Storage Conundrum - what do I do with my stuff?

Holkham house, prepped for painting

Holkham house, prepped for painting

When you’re trying to decide on the details involved with going cruising, one big one is what to do with the house (or apartment.) It’s one thing if you are renting and another if you own the house, but sometimes the answer comes down to the same kind of perspective.

If you’re only thinking of the outlay for mortgage or rent, it seems to be a no-brainer. Sell the house. Give up the lease. You can save a crazy amount of money each month, right? Heck, our budget per month, all in, is about half of what our mortgage payment was (and we think we can spend a lot less). I know people in parts of the country who spend far more than that on rent.

Not so fast.

If you’re planning a limited-duration cruise (say, 6 months or a year in the Bahamas or Sea of Cortez) and know you want to come back to the same location, you have to factor in the costs to sell and buy again. You have to be clear on what the challenges might be - maybe the neighborhood is hot and you wouldn’t be able to get back in, or the prices have gone up so high you couldn’t afford to get back in.

The big un-talked about factor, though, is the STUFF. What do you do with all the STUFF? You can sell it all, or store it - and either of those decisions comes with a cost that’s not immediately apparent.

Selling it all. Sounds great. Unload. Purge. Downsize. Be footloose and fancy-free. Get some extra cash that can go straight into the cruising kitty.

BUT the return is pennies on the dollar. Have you been to a garage sale or checked out Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for things you want to buy? I don’t know about you, but I am looking for BARGAINS when I do that. And if you’ve never run a garage sale, you might not be aware of the immense amount of work it is to pull one off, from organizing and sorting everything to manning the cash register to dealing with endless haggling. You can earn some cash, yes, but (like most things) it’s work.

AND if you sell everything and then come back to land sooner than you’d planned? You will have to replace at least some of it. Chances are good it’ll be more expensive than you remembered.

Store it all. Okay, fine. I won’t sell it. I paid $1000 for the couch and the best I can get for it is $100? Why would I sell it! I’ll just get one of those storage units I see everywhere and stash all my stuff away. Then when I come back, there’s no need to buy stuff. I’ll just use what I already paid good money for!

BUT have you looked at the cost of a storage unit? There are a few zillion options out there, and prices fluctuate with the location and other amenities, but here’s a screenshot from ONE place near me.

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A 75 square foot storage unit (they’re often 8-10 feet high, so you do have height to use as well) at this facility runs $106 a MONTH. You’re headed out for a year? That’s $1167 in storage fees (the first month is $1), to say nothing of what you spent on a moving truck both ways. As soon as you go to a larger unit, one that’s capable of storing your furniture and boxes of books and stuff from a 3 bedroom house, you can easily top $250 a month without working too hard. If you’re going out for a few years, that fee adds up very very quickly.

We’ve got friends who cruised for 5 years, paying for a storage unit that started at $100 a month. By the time they returned, it was $200 a month. They wound up throwing most of the things away upon their return.

When we left the first time, for 2 years, we had a small storage unit where we stashed “valuables” like a dining room table and a futon mattress and frame, plus some artwork and books.

When we returned, after three years instead of 2, we emptied out that unit and looked at all the stuff in disbelief. What was this? We really thought that was important enough to keep and PAY SOMEONE to keep it? The table was in fine shape, but the futon had to be thrown away because of mold. In fact, most of the stuff in there wound up in the trash. Great. We paid good money for our garbage to be stored for 3 years. Face palm.

SO the costs of storage are not all readily apparent. It may seem like you’re saving money by hanging onto your things that, when you store them, you think you will need and want again. Mentality and needs change by being out on the water, though, and an item you thought of as priceless and “gotta have” might turn into a deposit into the closest dumpster when you return.

Fine I’ll keep the house. This is yet another option, particularly appealing if the cruise is of limited duration. Keep the house and either rent it out (fully furnished) or just include the cost in the cruising budget. No storage fees, no worries if the cruise turns out to be shorter than you thought, and no need to fuss or bother with moving major amounts of stuff right when you’re trying to move onto the boat.

In all cases except the last one, there are a lot of hard decisions to be made. You’ll have piles of stuff: BOAT, KEEP, SELL, TOSS. How do you even begin to go through?

I’ve done it twice - once where we gave up the lease on the apartment and put a bunch of stuff in storage, and again when we rented the house out and shoved stuff into the attic. This time, though, it’s more serious.

More serious in that we’ve been in this house for 19 years and raised both kids here. More serious in that we are absolutely NOT getting a storage unit (okay, okay, we have another house to furnish with furniture and tools). So serious this time that I’m taking a course on downsizing and offering a support and accountability group for anyone who wants to join me. Weekly zoom calls, our own Facebook group. Send me an email with any questions or leave them here in the comments!

Time to make some decisions. What will I do with my stuff?