Pairing down requires constant effort

#421 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2003, Hills Newspapers

The Great Garage Sale in the Sky is what I’ve named it, my occasional idea of cleaning out tons of belongings from my life. My visions are of empty shelves, clean, clear spaces.

I’ve never managed to make it happen at my house, not even close. But we have friends who sold or gave away almost all of their earthly goods. This really impressed me. Such fortitude, such bravery! They let go of pretty much everything — beds, furniture, clothes, memorabilia and collections, tools and toys — that was contained in their five-bedroom, three-bath house and three garages on a quarter acre.

But it had to go. Shaun and Ann were selling their Vallejo house, and they, their 11-year-old daughter Karina, 2 cats and a dog were moving to a fully-furnished RV. The RV is 35 feet long and 8 feet wide, a tenth the size of the house they were selling. So, they invited family to come to select favorite things to take away. The dining room table and chairs went, china cabinet and some linens.

One relative claimed the 500 to 600 piece set of matching dishes, place settings for 26, each including even corn-on-the cob dishes, heart-shaped tea bag holders, and juice tumblers.

Next, Shaun and Ann went through everything they had and separated it into sections: garage sale items, charity giveaways, junk to be dumped. And they set aside what they’d be taking to the RV, not a lot, but a few books, computer, kitchen goods, bedding and a steamer trunk they’d use as a coffee table.

They held several garage sales, selling much. They put the house on the market and the buyers wanted all of the appliances and the piano. Shaun’s tools, family photos, more books, art, a homemade lamp and a 1950s divan they couldn’t part with were stashed into two rented storage lockers.

Then, before the sale of the house closed, it was time to deal with the bulk of their belongings. Shaun called around and found a man interested in buying, in one fell swoop, everything that was left. He told the dealer that they wanted to sell it all, nothing excepted.

The dealer looked, inventoried, left to tally, returned the following day, and made an offer. On the third day, a truck and helpers arrived. Away went a ton of things, even Shaun’s collections of around 400 ceramic pigs and knives of all sorts. (But he kept his 1940s Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. He’s sure he’ll read them one day.)

In the end, the household belongings fetched around $5,000. Shaun also sold a precious Corvette (this was hard) and his pick-up truck.

He says that he might have gotten more money for some of the items if, for example, he had held out a few of the more unusual old knives to sell individually, but he didn’t want to deal with this. He just wanted it all gone.

The family moved into their new RV in Petaluma near where Karina goes to school. Although small, it provides every comfort, including built-in beds and couch, kitchen complete with a Wolf range, full bath, water storage, furnace, air conditioner and generator.

Shaun says living in an RV is a different lifestyle, the basic rule being that if you bring something in, you get rid of something else. The RV is neat and tidy with no piles of anything allowed to grow. Dishes are washed immediately, mail gone through, garbage disposed of everyday.

In a period of 3 months last year, Shaun and Ann sold the house, car and pick-up. They bought the RV and a larger truck to haul it, also a small trailer for tools. And they acquired a backhoe and front loader and a Bobcat tractor they’ll be needing.

For Shaun and Ann have a plan. They want to live a simpler, debt-free life, and they will do so in El Dorado County where they have a piece of land. While they are building a tree house there (yes, a tree house), they’ll live in their RV. Shaun, a building contractor, will continue to take some jobs to bring in cash.

There is still snow on the ground on the land but Shaun has been working on the tree house. The floor is in place, 15 feet off the ground and anchored to four trees.

He’s built stairs to the floor and will be putting up walls soon. By the fall of this year, they hope to have the tree house and accompanying systems completed.

Because there are no municipal utilities available, they’ll use solar panels, propane and a diesel generator for power. Shaun will build a composting toilet and install a wood stove for cooking and heat.

They already have a phone line shared with a neighbor and soon they will pipe in water from a community artesian well.

Shaun grew up in a large family, the oldest of ten kids who lived nomad-like with their parents camping out, coast to coast, in national parks. He learned the skills he and his family will need to live “off the grid” (without power) which is, as he says, “lots of work, lots to maintain.”

Shaun has good memories of rural living. He talks about fishing, hunting and trapping. He tells of building various shelters and of burying potato tubers in a mound with bean and corn seeds on top.

The corn supports the bean vines, and when they are both done, the potatoes are ready to dig.

And he describes the method for attaching a house to trees, explains that he will insulate it, provide lighting.

He’ll buy rights to felled oaks (about 6 cords will be needed each year) which he and Ann will split and stack for heat. Shaun will hollow out a pond, build a bath house, put up shelters and fencing for animals.

They’ll have chickens and pigs and maybe a horse for Karina. When they move from the RV into their house in the trees, they’ll have three times the living space. Why, they can begin collecting stuff again.

This entry was posted in Potpourri. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: