Let’s take a moment to consider our stuff. Everyone has stuff. Stuff we use and stuff we wear and stuff we put on display, but also stuff in boxes and stuff in drawers and stuff in closets and stuff under the bed. Not to mention the bed itself. And the couch, and the mirror, and the framed Trans-Australian Railway travel poster. (You have one of those, right? I mean, doesn’t everyone?) But when you don’t plan on having a house, what, exactly, do you do with all this stuff?
Preparing for a big trip, I am again faced with this dilemma. I’ve lived out of backpacks and suitcases for enough years that I’ve already radically redefined my own relationship with stuff. That is, I resist the cost and accumulation and responsibility of owning too much stuff, because I know how little I actually need when I’m out traveling. And yet as I look around, all I can see is a house full of it. And now I have to figure out what the heck I’m gonna do with it.
Our basic plan is to head back to Las Vegas while we are gone, which is what we’ve done on previous trips abroad as well. We have family there which makes it a relatively convenient place to base ourselves in those just before and just after periods of going abroad, and my parents have said they could make use of our car, assuming we decide not to sell it too. But what about everything else?
Fortunately, math to the rescue! (I love saying that.) There is a simple formula that is going to help me decide what to do.
Figure 1 = The cost to move everything from my house in DC to a storage unit in Vegas plus the cost of the storage unit for the entire duration we are gone.
Figure 2 = The cost of buying everything new (or used) when we return, minus the amount we can make selling everything before we go.
If Figure 2 is higher, we should store all our stuff until we get back. If Figure 1 is higher, or if the two numbers are roughly equal, it is probably better to sell everything. In fact even if Figure 1 is just a little lower it might still make sense to sell, since there is a cost in time, effort, and mental energy in moving and worrying about all your stuff while away.
In 2010, we knew we had just six months to spend traveling about Central/South America, and we opted to store. We got one of those moving cubes which we sent to Las Vegas and put it all into storage. (Which, amazingly, was cheaper than renting a U-Haul and paying for gas.) Everything we had that wouldn’t fit into the cube (or our car that we drove to Vegas) we sold on Craigslist. The moving cube cost us about $1200 and the storage unit was something like $65 a month. We also made close to $1000 selling stuff.
This time around, the numbers aren’t working out as well. It is hard to get a cube price estimate too far out, but because prices are based on demand/gas prices and we will be leaving in August rather than in December, I suspect prices would be higher than before. Storage unit prices have also soared as the economy in Vegas has recovered, and now even the crummier facilities have doubled their prices. We considered leaving our stuff here in DC since there is always the possibility we would return here anyway, but storage prices here are even worse, and would easily be in the $150-$200 a month range.
Add to that the uncertainty of how long we will be gone. We are planning for 6-9 months, but we are open to the idea of staying longer if we can find a way to work from abroad or otherwise make the money we’re saving up last longer. (We’d also consider returning earlier if a good opportunity came up.) Keeping open to the possibilities is always something I want to be able to do. And having monthly charges to keep a bunch of STUFF is a heavy anchor I’m just not sure I want to have.
There is also the potential issue of damage. Last time there was an assortment of scratches and smashes that happen on a cross country move, plus some water damage that somehow occurred within the locked, indoor storage unit itself. (Water clown attack, no doubt.) Nothing terrible, but still a point to consider that some of the stuff you pay so much to keep won’t be usable when you get back around to wanting to use it again.
Anyway, so clearly our math calculations have some wiggle room and guesswork within them. And the biggest factor, as often is when it comes to money, is time. The longer we stay away, the more sense it makes to buy new. The sooner we come back, the more likely it is that storing things would be better. But the fact is that I just don’t know what will happen. With that hard fact out of my grasp, all I can do is look at what is going to make me feel better about my decision. And the truth is, I’d rather stay out longer. By choosing that outcome as the ideal, it gives a definite slant to my math. It may not end up being the truth, but the truth I want has a better chance coming true than the truth I don’t want. Also, if we come home early it is likely that we’ll have trip-money left over to help bridge the stuff-buying gap. So after playing with the numbers, our estimate is that it will be cheaper, not to mention easier, to get rid of everything.
Now, even for someone as resistant to stuff accumulation as I am, this wasn’t an easy decision. I love my coffee table, which is huge and covered in old world maps. In fact we’ve collected a pretty nice assortment of furniture over the years. The leather headboard we scored on Craigslist, the dining room mirror, the leather couch, the armchairs. But in the end, my emotional attachment, while not non-existent, isn’t the major factor in making this decision.
[Please pardon my use of “not non-existent”, but sometimes I find a nice double-negative construction to be highly satisfying.]
The real issue is that we do have some possessions that aren’t so negotiable. The photo albums for example. Or David’s woodwork we have on the walls. The box of yearbooks, or the drawer full of important paperwork. So our current goal is to start sorting and purging. For now we are still thinking we are going to keep the car, my trusty 2004 Toyota Matrix, so to avoid expensive shipping costs, anything we want to keep needs to fit in the car when we drive across to Vegas.
To that end we’ve started a pile of the essentials and must-keeps. So far the only things in that pile is a stack of old taxes and a small box of Christmas decorations. I’ve been busy scanning photos into the computer so we can get rid of the boxes of loose photographs, and we’ve been sorting through boxes of stuff we’ve collected, tossing anything that isn’t really all that important. Even though we’ve been anti-stuff for years, it is still amazing what you can accumulate. I’m sure the cordless phone and the old wireless router and newspapers from 9/11 might have come in handy someday, but I’m pretty sure we will survive without them.
It is a good thing we still have some time, because it is a huge project. But we are making progress. Hopefully in another month or two we’ll be ready to start posting things on Craigslist. While we’ve found selling things to be pretty easy, it does take some time, so we don’t want to wait until the last minute.
My current question is trying to figure out what to do with all of my old electronics. I have a 2004 iMac and a collection of external hard drives. Everything still works, but is probably smaller and slower than what I assume people would want to pay for. Still I hate just to throw things away. Does anyone reading this have any ideas of what I could do with it?
When is the last time you considered your relationship to your own stuff? If you decided to move or otherwise make a change, what would you do?