I was thinking of this line as I was stranded in Portland without a job looking to return home to the Midwest.
I got a quote from United Moving that it would cost $4,000 to move my possessions back, $3,000 if I scaled back on the clutter in the kitchen cabinets and closets. While this would be obviously expensive (and it doesn’t include storage costs), it seemed reasonable on its face. I mean, what would I do without my couch?! I need a place to take naps and watch TV, you know?!!
But here’s the thing:
IT’S JUST A COUCH! This isn’t life, it’s just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living. – Lester Burnham, American Beauty
Lester is right. Sure, I need a place to nap but I don’t NEED to pay to move and store the couch I bought 5 years ago. I could sell that one and buy a new (or used) one when I need it. And while I’m gainfully unemployed I don’t need it.
This revelation motivated me to question what possessions I really needed (or at least wanted) to keep given the circumstances. So being a nerdy engineer and son of an accountant, I made an excel spreadsheet listing out my inventory. I counted 75 items total that I could keep or sell. (There would have been way more if I did this with my clothes, but I felt that was the point of diminishing returns.)
What to Keep
This was an interesting game. What would I want to keep and what could I sell off now and replace later? (Assuming I would replace it at all.) I called it the To Keep? test.
Any item needed to meet 1 of 3 criteria:
Some things are simply irreplaceable. For example, the Illini basketball team will likely never again start the season off on a 29 game winning street enroute to a national title game appearance. Hell yeah I’m going to keep my framed display of the Dee Brown covered Sports Illustrated along with my tickets to the NCAA tournament games.
Other things have sentimental value, but only to me. No one would buy this wicker frog (or accept it as a kitschy gift), but I can’t bring myself to throw the family heirloom away.
Some things have genuine utility. Obviously this includes clothes, but also more obscure items like my BOSU. I use it at least 4 times per week and it’s somewhat expensive to replace ($125). Plus it’s durable and fairly cheap to transport.
After the To Keep? test, my inventory was whittled down to 54, and only 20 of them were things I knew I will need to replace once I get settled into a new career (sofa, bed, dresser, etc.). I estimated the cost to replace the things I needed to be $5,600.
In case you missed it, that’s paying $4,000 for a middleman service to keep $5,600 worth of the things I really need. SCREW THAT!!!!
By coincidence, it was around this time that my friend Beth introduced me to the minimalist blog and podcast. This was clearly kismet and the choice became obvious: Ship the stuff I care about back to my parents via UPS ground and sell the rest. If I need to replace items later on, so be it.
How to Sell
I first sold items piecemeal through a smartphone app called OfferUp. (Side note, FWIW things sold much quicker through that app than Craigslist.) That was stressful because I had to be on call practically around the clock and haggle with flaky bargain shoppers.
I quickly turned to a local auctioneer for the remaining things I hadn’t sold. If you’re in a time crunch like I was I highly recommend this. It was very convenient. It gave me piece of mind allowing me to focus on other logistics of the move.
You might ask how has this has turned out?
This experiment won’t be complete until I land a new job and get an apartment that I’ll have to fill again, but I feel good about the experience.
Boxes and shipping costs were about $850 total. That’s expensive, but I was able to sell the rest of my things for about $900, making it a wash.
The estimated opportunity cost is about $1500 to replace everything instead of paying movers. I’m totally ok with that because:
- I’ll get new stuff (woot!), and more importantly…
- I have a new lease on life.
This is not something I was capable of 1 year ago. I am unshackled by the things I had before. It opens me up to experiment with ideas I would have pooh-poohed in the past and makes me excited about my opportunities for the future.
Thanks for reading.