Extreme downsizing: Lessons from selling everything you own

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2013 10:00 a.m. MST

John Freyer's couch was for sale, but nobody bought it.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — In the summer of 2000, John D. Freyer sold everything he owned.

Freyer was single, in his 20s and was flush with the easy money of the dot com boom. He had been studying for a year at the University of Iowa, but a summer in New York City convinced him he wanted to move to the Big Apple instead.

So he jumped in his white Honda Civic and drove 1,000 miles back to Iowa with the intention of picking up some of his possessions and selling the rest.

"I was resentful of the stuff in my house," he says. "How should I get rid of it? Garage sale? Yard sale? Put the stuff on the street?"

Freyer was experiencing a desire for extreme downsizing — a feeling of wanting freedom from all possessions. To one extent or the other, the feeling isn't uncommon. Amazon.com, for example, lists 1,681 books on the topic of clutter. But, as the Self Storage Association reports, 50 percent of storage renters are keeping items they do not even have room for in their homes. The lessons Freyer and other extreme downsizers have discovered apply to anybody who wants a simpler life with less clutter.

Everything must go

Freyer decided to use eBay.com to auction off his possessions. He thought it would be interesting to create a website keeping track of all the items. Every domain name he wanted, such as yardsale.com and garagesale.com were taken. Finally, he decided on allmylifeforsale.com.

The name of the website took over the project. He took photographs of everything and wrote not descriptions, but the history of the objects.

The media loved it.

He sold a bowling belt buckle, an old electrical bill, a Jesus nightlight, old socks, half a bottle of mouthwash — everything.

"The things I cared about the most, such as family photographs and a ring from a friend, I sold last," he says. "But I had to follow through with the project."

When it was all done, he jumped in his Civic and drove around the country meeting the people who bought his stuff. The result, ultimately was a book called "All My Life for Sale."

"If you talked to me immediately after the project, I would say it changed me a lot," he says. "It made me think about my stuff. I was reticent to bring things back into my possession."

He eventually sold the white Honda Civic as well.

All or nothing

Lisa Perry, 49, had a similar experience. Perry is an attorney and adjunct instructor in communication studies at the College of San Mateo in California. In the spring of 2007, however, she was living in Saint Paul, Minn., and was planning on moving to the San Franciso Bay area.

"I had way too much stuff," she says.

Perry moved often over the years and had gradually downsized with each move. Yet she had a storage unit with things — including things her parents gave her when they decided to downsize.

She also chose eBay.com to sell everything — except she wanted it all gone at once and tried to sell everything in one auction.

"Everything I didn't use on a daily basis was going to go," she says.

The gradual method wasn't working for her.

"Trying a big change a little bit at a time almost makes it harder," she says.