A Spy’s Guide to Downsizing

Greetings Everyday Spy,

**Spoiler alert** Downsizing is difficult! It’s emotional, time-consuming, frustrating, and more than a little humbling. But all the challenge and discomfort is a small price to pay for the freedom at the other end.

There are different kinds of hard. They range from frustrating-Sunday-sodoku hard to infiltrating-Bolivian-drug-lord-compound hard. For our family, downsizing landed east of climb-a-palm-tree difficult but not as hard as self-performed-root-canal.

For anyone out there wondering how a pair of former spies handle this emotionally challenging task, here was our strategy and a summary of the results!

Step 1: Set the Threshold

You can’t trust emotions, so we set a measurable threshold as a start. Our home is roughly 1800 square feet of floor space. Our 2017 Winnebago is about 150 square feet of floor space. Based on raw volume, our rig is about 7% of our home. Since we need to live, love, and work in the motorhome, we obviously can’t fill 100% of the open space. So we ‘guess’-timated 500 cubic ft (30% of available space in the rig) would be the limit of ‘stuff’ we can take with us.

We picked a small room in our home, measured what 500 cubic ft would look like, and started filling it up!

Step 2: Titanium and Floss

It didn’t take long before we realized we would need to let a whole lot of stuff go. Between the two of us we had 76 years of life, 17 years of education, 3 careers, and 2 childrens’ worth of stuff. And like all people, we were attached to our stuff. The solution? Prioritize!

We are all attached to the things we have carried along for this long in our lives. But not all attachments are equal. Some attachments are as unbreakable as titanium chains. Others are as flimsy as cheap floss.

At first we tried running everything through the question, “Does this bring me joy?” But the results were unexpectedly disastrous! Turns out, most of what we had actually brought us feelings of guilt, obligation or embarrassment – very little really brought ‘joy’.

For example, we inherited all the medals and awards our parents saved from our respective childhoods. No joy here for us – but what were we supposed to do to show respect for all the work, thoughtfulness and pride our parents put away in these aging boxes labeled by year? And what about the sizable library of books we had read and collected on our journeys? Spanning 5 continents and 4 languages, most of our books couldn’t be reproduced via Kindle or iBooks. Not really joy here either, but history…responsibility…pride.

By prioritizing we were able to work our way through everything and honor legacy pieces while parting ways with the paper weights. If anyone saw the carnage of what got left behind, there would be anger and sadness for sure. Sorry Mom, Dad, and all our wonderful language tutors!

Step 3: Less Cost, More Life

The last big hurdle for downsizing was getting rid of everything that didn’t fit and didn’t carry a significant emotional bond. We were smart enough to follow rule #1 about moving – never do it in a rush. But we still had a timeline to keep! So we opted to sell-sell-sell as much as we could and donate the rest.

For anyone who has ever hosted a yard sale or tried to use an online selling platform (Craigslist, Facebook, OfferUp, etc), you already know the countless offers we got that were robots, ridiculous, or just plain rude. But that is part of the dance, so we had to follow the steps. That said, we knew we were in control and that every item someone paid for and carried away was one less thing we had to find a home for later on. After all, most of what was going out the door had little/no personal value – just ‘fair market’ value. And when you start seeing the freedom of downsizing, you start seeing that the things you let go can have a new life somewhere else. But it took someone wiser than us to teach us that perspective…

A story: Amid all the downsizing, I needed one very specific thing – a roof-mounted bike rack that was compatible with my existing (old) roof rack. To buy the parts new would have cost me about $300. When you are in minimizing mode, buying expensive new things just seems stupid.

So my wife suggested I check Craigslist. Low and behold, for $40 on the first page I found exactly the bike rack I needed. Only one seller, one option, great condition. When I met the seller to pick up the racks he said, “I don’t care about the cost, I just want these racks to have more life!” I thought his sentiment was brilliant and it went on to shape our attitude as we sold the rest of our household.

The conclusion!

We did it – we whittled our family of 4 down to 10 changes of clothes each, 2 pairs of shoes each, a compact kitchen and a handful of other bare essentials. The total earnings we made ridding ourselves of all the junk? $9,000. Crazy right?

And the most amazing thing is that we don’t miss any of it! In reality, we really only regularly use a few things in our daily lives. The rest sits around for use once or twice a year at most, bringing us neither pleasure or pain. Maybe I will feel the pain down the road, when that one time comes that I really need my collapsible, Mexico-themed nylon hammock…but luckily that day is not today. Fingers crossed it’s not tomorrow either.

Author: Andrew Bustamante, Founder of www.EverydaySpy.com. Andrew is a former covert CIA Intelligence officer, decorated US Air Force Combat Veteran, and respected Fortune 500 senior advisor. Learn more from Andrew on his Podcast (The Everyday Espionage Podcast) and by following @EverydaySpy on your favorite social media platform.

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