Packing it all away?
September 24, 2014 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I realize this may be a validation post, with the best responses being akin to "Just try it, already!", but has anyone ever just packed up 90% of their belongings and put them in the garage for a time? Just to see how that feels? Moderate wall of text inside.

So many of my things (and I have very few by comparison to the Joneses), seem to take up a GREAT deal of mental energy to the point that I go home and crash on the bed rather than deal with them. Yes, I do deal with moderate chronic depression but I am on meds for it. They mostly help.

I decluttered before we moved a few months ago and again after we moved. I still have a few sentimental items but those that are worth passing down will have no where to go after I am gone since we don't have children (a blanket Grandma made that I don't use; a ceramic dish given to me by my mother; ribbons from her wedding dress, etc). Things just seem to be calling out to be dusted, cleaned, organized, or otherwise cared for constantly. The pull either depresses me or takes up my energy and spare time when I'm able to work on them. We moved four months ago and the art is still not hung. Family photos are not out. I don't feel a strong urge to do any of these things. I feel like I shouldn't be thinking about or actively decluttering every weekend, you know?

So I'm thinking of packing it all up and putting it in the garage for now to see how that feels. I think I would leave out my iGadgets and cell phone, which I use regularly and pack the rest away.

Or maybe I just need to have my meds adjusted.

I'll stop blabbing now. Thanks much.
posted by harrietthespy to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Not quite the same thing but when I moved cross country, I arrived six weeks before my stuff did with a moving van. I basically lived in a one-bedroom apartment with only a bed, TV, a bunch of books and the very bare minimum of eating/cooking utensils. I had 1 towel and enough clothes to last me maybe 10 days.


When my stuff finally arrived, I felt overwhelmed - I had gotten very used to the bare minimalist feeling of living in a space that didn't require too much thinking to care for or clean.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:21 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am very sympathetic to this. My dream is to live in a soulless, near-empty white box. Go for it.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:23 PM on September 24, 2014

Oh, totally try it. When I moved into this apartment, I had a whole month of overlap with my previous apartment for weird snowflake reasons that are not relevant here, but resulted in a very leisurely move that took place carload by carload over the span of a few weeks.

I ended up getting rid of a ton of stuff, because I was pretty happy with the amount of stuff in this apartment about halfway through the moving process.
posted by pemberkins at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2014

Ten years ago, I moved in with my boyfriend with just my clothes and minimal stuff. All my stuff at home was packed (sooooo many books, records, tapes, art...) and stored in the garage. After five years away, I moved back to my house with my minimal stuff.

In the past five years since I've been back, I've only gone and retrieved something ONCE. I feel a little guilty for not dealing with all that stuff out in the garage, but it's better than having it in the house! And I can say, "I have VAULTS!"
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2014

I did basically the same thing as HeyAllie, but it took me a good 6-7mo before I finally pulled all but the basics out of storage. It made it really easy to do another big culling of stuff, because I was like, "Hey, didn't miss this for 6 months, don't need to keep it." I also loved it.
posted by ktkt at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2014

Best answer: After it is in the garage for a few months, it won't be fit to bring back into the house. It will be full of bugs and possibly mold and mildew. Better to just start giving stuff away and/or selling it. (I have had stuff in long term storage on at least occasions as a military wife. NEVER. AGAIN.)

I spent three years getting rid of all my stuff until I had next to nothing. And then pared down further. By the time I got a notice of eviction, we had so few possessions, it really wasn't a huge problem to pare down to the point of fitting it all into a couple of backpacks. I never want to go back to the American Nightmare of Affluenza.
posted by Michele in California at 4:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I accidentally did this when I broke up with my ex a few years ago. I moved to a friend's empty room with my bike, a camera, a book, a phone and a bag of clothes. Nothing else. The mattress and sheets were borrowed. Obviously the liberation and horror of the actual breakup may have affected my feelings but I loved it. I'm not sure I'd do it long term, it felt very austere and I'm not a particularly austere person and when I got some of my stuff back it was a good feeling. I did try and take lessons from it though and cut down my level of collecting, which has been very healthy.

So definitely try it, but maybe don't actually get rid of things right away.
posted by deadwax at 4:35 PM on September 24, 2014

I moved across country and pared my belongings significantly in preparation. Then, because I had so much work to do on the new abode, the packed non-essentials stayed packed in the garage for 5 years. I recently unpacked, threw a bunch of stuff away, and repacked it in better containers and they're still in the garage.

I think that your plan to pack away non-essentials is a great one. No need to have every little thing in your living space regardless of whether you want to see it or not. And, if you have the room, packing it away is a fine solution. I recommend clear plastic containers with latching lids. It makes it much easier to find tings if you need to and also keeps pests out.
posted by quince at 4:36 PM on September 24, 2014

I did a version of this when I moved cross-country, and honestly I feel like it's overrated. The reason so many of us have so much stuff is that you need a lot of stuff.

Two years later, I'm STILL running out to Target for this and that item I used to have when I lived in New York, which I thought for sure was just another piece of consumerist garbage society was shoving down my throat. It turns out that, yes, you actually need to own a can opener, a cheese grater, one of those nifty wine vacuum things, enough pairs of shoes, a swiffer, etc etc etc.
posted by Sara C. at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

Also, it's really fun to live with only a few changes of clothes for a few weeks. It is less fun when you find yourself doing an emergency load of laundry at 3 AM because otherwise you'll have nothing to wear to work tomorrow.
posted by Sara C. at 4:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in agreement with sara c. I've done this a few times for life reasons and it's kind of a pain in the ass.

However, I'm all for getting rid of clutter and paring down your stuff. I do this through periodic moving, mostly, but sometimes I'll tackle a small area and jettison a bunch of stuff I don't need or want. I mean, if you stick all this stuff in the garage, you'll still have to deal with it someday. Actually getting rid of stuff makes moving easier, makes it easier to find stuff, and there's more room in your house and less to clean.

For momentos like your mom's wedding dress ribbons, what I've done is gotten a big blank book with a flexible binding and soft cover (so I can stuff it full of semi-bulky stuff) and stuck anything that was vaguely flat in there that had sentimental value or marked a stage of my life. I stick ticket stubs, foreign coins, seashells, notes from friends, pieces of favorite disintegrating clothing, job nametags etc in there. It's nice to flip through, and then I don't have a box of random crap I can't bear to part with.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:02 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a job where I periodically am sent for several months to another location. Usually I bring 2-3 duffels of stuff. I subsist fine and am happy doing it, but am utterly sick of, for example, the four t-shirts I brought at the end of the trip. Also many of my spur of the moment fixes or creative ideas can't be implemented without going to the store because, oh wait, I don't have a needle and thread. Or chopsticks. Or spiced cider mix.

Still, I find it an entertaining thing to do every once in a while.
posted by arnicae at 5:03 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah things that are heirlooms and important to your family might be things you want to preserve, so pack them away carefully , but there is absolutely no reason they need to be on display in your home taking up space and needing cleaning. Put mothballs in with fabric, wrap china in newspaper, put it all in waterproof boxes, and store it away. That's kind of what storage spaces like garages and attics are for. If you have to move again, or otherwise need to pare down your things further, you can think about getting rid of them at that point, but otherwise there's nothing wrong with keeping things in a box long term.
posted by lollusc at 5:05 PM on September 24, 2014

Best answer: Go for it!
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:16 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I basically did this when I quit everything to go travel around the world.

A key element, if I may: if you are going to do this for an extended period (~1yr or more) then it is likely worth your while to find a storage facility that is in the middle of nowhere. The correspondingly lower costs per month can easily make back the increased cost of getting things to the facility in the first place.
posted by aramaic at 5:31 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Bear with me here, this story took twenty years to live:

When I graduated college, I joined the Army. When you're in the Army, you move every couple of years. One of the mantras is "Leave everything in boxes until you need it. After a year, anything still in a box is useless and can be got rid of." I largely hewed to that (except for books and sentimental trinkets and such).

After a decade or so, I left the Army and took a civilian job in a combat zone. I took over what I could fit in a duffel bag. I didn't miss any of the tons of trinkets and books that I'd collected over the years.

By the end of my first year in that job, my spouse and I had come to the realization that our marriage was over, so I returned to the States long enough to pack all of my stuff in a storage locker and then re-up on my contract. I didn't miss any of the stuff in the storage locker.

After my second year, I returned to the States to work for my company at the home office, some 11 hours away from the storage locker. I told myself I'd go get the stuff eventually, and in the meantime got just enough stuff to make my apartment livable. I still didn't miss any of the stuff in the storage locker.

Then I got called up by the Army Reserve and had to go back to Iraq, again for a year, again with a duffel bag worth of stuff. I moved all of the new stuff (really just more books and some furniture) to a different storage locker. I didn't miss any of it.

When I returned, it was to yet another place, this one forming the third point on a more-or-less equilateral triangle about 11 road hours on a side. I know, right? I lived with my new spouse in that place for most of a year before we found a new house and I finally got my storage lockers consolidated and put in the new house.

I got rid of a ton of it, and I don't miss it.

Go ahead and pack up your stuff. In a year, you can get rid of it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also many of my spur of the moment fixes or creative ideas can't be implemented without going to the store because, oh wait, I don't have a needle and thread. Or chopsticks. Or spiced cider mix.

I'm not a very good minimalist at all, but when I've spent a lot of time traveling or had to be off someplace where I'd be responsible for lots of spur of the moment fixes I've brought a small selection of carefully selected useful items. It's really useful to have a small kit like this, and you might think about what would go in one so you aren't tearing through boxes looking for an essential item in a hurry.

Oddly, there just so happens to be a needle and thread, and chopsticks in the current useful items box.

It seems to me there's a difference between the sort of useful items that could be generically useful to anyone (I don't care if I have a different set of disposable chopsticks, as long as they are clean), and sentimental items (the ribbons from the dress can't be replaced with other ribbons, and you can't provide someone who has lost all their family photos with yours as a replacement).

Dealing with stored things will be easier later if you think about what category things go in.
posted by yohko at 5:48 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Right now I'm doing this with my clothes - I've got thirty items in my wardrobe for this month, and everything else is boxed away. It's working out just fine.

Ahead of doing it I was super-worried that I'd have nothing to wear, so I made a list of all the possible outfits I could make with a mix of 30 items. I came up with 218 outfits, and since then I've come up with a few more.

So my advice would be, do it - but do some prep work about which things are going to stay around.
posted by girlgenius at 5:55 PM on September 24, 2014

Best answer: harrietthespy, I would just like to add that I think this question includes some additional or at least different considerations for people who have no children or close next-generation relatives to leave their own or their family things to. Outside of specific bequests, realistically when I die, all my shit is going to end up in a dumpster. In a lot of ways, that feels sad. On the plus side, it is tremendously freeing. I have zero real or imagined obligation to preserve this stuff for anyone, and if it's going to be junked anyway, there is no reason for me not to junk it right now if that's what's easiest / best / most utilitarian / whatever.

If you're the last of your line, there's nobody to bitch, moan or tell on you -- do what you want.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would have advised caution -- but you already weeded your stuff before moving, then packed everything, then unpacked and weeded some more.. You've definitely got good idea of what you have and how much of it you want. I think you're in an ideal position to drastically reduce the amount of stuff you live with. There's nothing wrong, per se, with holding on to sentimental reminders. But if having them near and visible doesn't make you feel good, then you might be better off tossing them or packing them away. Some people would be horrified to hear that your mother's wedding ribbons are in one of 20 boxes in the garage -- if you have some of those people in your life, don't tell them!

Try to avoid the "shoulds" that come into your mind -- either that you should keep more stuff or you should get rid of more stuff. Allow yourself as many "maybes" as you need. You can always revise your standards later on, an many times as you want. In the late 80s right after a move, I read an anti-clutter book by Don Aslett, the Clean Team guy. He said that if you don't want to get rid of something with sentimental value, see if you're willing to just keep a piece of it. Or take a photo. In the many ears since, I've winnowed these souvenirs and now have only a few. I'm glad I didn't force myself to toss everything back then.
posted by wryly at 6:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Several times, I have made major moves and decided to sell or give away essentially all of my things. Once culling down to just a backpack and two milk crates, and two other times culling down to just a carload. It's very satisfying and very refreshing.

Of course, each time, I have ended up with enough stuff to fill my available space within a year or two.

So yes, I definitely recommend it as a reset button. But unless you are also making extreme personality changes as well, don't fool yourself that it will be a permanent change.
posted by 256 at 6:38 PM on September 24, 2014

Kattalus did this. I remember being baffled that he could live without his books or other media at his fingertips. But it worked for him — he's got that Icelandic minimalism going. I have dreams about doing this, but it would require an organizational setup I'm not ready to shoulder.
posted by klangklangston at 7:21 PM on September 24, 2014

Similar to HeyAllie and Etrigan, one of my favorite things about working off-station in Japan for a few months every year or so is owning nothing of my own but clothing, phone, and computer. It's a very free feeling.

It can be more expensive that way, though. Because sometimes you hardly ever need some thing, but when you need it you need it and have to go buy it. Also the concept can spread to food, and eating out every day or single-meal shopping is way more expensive than bulk.
posted by ctmf at 7:25 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did this for over a year, keeping just a few necessities, some artwork and some art supplies behind, with the extra difficulty that my storage space was not 24 hr access; you had to call in advance so they could take down your container.

After about 18 months it was really fun to go through the boxes. There were some things I had totally forgotten about but was so excited to see again and some things couldn't believe I thought I ever needed! Not only did I eventually end up selling or giving away 75% of the stuff I had packed away, I then ended up giving away or selling 75% of the stuff I ended up keeping.

I was especially a bit of a pack-rat when it came to sentimental stuff, so I enlisted my then-BF to play "Keep, Toss, or Photograph for Posterity and Toss." It was hard at first, but ultimately extremely liberating. Extremely.

I see no downside to temporarily putting stuff aside.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:25 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I packed the entire house into the garage when we remodeled. When we pulled everything out a few months later, I realized that so many of my things had come to me via people who were no longer in my life for various reasons, and seeing the items gave me specific (negative) emotional reactions, depending on who it was from and how they departed my life.

I ended getting rid of anything that caused painful feelings. That was very freeing.
posted by vignettist at 8:57 PM on September 24, 2014

FWIW when I felt like this, it was indeed an indication that my depression was getting very bad and I needed medical attention. Not a universal, thought it was a good thing to point out nonetheless.
posted by Acheman at 12:35 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband and I have been in this situation for almost three years now as we are between houses of our own AND I HATE IT SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:05 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seriously, not having access to my 1,000+ volume library makes me feel like I've been lobotomized. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 1:06 AM on September 25, 2014

You say, "we moved a few months ago." Is your living partner OK with this?
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:43 AM on September 25, 2014

It can be more expensive that way, though. Because sometimes you hardly ever need some thing, but when you need it you need it and have to go buy it.

This is the point I was going to make. I've done this a few times -- a couple of times getting rid of everything except two duffle bags for working overseas, other times putting everything in storage and then housesitting or living in a furnished place across the country. Right now I'm working remotely, so while I have a house with all the usual stuff, most of my time is actually spent in a very austere place with almost nothing. It works well for me, but you need to budget for things like someone coming over and realizing that you need to run out and buy a bottle opener Right Now, which is more expensive than finding the cheapest one online and irritating when you know you have one in a box in storage.

But around here you can get a climate controlled storage unit for well under $100 per month, so the cost of giving this a try is almost nothing. Box things up, toss them in storage, and see how you like it; there's no harm and no foul if after a month you pull it all back out of storage and go on with your life.

I did a version of this when I moved cross-country, and honestly I feel like it's overrated. The reason so many of us have so much stuff is that you need a lot of stuff.

Two years later, I'm STILL running out to Target for this and that item I used to have when I lived in New York, which I thought for sure was just another piece of consumerist garbage society was shoving down my throat. It turns out that, yes, you actually need to own a can opener, a cheese grater, one of those nifty wine vacuum things, enough pairs of shoes, a swiffer, etc etc etc.

I agree that it is overrated (especially so now that the consumer commodity supply chain is so efficient and the cost of those basic items is so low), but the reality is that most of those items you list aren't necessities (well, except for the can opener and shoes, of course) and there is a cost to having that convenience as well. Getting rid of everything (or putting it in long term storage) is a great way to reevaluate which things are necessities to you personally and which are not, which may never happen if you just stay in one place and never do that kind of reboot.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:28 AM on September 25, 2014

Best answer: I move a lot and so I periodically cut my possessions down to the minimum. Thoroughly recommend it, and rarely have I ever missed anything.

I do recommend keeping a toolbox of, well, tools and useful odds and ends, and a box (about shoebox size) for the occasional memento or trinket. With those you can be a bit less brutal about cutting things down.

But other than that, yeah. Ditch it all. Do it.
posted by Drexen at 7:23 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone. I appreciate the time you took to tell me your stories and experiences. To address a couple of things:

We live in a very dry climate. Mold and mildew are not an issue.
If I do this I plan to put away only "my" things, not hubby's. He and I inhabit different floors of the same house much of the time.
I don't plan to address the kitchen and other common area things right now.

I think I'm going to take a swing at this.
posted by harrietthespy at 7:28 AM on September 25, 2014

It sounds like you are talking about packing away stuff you rarely or never use but don't feel ready to part with. That's a great idea, I think. I'd recommend clear storage containers and labels. That way if you do find you need access to something it won't be a burden to locate.
posted by JenMarie at 9:29 AM on September 25, 2014

Response by poster: JenMarie: yes - that is the idea. I have gotten rid of a lot of things I never thought I could part with and I have no regrets. I am ready to test the next level of things now.

Thanks again everyone.
posted by harrietthespy at 9:57 AM on September 25, 2014

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