To Keep or Not to Keep: Downsizing and long-term storage

Long term storage
Long term storage

Here’s a question you probably haven’t considered before:

When does it make sense to put a $10 item in long-term storage?

Wait. Don’t answer yet.

First, let’s talk a little about downsizing and long-term storage costs.

The Christmas tree skirt

Getting rid of your useless stuff is one of those things that sounds easy on the surface…and then you start.

All of a sudden, questions that have never come close to being important enough to consider before become massive, gut-wrenching, existential dilemmas.

Do you know how much total time I’ve spent deliberating over where to store our Christmas tree skirt in previous years? It’s probably in the 0 to 10 nanoseconds range. This year though, I’m already approaching a good solid hour.

Why? Analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis goes by many different names; in our house we often call it ‘over-optimization’. It goes like this:

Presented with a handful of mediocre options and no clear perfect solution, you expend massive amounts of brainpower to determine which solution is the best from the list of imperfect options. The process is mentally draining and inefficient; you’re spending more time and effort figuring out the best solution than actually having that best solution is worth.

“Perfect is the enemy of good”

The average Class C motorhome has roughly 225 sq. ft. of space, or around a tenth of the room available in a typical new suburban home. There are literally thousands of things a suburban family of four needs to detach themselves from to be able to fit into something that size. Subjectively evaluating the merits of all available options for each item is not feasible. Based on experience, I can tell you what happens is a vicious downward spiral that ends in analysis paralysis.

Here’s how it happens when you’re downsizing:

Stage 1

For the first few items, regardless of their actual importance, you give a good thoughtful analysis to the pros and cons of trashing, donating, selling, or storing each item.

Stage 2

Eventually, as your energy and motivation for thoughtful analysis wanes, you decide it’s safest just to be conservative and store more than you think you might want.

Stage 3

After looking up the cost of storage space and considering the hassle of boxing – and eventually unboxing – things like dismembered Barbies and old magazines, the pendulum swings to the other side: Now you’re getting rid of everything.

Stage 4

Soon, you find yourself standing over the trash can with your first-born’s baby blanket and a handful of priceless family heirlooms, and realize this may not be the right approach either. The next solution is to defer the decision until you have more time/energy/alcohol in your system.

Stage 5

You decide your time would be better spent writing a blog post about the existential dilemmas of downsizing. Analysis paralysis has been achieved.

Storage Nirvana

It’s possible that after your own personal passage through this crucible you’ll emerge, as I have, enlightened. Enlightened, that is, to the realization that there is no perfect answer, only guiding principles – the 4 Noble Truths of Downsizing. I’ll be saying more about those, and a simple spreadsheet that will help you continue along your actual and metaphorical journey, in an upcoming post. Until then, just keep procrastinating.