Paring down before hitting the road (How to Liquidate Your Life)

Feature, Life Abroad — By on December 11, 2009 at 3:54 pm

It’s the end of November in Cowtown, where Geoff and I have lived for what is quickly approaching four years, and Calgarians are enjoying what may be the last of the relatively warm Chinook weather before winter barges in for a minimum four month stay. In years past, I have responded to the impending snow and cold in the same manner as many Albertans and Canadians:  an unhealthy combination of dread, carbohydrates, and pajama pants. This year, and with any luck for years stretching as far into the future as we choose, is different. We have just over one month remaining in Canada, and rather than hunkering down for another Alberta winter, I am selling what remnants remain of our life here: our house closed two days ago, and we are camping out (almost literally) in a vacant apartment owned by our Realtor for the next month; most of our furniture is gone, and the little that remains includes but traces of our former life — a coffee table, an area rug, a few small kitchen appliances and travel mugs from which we can imbibe all-important coffee and chocolat chaud.

And how does it feel to be living quite literally on the floor of an almost vacant apartment (what we’re currently referring to as our Japanese lifestyle)?

Liberating. Uplifting. Exciting.

I feel similar to when I rid myself of my cell phone — part criminal, part spy; I can get in touch with you, but YOU can’t get in touch with me — only this time we are outcasts and degenerates escaping materialism and consumerism. Except we’re not: just because we’ve rid our lives of excess linens and light fixtures, window coverings and wine glasses, dishes and decorative figurines doesn’t mean we’ve escaped. After all, we had to consume these things in the first place. But that is another post entirely. Where I’m going with this is the process, the time, and the surprising emotions involved with getting rid of STUFF. Below is a simplified month-by-month schedule of how we got rid of our things in preparation for leaving.

~ 7 months prior to D(eparture)-day: We began sorting through boxes of our memories: box upon box stored in our basement and filled with photographs, notes and cards from friends and family, ticket stubs, flags signed by friends from countries in which we’ve lived, and Frisbees from teams against which we’ve played Ultimate. We put like items together (i.e. all memories from my time in Denmark were put in one pile, and items from Geoff’s childhood in another) and went through each pile with a goal of cutting each pile in half. By having all like items together, we were able to make decisions about which remnants and souvenirs were more important or more representative of the memory than others. By cutting each pile in half, we were effectively able to cut the total number of boxes by half, and what we have left are all memories we truly cherish and want to keep. This process took us about a month: slower and with more yelling at first, and then once we got into it, quite quickly and smoothly. Once we got into it, we were both surprised by the fact that much of what was in the original boxes was crap, and wasn’t all that difficult to chuck. For this reason, I’d recommend committing at least a month to this process: once you’ve gotten rid of what you assume is everything you can possibly give up, put the boxes aside for a week or so and don’t think about them. Then, go back and get rid of more.

TIP: Once sorted, don’t completely pack your memories back up. As we were cleaning out other rooms in our house, we found a few items that needed to be added to the memories boxes.

~ 6 to 4 months prior to D(eparture)-day: We started staging our house to get it ready to sell about 6 months before leaving, and it took us 3 months or so of staging and liquidating before putting the house on the market. In addition to performing minor repairs around the house and covering the orange bedroom walls with beige paint, we reduced the amount of stuff in each room (including decorations, furniture, electronics, etc.) by about half. In hindsight, we should have sold most of it (see below, when I get into Kijiji mania), but instead we gave most of it away to friends and goodwill (also nice). We went through the entire house, room-by-room, and made a list of all the large items we needed to rid ourselves of before we could put the house on the market. Slowly but surely, we matched people with pieces, and those things we couldn’t match with a friend, we took to Goodwill. Many, many, many trips to Goodwill. We went through every cupboard and closet, and got rid of everything we don’t absolutely love or wouldn’t use in the final few months. Around this stage, we also started fielding innumerable comments from friends, family, and acquaintances, almost always along the lines of: You’re Getting Rid of THAT?!????!! You can’t get rid of THAT!!!!

Stay strong.

~ 4 months prior to D(eparture)-day: Based on our Realtor’s recommendation and our own research about the market, we put our house up for sale on September 15, approximately 16 weeks before our targeted date to leave Calgary (December 27). It sat on the market for about a month, and during that time there wasn’t much we could do as the house had to be kept spotless. As soon as it sold and conditions were lifted, I created a Kijiji profile and began to sell virtually everything that remained: our kitchen table, our barbecue, our patio furniture, one of our two vehicles, decorative jars, arts, craft supplies, dishes, and more. We have made about $500 so far selling things (excluding the car) and estimate by the end of it all, we’ll have made about $1000 from selling furniture and nicknacks (enough for 100 nights in a South American hostel, or two weeks in South America based on our travel budget of $70 p/day). Karol Gajda’s post 7 Tips: How to Declutter Your Life Using Craigslist has some good tips on effectively selling things online, although I would add that in Calgary, Kijiji seems to be more active than Craigslist.

~ 1 months prior to D(eparture)-day: We had to be out of our house on November 23, just over a month before our leaving date. So we packed up what remained in the house (the aforementioned memory boxes, some furniture we’re giving to family members, artwork, and anything required for one-month living in a temporary apartment) and dumped the majority of it in a storage locker. I cried when I saw how much stuff we still have: 6 months of work, innumerable trips to Goodwill, and a summer lost to sorting things in the basement, and we still have enough stuff to fill a 5′ by 10′ storage locker.

Our next steps: The plan is to leave Calgary on December 27, and drive our remaining belongings to Vancouver. Once we give the remaining furniture to various family members, we’ll have a better idea of how much stuff belonging to us still remains, and we can go through a final round of sorting and purging before packing it up for good, or getting items prepared to ship to Taiwan for use.

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