Those of you who’ve been following my blog will know that with the purchase of my floating home, I pretty much had to reduce my belongings by more than half in a very short period of time. I’ve discussed how I went about this in bits and pieces in various entries. I thought it might be useful,however, to summarize the main channels by which I accomplished this in case there are others out there faced with the task of having to downsize in a hurry.
I used eBay as my first stop in trying to find new homes for many high-dollar items I knew I wouldn’t be taking with me. Through this channel, I sold several fairly valuable musical instruments, electronics, and even one of my two cars. (Bye bye Kharmann Ghia that ran only one day in two.) I believe the trick for successfully using eBay was taking good, clear photos of the items and providing detailed descriptions. The more detail you can provide on an item, the better the case you can make for why you’re asking for the price you are.
I think it’s also important to make an effort to respond quickly and honestly to questions sent to you by bidders. There’s an element of trust involved with buying high-dollar items online. Anything you can do to ensure a potential buyer that you’re not a con-artist operating from the Caymans is a good thing.
If you’re using eBay to sell large or high-dollar items, be careful not to underestimate your shipping costs. I took a bath on the first to instruments I sold because of this.
I experimented with trying to sell some of my large pieces of furniture on eBay but found Craigslist was a lot more successful for this. (Although, I was able to find a local buyer for my large, flat-screen TV via eBay which I listed as “pick up only”.)
Most large cities now have a Craigslist for their area. Essentially, this is a free online classified service. Through Craigslist, I was able to see most of the large pieces of furniture I wasn’t planning on taking with me.
Like with eBay, good photos and descriptions can go a long way in attracting the attention of serious buyers, as can staying on top of email inquiries. My experience leads me to believe that most people hunting Craigslist want to buy a specific item in a short period of time.
I think it’s a good idea to post you’re general crossroads with the item but refrain from listing your address until you’re certain someone is serious about coming by to look at an item. Also, wherever possible, I recommend scheduling appointments to view items during daylight hours when you know neighbors will be around. Better yet, have someone else with you when you know you’re going to have people stopping by. To be honest, unlike with Freecyle, I never had a scary situation come up with someone off of Craigslist. In fact, I had a couple of buyers who I think were just as cautious about their own safety as I was being.
Expect most Craigslist buyers to want to pay with cash. If you’re not charging an even multiple of $20, make sure you have bills handy to make change. I would recommend setting your prices on items slightly higher than your bottom line as two thirds of the Craigslist buyers I dealt with want to haggle over the price.
If you’re selling items that will be difficult to move, make sure you prep your potential buyers that they should bring help with them to transport the item. If you don’t, odds are good you’re going to be doing some heavy lifting. (Just like I got suckered into with my bedroom set of drawers. Beware of young moms toting teething infants who show up with no muscle to help, that’s all I’m sayin’…)
Consignment Furniture Stores
I used a local consignment furniture store to deal with the last few pieces of furniture I was unable to sell off Craigslist. (My couch and loveseat, an entertainment center, and a bedframe.) I discovered both pros and cons to this approach.
Consignment stores are convenient if you don’t have much time to deal with individual buyers coming through your place. They normally pick up your items in one stop and deal with all the headaches of dealing with buyers.
Expect most consignment stores to take 50% of the sale price of an item. Some will also charge you an upfront appraisal and/or transport fee for your items. (I ended up paying $50 for my items.) On the plus side, the consignment store also priced my items for roughly twice what I was advertising them for on Craigslist. So, I’ll end up seeing roughly the same amount of cash for my items.
Most consignment stores issue checks once a month on items that have been sold. It’s not a bad idea to find out what day checks are being issued and call a few days before to check on the status of your items. The place I selected did eventually sell all my items where they were initially priced. But it took multiple phone calls to actually get the checks sent to me once the sales had been made.
Most consignment stores will ask for a couple of months to try to sell your item. If they are unsuccessful, they will give you the option of trying a lower price or donating your item to a local charity.
I had a couple of treasured items that really didn’t serve a purpose in my new home but which I also couldn’t bear to simply sell. In most cases these were things that had been deeply meaningful to me at a certain point in my life, either because of the purpose they served or because they were a gift from someone dear to me.
Of all the things I had to downsize, these were probably the most difficult for me to figure out how to handle. Ultimately, I chose people whom I thought might appreciate them as much as I had in the past and offered them as gifts. Seeing my friends excitement at receiving something special at an unexpected time allowed me to finally let go.
In the process of downsizing, I significantly culled both my wardrobe and small household items. This resulted in several bags of clothing and boxes of small items (most of which were small appliances, knickknacks, or other decorations). Stronger souls might have had the fortitude to host a garage sale or to Freecycle all these. I didn’t. Plus, I have the excuse that I was on a tight schedule and didn’t have an open weekend.
For these items, I opted to donate them to local charities and take the tax write-off. Clothes and household items with to the Salvation Army. An old cell phone went to a local battered woman’s shelter. The collection of stuffed animals and toys given to me by various exes (minus a few that are really dear to me) went to Toys for Tots.
Many communities now have a Freecycle program. Freecycle allows users to advertise items they no longer want. People interested in the items contact you. Most groups expect items to be offered for free and the normal expectation is that the person receiving the item is responsible for pickup unless other arrangements are made with the donor.
I have seen just about everything from used coloring books, to fetish wear, to an antique clawfooted bathtub posted on my local Freecycle group. In my case, I used Freecyle mainly to offload: small pieces of furniture that weren’t valuable enough to try to sell; lawn equipment; pet supplies I couldn’t use with my new cat; and some household appliances like an old, box-style TV.
I’ve had both good and bad experiences with Freecycle, some of which I’ve written about previously. Freecycle appeals to me because its a way to given items you no longer need directly to people who can use them. However, I found using Freecycle to be more time and energy intensive than several of the other methods.
If you’re going to advertise items on Freecycle, I recommend posting them early in the day. Don’t necessary always chose the first person who responds to agree to give the item to. I found that in my local group there were a group of people who remained online all day and offered to take pretty much everything off my hands. After a couple of experiences accepting first responses, I learned to wait until I found someone who really seemed like they were going to benefit from the item. And who seemed on-the-ball about when and, perhaps even more importantly, how they planned to pick the item up. (Don’t get me started on the college student who tried to pick up an Ikea wardrobe with a bicycle.)
Only give directions to your place if there’s still several hours of daylight left. Otherwise, I guarantee you’re going to have someone tromping around your house later in the evening than you would like. (I learned this point when someone set off my security system banging around my porch at 1 AM picking up an old vacuum cleaner I was giving away.)
As a matter of safety (and also convenience for the person picking up the item) I also recommend wherever possible leaving items on your porch rather than inviting someone you don’t know into your home. And if you’re leaving several different items on your porch, label to whom each is supposed to go. I found this cut down on people showing up and helping themselves to items other than just what they were supposed to pick up.
“The Great Giveaway”
This one was pretty much my own invention. I have to confess to having a personal loathing of garage sales. I don’t like the experience of people showing up on my porch at 5 AM “to beat the rush” or sifting through my worldly possessions and trying to haggle over something priced at a quarter. But the potential to find homes for much of my remaining “misfit” items was too great to ignore, so I devised The Great Giveaway.
What this consisted of was inviting a bunch of local friends and college students I know to come by anytime during three different time slots/days I named. I clearly marked everything that was up for grabs. All people were expected to “pay” was their effort to cart the stuff away.
I used this method to divest myself of a bunch of craft supplies, camping gear, and old Target bookshelves I’ve been carting from place to place from my college days.
Undoubtedly many of those items could also have been donated but it would have taken multiple trips using my car. Moreover, I found it far easier to give away things like my treasured cache of fabric to friends than it would have been to strangers.
The Town Dump
For some, strange reason I’d never actually been to a dump before my downsizing project. I don’t know if I thought there would be seedy characters there doing drug-deals or what, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience to see the mound of stuff people leave behind. (Makes you think twice about the things you buy, I’ll tell you that.)
The trash was pretty much my channel of last resort, but I had two carloads of stuff like soggy cardboard boxes (that had never been successfully throw away after my last move), old xeroxed research articles, etc. that really had nowhere else to go.
For anyone else who’s never gone to their local dump, usually the way it works with residential vehicles is that they either charge you by the vehicle-load or they weigh you entering and leaving the dump and charge you based on weight. I ended up paying roughly $30 for two carloads.
Renting a Dumpster
As I progressed further into the process of downscaling, I realized I was going to either need to make several more trips to the dump (which was 45 minutes each way) or I was going to need to find a better way to manage the garbage.
I called my local trash service to see if it was possible to get a larger trash container and learned that most cities make available various size dumpsters for a rental charge. The dumpster you tend to find behind commercial establishments are referred to as “roll-offs”. I ended up renting something roughly half that size and paid approximately $100 total for a month’s rental, including delivery, pick-up, and disposal of the contents.
Depending on how much garbage you have to get rid of, you can also schedule additional trash pick-ups during the term of your rental. I didn’t have that much stuff, however.
The dumpster ended up being a true godsend in terms of getting rid of a large quantity of junk quickly. I only wish I’d discovered this option earlier in the process.
The only negative I experienced with the dumpster is people coming by to dumpster dive in the early mornings. More than anything, that was an issue of noise. It was actually a bit of a relief that people more motivated than I were finding homes for items I hadn’t managed to.
Photo Scanning Service
I had a large hatbox which is stuffed to the brim with pictures that has followed me from location to location since college. I always had the good intention of sorting through all the photos, organizing them, and putting them into albums. I felt guilty every time I caught sight of that box and, after ten years of this insanity, I decided that I refused to move the box one more time.
Instead of taking the box of photos with me to Portland, for a little under $100, I had a photo scanning service take my mound of photos and put them into nice, neat digital files which I could dump into my iPhoto application and sort to my heart’s content.
Now, admittedly, media formats will change over the years. But I figure it’s far easier for me to transfer my photos from an old computer to new one than to deal with fading paper pictures for which I no longer have negatives or any sort of organizational system.
Converting to MP3
Fortunately, I already had about 95% of my music collection converted to MP3′s on my laptop. I converted the rest to MP3′s over the course of a weekend while packing. Then I turned in my three boxes worth of CD’s to the local college used bookstore and donated the credit to a local literacy program.
While it’s possible that I might someday regret having given away my hard copies, I haven’t had a reason to use an actual CD in several years. I am also careful to back up my computer’s full hard drive on a regular basis. The cost-to-benefit ratio of continuing to cart and store those three boxes with me as back-up was just way too high.
Giving Away Books, Going Digital, and Shifting to the Library
Of all the things I did to downsize, drastically reducing my book collection was probably the hardest step I took. Over the course of about a week, I forced myself to go through all of my bookshelves and select the books I simply HAD to take with me to Portland. I packed them as I went.
Then, I pulled all the remaining books from my bookshelves and stacked them into boxes headed to the used bookstore. If anything else caught my eye in the process of packing the “donate” boxes, I set it off to the side. Then, at the very end, I went through this stack and picked out the true treasures I’d missed. Everything else went into a “donate box”.
Through this process I ended up reducing my collection by enough books to fill my PT Cruiser to the roof, with the back seat pulled out, TWICE.
To help ease the pain of separation, I took a portion of the credit I received for turning in my books and bought an Amazon Kindle, which allows me to acquire and store new books digitally.
As a further proactive step to try to slow my re-accumulation of books, I’ve forced myself to develop the habit of not buying any book if it’s available through my local public library system. There’s only been one book I’ve checked out from the library that I found valuable enough to subsequently purchase for my permanent collection.
The process of downsizing in a hurry is a pain in the ass. I won’t lie to you about that. But, hopefully some of my experiences may be useful to you. And, man, are you going to be glad you did it once your done.