July 11, 2011

What Are The Bare Necessities?

I was chatting with a reader the other day who is in the process of downsizing from an apartment to a van. Something he’s been struggling with is what to store, what to pack and what to toss. Downsizing and prioritizing is one of my biggest challenges.

What To Store:
I think that people are very much like goldfish, they grow to fit their space. If I have to fit into one room I make it happen but if I have a whole apartment to spread out in I accumulate stuff to fill it. I’m not talking about furniture, I’m obviously not bringing that in the Jetta, it’s all the other stuff. My grandmother’s teacup, twenty years of diaries, Girl Scout Badges from third grade. We acquire mementos almost as fast as the memories that go along with them but what’s to be done with twenty plus years of stuff?

Option #1: The Transient Trunk
  • Get a trunk, something sturdy, and start packing your favorite things first. Keep pairing your stuff down in order of importance until the mementos you can’t stand to lose fit into that trunk. I would not suggest doing this in one day but instead sort, walk away, and come back later, It’s amazing the number of things you’ve saved that you realize you can live without. Warning! If you’re not ready to part with it, don’t. You can always go back later and get rid of it but once it’s gone it’s gone. The next step is to find a less mobile friend or family member, preferably with a dry garage you can stash that one trunk in. Mine is at California Clare’s (hopefully well out of her way).
Option #2: The Storage Space
  • If you can’t find a place to stash that trunk you may want to look into a storage unit. This is when you can really start being realistic with yourself. Is the stuff you’re keeping worth the monthly bill? There are lots of storage options. For me it would probably be a heated 4 X 4 X 6 space at Uhaul for $30 per month.
Option #3: Bring it with you
  • Well, it is an option but just remember you’re moving into a situation where space is at a premium and every ounce of weight adds to your gas budget.

What To Pack:
In Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long Term World Travel Rolf Potts advises using a small back pack because it only allows you to take the things you absolutely need, and this is why.
"This may seem like a shockingly scant amount of travel gear, but not if you consider that you will be traveling into a world of people who have pretty much the same day-to-day needs as you do. Indeed, wherever you go in the world, you will find plenty of toiletries, extra clothes, pens, notebooks, tissues, towels, bottled water, and snacks.”
You might not be backpacking around the world like he did, but the same principles apply. If you realize later that your bunny slippers really would have come in handy then you’re sure to find a store that sells something similar. Don’t sweat it, this is a learning process.

What To Toss:
Every time I tie up a bag of old clothes or kitchen ware for the Salvation Army I think about how much I spent on that stuff. This can make it tough to jettison the stuff you really can’t fit in an RV, Van or Car. Remember the old advice: “if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it”? Start applying that to everything you own. Stuff you don’t use much, stuff you can do without, heavy things that will weigh you down. Keep in mind that you are the only person who can decide what to toss and what to keep. It can be hard but pace yourself and be realistic. 

So store it, pack it, or toss it. If there's one advantage to all this it's that you will feel more free when you realize how little you actually have to have to live comfortably. 


  1. Great advice! I found when I initially moved into my van that I was bringing things I thought I would need, and it was about a month later that I realized that I hadn't used even once. In fact, it was hidden away in the top bunk which became a storage area of sorts. I have a few things that I don't/can't part with, but all the really important things like photos are all digital now (I scanned all my albums) and have a couple external drives that my data is mirrored onto so that I never lose them.

    All my music is mp3, and my movies (which I watch a LOT of) have been converted into avi files. Rather than attempt to carry around 200+ DVD's in such a small space, I can store them (since proof of ownership is required if ever questioned), and still watch them anytime on my laptop. Books are easily purchased as ebooks now, and hundreds can be stored on a little ebook reader. Technology has really made a mobile life easier to do.

    Other than that, everything else is usually replaceable.

  2. I almost went through this agony, but managed to get over any sentimental attachments after dragging my stuff over 3000 miles and 3 cities. I really meant to share this with you ...


    This damn song is stuck in my head after reading the title of this post.

  3. My first thought, as I read your post, was a skit from George Carlin about "Stuff".


    My second thought is about my ongoing struggle with our "stuff". With a wife and six daughters, there's lots of "stuff" in our house. Personally, if I can go a few months without thinking about an item...I obviously don't need it. I was trying to think of what clothes I moved into the garage to make more room in my closet. I realized, if I don't even know what's out there anymore...do I really need it in the first place?

    Thanks for stopping by my blog last week to comment. I appreciate it!

  4. Good info Ash !! I am in the process now weeding out .... " STUFF " .... out of my $40 storage unit. LOL


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