In the days and weeks leading up to our untethered journey, the home that we shared with my mother was a flurry of activity. Actually, it was more like a high speed train — or trains. New homeowners had a move-in date. Time was running out, and we all were going back and forth in different directions. Mom was in the midst of a new relationship, sinfully and carefully and gleefully beginning cohabiting with her new beau. We were planning to travel and had just acquired our camper. The processes of moving, downsizing, purging and shifting were all full time jobs, which were tacked onto our respective other full time jobs of Scot as business owner, me as full time mom and my mom’s forging a new relationship. All of our things had been merged and mingled for five years by that point. Who knew whose candles belonged to whom? Who received which hammer? Maybe you should take the red towels and we’ll take the brown ones. It was madness. We were busy; there was nary a dull moment.

Going from home to home is comprehensible, isn’t it? Generally there are lots of places to put one’s possessions no matter the size or shape: One can visuals the space. Although we were separating this from that, mom was able to downsize her home needs to fit and merge within her new domicile and could accommodate this transition with new shelves and cubbies and so on. But our venture into tiny and full time travel created two problems: What were we going to do with the stuff that we wanted to keep but surely could not take with us and definitely did not want to burden with our mothers, and how would we retrieve it?

Throughout Life Untethered we talk about living small, as well as other things that help us do what we do, but with the hasty nature of our departure, we really didn’t get down to the details about one very important aspect of our ability to travel and stay compact, and that is storage. For anyone interested in exploring options for such endeavors, we thought it would be helpful to know some details.

Initially, we assumed that we would be renting a standard storage unit measuring ten feet by five feet and worked it into an early draft of our monthly budget. We were hoping for something climate-controlled, especially because we have so much art, so ranges varied between seventy-five and one hundred fifty dollars.

As piles were created and dwindled and new ones made from sifting and resorting, we were able to begin to see what we might be keeping in the long run. We marked with tape a ten-by-five area in an unused bedroom and fitted it with four adjustable, collapsible metal industrial racks, with which we began to fill with contents of our future selves.

The 5x10 Beast We Call Lola.
The 5×10 Beast We Call Lola.

That idea and space shifted many times, too. Again, a huge consideration in all of this was our art, most of which I had painted and much of which was very large. In fact, three of the biggest pieces were clearly dictating our storage needs, which was beginning to encroach on our budget. One piece specifically — we call her “Lola” — happens to measure ten feet tall by five feet wide, which would have had to have been carefully inserted into the intended storage unit with the same parameters. We were going to need more space, not less.

This was not the direction in which we wanted to go. But we were in luck. One of Scot’s clients, Boer’s Transfer and Storage, is a company specializing in storage and moving, especially of the long distance kind. Scot knew that they house stored goods in wooden crates and, more importantly, could ship our stuff anywhere in the world should we find a new place to call home. After a couple of conversations with our guy, Larry, we learned a lot about what they do, which helped clear the way for us to make firm decisions about what to keep and how to proceed.

Firstly, they do ship pretty much everywhere in the world. Shipping begins at around two thousand dollars and goes up from there. This seems rarely an option at any other general storage facilities and was important to us for future considerations. I certainly knew nothing about it until I met Larry.

Secondly, all goods are stored in wooden, clamped crates, of which there are a couple of sizes and you can use as many as you need. Larry recommended that we go with a crate that measures five by seven by seven. All crates are stored, stacked and secured in their climate-controlled warehouse. This was a huge factor for us, too: Climate-controlled storage units are difficult to come by and they can be expensive. Crates are not used for shipping. Goods are transferred from crate to shipping container before they leave the building.

Thirdly, they also could store my large art, or anyone else’s large whatevers, like sofas, of which there were surprisingly many. I couldn’t believe how much time we spent thinking about our giant paintings, but they are special pieces and part of the family. It was important that they came with us wherever we went and received some TLC.

Next, working with Boer’s fit well within our budget. In fact, there was room to spare. Storing our goods in the recommended crate and separately housing three large paintings would cost us sixty dollars a month — a price unmatched by regular storage facilities. It does the travel and tiny budget good.

Finally, they can go to you or you can pack up your own truck and drive and store your personal contents yourself. Everything that goes into a crate is marked with a numbered sticker and documented. They are super organized and want to ensure that all items are noted.

With so much food for thought, we returned to our organizing tasks with confidence and renewed spirit. We remarked our lines to reflect five feet wide by seven feet long, and we adjusted a rack or two to about six feet in consideration of boxes that might take up the last foot of the top shelf. These would be the parameters of our future and we began packing and stacking.

With the exception of a few things that stayed with Scot’s mom and many favorite toys and stuffed animals that went with my mom for visits, only what we deemed most important or irreplaceable went on the shelves. We sorted things that we didn’t want to buy on the other side, such as a few small workhorse kitchen appliances. I was not going to keep my vinyl collection or turn table, but Scot reminded me of how much I love them both — and music — so we kept those, too. We packed childhood memorabilia of all three of us, and gifts from the heart. We carefully placed some books on art and food into boxes, and considered things that Luna would be happy to see upon opening. I kept some art supplies. And more.

Then, to save money, and because our lot was so small, we rented a truck and loaded and unloaded the goods ourselves. First we placed the racks into the crate. Then, as we brought boxes and art down the ramp, the crew sticker-bombed them and wrote descriptions accordingly. When one rack was full, we added another and arranged it like it was storage Tetris. We filled in the gaps with my super heavy industrial easel and a few other odd items. The guys tended to the art, which was propped along a large row of stacked crates. And that was that.

Before closing the door of the crate, we stuck a note on one of the racks that I penned on the way to Boer’s. It says that we hope that we did well in our sorting, that we don’t know if we have too much or too little. It mentions wondering how we will feel when we open the crate, where we will be and what we will know. But I didn’t copy the note or take a picture of it. We wanted it all to be kind of a surprise.

It’s funny, as I write this I can hardly remember all that we put into storage, but I know that it did include art and pictures, memorabilia, some high quality kitchen items, the turntable and vinyl records, some precious gifts and more. It looks like we kept all of the Christmas decorations, too. It even has the belly casts of my once-pregnant belly. We recently discussed what we missed and how we would feel if none of it existed anymore. We decided we were at peace with all of it, even if it all went up on flames (this part Luna wouldn’t enjoy), because our focus has become about the experiences and not all of the things. The rest of the contents of our lives are in a five-by-seven-by-seven box on the third level of a warehouse, hanging out with the art, the sofas and the rest of the stuff. And we couldn’t be more pleased, relieved and cool with it. Much thanks to the incredibly helpful and professional crew at Boer’s Transfer. We couldn’t do what we do without them.

So, if you had the need or desire to make space for the most important things of your life, how much would you require? What would it contain? What would it do for you? Would it free you? Make you appreciate what you have and what you really need? Would you need more or would you need less? Just curious. To each his or her own. Even though you can’t take it with you when you go, what would you take and how? It is the stuff of life.

Liza Beth Rumery

Liza likes to do a lot of things. Currently, she like to make food, ride bikes, study languages and hang out with her family.

6 comments on “Downsizing: How Much Do You Need? How Low Can You Go?

  1. The first 18 years of life my dad was and USAF pilot. We moved every two to three years all over the world. As and AF BRAT, I continually purged. Juxtaposed; Mike was raised to keep everything. Stuff from when he was a toddler and forward, supplies sustenance to his being. My kids chuckle at us. Just add it to the list of ways we are exact opposites. Around the time I saw retirement at the end of the tunnel, I began in earnest to make my life lighter. Mike retired 6 years before me, and as you probably guessed, this philosophy never crossed his mind. I wish I could insert a picture of his home office here. Some how the contents of his Upjohn office AND his WMU office are all there. Think of it as “HIs Island of Everything”. If it’s in those 4 walls it is not thrown away or donated without HIS permission.

    On June 4, 2015 when I closed the door on Room 245 at Dawson Elementary I allowed myself one 10 gallon lidded plastic tote snapped closed. In the 9 months prior to that exit, I gave away all that I had spent, thousands of dollars of our family’s money, in order to be able to be most effective in the classroom. Prior to its emptying I took a picture of MY WALL of CLOSET. Like it and its contents were a best friend, I recorded my source of great pride in perpetuity. It was organized, clear color coded bins filled with supplies for second graders stored and labeled. I enjoyed it like a fine piece of artwork. It was gloriously artistically me…at the time.

    During my last year in the classroom and subsequent reveling (boy did I revel!!)in counting down the days to my soon be much less busy life, I vowed to empty Delano Cottage as I had the closet in Room 245. I started with my closet and dresser. Bulging 6 black bags of Teacher Clothes (as my family referred to my predominantly sensible and sturdy LLBEAN wardrobe ) donated. If I never wear another pair of four pocket, all cotton dress trousers again it will be too soon. And then I started on our basement. ALONE. Conveniently or inconveniently depending on how you see this, Mike is HIGHLY allergic to the damp and slightly moldy habitat. I was on my own. It was such a gigantic job, that in order to not run away from it all screaming or melt into a puddle of tears on the floor, I divided the basement into quadrants. SW, SE, NE and NW. Oh….the crap I have hauled away. Astounding. It’s crossed my mine quite often how much earlier I could have retired had we not spent the money we did on the crap I had, without a second thought, tossed. I started in to organizing what. In the past this would have thrilled me. I love organizing. It was then I had an epiphany, of sorts: “If you have to organize it, store it, and label it, Barb, YOU. HAVE. TOO. MUCH. SHIT”

    It is with great pride I report I am down to the NW quadrant, the last 12′ x 15′ of unnecessary stuff.

    I’m wondering, if when you re-open the treasures you secreted away while you live Life Unteathered without so much stuff and clutter, will you feel the same?

    PS Yesterday Mike announced that he threw away six things.

    • Mz. K,

      I love this commentary in about one hundred ways. I have a bunch of questions, like, do you have any items from your AFAB days? Was it difficult when you were younger to dis-possess your stuff? After that, was it weird to have things as an adult? When you finish the Quadrant Project, where will you holiday or what will you do or what will you be drinking?

      I remember feeling the same as you about having spent money on many things over the years — generally with good intentions — but purged them nonetheless. Having done so just made me a better thinker about what I bring on board and I appreciate the lesson, even though I’m sure our savings account would have been larger. Bah. Suck it. I like your wall of art. I hope you frame it. I would like to see it.

      Honestly, I don’t know how we/I will feel opening the crate, although I do know that we are different already. I am quite sure that there will be some immediate purging of a few things about which I was either ambivalent or just so tired of considering that I was like, F it, into the crate. I do look forward to being with some of the art again. Vinyl would be nice. We’ll see.

      Mil gracias por leer, siempre. Besitos.


      • From my childhood days as an AF BRAT I have: my dog tags, my military ID card, a had ring my dad bought me in India, crowned ruby ring he bought me in Thailand and my yearbooks. You have to know my mother to get this. As soon as we were old enough, I’m thinking about 5 yrs. old, we were responsible for our own ‘crap’. Because my dad usually left months ahead of us, and we were left with packing the household good, Mother was relentless with this philosophy. She knew how to divide the work, let me tell you! Each time we moved we, my siblings and I, had three ways to think about things.1.) What are you taking with you that you can carry? 2.) What can you live without for 3 – 6 months. There was a limited number of boxes to do this. 3.) What can you live without for the entire tour? That could be anywhere from 2 – 5 years and was also limited by the square footage allowed by the military. Stuff that arrived later had to fit into whatever you’d already brought. Military families I grew up with were very quick to pass things off to one another for this reason.
        I don’t remember it being difficult because we were headed somewhere new and everyone was living the same way. We never stored clothes because when you got back to them they weren’t the right size. So clearing my clothes closet has always been something I do regularly. I was listening to the The Minimalists and they did a thing on clothes. Trying to live with 10 pieces of clothing. Underwear and socks are considered “extras” and not counted. I don’t now because I love sewing my clothes, but I think I could do that.
        I started on the last quadrant…down one bag of trash and a trunkful to Goodwill. Still sooooo damn far to go. What will I do? I don’t know…I am like The Hag in WWRWW…that’s me, to a ‘t’. I trust, what I need to do next will make itself known. I’m dreaming of a much smaller house and yard. Oh my god, the time it would free up! However, I am not the sole decider of this choice. Mike is very much enjoying his Mr. Allegan opportunities. At my current pace, it will take plenty of time which allows plenty of dreams to come an go.
        Save or sweep away?
        Luna’s face shape has changed. She’s looking “grade school” age for sure now. The mast from the bead parade is pretty spectacular. A decade or so from now, when she’s sharing a glass of wine with a group of friends, what terrific stories to tell.

        • Love this. SOOOO interesting. You indeed are a perfect fit for travel, dear friend. Someday show me your treasures. Your mom was ahead of the game in that way.

          Luna acts “School age” now, talks it, walks it, comprehends and interprets and regurgitates as such, too. She’s tall. Interesting. Fun.

          We don’t have ten items of clothing (I know about that fun experiment), but we have little. Much for layering it all goes far.

          Poppy seeds or corn? This from that. Keep going. I can’t wait for the results. xo

  2. I hope you love the panhandle as much as we did, so glad you will spend some time there! We spent 4 Spring Breaks on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola. In March/April the Blue Angels practice overhead 2 days a week- free air show! The Naval Air Museum (free) was always a must visit every time. There is a time during the week where you can sit in bleachers at the edge of the runway (again free) and watch the show. We took a lantern-lit tour of the Civil War era Ft Pickens, fun & spooky. And of course ate shrimp caught hours before from Joe Patti’s shop, Shrimp boats come up to the back door & they sell all kinds of seafood in the front, along with fresh baked baguettes. Always buy an extra one-we ate one in the car on the way back to the campground

    • Hello, dear friend!

      So happy to hear from you. Based on everything we have seen and heard so far about the panhandle, it will be more our style. Lots of fresh food, many things to see and do. We like our little resort campground. There are fewer than sixty slips and there are many Michiganders. Finally happy to be near water again, too. We have seen a few jets. Hoping to see more. We’ll keep you posted. Let us know if you remember any other goodies for adventuring. Thanks for the note, and much love to you and Phil.


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