Updated: Sep 25, 2021
Someone once told me, “everyone should go to zero at least once in their lives”, and I wouldn’t fully understand this comment until many years later. You just don’t realize how much crap you own and the baggage it carries until you have to get rid of it. The things you own carry weight far beyond the physical weight. You may have emotional ties to your stuff. And your stuff needs you to take care of it. You need more room to store your stuff, more insurance to protect your stuff, and you can’t leave your stuff alone for too long. George Carlin had a funny perspective of stuff that represents a deeper truth about people. See the following link for a funny take on "stuff" by George Carlin.
The first time we experienced this, going to near zero on our belongings, was when we decided to move overseas with our family for my job. At that time, we decided to liquidate ~20 years of our holdings including real estate, vehicles, furniture, and everything that we didn’t have a strong sentimental attachment to. When we were done, we had only kept about a truckload of items that primarily included photo albums, childhood keep-sakes, and some art. When we left Canada we had 5 suitcases with our clothes and not much else. Until you go through an exercise like this, you really don’t understand the gravity of the things you accumulate through life and how difficult it is to get rid of these things. After 2 years working overseas, we did it all over again before moving back to Canada. You realize the value you place on your stuff is nowhere near what others value it at. You realize it’s all just stuff, and stuff that can be replaced. The other thing you realize when starting over, is what is really important to you. The more you do this exercise, the less you find creeps back into your life. When you go out to purchase and get set up with other things you need, you stick closer to the basics, and you scrutinize your discretionary purchases more. You start to buy some used things versus new things, because they are generally the same if not better quality than new and up to 50% less on replacement costs.
When we retired a couple years ago, we downsized significantly and went through a version of this process again. We went from a 3200 sq ft home to a 1250 sq ft condo. We had plans of travelling the world pre-covid, and a condo with it’s low maintenance and lock-and-leave qualities fit our needs. Much of what we had in our house would not fit in a condo space, so again we got rid of 90% of what we owned, and had to find smaller furniture etc. By moving into a smaller home we reduced our costs by a meaningful amount, which gave us an additional level of comfort in our retirement income-expense plan. Our home utility and maintenance bills were reduced by as much as 25-50%. Our power and gas costs were only 25% of what we were paying for the house, and our property taxes were 30% of our previous home’s taxes. Everything was less; utilities, property taxes, insurance, furniture needs, maintenance costs, etc.
We currently pay a strata fee to live in our complex. The fee is approx $350/month and adjusted to inflation annually. The strata unit cost fee (strata budget/sq ft) is determined by the annual budget and the total square footage of all the condos in the complex, and then applied to individual condos’ square footage as a factor. This strata fee covers general maintenance and scheduled repairs to the common areas per the depreciation report. The cost to me equates to about 7 working hours a month at $50/hr. When you really think about the time, effort, and stuff (tools, garden equipment, lawn mowers, maint contractors, materials, etc) you put into maintaining a house this is an extremely affordable solution, plus it frees up your time up for other things. We can leave for longer periods and do not have to worry about getting home to look after mowing the lawn, fixing a roof, etc..
And very recently, we helped the father-in-law go through this exercise so he could move out of his 2000 sq ft home into a 800 sq ft apartment in assisted living. We downsized his whole house to a 12 ft U-haul, including getting rid of his vehicle in only 5 days. So you might say we've become downsizing experts!
A smaller space really makes you think about what you have and what you keep. The living area and storage capacity is smaller. Even after moving here, we have had to review our new needs for furniture, clothes, appliances, and seasonal/sports equipment. 2 years later, and we are still getting rid of clothing and items that are just taking up space. We are getting more creative with our ownership of stuff, and will rent paddleboards versus owning and storing them, for example. We are buying a lot less, and reassessing the size and quantity of things we already have. It’s funny, for work I had 4-5 pairs of jeans, several collared shirts, and a few pairs of dress pants. In the two years since I’ve retired I have not worn any of them. All I wear here is shorts and tees 80% of the time, and sweat pants in the short winter. Your needs really change in retirement, and you make adjustments. Closet and storage space is at a premium now! We still have more to do with downsizing (or right-sizing?).
We have adopted a conservative, semi-minimalistic style in our retirement and we are trying to only own what we need, use, get enjoyment from, and not what we simply want. If we haven't looked at it or used it within a year, it's on our hit list for removal. With condo living we are trying to avoid the accumulation traps created by larger spaces. The benefits of this approach are three-fold. It reduces our overall expenses in a very meaningful way, frees up time for other things, and significantly simplifies and reduces our estate for future disposal. There is a lot less financial and emotional stress in owning less.