Emptying our Home

Before one can embrace life on the open road full-time, there is one giant hurdle that must be leapt: emptying out all the things you have accumulated over the years in your sticks & bricks home. Planning and preparing for this life change over several years has made the process easier for us, since we were able to pare down gradually. However, it is still a huge task to make a decision on every single item you own and then physically move it out.

Our dining room/kitchen when we left. It echoed!
Our dining room/kitchen when we left. It echoed!

Fifteen years living in one home is a long time and the items that have passed through our home over the years could easily have filled two homes! We have always been reasonably good about donating and re-homing old furniture and household goods as we have purchased new items. My dad was much older and lived through both world wars and the great depression (yes my dad, not my grandfather – check out www.margotbai.com/sojourners).

Growing up, we made do with the things we had: if something was working, we did not go out and buy a better one; if it broke we fixed it.

My Philosophy: Keep it Out of Landfill
We live in a different world now that overseas manufacturing has made stuff cheap and ubiquitous. Nevertheless, those lessons of thrift have stayed with me. It is important to me not to trash perfectly useful things for no better reason than that I don’t need them anymore. Finding a new end user for unneeded things takes time and effort, particularly when the items have little cash value. Yet I would rather put in the time and effort than throw things away. It’s about keeping useful things out of landfill, recognizing that one person’s trash may well be another’s treasure if you can just find a way to get it to them.

To that end, we have been gradually donating excess items to thrift shops over several years. In addition, we have posted online lots of things for sale but also many items for free just to get them to someone who needed them. Having lots of time has allowed us to put niche items up for sale online (eg. Thule roof rack for a specific car) and wait months if needed for the right buyer to come along. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I tried to focus on one thing at a time. I kept telling myself:

“Every thing I get rid of now is one less thing to deal with later”

Roping James into the process, I would hold up some item of his  and say, “Everything has to go somewhere; what are we going to do with this?”

The Rewards of Digitizing
Over several winters, we digitized our music CD collection, keeping one bin of our favorite CD’s while donating the rest to thrift shops and a local church. We also digitized all our old VHS home movies (a time-consuming process) and trashed the old VHS tapes. We even managed to pass along our VCR with the software and cables to a friend so they could digitize their tapes. We went through piles of old floppy discs and back-up CDs to ensure we had saved all important data to hard drives. I even sent away some old film slides for digitizing, which took several months due to a mix-up, but I got them back. I also scanned some old photos, mostly family pics from our childhoods.

A photo from 1977 of James and his siblings, part of our digitizing project
A photo from 1977 of James and his siblings, part of our digitizing project

It was very rewarding to organize and share these digitized old photos with both our families. James parents especially appreciated the old pics from the 60’s – 80’s, while our siblings loved all the photos we took over the years of their children growing up. As a bonus, sharing the digitized pics provides off-site back up to better protect against the digital memories getting lost.

Organizing all the miscellaneous junk in the house has been another story. We have good recycling locations nearby, including hazardous waste and electronics recycling. Our single biggest mess to organize was our home office. With a computer techie husband, we had bins and bins of old computer parts, cables and do-dads. In the end, most of it went to electronics recycling, but we had to carefully pick through to salvage the spare cables and connectors that are still useful. We had a couple old laptop computers that had to be wiped clean of data: one went to a friend while the other was recycled.

Where Everything Went
We have found the timing is tricky: we don’t want to get rid of things too early while we are still living in our home, but we also don’t want to get crunched at the end. As we enter the final few weeks before the sale of our home closes, it is finally time to move the bulk of our things out.

We stored some furniture in the garage of one of our rental properties
We stored some furniture in the garage of one of our rental properties

We decided to keep a basic household worth of furniture: a dining table (family heirloom, teak and expandable from Denmark) and 6 matching chairs, a sofa (custom ordered in excellent condition), a 3-drawer end table, a tall bookcase, bedroom furniture including queen bed, 2 matching side tables and a gorgeous armoire, a simple desk, and a painted wooden chair from Margot’s childhood home.

Our matching leather sofas went to James’ Mom who can enjoy them while also keeping them safe for us in case we need them back in future. Our gorgeous antique Chinese chest was welcome at Margot’s sister Adrienne’s house where her husband, a tea sommelier, found a new place to store and display his tea paraphernalia. Adrienne also absorbed the many keepsakes from our shared childhood home.

We sold our matching glass top coffee end tables – it didn’t seem worth the risk of the glass breaking to try to store them and new coffee tables are easy to come by online in future. We also put out to the curb a large table and desk chair with signs saying FREE – all was taken before we left on our closing day.

Free Storage We Own
We are in a very unique position as rental property owners, since we have a garage where we can store furniture and a small, secure outbuilding where we can keep personal property. While many an RVer has expressed regret over storing their belongings, those who have come off the road early were no doubt happy they did! The main issue seems to be the cost of storage: since we can store things for free and without imposing on anyone, it really doesn’t make sense to liquidate all our good furniture for 10-20% of what we paid, if we can even get that.

My secure outbuilding: 70 square feet of lockable storage I own and control. Awesome!
My secure outbuilding: 70 square feet of lockable storage I own and control. Awesome!

By keeping some furniture, we can partially furnish an apartment when one becomes available, potentially earning a higher rental rate. As well, if we decide we want a home base in future, we can more easily move into one of our own apartments. Regardless, it takes the fear of regret out of this huge transition knowing that we didn’t give away all our favorite things and best furniture for next to nothing. But with free storage on hand, our challenge is deciding what is worth keeping: what in 2 or 5 or 10 years will we look at and say yes, glad we kept that, or, what on earth were we thinking?!

Into our small outbuilding we stowed a beloved old kitchen hutch which my dad brought over from the Netherlands in the 50’s with lockable doors a, several shelving units and a filing cabinet.

Teak kitchen hutch with lockable doors - sentimental and practical!
Teak kitchen hutch with lockable doors – sentimental and practical!

We installed a closet bar where we can hang excess motorcycle gear, plus winter clothes in case we are called back to Canada mid-winter for a family emergency. We also kept some of our favorite things: our stoneware, flatware and a very small assortment of absolute favorite treasures and artwork.

The Big Giveaway
We also had a number of lovely things, treasures we had collected over the years, plus useful items that we wanted to share with our friends. So we decided to make our final going away party a surprise give-away party for our good friends! We spread all the items we wanted to give away on tables in our basement. Then we made a game of it, drawing names out of a hat to decide the order people would get to pick an item. It was a big success: everyone got to go home with something they wanted and we got the pleasure of seeing our valued things go to our dear friends who appreciated them.

Everything with a yellow sticky was fair game for the giveaway party. This was just a small selection
All good parties end up in the kitchen, right? We gave a little update on our situation and talked about the rules of our giveaway game.
All good parties end up in the kitchen, right? We gave a little update on our situation and talked about the rules of our giveaway game

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