Two months ago, Hayes and I were cleaning up and cleaning out our condo to get it ready to put on the market. Now we’re preparing to move from Austin to San Francisco. In this process, we’ve learned a lot about our relationship with our things. Quite simply, we don’t really have one.
We bought a condo in Austin five years ago. At that time, the plan was to buy something when we moved here and then sell it when I finished my PhD, since we’d be moving to a new city for my new job as an assistant professor. So we bought a nice place with an amazing view, hoping it would have significant resale value. We both had jobs that paid well, and now that we owed a gorgeous condo, we realized we had very little real adult furniture to put in it.
So we bought a bunch of nice new furniture to make our new place beautiful. And it was beautiful. We’ve truly enjoyed living here.
But after a while, the things that seemed so desirable at first started to seem unnecessary. What do two people who spend basically all of their time working or going out with friends need with 1400 square feet? Why do we need granite countertops, California Closets, two fireplaces (in Texas), or designer ceiling fans? Of course I enjoyed these things (the closets in particular), but I didn’t need them. In fact, I didn’t even really want them anymore. Among other things, it’s a lot of pressure to make sure you keep your nice stuff looking nice when your house is on the market. Plus, I’m just not a granite countertops, designer ceiling fans kind of person.
So, Hayes and I decided to use our move to California as an opportunity to simplify and sell or donate basically everything we own. We’re getting rid of all of it.
I’ve gotten two reactions when people hear about our plan. There are the supporters – “I’ve always wanted to do that” or “That must be so liberating!” – and then there are the incredulous – “How can you bear to part with everything?” or “What a waste of money to buy all new stuff!”
For us, it seems like the right choice for two reasons.
One, it is costly, time-consuming, and stressful to move all your belongings 2,000 miles across the country. At a minimum it would cost about $2500 – and that’s packing, loading, and unloading ourselves in one of those shared trailer situations. If we wanted to splurge and get our own truck or even better, hire real movers, it would cost $5000 or more. For $5000, we can buy all new things for our new apartment. Or pay rent for several months (even in San Francisco). Or travel, eat out, buy new laptops, etc…
Two, we’re moving to a much smaller space in San Francisco. In fact, our new SF apartment is only 40% the size of our Austin condo. Most of our furniture won’t even fit in the new apartment. Our Austin sofa is a large sectional that is 10 feet long and 7 feet deep – that would overpower our new living room, if it would even fit at all. Even to furnish the whole apartment from scratch, it just won’t take very many things.
Aren’t we attached to our stuff? Sure, some of it. But no matter how attached to it we are, it’s still just stuff. I could never be as attached a thing as I am a person or an experience. We’re keeping some photographs and books, as well as a few important mementos, but we’re really just not that attached to our furniture, our dishes, our art, our bedding. Our couch is awesome, yes, but it’s still just a couch. And why do we need 200 DVDs when we have a Roku that can stream Netflix instantly to our TV? For that matter, why do we need a TV when we have computers?
I’ve always been inspired by people who can just up and move. I’m currently reading Into the Wild and there’s something fascinating about how Chris McCandless rejects his material trappings and heads out into the wilderness.
That is not to imply that I’m comparing what we’re doing in any way to Chris McCandless or others like him. We’re certainly not rejecting materiality or consumerism; this is not a political or artistic statement. We just want to simplify.
So, our goal is to cull what we own into what we can fit into our little Nissan Versa hatchback and that will be what comes with us to San Francisco. For me, that includes:
- Clothes. Because no matter how much we simplify, I still love getting dressed. I’m trying to exist with fewer clothes – about two months ago, I had 25 pairs of jeans and that’s just ridiculous. Now I have 8. I’ve given away more than two-thirds of my wardrobe in the past two months and it feels great! It’s actually easier to find things to wear now because I’m left with only the clothes I absolutely love. I went from 100 pairs of shoes to 20.
- Computer. Because without a computer, I can’t work. And I like my work. I also like the internet. However, I don’t need two computers, so I’m only keeping my laptop.
- Phone. Because life is simpler with an iPhone – it’s telephone, computer, music player, GPS, day planner, notepad, and entertainment center all in one device.
- Camping equipment. Because we plan to camp on our road trip, we’ll need sleeping bags. And even if it takes us a while to buy a new stuff in SF, we’ll still have something to sleep on and cook with. And I like being outside and California provides us with numerous camping opportunities.
- Books. Because a life without books is small, sheltered and boring. And no matter how much I like ebooks, I love physical books more. I’m not getting rid of my first English edition of Anna Karenina, my signed Ken Kalfus or even my crappy old copy of Matilda. We’ll take a ton of books to Half Price Books before we leave, but some will come with us.
When we arrive in SF, we’ll buy some new furniture for our new apartment. But instead of filling 1400 square feet and two bedrooms, we’ll only have 550 square feet and one bedroom. There just won’t be as much to buy. And there certainly aren’t granite countertops and designer ceiling fans to worry about. And that’s what I’m looking for – I don’t want to be worrying about my stuff. I’ve realized discovered I just don’t care about it that much.
PS – This has been a popular topic lately if you’re interested in more reading. There have been very recent articles about living on less in the NY Times and the cult of less from the BBC. And there’s the 100 Things Challenge, which encourages people to live with only 100 items (which I am certain is impossible if you have children).