After we tell people that we sold or donated most of our belongings to travel the U.S., they want to know how we take care of our bills, manage our mail, and decided what items to downsize. We had several areas of simplification to tackle before becoming mobile, including:
Automation of Bills & Accounts
We set up paperless statements for our bank accounts and made sure we could use online banking to pay our bills. Any physical statements or notices that we received through the mail, including bank statements, tax bills, or utilities were changed to online accounts or email notifications. Plain and simple and not too time consuming.
We were fortunate to have family members who managed our mail initially. They often texted pictures of any bills or correspondence that came through so we could take care of issues or payments with little hassle.
Now we have switched to a service that many full-time travelers use, called The Traveling Mailbox, that gives you a physical address and manages your mail for you for a monthly fee. The service will scan envelopes, open your mail, and even deposit checks. They can even hold your mail unopened, until you direct them where and how often you’d like your mail forwarded to a specified address.
Ugh, paperwork. We scanned a digital copy of everything we needed to keep a copy of, in addition to the important documents, such as tax returns and house deeds. We also scanned birthday cards, kids artwork, report cards, memorablia that we wanted to save, but of which we didn’t necessarily need a physical copy. Most importantly, we bought a couple external hard drives and backed up everything and then stored in a fire proof safe. We shredded or burned several boxes full of unneeded paperwork.
I scanned hundreds of photos, kept one original print of desired photos and tossed duplicates. Again, we backed up all of our photos onto a separate backup drive and stored in a fire safe box. Of the items we stored, a majority were boxes containing photos and photo albums.
CD & DVD Collection
Everything is moving online, so our CD & DVD collection was just taking up unnecessary space. We spent months moving our music onto our PC. Any old movies or CD’s worth keeping, we chucked the case, and filed into leather, zippered pouches. This saved room and was easily transported.
Everything Else (Stuff)
We had to make hard decisions about what to keep.
Furniture – We decided that when we are back in a “sticks and bricks” home, it will be time for new furniture. If we spend $1200 a year in a storage unit for say, 3 years, we have spent $3600 to keep our furniture, if it survived storage, plus the cost to move it to our home. Not worth it, in our opinion, so we sold, gave away, and donated most of our furniture. We saved a few dressers and a file cabinet.
Memorabilia – We had so many trinkets and items that were associated with past events, and came to realize that it was the image of those items that evoked the memory, not the physical item itself. Using this philosophy, we photographed tons of those trinkets and stored the pictures in a special folder on our computer. This way we didn’t need to keep ALL the physical items.
Ebay – I had previous experience with selling items on Ebay, so that is where I listed kids clothes, and more valuable items and collections. I had so many things listed that it made sense to open an Ebay store. This was VERY time consuming, so we made a rule of thumb after a few months to only list items that we would make at least $20 profit on, otherwise, it wasn’t worth the time. In the end, I listed over 300 items, and sold around 200 of those items on Ebay.
Craigslist – Big items and furniture were listed on Craigslist. We only kept the items in our unattached garage and I never allowed people in my home, or to pick up items unless my husband was also home. We sold about 30+ large items this way.
Garage Sales – We had several garage sales, freeing up around 25 boxes and containers, and two entire shelving units in the garage. It worked well to combine with other family members to attract bigger crowds.
Donations – We gave away items to family members and friends whenever possible, and donated the rest. There are lots of organizations that will come right to your doorstep and collect your donations. These can be scheduled online. Or, a quick drive to Goodwill was very common practice for us. The quicker it was out of my sight, the better I felt. We figured that we donated a total of about 70 bags of clothing, household items, toys, and more.
We have stored our remaining possessions in about 15X10 section of a family member’s attic.
The effect that this process had on our lives was very surprising. We thought we would feel deprived and that we would miss our things. But, the opposite was true. We have realized that we really can survive on less, and be just as happy as before.