Minimalist Moving: Know Why You’re Moving

So, you’ve decided to move. Whether to upgrade, downgrade, boomerang back home to your parents, flip a fixer upper, or finally move into your dream house, moving can be an overwhelming project. But it doesn’t have to be–if you move like a minimalist.

Let’s begin with examining your reasons for moving and whether you see it as a short-term or long-term move. This will affect how much you take with you, how much you store (if anything), and how much you let go.

Nearly three years ago I decided I was finally ready to move on from my longest partnership, my 8-year relationship with J. I met him soon after a divorce and return to Phoenix, where I grew up. We had a great first year or two, but over time, it increasingly seemed like we didn’t even like each other. A contributing factor was my epiphany that I am happiest living alone–and he was not.

It had been a difficult year leading up to that moment. The death of my mother’s husband of cancer, a merger and layoff (mine), the sudden unexpected death of the recent boss of which I was fond (a heart attack–and at only one year older than me), a demanding new job, and the death of my new mentor, again, of cancer. I needed a new start–a new home. I needed to feel alive again. But, I needed to make my move as effortless as possible. I didn’t need any more stress. And, neither did J.

I needed a lively location, one that would make me feel excited about life again. But, I wanted to bring as little with me, as possible–to take as little as I could from J. I needed my new place to be devoid of things that would remind me of our chapter together, a chapter I needed to turn the page on. And, I needed the move to be as simple as possible so it didn’t add unnecessarily to the stress I already felt. This was key.

And, so I didn’t even bother with apartment hunting; I simply placed a deposit on the least expensive unit available at the downtown high-rise that I had loved and lived in about a year earlier, rented a ZipCar┬ávan, which I filled with only my personal belongings, and furnished the entire apartment in a single long afternoon at IKEA, arranging for delivery and assembly at IKEA’s delivery counter. I had new yet inexpensive furniture in my personal color scheme (black, gray, and white, with red accents) in a location convenient to everything and yet far enough way from my ex’s geography to reduce the likelihood of awkward run-ins.

But, the rent went dramatically up after a year, and now that I am in my mid-40’s and finally feel like I’ve settled into a city that’s perfect for me (mild weather, tech savvy and literate population, eco-friendly and liberal sensibility) perhaps it’s time I became a first-time homebuyer.

Unfortunately, like so many, I overspent and undersaved prior to embracing minimalism and so I needed to pay off my consumer debt, beef up my rainy day fund, and save a down payment so that I can buy a city studio, just right for me and Silkie the Cat.

Thus, I downshifted to a less expensive apartment, within walking distance to the school where I currently work. Was I next door to a landmark movie palace cum concert venue? Would I be a short walk from world-famous Pike Place Market? No and no. But, those things are a short bus ride away, and I was able to reclaim about 1 hour 15 min. per school day of personal time by not having to commute. Besides, it’s only 5 minutes walking distance to the Center of the Universe (the bohemian neighborhood known as Fremont–famous for its body-painted nude bicycle parade every solstice)–not to mention that it was 5 minutes walk from my new sweetheart, M. I packed using banker’s boxes, kept my furniture since it worked perfectly in my new apartment, and hired movers for less than $500. I saved about $400/month on rent, utilities, and commuting (at least for the first year before the rent went up 10%–and then another 10% the second year!).

The rapid rise of rents in Seattle (which are among the fastest increasing in the nation) and the pricey real estate market here has prompted me to ask myself just how minimal I might be willing to go in order to rent or buy in a centrally located neighborhood within walking distance of cafes, boutiques and a short walk or bus ride from M., work, and entertainment venues. So I am about to embark on my experiment in micro-living. Currently, I live in a 425 sq. ft. 1-bedroom apartment. I have put down a deposit on a 300 sq. ft. studio in the University District, just a 6-min. bus ride (or 22-min. walk in mild weather) from work and M. It has a galley kitchen with a full-sized refrigerator, but just a microwave, hot plate, and sink–no rarely-used oven and no dishwasher–which I hope will force me to wash dishes immediately so I don’t let them pile up like I tend to do with a dishwasher!

The very small 300 sq. ft. makes minimalist furnishings a must, so I am challenged to apply the 80/20 Rule (in this case, the principle that 80% of the time we use just 20% of our belongings–so why hang on to the other 80%?). This will dramatically affect how I organize my move since it is likely to look like selling the bulk of my furniture and whittling my personal belongings down to the essential 20%, enabling me to need only a ZipVan and a TaskRabbit helper to help me load my small IKEA loveseat, my bed, one C-table, and my personal belongings.
Now, you try it: journal, list, mindmap, or think out loud (perhaps with a confidante or recording yourself with your smartphone for playback) your response to the question, Why do you want to move? How might this affect what you decide to keep, let go, and how you transport it?