Downsizing Chronicles

Updated: 14 October 2016

As important as building the JayBee is to my being able to move into it, the more daunting task is to divest myself of many belongings in order to give up 80% of my living and storage space and live tiny. As I slowly grind my way through this, I will record just what it has taken for me to downsize...

Having now spent years on this downsizing thing, I have learned that it is even harder to accomplish than I originally anticipated. I have read a number of accounts of people who got rid of all of their belongings in a matter of months, and made thousands of dollars in the process. Not my experience. I think the people who are able to quickly sell their belongings must live in a densely-populated area--where millions of people in close proximity see (and potentially respond to) their ads. When I post ads for things, there are only a few thousand people close enough to be potential respondents. All of this has led me to have very low expectations for selling things--and I have given away way more than I have sold. I'm determined to find homes for things rather than fill up a landfill with perfectly good items, and it is slowly working.

I'm an enthusiastic participant in Freecycle. Within hours of every time I've posted something to give away on Freecycle, I've had responses. And, then, the person has shown up on time and gratefully accepted the item. This is big! When I've posted free items on Craigslist, more often than not, I have been stood up. Craigslist has worked for me to sell some things, however.

Every autumn, my city has a fall clean-up. For a $25 fee, the city will haul away up to one dump truck load per participating household. In 2015, I paid the fee and filled the end of my driveway with so much stuff! Things that were left on the property by the previous owner, things I hadn't used in decades. The best part of the whole process was that most of the stuff was "picked up" by others long before the city's hauler arrived, which meant that very little of it went to a landfill. In 2016, I put just a few things at the end of the driveway in early October. Within 24 hours, it had all been "recycled" by others, and I never had to pay the fee!

Bathroom Stuff: I thought the bathroom would be the easiest room to downsize. After all, it's small and has only a few small cupboards. It may prove to have been the easiest, but it wasn't easy. I found nine extra rolls of toilet paper tucked away. (Stocking up on things may be silly on many levels, but none more ludicrous than that it doesn't help to have a stockpile if I don't remember I have it.) I found medications dating back multiple decades and three mercury thermometers that I had to dispose of properly. I was able to find a new home for the set of electric curlers and many of the other hair accessories.

Books: I love books. Although I do read electronic books occasionally, I still prefer to hold a book in my hands and turn the pages. The tons of books I own will not fit in the JayBee. As of 16 June 2016, I have given away over 700 books. Some went to the town library (so they can sell them in one of their fundraising book sales), some went to Goodwill. Unfortunately, I still have too many books to keep; I will have to keep chipping away at them.

Building Supplies: I gave away a four-foot countertop that my son used to use as a desktop but for which I no longer have a use.

Building Waste: Even the most careful building generates a lot of wood scraps. I don't have a fireplace (where some of it could presumably be burned), and there are only so many ways I can use small, oddly-shaped pieces of wood. When I end up with a large boxful of small wood scraps, I put it at the end of my driveway with a sign, and I send a post about it to Freecycle. Within a few hours, the box of scraps is gone!

CD cases: I consolidated all of my CDs into two large notebooks.

Yes, I have them on my iPod, but I just can't yet get rid of the original media. When I was done, and after I got rid of all the cracked or broken cases (dozens, unfortunately), I had over 160 empty jewel boxes to give away.

Clothing: I have such a hard time giving up on clothes! Not that anyone who sees me every day would have a clue about this. (I tend to wear the same things over and over.) I have discovered clothing that I haven't worn for decades. I am now willing to concede that I am unlikely to lose two size levels of size to be able to squeeze into some of these things again. I have given away three large garbage bags of clothing to Goodwill--with tons more to go. Update October 2014: After I lost 40 pounds earlier this year, I went back through all my clothes again--and got rid of a lot more. If something is too small now, I will never be small enough to wear it again!

Decorative Items: I have given away countless decorative pieces that won't have a place in the JayBee. For example, I made the caroler (below) about 40 years ago as a gift for my mother. She displayed it every Christmas, even when she no longer went to the trouble to set up a tree. After my mom died, I received the caroler back. I decided I would not have room to display or store the caroler, and would end up ruining it if I kept it, so I took a photo of it instead, and gave it away through Freecycle.

DVD cases: I purchased a thick, zippered notebook with pages that hold DVDs. I moved 106 DVDs into the notebook to conserve storage space, and found someone who wanted a box full of free, empty DVD cases.

Electronic Waste: In early 2015, the place where I was working temporarily sponsored an electronic waste disposal day. I was able to dispose of my old microwave oven this way.

Furniture: I can't say I have a ton of furniture, exactly, but I definitely have way more than will fit in the JayBee. I was delighted to give away two wooden chairs and a 1950s formica-and-chrome kitchen table to a couple who could use them. I decided three other wooden chairs were beyond meaningful repair, so I cut them into pieces and threw them away. If I figure out how to downsize my large book collection, I will have bookcases to give away or sell. I gave this set of chairs to a new home through Freecycle.

Hazardous Waste: When I purchased my property, I inherited a lot of hazardous waste--old motor oil, paints, solvents, charcoal lighter fluid, and tar. Over the years, I accumulated some more paints and stains. After holding on to all this stuff for decades, in the late spring of 2016, I learned that my city was co-sponsoring a hazardous-waste collection day. Even though it meant interrupting a vacation stay at a coastal bed and breakfast, I drove multiple hours in order to participate in this event. I was able to safely dispose of close to 30 gallons of hazardous waste!

Kitchen: I am determined to have a full working kitchen in the JayBee. After all, I regularly have people over to dinner, and I enjoy cooking. I wouldn't be happy cooking on a camp stove, washing dishes in a bar sink, or making one-pot meals on a permanent basis. That said, I still need to pare down my kitchen stuff considerably. I have thrown away three old metal pans and three old baking sheets--all not in good enough shape to give to someone else. I have given away baskets, vases, and glassware.

I had been holding onto a Kitchen Aid mixer that had stopped working, even though I replaced the mixer years ago. Freecycle helped me find the mixer a new home with someone who thinks she can fix it.

Magazines: I gave away all my saved issues of Fine Woodworking, Mother Earth News, Nature Conservancy, Outside, Smithsonian, and This Old House--350 magazines. I recycled various odd copies of other magazines, including Practical Homeowner. I'm holding onto all my saved issues of Family Handyman and Fine Homebuilding, which means devoting precious storage space to them!

Recreational & Hobby-Related Items: I sold three spare bicycle seats on Craigslist. I gave away a basketball pole, backboard, and hoop (that had been displaced by the JayBee) on Freecycle.

I faced the fact that I hadn't touched my film camera in many years and, even though I loved this camera back in the day, I am really committed to digital photography now and will never use the film camera again. I used Freecycle to find the camera a new home.

It took a few tries, but I found a new home for this backpack. It served me well when I led backpacking trips, but I hadn't used it in over 30 years! (I got a few bucks for it, too.)

Teaching Materials: I gave away books and a kit that helps teach about computer circuitry and electricity.

VHS Tapes: I began by getting rid of individual tapes, thinking I would digitize the others. In the end, I didn't like the quality of the converted tapes, nor how long the project took, so I gave away 62 tapes through Freecycle.