Before buying the house we sold in May of last year, I never had much stuff.
I wish I could tell you that something more virtuous like minimalism or pragmatism was at the heart of it.
The truth is, I left home as an economically dysfunctional 17-year-old. A job at Jack-in-the-Box was a career high for many years. It was nearly two decades before I could spend like a “normal” American.
And then, I had a lot of catching up to do.
By the time we decided to downsize to less than 500 square feet, I’d amassed some 2200+ square feet of stuff.
It’s all on me
You’ll notice a lot of ‘I’ in the preceding paragraphs. There are a couple of reasons for that.
Before Brian and I got married and he and the two youngest moved in, he purged their three-bedroom apartment and brought almost nothing.
Unlike me, Brian wasn’t attached to anything. If it didn’t have utility in the moment, it was gone. At home, anyway. Fred Sanford would’ve been comfortable in Brian’s shop.
Between me starting off adult life with next to nothing, then working to accumulate nice things, and also keeping things just in case, minus Brian purging before moving in, our “stuff” level balanced out to average.
Still, we’re talking a lifetime of stuff.
Since Brian was busy both running the shop singlehandedly and at the same time working to liquidate it so we could take off, downsizing the house fell to me.
I wanted to cut myself
Some people struggle to let go of things they’re emotionally attached to, even if they have no real utility. That wasn’t quite the problem with me.
What pushed me toward the brink was the combination of…
…needing to make money off the stuff…
…a tendency to start the selling process by meticulously researching and photographing the item…
…the fact that I’d worked hard to get to the point I could even afford the thing I was trying to sell…
…the emotional exhaustion of haggling with buyers…
…and the complete time suck of even the “easiest” methods of selling.
Ya. That’s it.
I tried Craigslist, eBay, OfferUp, a yard sale, Facebook Marketplace, and two or three other social selling apps whose names I’ve forgotten because I deleted those soul-sucking S.O.B.s from my phone.
I don’t f*ing care what other downsizers do
When the topic of being overwhelmed by the task of downsizing comes up in online RVing groups, there are always one or two people who dismissively say “We donated everything.”
Ah. Well. Good for you. Let me crawl back in my money-grubbing hole over here.
I would have loved to donate all our stuff. The fact was, we needed to shore up our bank account before heading into very uncertain territory, financially speaking.
Then there are others in RVing groups who I suppose have more time and patience than I do.
“I just have a yard sale every weekend,” they say.
I had one yard sale. The only reason it didn’t make me a complete crazypants was because I got in quality time with my oldest while we were trapped in her driveway begging people to take our crap and pay us for the privilege.
I was frustrated, impatient, overwhelmed and trying to run a business. One that did not involve selling personal and household items to strangers for the equivalent of 10¢/hour.
Then, the universe intervened
One day my friend JB threw open the gates on his Facebook timeline, asking friends to share what they did for a living and plug their business if they liked.
A woman named Kelly, who’d just started an estate sale company, posted a comment about it on the thread JB started. I can’t recall or find the exact conversation, but my reply to her comment was along the lines of wishing her service was an option for us.
Kelly said she’d be happy to take a look at our stuff and let us know if an estate sale was worth doing.
Wow. I’d never heard of anyone who wasn’t rich or dead having an estate sale.
But I didn’t want to waste her time.
But…I was desperate.
I hoped that, being new, Kelly was also desperate. I figured she’d kind of have to be if she was going to work with us.
We had no expensive jewelry.
No high-dollar antiques.
Lots of inexpensive kitsch.
The one thing we might’ve had to offer – furniture – was the only thing I’d had success selling (albeit with a shit-ton of haggling).
I confessed this all. She came out and had a look anyway.
Bless her heart.
While Kelly had only recently started the estate sale business, buying at these sales had been a lifelong hobby. Woman knew what she was doing. Still, she was trying to build a new business and that meant she was more likely to take a low-net job like ours.
Once she’d looked over what we had, she said “If you’re okay with netting somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000, we can do a sale. But please don’t sell anything else from the house.”
I didn’t expect to make bank, but netting $3K and getting a pro to take the entire job off my hands? And don’t sell anything else on my own?
Pshyeah – sign me up.
How it worked
Since working with Kelly is my only experience with estate sales, I don’t know what’s standard procedure vs. just Kelly being awesome. So I’ll just tell you how our sale went.
About a week or so beforehand, Kelly and her team began coming to the house to sort through, research, price and arrange items. She asked that, before this time, we clear out anything that wasn’t to go into the sale.
There was still plenty to do, but with someone else bearing the brunt of it I didn’t feel so overwhelmed. Kelly’s team handled everything.
They sorted through all our stuff. If something was truly junk that wouldn’t have netted a sale, they chucked it. They were indefatigable, and assured me they’d worked through places with far more stuff than ours.
Kelly was well versed in selling most everything she ran into in our house – even some of the firearm-related stuff. She brought her laptop, researched current selling prices and tagged every damn thing in the house.
Some of the prices made us blink. “No one’s going to pay that.”
But if they wanted that item on the first day of the sale, they would indeed pay those prices. There were no “deals” to be had until the second and final day of the sale.
Kelly advertised any items she felt would benefit from a wider audience. Where she posted the item depended on what it was. She wouldn’t do pre-sales – everybody had to show up at the sale.
I was shocked when she sent us a photo of people lined up outside our front door the morning the sale was set to begin. I’m telling you – we didn’t have much that was all that special.
My aunt was at the sale and saw buyers snatching stuff away from one another!
Going into the sale we expected $3K. We did better than that the first day.
We knew we wouldn’t make that much the second (and final) day, because that was “deal day.” But since we were well over what we thought we’d net we felt like anything more would be gravy.
When we arrived at the house after the sale, Kelly met us in the front yard.
“There’s a lot of stuff left,” she warned us.
I must’ve looked worried. She quickly added, “We did really well yesterday.”
She asked how much we thought we made. I said $9K total. I think Brian took a guess, too.
$11,000, she said.
When I walked inside and saw all the stuff that was left, I was OK with letting it go. But if at all possible I wanted it to go to people I knew would appreciate it.
So I began furiously posting items to Facebook.
“Come nooowwwww! There is no tomorrow!”
My friend Lisa – a godmother of sorts to our late hound Laurie – came by and in a flash everything Greyhound related was on its way to a good home.
My aunt got a few things she’d restrained herself from taking home the day prior.
My friend Angela took home some things that meant something to us both.
Weeks before the sale, we’d asked all the kids to plan on helping us clear out the house afterward. We know they’re busy so we seldom ask for favors. When we do, they’re there for us.
Even when we don’t reward them with margaritas and Mexican food 🙂
The kids worked their asses off. And, they took whatever they needed or wanted, which made us happy.
We all laughed over some things no one wanted, things they couldn’t believe I’d kept, and how dirty their neatnik mom had let the house get on the way to RV life.
Even after all the stuff friends and family claimed, we still filled up a small dumpster with junkier things – and took seven carloads of good stuff to Goodwill.
We donated or gifted a ton of stuff and shored up our bank account – all because I quit trying to DIY and called in a pro.
If I could turn back time
I wish I’d realized from the start that working with someone like Kelly was an option. Downsizing would have been far less stressful a proposition. I’m sure we would have made a lot more money.
Downsizers who see weekly yard sales and Facebook Marketplace as attractive options would cringe at the 35% we paid Kelly and her team. However, based on what I sold before hiring Kelly, I’m positive that working with her netted us far more – even after paying her share.
We could’ve made more. I could’ve stressed less.
I’ll never get back the time or money I wasted. But if I can save someone else’s sanity I’ll just take the karma and call it good.
We’ve moved on from our big old house and all its stuff. Physically and mentally. But the help we got downsizing isn’t something I’ll soon forget. Eight months later, I’m still glad it’s all gone. And still grateful to Kelly and her team at A Honey Hole Estate Sales.
If she makes a million dollars this year she’ll have earned every penny.
The second half of our downsizing saga – how we quickly sold our house without a single real estate agent or buyer traipsing through it – is now live.