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Crapherding by numbers
June 3, 2008 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Mid-twenties, student, renting, moving a lot - how much stuff can one own, and what are your strategies for keeping to that?

I moved house nine months ago thinking I'd stay here for years, and I have to up sticks again this month for a job.

It's a gigantic pain in the ass but it's likely to be like this for a few more years, and I would like to be more strategic about it so I know it's no harder than it needs to be. I can't afford storage and while I get on very well with my parents, they have kindly made it clear that the Museum of Carbide isn't going to live in their house. I have nothing there right now and will probably ask them to store my (condensed) academic stuff.

I'm working in and studying architecture (taking the usual year out to work, back to college in 2009), which involves a fair amount of materials, and I keep throwing them out and rebuying them six months later. It also means, combined with personal research interests in surrounding areas, I own a bunch of rare, big, out of print books that I may never track down again if I let them go. My dormant primary hobbies are bookbinding and zine-making, which are also materials-/tools-intensive.

My next move is for a short-term sublet across the country, where I will have to get down to very little stuff and will also find it harder to replace things. I'm getting really sick of purging my stuff and having replaced lots of it six months later, and while I'm no minimalist, I am not a hoarder, not sentimental and do not have a compulsion to shop.

Specific questions:
- What's a reasonable expectation of quantity, in your experience? Is it a carload, or is it a backpack but with a secret attic full in your parents' house?
- Is it viable to have collections like CDs, or Agatha Christie paperbacks? Things that are enjoyable but not vital or irreplaceable. (By contrast, my small collection of records is going nowhere.)
- Does it help to be ruthless with hobbies, even if it means being wasteful or passing on resources you may not be able to afford to replace?
- How does one reconcile living like this with being an adult who likes owning a desk big enough to draw on, or a set of mixing bowls that will last for decades, etc?


Qualifiers:
- I am in Ireland, which means no Half.com, no selling on Amazon, and eBay is only viable for things of real value because the postage is offputting for people.
- Yep, I donate anything I'm getting rid of to charity shops if I can't sell it or give it to friends.
- Previously, yep, that's an awesome resource but it's the reasonable quantity bit I find hardest. I know it's subjective but people achieving this with more success must have personal guidelines, which is what I guess I'm after.
posted by carbide to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Reasonable means the amount you can easily move. So if you own a large car, you can easily move one or two carloads (particularly as long-distance in Ireland is what, two or three hours of driving?); if you have no car and can't easily borrow or rent one, then it's whatever you can move on the bus or train or by shipping it.

And yes, it means tough choices -- you can either move all the time and have great experiences... or you can have the fully-equipped book-binding studio plus the fantastic library plus all the other stuff. You can't really have both, and as you've notice rebuying everything gets expensive. Sometimes the right thing to do is to say, X is a lot of fun but this is not the time to do X right now. You delay some gratification in order to make your life better overall.

And you can also outsource some things. First edition books are neat, but libraries (especially if you have access to university libraries) have good collections you can use; many cities will have book-binding studios (either public, perhaps as an offshoot of an open university or community center or private, just some nice bookbinder who will let you use his/her facilities in exchange for some beer or whatever); etc. Doing it all yourself with your own materials is convenient in some ways, but is more expensive and, as you have noticed, hard to reconcile with being mobile.

Finally, my experience (as someone who has moved a staggering number of times) is that "owning collections" and "being mobile" are mutually exclusive. Collections -- that is, stuff you own in order to own it, rather than stuff you own in order to use it -- take up space, and require extra care when moving. They are the antithesis of mobility. Wait for stability, and then begin your collecting. Again, it's about choices, priorities, delaying some gratification.

How does one reconcile living like this with being an adult who likes owning a desk big enough to draw on, or a set of mixing bowls that will last for decades, etc?

Those things go along with having the income to sustain them. If you can't afford to move them, you either need to stop moving, or to make enough money that you can get your stuff from point A to point B every few months. You are trying to have the "adult" lifestyle on a student income, and as you are finding it doesn't work very well.
posted by Forktine at 7:21 AM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is it possible that your parents might be more agreeable to storing your stuff if there were boundaries established? For instance, a limit of x number of neatly labeled storage containers that only take up x amount of space, and they will stay for x number of months, and no parents will have to be involved in moving them.

Is it viable to have collections like CDs, or Agatha Christie paperbacks?

No. Set them free! Go visit them at the library if you find you've missed them later on.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:38 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I've owned less and less over the last ten years (since graduating high school, essentially), and I'd still like to pare that down. There's nothing that says owning "things" as an adult is all that beneficial, either - I think I would be happy with a laptop and cell phone and iPod, my KitchenAid mixer and All-Clad pan, and my bikes. I sleep on a futon pad on the floor and my furniture was generally cheap to free.

Admittedly I live in a city that allows me to watch sports at any number of bars, visit bookstores for entertainment in almost any neighborhood, take public transit to visit friends any night of the week, I have a significant other that approves of my choices, and I have the Internet to provide downloadable content for passive entertainment as well as for typing incoherent gibberish to strangers such as I'm doing now.

Minimize your life in every way possible. With credit to Michael Pollan, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
posted by kcm at 7:40 AM on June 3, 2008


I live out of boxes. It probably doesn't look like it if you were to walk into my room, but pretty much everything I own is in a box or storage container of some sort. When I next move, all I need to pack away is my books, clothes and various knick-knacks. Everything else is already packed. I do lots of crafty things as well, and each one has a box. This makes me super organised, which also helps, as it's not my natural state.

I've learnt to be quite harsh, I've reached the physical limits of my room, so now I don't buy something new unless I know I've got room for it. I've had to resort to one in one out for books, which saddens me a bit, but is probably a good thing, I volunteered in an Oxfam Bookshop for a while, and I picked up all sorts of rubbish whilst I was there.

I also select things for easy portability, so I have a laptop rather than a desktop, and so on.

The rule that goes if you haven't used it for a year, you probably don't need it, works really well. Particularly for clothes.

My stuff (including bike, futon and some other bits of furniture) just fits in the back of a Ford Transit. I've no plans on moving soon, but I'm not going to increase it any more.

My parents' still have what's left of my university and school stuff and a lot of stuffed toys. Every Christmas I mean to sort it all out (they aren't that pleased about it still being there), but never manage it, I'm a bit of a sentimentalist - and the sherry doesn't help.

Oh, and ditching stuff and buying it again six months later isn't great for your environmental karma.
posted by Helga-woo at 8:14 AM on June 3, 2008


I'm going to go against the grain and say don't let go of your collection of rare books. These are valuable, hard-to-find, and if you're anything like me, they partially define who you are. Letting go of something like that is something that you'll always regret. (At least, it is something I would always regret.)
The book-making materials might be able to go, especially if you don't have a huge collection of paper or anything particularly special in the way of tools. There was a good post at Unclutterer awhile back on evaluating hobbies against the amount of space they take up and enjoyment you get from them; this might help you decide whether or not to "be ruthless" with a hobby when moving.
I'd say that you're better off getting rid of things that you can replace - mixing bowls and the like - and replacing them by buying replacements at a thrift shop or other used store until you've settled. You can also do things like convert all your CDs to MP3, unless the CD-as-object is particularly attractive to you.
If it's going to hurt you more to lose it than it is to move it, you should probably keep it, whatever it is.
posted by k8lin at 8:30 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you keep rebuying it, it's not worth throwing it out to begin with. If your primary habits are dormant and will stay so for a while, get rid of that stuff.

Keep only the essential books that you use all the time or that have information you can't get elsewhere. Fiction is rarely essential. I would try for a foot-cubed box of books only. As for the big books, I wouldn't ever box them, and just use them as space filler to fit in and around your other boxes as you put them in the car (perhaps this is heresy and disrespect to the books, but it would maximise your use of space).

My ideal furniture-free set would probably be approximately:
1 large suitcase/box + 1 carryon suitcase worth of clothing plus a winter coat.
1 box knickknacks and various (includes music collection).
1 box hobby items.
1 box books + books that don't fit.
1-2 boxes kitchen (plates + bowls for 2-4, silverware same, 4 glasses, 1 fry pan, 1 large pot, 1 small pot with lids, spatula, paring knife, chef's knife, stirring spoon, mixing bowls).
1 bag for various non-perishable toiletry items (electric razor, hair dryer, comb/brush).
bedclothes/towels for padding
Computer (laptop for portability).

Once you add in furniture, things get significantly harder, but you can probably manage to get to the point where you can fit everything into the back of a car with a hatchback and fold-down seats. Perhaps your best bet is to determine your level of comfort with moving and what your ideal is. If it's "I want to be able to get it all in one car trip," then take your car, and get rid of stuff until you can fit it all in.
posted by that girl at 8:50 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm on a cycle of moving cross-country every couple years. The most troublesome "possession" is my cat, and way too many books. I'd second most of the advice given here . . the big stuff to go without is furniture and dishes. For example, right now I have just enough glasses/plates/bowls to make a couple meals before I have to do dishes. And they are all plastic, cheap and replaceable (tupperware or the obnoxious plastic cups they use for large sodas at a lot of fast food joints these days). Clothes-wise I decided that I didn't want any more than could be done in two loads of laundry. I like to backpack and camp and try to purchase equipment for it that is versatile (for instance a jacket that I can wear on the street or in the backcountry) and even this has been pared down to only the essentials (no big coleman stoves or oversized tents).

Some general rules I've made and steps I've taken:
-If it isn't electronic it has to be cheaply replaceable.
-Things of sentimental value are limited to one shoebox (that is packed to bursting right now).
-Old glossy photos have been scanned and added to the new digital ones on my Mac and then thrown out. -Tools are heavy and take up a lot of room, so I'm basically down to a Leatherman and a wrench set.
-All the compact discs have been ripped to the computer and then sold/thrown out/given away.
-Never more than one gadget for a task (one camera, one computer, one phone, etc)
-Decorate on the cheap. This is harder to do for some than others. I print out interesting pictures from the Internet and matte them (sort of). Its not the best looking thing in the world, but it allows some creativity. Its a good hobby and cheap.
-Learn to enjoy it. I have this quote by Bertrand Russell tacked up: "It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly."
posted by nameless.k at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2008


I suggest going to the local moving truck rental company (which could be u-haul in the U.S.) and measuring the capacity of a reasonably sized truck. Use that as your guideline. In other words, have only as much stuff as will fit into the truck.
posted by conrad53 at 9:18 AM on June 3, 2008


Me=post-college, and heading back to a Ph.D. program.

- What's a reasonable expectation of quantity, in your experience? Is it a carload, or is it a backpack but with a secret attic full in your parents' house?

I have slightly over a carload for a large American car. And, I have a lot of storage space in my parents' house.

- Is it viable to have collections like CDs, or Agatha Christie paperbacks? Things that are enjoyable but not vital or irreplaceable. (By contrast, my small collection of records is going nowhere.)

I have a tiny collection of books. Maybe six. Hundreds more at parents' house.

- Does it help to be ruthless with hobbies, even if it means being wasteful or passing on resources you may not be able to afford to replace?

Yes. I wish I had several "project stations" that I could leave up all the time.

- How does one reconcile living like this with being an adult who likes owning a desk big enough to draw on, or a set of mixing bowls that will last for decades, etc?

I treat my kitchen stuff like the rest of the things I own, and keep swapping stuff in and out to find the minimum that I need. I have a set of three mixing bowls that I really like for example. I've gotten my kitchen stuff down to a medium-sized box.

I buy big, sturdy cheap folding tables when I need them. And old wooden chairs are cheap. My one luxury is a big, queen-sized bed which I often have to re-buy.
posted by zeek321 at 9:24 AM on June 3, 2008


Everything I own is on my laptop. Well, not everything, but you get the idea.
posted by mpls2 at 9:45 AM on June 3, 2008


It's great to get rid of stuff that you truly don't need or want, but don't sacrifice things that you truly love/value just on principle.

If I were you, I'd not throw out materials and re-buy them, which is total waste of money. However, it would be worth it to figure out an efficient way to store them that will translate into a compact way to pack them. Egads, don't get rid of those books, even if they are heavy.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with needing a rental truck to move. Budget it into your moving expenses.

Packing, even with STUFF, is far easier if you just keep your house neat, have a system for packing, and give yourself plenty of time to do so.
posted by desuetude at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2008


Can the college help at all with suggestions of self-storage companies or rental of space on campus? You can't be the first student to face this. Are you at DIT or UCD? I studied architecture at Bolton Street for a while, and there was space available for storage of materials etc at that time. Then the good graces of your parents only needs to deal with your personal stuff.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2008


Also, if you store books (and other paper products) in a damp place, like many basements and sheds, you may as well just sell them because they will get musty and wrinkled and will not be nice books when you retrieve them three years later. Same with clothes and a lot of other things, too -- unless you have a climate controlled place to store them, and take some care in the packing and boxing and so on, you are likely to find that you have gone to great trouble to store things that will have to straight in the bin when you later unbox everything.

Honestly, unless it is genuinely sentimental, or very valuable, most things aren't worth storing. It's just stuff -- fairly generic material possessions that are usually easy to replace and that you often don't even value that much (because after all you are willing to let them sit untouched in a box in the basement for several years).
posted by Forktine at 10:05 AM on June 3, 2008


Also a frequent-mover over the last few years, I have discovered the joy of Rubbermaid/similar totes, which you can dump a lot of things into, and also can be stacked in a closet, basement, or under a plank of wood to fashion a workspace table if needed. I could probably fit 6 in my non-SUV car, which I figure is probably the running max of stuff if I ever need to up and move (which will probably be soon again, knowing me).

Of course, once you've lived somewhere a while, things accumulate and you own more, so every month or two you need to dump old things to keep your "survival boxes" at a minimum. I wouldn't dare part with the most sentimental things (photos, old ticket stubs, random knickknacks, etc) but I do have a limit of one to two totes, so it doesn't overwhelm the necessities (clothes, shoes, a blanket, personal supplies).

A big thing about clothes-- I tend to shop on the cheap so it's easy for lots of things to start filling my drawers and closets, and they take up a lot of space and energy to move-- but I heartily agree with the aforementioned one year rule. Also another rule: don't hang onto it if it doesn't fit and you're hoping to slim down enough to make it fit. Ain't gonna happen, and besides, if it does, you should go out and treat yourself to more cheap goods. Donate it back to the thriftstore, which, if you're me, is probably where you got it in the first place.

I will agree with another against-the-grainer and say don't give up your hobbies, especially if the tools and accessories involved are expensive. Instead, give up plates, furniture, kitchen goods, bathroom accessories (like 5 sets of towels or sheets or floormats). Donate the old ones of course, but with some luck you can score cheap replacements at your new location, perhaps gently used. Here's the idea-- hang onto the things that are harder to replace.

Also consider scanning photos and making mp3's out of your CDs and albums, as "digitial space" is easier to come by than schlepping more physical boxes and totes around.

Good luck!
posted by potatopeople at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have manage to move my collection of Star Wars Books and memorabilia 4 times in 3 years. The key is packing well. Well packed and well organized collections are much easier to move. I would suggest in investing in an organizational system that streamlines your hobbies. Mine are sewing and art (painting and drawing) and I love my stackable snapware sets.

Also, stuff like my old toys and a few other very sentimental odds and ends are at my parents house. They are nicely packed in a few sturdy boxes so my parents don't mind much.

A college friend once realized that for her, the stress and hassle of moving was too much, so whenever she had to move she hired Two Men and a Truck to come pick up and drop off her furniture and pre-packed boxes. Perhaps there is something similar in your area.

IMHO the quantity of stuff you have should not exceed what your living conditions can handle (plus two or three boxes at Mom and Dads). if you are tripping over things trying to walk through your apartment, you have too much stuff (or need to organize better).

Checking back over the original post brings one other thing to mind. Be honest with yourself. Are you going to use your out of print architecture books, binding materials and zine-making equipment during this short-term lease? Whatever you know you won't need or use pack very well and ask your parents to temporarily store them, assuring them it is only as long as your lease.

on preview potatopeople is spot on.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 4:17 PM on June 3, 2008


Stupidly slow follow-up. Thanks so much for the suggestions, which were all great. They're getting me to approach this in a much better way, which I guess summarises as "stop thinking you can have everything".

forktine: You are trying to have the "adult" lifestyle on a student income, and as you are finding it doesn't work very well.

This is true, and it's kind of a bigger problem than Stuff - the income/budget bit is fine-tuned and good, but I don't reconcile the two identities very well. Cheers for the constructive response.

SuperSquirrel: No. Set them free! Go visit them at the library if you find you've missed them later on.

I've gone one better and joined BookMooch, with a stack of packages ready to go out tomorrow - somehow the idea of passing things on continuously and being able to get books into my hands and let them go again sounds pretty good when framed like that.

kcm: There's nothing that says owning "things" as an adult is all that beneficial, either - I think I would be happy with a laptop and cell phone and iPod, my KitchenAid mixer and All-Clad pan, and my bikes. I sleep on a futon pad on the floor and my furniture was generally cheap to free.

Rock on. I know, although I have a pesky love of designed objects that makes me happy to have beautiful (not fancy or expensive, or even new) things around me, which ain't working out well.

Helga-woo:
Oh, and ditching stuff and buying it again six months later isn't great for your environmental karma.

I totally agree and it's a big reason for wanting to address it, although it's not a literal x out, x in thing, obviously.

k8lin -

The Unclutter article is great, and I really appreciate your comment - I guess thinking of it as "if I really, really want to keep this, it's going to cost me not being able to keep some other stuff" is helping.


that girl:
If your primary habits are dormant and will stay so for a while, get rid of that stuff.

It totally doesn't detract from your useful answer but I overshot on brevity in my question, and meant to mention that my lifestyle's changing to one of long work hours but some hobby time, after a few years of literally no free time where the hobbies were mostly dormant.


jamesonandwater:
Ah, interesting! UCD, and I know there's not an inch of space unspoken for in the building, but it's a really good suggestion.

potatopeople - The containers suggestion is a really good idea, and I'm going to go pricing some to see if I can do it. I also have the curse of shopping on the cheap, with a bonus of almost-but-not-quite-right thrifted stuff, but am luckily at a point of having tons of stuff wearing out as I go to move.

silkygreenbelly: Checking back over the original post brings one other thing to mind. Be honest with yourself. Are you going to use your out of print architecture books, binding materials and zine-making equipment during this short-term lease? Whatever you know you won't need or use pack very well and ask your parents to temporarily store them, assuring them it is only as long as your lease.

Yeah, I'm working on this - I am finding a few temporary places (my housemate doesn't mind me leaving boxes in the attic in my current place) in case my sublet is followed by another cross-country move rather than a local longer lease. It's an incentive to whittle down so that the subsequent move isn't as stressful again as clearing out of here!
posted by carbide at 4:10 PM on June 5, 2008


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