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Five Things I Learned About Downsizing

Photo: Any friends who help with your garage sale are damn good friends!

There’s downsizing, and then there’s what I did in order to move to Mexico. Talk about becoming an extreme minimalist, almost overnight!

I went from a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a basement and a two-car garage (did I mention I didn’t have a car?) to four suitcases and three cats.

There were many stages to this process. The earliest stages, when I burst into tears at the thought of leaving behind an elephant table carved out of teak that my ex gave me when we were in college. The times I wished I could just firebomb the place, because it would be easier. And then, near the end, when I kept giving away piles and piles of stuff, only to have more magically appear overnight.

Here’s the five major things I learned that I wish I’d known before. If you have some insight to add, or any of these tips helped you, please chime in!

1. Start ASAP! One thing I bemoaned a lot was that I didn’t get started on this sooner. I would have killed for one more year, and I’d already started decluttering and selling things a long time ago. However, I took massive steps back during the pandemic, when it seemed like no one was going anywhere. Getting rid of a lifetime of belongings, even if you just haul them to Goodwill, takes a lot longer than you think. Start as soon as you possibly can.

Even after the garage sale, I still had a lonnnng way to go! (The newspapers were originally wrapped around breakables.)

2. Take the Damn Offer. I’ll admit it — sunk-cost fallacy hit me hard. Sometimes I fixated on what I’d originally paid for things (many of which were still brand new), and tried to get at least half for them. There were so many instances when I said no or was even offended by lowball offers, but guess what I ended up donating or giving away to friends and new immigrants? Yep. I was in a position where I needed to make as much as I could before moving, but even a crappy offer is better than no offer.

3. Find People Who Buy in Bulk. I also wish I’d done this so much sooner. This may be common sense to those of you in the know, but I had no idea! Gold buyers give you a MUCH better deal than you’ll get from selling jewelry on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Kijiji. Insanely good! I was honestly shocked. Same with selling a lot of my fancy crystal spheres and jewelry to a woman with a metaphysical/bead store. And my Fiestaware to a single collector. I’m sure there are tons of other examples out there, so if you have good ones, please leave them in the comments. Pawn shops give terrible rates, but there are some ways to make good money selling your stuff in bulk. I also had an estate seller take my Monster High collection to a doll show. He was able to sell a few for me.

4. Don’t Wait for a Garage Sale. “Why don’t you have a garage sale?” I lost count of how many times people said that to me, but I wanted to sell as much as I could in other ways, because I had a feeling I wouldn’t make a lot at a garage sale. However, even knowing this, I still held back, thinking I should “save something for the garage sale” so it looked impressive. I needn’t have worried — I had tons of stuff left over! But, aside from all the lovely friends who turned out to support me and a few notable exceptions, people were so cheap! It also wasn’t the right crowd for what I was selling (books, good jewelry, brand new clothes and shoes, etc.) A friend suggested I drop the prices down super low to get rid of everything after my sale, but by then, it was too late — I’d run out of time.

Some of the shoes at the garage sale

5. See What You Can Live Without First. If you’re familiar with The Minimalists, they have an experiment where Ryan wants to become a minimalist quickly. So they pack up everything he owns as if he was moving. For the next month or so, he’s only allowed to unpack the things he truly needs and uses. I always thought this was too extreme. Also, what about things like art? You don’t really “use” art, but a home isn’t much of a home without it, IMO. However, I inadvertently ended up doing my own version of this when I put most of my belongings in storage while my house was staged. And I was shocked at how little I really needed, used, or missed. Remember those four suitcases I brought to Mexico? Some of that stuff I don’t even use!

How about you? Have you ever moved to another country, or downsized for a different reason? Any tips to share?

Wonder what the heck I’m doing in Mexico? Read this post. Interested in the top five things I wish I’d known before moving here? This one’s for you!

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  1. Randee Dawn

    A great post! Thanks for sharing. We are going to be in a similar position in another year or two, and I’ve been trying to move some things along, but doing the hard cuts hasn’t happened yet. We need to get started!

    • JH

      The sooner, the better, Randee–trust me on that. You’ll always wish you had more time.

      Planning a big move?

  2. Jim

    Totally agree with comment 1. Start ASAP!
    I’m attempting to downsize right nowbut finding it more or less impossible! I’m definitely a hoarder.
    What you managed to do I am still in awe of. I could never be as brave as you J.H!

    • JH

      Aww, thanks, Jim, but you can totally do it! You’ve got this. And don’t hesitate to get professional help if you need it. That made a big difference for me.


    I found it hard to get rid of things I had for years but rarely used! With a “I might need it someday” mindset, things just stayed around. Finally had to take a deep breath and get real about what I needed. Will probably get rid of more when I get unpacked in my new place and see there is no room or use for it.

    • JH

      It’s not easy, Alan, but doesn’t it feel good to pare down? The Minimalists call those items “just in case” things, and they have a rule–if you could replace it in 20 minutes or less, for $20 or less, get rid of it.

      Even with just four suitcases, I’m finding I kept stuff I didn’t need and/or never look at.

  4. Liesbet

    Did that pile of boxes in photo one ever fall over? 🙂

    Downsizing is tough, especially when you have so many accumulated things as you did. I still remember when you started selling items on Facebook Market Place ages ago (during the pandemic?). Well, you did an awesome job, reducing your entire life down to four suitcases.

    Of course, I couldn’t agree more with how little “stuff” you actually need to survive, live, and be happy. All our belongings (of two adults and one 60-pound dog) fit in our truck camper. 🙂

    • JH

      Nope, amazingly enough, it never did! And I don’t even have any Tetris experience. 😀

      I actually started selling my stuff years before that, on Facebook auction groups and Kijiji, long before Marketplace even existed. (Facebook saw a lot of people were making money with those groups and wanted a piece of it.) It was a slow process.

      Thanks so much, Liesbet. Who knows, I might even own fewer things than you do now! (But I’m in a furnished rental.)

  5. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    After collecting stuff for almost sixty years, yes, I can imagine how crazy and difficult it is to get rid of it all. But collectors are the way to go as I recently got rid of my comic book collection in one fell swoop. (And got a pretty good deal for it.)

    • JH

      Hi, Alex! Nice to hear from you. I guess you had to downsize too? I’m glad you found a good collector! Isn’t it a huge relief?

  6. Loni Townsend

    I ended up storing a lot of my parents’ keepsake stuff, like photo albums and other sentimental things. They shifted to an RV lifestyle after my mom retired and had to go through all their stuff. Lucky for them, my uncle wanted to buy the house and keep all the furniture and appliances, but I ended up with a sewing machine and a few other things that wouldn’t fit with my parents’ new lifestyle.

    • JH

      Hi Loni! Good to hear from you. That’s nice that you were able to keep those things for them. 🙂 My ex (also a close friend) got stuck with a lot of things that I’ll eventually have to make tough decisions about, like all of my journals. As a writer, I do still reference them sometimes. Hard to just get rid of stuff like that. Most photos I had digitized or took photos of.

  7. Mark L'estrange

    The first time I had to downsize-partner left me-I went into panic mode and donated a ton of stuff to various charity shops (all animals). One of the things I will always regret losing was my huge collection of vinyl records, but at the time vinyl was on its way out and I already had most of them on CD (Naturally, I kept all my John Denver ones)…Who’d have known that 30 years later vinyl would come back into fashion and at a premium price…Hey ho.

    • JH

      Yikes! Sorry to hear, Mark. That’s always the risk we take when we downsize, but at least you kept the ones you love best.

  8. Rebecca Douglass

    Back in 2018 my husband and I moved out of our house (getting rid of—as we thought—a lot of stuff), put everything in storage, and spent a year traveling with what would fit in our Prius at most, and at times what fit in a couple of duffel bags (plus one for the backpacking gear). By the time we got back to our stuff, we did wonder what we needed it all for.

    • JH

      Right? It’s so funny how that happens. I only came here with four suitcases, but still, a lot of that stuff I never look at or need.


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