least spending a couple of weeks in Tijuana. We are expecting the coming Golden Years to be solid 24 karat gold bars.
This stage of life can be terrific but it rarely lives up to such lofty expectations. Even if you have plenty of money invested for retirement, there remain many pitfalls on the road ahead. Health concerns top the list of items which can sabotage your Golden Years. It’s important to establish a realistic level of expectations during this stage of life.
To get an accurate picture of what your financial picture will be in your retirement years consider talking to a financial planner. Take time to review the options regarding Social Security benefits. Once you have done your financial homework, you will begin to see how much you need to adjust your financial expectations.
This has the potential to impact how much you enjoy retirement. If your finances are meager, you will need to find other ways to make this chapter of your life meaningful. This is why I’ve been promoting the ReFIRE process. It helps you to make this chapter of life the best regardless of your financial picture.
2. Downsize your lifestyle.
Most of us will need to find ways to downsize our lifestyle. While working full time at the pinnacle of our career, the money rolled in. If you wanted to eat out four times a week, no problem. Impromptu purchases on Amazon or Best Buy were commonplace. A weekend in the mountains was always an option. But the day is coming, when those things will need careful planning. Depending on your level of financial security, this may mean minor or major downsizing.
Before heading into retirement years, with a realistic view of your financial picture in hand, try to get a picture of the lifestyle you can afford. It is important for you to live within your budget during this season of life. If you can’t afford to maintain your current lifestyle, either find a way to make more money or dial back on your standard of living.
3. Downsize your stuff.
Have you ever seen the 2001 filming of a seven-part Canadian documentary called Pioneer Quest? It’s about two couple who agree to live in northern Canada as pioneers for one year. They start out with supplies but need to build their own log homes, dig a well, and plant their own crops. At the end of the 12 month experiment both couples spoke of how meaningful the experience was and how close they had drawn to each other. What struck me was how the absence of stuff enhanced their lives. You have too much stuff. It’s time to let it go.
Go through your stuff and sort it into three piles: keep, sell or give away, and throw out. Go from room to room and sort. Be ruthless. When you’ve made a pile for the trash man take it out to the curb. Get it out of your house. Store the stuff for sale or give away in your garage. Schedule a garage sale. If you don’t need the money, call Goodwill and have them pick it up for free.
Sell your major items on eBay or Craig’s List. The challenge regarding eBay sales is in shipping your sold items. The challenge on Craig’s List isn’t the shipping; it’s sorting through the scams. Regardless of the challenges, these two venues are great ways to dump the big things.
4. Downsize your car.
Pay attention. Please do not head into retirement age with a car or motorcycle payment. It is the worst financial mistake you can make. Think of it like this: you are paying interest on something that is decreasing in value.
For many years I’ve had no car payment. I drive what I can afford. My current car is a 2001 Dodge minivan which cost me $1200. It has 180,000 miles on it. Yes, there are some repair bills. But those bills are far less than my previous monthly payment of $350 for my last financed car.
Here’s how to downsize your car. Sell it. If you owe more on it than it’s worth then you have several steps to take. Go to the bank and get an unsecured loan. I owed $8500 more on my car than it was worth. I sold my car and had to kick in $8,500 to pay it off. I found an old Honda Accord with 150,000 miles on it. I paid $700 for it and drove it for three years. Over the next 18 months I paid off my $8500 to the bank. Since then I’ve never financed a car. Life begins when you downsize your car and live without a car payment.
5. Downsize your house.
You really don’t your big house. Your expenses decreases when you live in a smaller place. Insurance costs less. Utilities and taxes are reduced. And there is less to clean and maintain.
Call the reality and have them come out to your house. Ask them what they would list your house for. They will be able to give you a close ballpark figure. If the realtor refuses to do this, then get another realtor. These people are experts and refusal to work with you isn’t a good sign. If you have equity, look into the possibility of buying a house and paying cash using the profits from the sale of your current house. Even if you need to borrow money, if you’ve chosen a small house, your payment should reduce dramatically. If you need motivation, close your eyes and imagine your house payment being reduced in half or completely disappearing. Call the realtor now.
6. Downsize the weight of past disappointment.
Does this suggestion seem out of place? I bring it up because this is the “ultimate” guide to downsizing. Most articles on the subject won’t touch this. But it is a vital topic of consideration.
By the time you’ve traveled through this planet for over five decades, you’ve accumulated plenty of hurt, disappointment, and guilt. As time passes the weight of this junk gets heavy. It wears away at us as we try to move forward. The weight of this emotional baggage from the past is as dangerous as carrying around an extra 100 pounds.
Start working on coming to terms with the past. Read a good book on the subject. Talk to a trusted friend, counselor, or minister. Start by reading THIS article which I wrote on the subject several months ago. No downsizing for the future is complete until you have downsized the weight of past disappointment.
When should you begin? Start now. Don’t wait another day. You are closing in on those retirement years. If you procrastinate, it will be too late. Now is the time to find freedom by starting to downsize.
Your downsizing article is, once again, a timely read for me. I am still grappling with thoughts of moving. Should I stay or should I go regularly visits my thought processes. The possibility of a tiny house (500-800 square feet) surfaces often. I can’t even count the number of times I have already downsized since my last move in 2005. Guess I am just not getting rid of enough stuff at one time. Thanks again for your article. It will most certainly aid in my decision making.
Best of luck! You never know, maybe someday we will be neighbors!
I love this article! Downsizing and simplifying are two of my favorite topics; they’re so meaningful to me. Right now I’m in Year 2 of sorting through every drawer, cupboard, closet & room in our house and getting rid of everything we don’t CURRENTLY use. Whole lotta stuff flyin’ outta here!
We’re also fixing/repairing and sometimes upgrading as we go, so that by the time we’ve reached the end of this big project our house will be (a) minimalist and uncluttered, and (b) ready to sell at a moment’s notice whenever we decide to live somewhere smaller. (I tend to be ready to go small while my husband tends to want to stay in this big house which we do love.)
But I like the way your article goes beyond the issue of “stuff.” Such interesting points about other things that need to be downsized at our age! And they are all worthy of serious thought. Thanks for provoking more thoughts!
Thanks for your great comments. We’ve been thru the process twice. It’s still a challenge for me. Some things are really hard to let go of!! Btw. I finally threw away my 7th and 8th grade yearbooks. Why I moved them with me for 40 years I don’t know!
Sometimes it’s hard to throw away a piece of oneself.
That’s a pretty powerful word picture!!
This is SO excellent Randy!
Six years ago I went though a divorce. It was an extremely difficult time. Most divorces are I’ve learned. The housing situation was terrible and we took a short sale. It was a two year long mess. But in that time we sold off so much stuff. SO MUCH STUFF! And I was a bit of a hoarder. We had a bunch of toys (quads, cycles, camping, etc. Things we only used once or twice a year).
I went from a filled to the brim 3br/2.5 bath with a huge back yard and lots of space … to an apt. It was necessary, and it was painful. But only for a season. I found that through the initial necessary downsizing I experienced a freedom from the weight that lifted. And so I kept going. After living in the apt (with still too much stuff) for about a year, I then began to go crazy on the closets, got rid of bags and boxes of stuff. I never thought I’d again live in an apartment, but I love it. I don’t have to pay for the a/c went it goes out!
Now, I especially love #6. I think that has much to do with holding onto that which now is useless, or not profitable, or something that we think will bring us that same, special joy again someday. It keeps us stuck in the past. And that doesn’t leave much room for change, for the new thing, for the new joys, for the ability to shift gears, to take on a different job, for someone else to enter our life, for a new purpose.
So, I’ll just add that, for me, I’ve now come to the conclusion that environment is fairly indicative of the inner life.
Wow. You are living proof it can be done! Thanks friend for sharing your story.
We downsized our house about 6 years ago. My wife had our kids come to help her operate a garage sale, since we would have less room after the move. (I am a pack rat.) After the sale, I remember they had a bunch of leftover stuff hauled out to the road. When I went out to get the paper, I saw an item in the trash that was mine. I took it out of the trash, and took it back in the house. My wife and kids sold my chainsaw for 5 bucks. ( I found out later.) A funny thing happened after the move. Our garage and basement are getting full. You know you have too much stuff when you have to buy something because you can’t find it. You know you have, maybe several of the items-somewhere, or you buy an item and later find one or 2 stashed somewhere in the basement or garage. I know we need to tackle this issue again!
Good point! We gotta keep at it. Five bucks?!
Every blog of yours is a blessing, love it due realty.
One thing that I did not address, and I don’t know if is just me, or common. I have an unusual attachment with things as they relate to people. If a family member gave me a gift 20 years ago, the item reminds me of that person, and I do not want to get rid of it. My wife does not have this issue, it’s like- yeah I remember when that person gave us that, ok, now throw it out. I have items that are broken, and useless, but I feel like it is doing a disservice to that person to pitch it. The physical item reminds me of that person. Does anyone else suffer this “pack rat curse?”
What if the thing reminds you of a bad memory? Yes, I too am curious if anyone else can relate to this?
I sure do. fortunately, most are little things, like a mug, or a piece of jewelry, or a picture. It is just comforting to me. Most are people who are gone now. Some are bigger, like a table, or a shelf, that I don’t really need, but someone made. I’m even awful about old clothes! When my Dad died 40 years ago, my sister sent me Dad’s gardening clothes. Kept them for years. Why on earth?
I have in my basement:, my dad’s hat, his glasses, boxes of my mom’s old checkbook receipts. They bot have been gone for over 16 years! So my attachment does not really have to be something given. My parents things I deceived after their deaths. I think a bad memory with an object, I would also keep.