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How We Downsized, Sold And Got Rid Of Our Stuff Before We Moved To France For A Year 

Get The Inside Scoop, Personal Anecdotes, Travel Tips And Life With A French Twist.

Author: Annie André.


How to downsize your stuff before you move to france for a year

Unless you have no belongings whatsoever, you’re going to have to decide what to do with all your stuff. Do you sell it all and give the rest away? Do you get rid of  some stuff and keep the rest in storage? Do you keep it all and rent your home fully furnished?  Whatever you decide, you’re in for a painful experience because there is no “one size fits all” answer. You will have to decide based on your circumstances and situation. Sometimes it helps to know what someone else went through and learn from their successes and failures. Here is an inside look at how we downsized our belongings and life. I hope it helps and gives you a little perspective.

You have more stuff than you think

We were your typical silicon valley family of five living in a house with a lifetime worth of possessions that we had accumulated. Every inch of our 1,800 sq ft home AND our two car garage was filled with our things.

A funny thing happens when you move. Things that seemed necessary before now seem silly or unnecessary like those knick-knacks sitting on your bookshelf. That dress you never wore. Those toys you bought for your kids but they never played with.

You will ultimately come to the realization that you have a lot more things than you ever really needed.

Give yourself enough time

QUICK! You have 5 days left to pack when you realize the truck you rented won’t fit all your belongings. What do you do?

Packing started a month before our move date. When our things were spread out throughout the house it didn’t look like much.  Even boxed up it didn’t look like that much. Oh how wrong we were. We quickly began to panic because it became clear that we grossly underestimated how much we had.

  • we did not give ourselves enough time to pack.
  • We didn’t realize until the very end that the truck we rented was too small even though it was the largest one we could legally rent.

After 5 trips to the dump and several trips to Goodwill to get rid of broken bikes, a small dining room table, an old safe, bike racks, tons of toys, books, clothes and more.  Things we had in our house for years but never bothered to get rid of were now just weighing us down. Even after all that, we still had to rent a second 16 footer to put in the last minute stuff.

Let me tell you something: you have more stuff than you think and you don’t need it all.

Really! Do you need that dress that’s been hanging in your closet for 3 years untouched? Do you need those books you read 10 years ago and haven’t touched in years?  What about all those kitchen gadgets that you use once a year or the shoes you never wear anymore?  These things, although very important at one time, seem less important when you are trying to pack them into boxes on a truck and have 5 days left to do it.

The 3,000 mile drive to our storage unit

After we filled up our two trucks, my husband Blake drove one truck and his brother Keith, who thankfully flew down 3 days earlier to help with the packing, drove the other truck. Our eldest son Kieran went along for the ride. They drove 8 to 10 hours a day for five days only stopping to eat, sleep and use the restroom.  They arrived at the storage unit just outside of Boston and discovered the storage unit we had reserved was too small so we had to rent a second one.

UGH…  How did this happen? 

We greatly underestimated the quantity of things we owned and now we were paying with time and the cost of an extra storage unit and extra truck.

We swallowed our pride, and convinced ourselves that it was temporary. We needed all that stuff for our next house, wherever and whenever that would be.

At the time we did not know we were going to live in France for a couple of years. We planned on hanging out in Montreal with my family while we waited for Blake to find a job then rent a house near his work. Well the job never came.

We survived 11 months in Montreal at my aunts house with only our clothes and a few essentials. I was surprised that I did not miss our stuff. How could this be?

what do you get rid of when you downsize? tiara we bought in Scotland. do we keep it or get rid of it?
Some things are harder to let go of than other things

Rethinking what is essential and normal

When you are away from your possessions for any amount of time, they tend to become less and less important.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a minimalist in any way, but I really took a hard look at my life.  Blake and I re-examined our goals and we started coming up with alternative ideas to the 9 to 5 rat race we were once a part of.  We couldn’t live at my aunts house forever.  Our choices were to move somewhere and hope we get a job there?  Or stick it out by living with family until something happens.

That’s when we thought about taking a sabbatical for a few months, maybe even a year in France.  We were already living pretty lean, why not do it someplace that we want to be and enjoy ourselves instead of stressing out over not having full time jobs. It meant giving up some things and putting off our job search.  It meant thinking more mobile, cutting costs, and only keeping the essentials.   The choice was easy.  We decided to go for it.

Round 2 of Downsizing for France.

If we were going to live in France for a year we had to pare down our belongings even more and fit everything into one storage unit.

We drove about 5 hours  (from Montreal to Boston)  to our storage unit and stayed at a comfort in for 2 days. Re-packed some boxes that were inefficiently packed, took all our clothes out of storage and got rid of at least 200 hundred pounds of books.  We were left with  2 dressers and 3 beds. Some Persian rugs, kitchen stuff like dishes, pots and pans, and some coffee tables and furniture from Blake’s Mom that we kept for sentimental reasons.  We sold our couch, one of my industrial sewing machines and went through our shoes and clothes to get rid of anything we wouldn’t wear anymore.

We did it. We fit everything into one storage unit saving a couple hundred dollars per month.

The whole family got involved with the move
The whole family got involved with the move

Fear is in your head

I am not going to lie. I was scared at the thought of downsizing and yes it was very painful but the pain stops once you’re done.It’s actually been really nice to have the freedom to come and go as we please.

Once your downsized, you can move on to the fun stuff like planning your long trip to France or wherever it is you want to go.  Your belongings are no longer anchoring you down anymore.

we wore mittens too and sang the blues
we wore mittens and sang the blues
Catherine was excited
Catherine was excited

Update: 2014

I wrote this article 1 year after our move. Now after almost four years without our belongings I can still look back and honestly say I don’t miss MOST of our stuff but.

Yes there is a but there. One year without your belongings is not the same thing as four years without your belongings.

I am now starting to miss certain creature comforts. Silly things like my dishware and my teak furniture. We could buy those things while we are here in France but we don’t because we want to avoid that whole downsizing process when we return to North America. Instead we rent fully furnished homes which has worked out pretty well so far except like I said, I am starting to miss certain things.

I’ll get over it. Life isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn good!

We ate and drank while we filled our storage unit
We ate and drank while we filled our storage unit
  1. Hi Annie,
    I’m so happy to have found your blog! We are in the process of moving our family of 5 to Southern France. We are just in the beginning stages. My husband and I are flying to Nice in March to look for a town and home to live-just to look because we still don’t have our long stay visas yet (working on that now). He and I lived in Taiwan in 1995 so we have lived abroad before but not with children. So this is a huge change for us (like everyone else). We are SO excited for this adventure!!

    1. You have am exiting adventure ahead of you.
      The kids are definitely going to change the dynamics.
      We found that it was easier to do work younger children. The older ones going through their teens are harder. Already for us.

  2. Annie – In early 2011, my husband and I sold everything but our clothes (after a thorough editing), our computers, and our cat.
    We had a storage unit the size of a double car garage filled to the BRIM with stuff which we sold. I’ll admit I was really sad to see my stuff go, but that sadness only lasted a couple of hours. Once we were rid of everything, I never thought about any of it again.
    Downsizing is something almost all of will have to do at one point or another in our lives, so I applaud you for doing it so early in your life and for teaching your children by example how to live well with less.
    Well done!
    Keep up the great work!
    KateH.

    1. Kate,
      To say that i understand how you feel would be redundant. Only someone who has actually gone through the process could understand the relief of getting rid of necessary clutter and baggage, as you probably already know. Like you, i also miss some of the creature comforts of my old life but what makes it better is to fill it with other things like life experiences. God that sounds so cheesy doesn’t it? Anyways, Congrats to you as well for downsizing and fitting your things in a small storage unit. Looking forward to following up with you on your own website. I’m always looking for ideas to optimize my life.

  3. Dear Annie,

    So glad I found your article. We are in the process of selling our big home and moving our family of 4 to a smaller home so we don’t have to work so hard and can enjoy more family time. It is a little scary but exciting at the same time. We are in the process of donating and trashing things we don’t need and planning our new future. This also includes the possability of being a stay at home or work from home mom which I think would be great for our family. We haven’t communicated our plan to family and friends yet. No idea how they will react and I really don’t want to defend our decision. Any ideas?

    1. Hello Tracey,

      I’m glad you found this article too. I think you are making the right decision. What could be more important than to spend more time with your family.

      Years down the road, you will have created fond memories. You won’t remember everylittle thing you bought years from now.

      good luck telling your family. And be prepared, you may get some negative feedback but stay strong. You have to do what is right for you and your family. it’s only natural for others to not completely understand you and your decisions because it’s going to be different than what they might do.

      Can you tell i’m speaking from experience. I would love to know how the moving process is going and your families reaction…

  4. You are right, I really feel that this is the right path. It took a while for me to let go of my fear but ever since that dropped off me it all started to get better and better. We still don’t live in a fancy home, we drive a used family van, etc. But we have something that i notice a lot of people are jealous about – freedom.

    Just today I spend the morning hours working on some projects but had a great time with the family outdoors in the afternoon. Weather was perfect and I decided to reschedule my work and take care of it in the evening.

    Did you face a lot of those nay sayers yourself? What were their concerns and how did you react?

    We researched homeschooling already. There are a few options but none are ideal at the moment. But we will look into this more very soon. The plan is to free ourselves even more and explore the world as a family.

    Thanks for connecting! I appreciate your thoughts and input.

    – Philipp

  5. Dear Annie,

    I fear I’ll have to spend days reading your articles one by one. This one is the first I read and it really resonates with me. Judging from this post and your about page we are in a similar situation than you are / were in.

    We’ll have 5 kids soon and I already shifted from working at an office to working for myself from our home. This was a big change for us and we love it that way.

    Throwing out and passing on all the stuff we don’t need anymore and that we haven’t used in a long time is one of the next things on our schedule. I believe it will be as liberating as it was for you.

    With a job I can go after from wherever I want and less stuff holding us back we can almost start more nomadic adventures ourselves. There is just one thing I have not figured out so far: How did you handle schooling of your 3 kids? Home-Schooling is possible but uncommon over here (in Austria) but having them attend school and only travel during the holidays is not the lifestyle we image.

    I’d appreciate your input on that. Perhaps you even have an article on your experiences that you can point me to.

    Thanks!

    1. Phillip,
      YAY thanks for stopping by.

      Sounds like you and your wife have got your hands full and with five kids i’m sure you were and are just like us. Loads of responsability, with very little time. It makes you reflect and really think about what it is in life you want doesn’t it.

      It sounds like you are on the right path. And downsizing to lead a more nomadic life isn’t for everyone. You have to be ready for it and want it which it sounds like you are. It’s just way harder to travel with kids as you know. but not impossible.
      Be ready for the nay Sayers, negative people, friends maybe even family who are following a more conventional and traditional lifestyle. don’t let them get you down or doubt your decisions.

      Keep communicating with other like minded people like we are doing right now. It helps to life any self doubt that tends to creep in from day to day.

      As far as educating well, we homeschooled and just figured it out. I am in the process of writing something about how we handled all the logistics.
      If you don’t want to be tied down to a school year and travel only on hollidays than homeschooling will have to be the way to go.
      There are correspondence classes the kids can take. There are online homeschooling courses too. We chose not do online courses and teach the kids ourselves. W

      We focused on Reading, Writing and math. We put an emphasis on learning a second language too.

      We study one subject at a time intensely. It was easier to do 2 months of math at a time vs 4 subjects a day.

      I would be more than happy to talk to you further. Just shoot me an email and ask me anything.
      Ultimately it’s going to involve some research on your part. Homeschooling is REALLY REALLY hard at first. But it does get a teeny weeny bit easier.

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