When people ask what was the hardest, most challenging part of our year-long family trip, I answer without hesitation – preparing to travel and leaving home. A big part of this was the challenge of decluttering our home.
The months preceding our departure were an emotional rollercoaster full of doubts and anxiety about our decision to travel but were also filled with a never-ending ‘to do’ list – late night frantic attempts at trip planning, packing, endless vaccinations, paperwork, deadlines at work – the list was endless!
In addition, we decided to rent our house. Moving house three times in thirteen years with three young children meant we had accumulated a lot of ‘stuff’, items that parents of young children rarely get time to sort! A drastic downsize was essential in order to minimise storage costs and to rent our home.
Tips for decluttering your home
Start sorting and decluttering your home very early on in your trip preparations. It will always take longer then you think to sort through years of accumulated belongings.
We had countless late nights sorting clothes, books, toys and furniture but on departure day we were still shoving things into our loft five minutes before the taxi arrived to take us to the train station.
Before you start decluttering, walk around your home and mentally divide your possessions. Things to store, things to keep out until the last minute, things to sell/donate. You need to do this early on as it will help you to estimate how much you will be storing so you can get accurate quotes for storage space.
Be prepared and get organised before starting your clearance.
Buy plastic and cardboard storage boxes before you begin sorting your belongings; this avoids creating piles of items that inevitably get mixed up again. Don’t forget to have one box CLEARLY labelled as items you may want to bring on your trip or you may end up buying things you already have which are packed.
Label the boxes on multiple sides with numbers, then create a spreadsheet so you can record what items are in each numbered box. In addition, label the outside of each box with its contents. Labelling involves considerable work but is worth it when you are looking for one mispacked item in a sea of boxes.
Make sure you label the boxes on multiple sides to avoid numbers being hidden during stacking. Furthermore, if you are storing boxes in different locations, make sure you note on the spreadsheet where the boxes are going. We did not do this consistently and had no idea where some of our belongings ended up!
Once you have an idea of how much space you need you can investigate storage options. Look in your local area, online or ask for recommendations for long-term storage. How much does it cost? Can you get a discount for long-term use? Does the quote include the company collecting/dropping off your items or will you need to factor in truck hire into your quote?
Don’t be afraid to look further afield for your storage. Due to increased competition, we found storage facilities in large cities were a much cheaper option than in nearby local small towns.
And if storage costs are very high, look again at your belongings. Is it worth paying to store an item that might be cheaper to buy when you return?
Storage options for long term travel
Ask family and friends is anyone has a storage unit with space or is considering getting storage – perhaps you could share costs?
Ask if anyone would be willing to rent their garage/shed/attic space. You will need to check with your home insurance company (or theirs) to make sure your items will be covered.
Is anyone willing to take store some of your belongings for free? Could divide your belongings between a number of people? This is where an organised spreadsheet comes in handy!
We left labelled, numbered boxes with various family members including our registered off-road car! Just make sure you don’t leave anything in a far-flung location that you may need immediately when you return!
If you are renting your home, could you put your possessions into the loft space or fill one room, lock it and charge less rent as a result? You need to check if this option is acceptable to your home insurance and remember to get confirmation in writing.
This was a great option for us as it meant we could stay in our home until the last day with essential items such as kitchenware, mattresses and clothes easily to hand. After a huge clearout, we squeezed most of our leftover possessions into our spare room which was full to the ceiling. We put a lock on the door and left a key in safe hands. As a result of this, we dropped the rental price on our home. However, the rent decrease was much less than the cheapest monthly storage quote we had, so we saved money in the long run.
Be ruthless with your possessions. Photos and mementos are obvious additions to the ‘keep’ pile but what about your bed or sofa? Can furniture be flat packed or is it going to take up valuable and expensive storage space? And if it costs more to store an item for one year than it would be to buy a replacement on return, consider selling it.
As most of our furniture was second hand and easily replaceable we decided to sell nearly everything rather than pay to store it. This money was then ring fenced in our finances to pay for replacements on our return. When we got home, we slept on mattresses and blow up beds for six weeks but we saved a lot of money in storage costs! One off, irreplaceable furniture or last minute ‘must haves’ (the TV!) went into our locked spare room.
Even if you do not have many belongings and are able to store everything in someone’s loft, make sure you create a detailed inventory.
On my very first backpacking trip after University, my belongings fitted into just a few boxes which I stored in my parents’ loft. Unfortunately, whilst I was away they had a huge house fire and I lost everything. I was unable to fully claim for everything as I could not remember the title of every book, CD etc.
Declutter your home and make some money!
When you have decided which items you are keeping and which items are going, start getting rid of them. There are lots of selling options available that each have their pros and cons but in utilising every option you will soon have an empty house.
eBay reaches a huge audience and relisting is quick. It is ideal for smaller items or bundles that can be posted cheaply and easily. But you will have to pay selling fees, face restricted timescales and will use up valuable time preparing and sending parcels as well as preparing the orginal selling posts. We found that clothes and toys sold well on eBay. We also had some luck with larger, collection only items. as payment is at purchase, we were not let down by buyers.
Facebook sites have no selling fees, no postage costs, a wide local audience and is good for selling larger items or bundles as it is collection or delivery only. But as no money changes hands in advance, buyers can let you down. Facebook sites proved successful for selling furniture, bikes and toys but we wasted time with several no show buyers. Offer delivery to increase your audience.
Gumtree has a local or national audience and is useful for larger, heavier items. Again, with no advance financial transaction, there is a risk of no shows or people changing their mind during viewings. We found Gumtree good for selling large pieces of furniture, especially if we offered delivery when possible.
Car Boot Sales are useful for small, less expensive items and bundles – no one goes to a car boot sale to buy a sofa! Be prepared for aggressive haggling!!! Try to find a car boot sale that allows you to drive off site when you want to leave otherwise you could end up being stuck in one place for the whole day. Car boot sales were good for selling books, tools, soft furnishings and ornaments. We also advertised larger items on flyers. Avoid the temptation to browse other stalls or you may spend more than you make!
Yard Sales are easy to set up as you just put everything you want to sell outside. Advertise through flyers in the local area or on facebook. Yard sales use up valuable time and success is dependant on location and weather. We did two yard sales and though we didn’t get the same foot traffic as a car boot sale, it took up a lot less time! Useful for selling bikes, toys and books.
Create a dedicated selling site. I set up a Facebook page, advertised it, invited people to join who then invited others. I offered viewings, collection and delivery. This was very successful selling both large and small items, plus I never had a no show. I also get people asking for items before advertising them.
Donating to charity
An alternative to selling is, of course, donating to charity. You may need to do some research first to make sure your items go to the right charity to save both yourself and the charity organistion time, cost and effort. Don’t burden a charity with having to dispose of goods they cannot sell or utilise.
Some charities (particularly refuges) prefer new, unused items and unopened food and toiletries and understandably have rules regarding items depicting gender issues or violence. Toys, books and unused toiletries are in high demand at domestic violence shelters. Sleeping bags, good quality blankets and warm clothes are always needed at charities supporting people who are homeless. Animal shelters accept pillows, towels and blankets and bedding of lesser quality. Food banks accept new toiletries and unopened, in date food.
Some charity shops cannot accept painted furniture and/or items without a fire safety label. Some charities will collect large items for free, others won’t; if you are donating a large item, make sure the charity will definitely accept it before you make the journey to deliver it – and don’t forget to check their opening hours!!!
Try to spread your donations so multiple charities will benefit – shops are often desperate for donations but other shops with too much stock may not even put your things out for sale. Don’t forget to ask around, maybe someone knows somebody in need who would greatly benefit from an anonymous donation of goods, particularly for children.
Finally, if you are in the U.K, don’t forget to sign up for gift aid as the charity can make more money on your donations. At the end of the process, it is rewarding to receive letters from charities detailing how much money your donations have made them.
Decluttering your home is dull, time-consuming but oddly liberating – and will have you promising to live a minimalist lifestyle in the future! Spending the valuable time and considerable effort needed to successfully declutter your home will be worth it to save high storage costs, to earn some extra spending money and to help others in need.
Preparing to travel with children requires an additional approach to decluttering. You can read our tips on how to prepare kids for travel here.
One last piece of advice –
Carefully keep any items you need for your trip completely separate to the decluttering process- and make sure everyone in the family knows where and what they are! On the day we left for our trip, I had a fruitless, frantic search for my beloved walking boots and ended up leaving home in wintery, heavy rain wearing flipflops. I had to leave everyone at the train station and make a mad dash into the shops to buy a new pair!