Thursday, June 18

Evaluating the worth of "stuff"

Photo by LizMarie

I have a recurring dream. The details change from time to time, but the theme remains the same: I have to move. I can't take much. I have to choose.

In the dream, I'm always anxious and regretful. I can't take everything I want. Inevitably, as we begin to leave, I realize that I have forgotten something vital. Usually, someone is impatiently telling me that we have to go while I frantically try to find room for the forgotten items.

It's a hard dream to have for obvious reasons. I have to be minimalist, which means taking only the most important things. I have to decide what I can live without, what I can't replace. I have to accept that I can't take it all and that I have to make trade-offs. (Did I mention that my dreams are annoyingly obvious when it comes to symbolism? Like the one where I have to drive a car from the passenger seat.)

Inevitably, of course, I wake up and realize it was all a dream. But the knot of tension in my stomach is very real. It dissolves slowly, and I tend to feel vaguely anxious all day. I touch things to reassure myself that it's all still there. That there's no emergency. That I don't have to leave things behind.

So you can imagine how overwhelming it is to even consider moving to Arizona. Whether we use a moving van or PODS or something else, we're going to have to pare down considerably. During the (almost) 13 years in Seattle, I've accumulated quite a lot of things. And that's not even considering the things I've sold or donated to charity over the years!

Tuesday night, Tim and I got to talking about the move. We discussed which things we'd be okay selling or otherwise getting rid of. We went around the apartment and looked at our various possessions.

What startled me was how willing I was to get rid of things. Other than the couch, the bed and a dresser, I'm not particularly tied to any of our items.

Well, that's not true. I like most of our stuff. I wouldn't voluntarily get rid of it if we were simply moving across town. But when it comes to things I think are worth hauling 1500 miles? The perspective changes considerably.

Another surprise was just how much stuff we had. Until you look around with a critical, we-have-finite-space eye, things blend in. You consider them part of the landscape of necessary stuff. Dressers are useful for sheet sets and miscellaneous clothing. A set of drawers is great for holding odds and ends. A side table is a convenient place for a lamp, plus it houses Sandy's fortress of solitude (aka a cardboard box with a small chunk cut out, allowing her to go in and hide as needed).

In short, you assume you need them -- right up until you consider how you'd get them 1500 miles away.

Having never had to move to a new state with furniture, this is all new to me. Instead of seeing things we use daily, I now see things that have to be packed and fit into a moving van, or shipped to us once we get settled. I stopped thinking of our possessions as creature comforts and started seeing them as things weighing us (or, at least, a moving van) down.

It finally helped me to see why some people choose a minimalist lifestyle. While I don't think I'll ever go to that extreme, I definitely have a new appreciation for just how tied we our to our "stuff." Each item that Tim and I can't live without has to, somehow, get to Arizona.

Usually, I'm a natural-born packrat. I have trouble getting rid of things. I blame my mother. (That's what she's there for, right?) It was only a few years ago that she finally threw away the last cloth diaper from my infancy. Apparently they make very good cleaning rags.

It's this whole attitude that ended up, for me, being a firm, if annoying, belief that everything will eventually come in handy.

If I'm being completely honest, though, I have to admit that my packrat nature also comes from being materialistic. I like things. They're fun, they can provide entertainment/convenience/comfort. A lot of times, they're colorful. What's not to like?

Turns out there are several answers to that question. First and foremost, there's the fact that most things cost money. That part I've never liked. Then there's the clutter they create. And I've obviously covered just how much our "stuff" can be a burden.

But what I haven't thought about much is the opportunity cost. I've always known that money spent on things is money that isn't going against debt or into an emergency fund. That's the obvious part.

My new appreciation, though, is for the opportunity cost of stuff we already own. It's the potential money it represents. As I go through the apartment, I'm seeing so many things that could be cash. That's always appealing. And when you compare it to moving those items out of state, money in hand is even more enticing.

And so begins our effort to convert some "stuff" into money. Currently, I'm helping Tim sell more of his Magic cards. We've agreed that the funds from that will sit in the bank until we know more about our plans. As will the profits from a few items I'm selling on eBay.

Once that is done, I'm considering attacking my bead collection. I like it but I haven't touched them in ages, it's an expensive hobby, and I never end up finishing things. Parceled up into small lots, I think I could net some decent money. Nothing huge, but $20-40 could go a long way.

At this point, part of me is also getting morbidly curious: How much could we end up making from this sell-off? I want to find out how much stuff we have that we don't really want to take with us. How much could we sell as we go? That is, what could we sell without really missing it -- even if we didn't move for a year?

Have you ever taken stock of your belongings? Ever wondered how much you could do without? How much you could get for them? What would you absolutely keep if you moved out of state?

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Blogger Cindy B. of Montana said...

You can do it! We moved from western Washington to Montana in 2006. We had to store most of our things while we built our house. I really pared down...sold a lot of stuff on Craig's List and E-bay (enough to pay for the move+). But, what I wanted to tell you is that I don't miss any of the stuff I sold, gave away, or tossed. I kept only the things I knew we would need and use and the sentimental stuff. Good luck!!

June 18, 2009 at 6:21 PM

Blogger Meg said...

My husband and I moved a couple times, but never far -- just around town, in fact. So, we really didn't pare down much, especially as we were moving into bigger places.

However, the last year or two we've been on an uncluttering kick. Part of it was thinking that we might have to move, but mostly we just got tired of being surrounded by so much stuff. And we realized, as we got rid of things here and there, that we really wouldn't miss much of what we have. If we wouldn't miss something, why keep it?

We got rid of a lot of stuff, piles and piles, and we haven't missed one thing yet! Most things could be easily replaced if we really did need it -- or borrowed or Freecycled for, etc. But we haven't needed to even do that much!

And it is so addicting! No more moving piles around to clean! No more rushing to hide the junk when someone visits! No more dusting knick knacks that you don't even really like all that much! No more hunting for a pair of scissors or anything else! Knowing exactly where everything is! That feeling of serenity as you look around an uncluttered room! And space -- glorious space! It is soooo freeing and I do find my energy level isn't nearly as taxed as it was before.

We're still getting rid of some things -- our house is far from empty. But just what we've already done has helped so much already! And though we'd probably keep most things if we moved, having pared down to the stuff we love/use the most, I realize that wouldn't miss most of it if we had to start over. Though, of course, we wouldn't want to pay to replace things, either.

(P.S. Anyone else having trouble commenting with Google? For at least the last week or so it ALWAYS makes me type the verification code TWICE. And I think I didn't notice it the first few times I thought I commented as you have to scroll down to see that it didn't take.)

June 19, 2009 at 8:37 PM

Blogger Revanche said...

I didn't know you were thinking of moving to Arizona! What did I miss? Is the move definite?

Ever since I started preparing for the layoff, I've been on a decluttering kick in hopes that if I landed a job out of state, I'd be set to go. Well, it lasted about 6 months, but I've been taking a break from it. And lo, it's a week from DDay and I still haven't gotten rid of enough stuff that I feel like I could pack up one car and go. [Of course, my car is tiny. But that's beside the point.]

I DID finally sell my ipod and an unneeded dock, though! Yay!

June 22, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Blogger Abby said...


Read "Is Getting Deeper Into Debt Ever Justifiable?" (the post before this one) and you will be all caught up.


Good to know the packrat in me probably won't hurt for these things. But some of the stuff is pretty useful until we leave. Like drawers and side tables.


Nice to have a person who's moved from this area! Luckily, I think we can store any stuff we can't bring with us with my aunt & uncle/my mom. She's said she might be willing to help us with a drive down by taking her car along with any other service. We'll see.

June 22, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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