Featured, Personal Finance

7 Lessons I Learned From Spending Money On A Storage Unit

If you know me now or if you don’t know me at all fellow blog readers, you wouldn’t know…I used to be a HUGE collector/hoarder/crazy cat lady without the cats when I lived in New York. I was a collector of clothes, nail polish, books, board games, weird kitchen tools, shoes, makeup, camera equipment, spices, papers/tickets/programs from events, you name it!

So what was a girl to do with all her “valuables” when she decided to take the leap and move across the country to San Francisco? I had signed up to do a coding bootcamp in SF, and I had “conveniently” been laid off at my current company. Unfortunately that meant I was going to be unemployed for at least 6 months and possibly longer.

There was no way I could afford to ship everything, it would cost a fortune. So I decided to throw it in a storage unit for $50/month! Here’s what I learned.

😵 WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC AND DESCRIPTIVE DETAILS OF HOARDING BEHAVIOR 😵

1. Physical Separation Causes Mental Separation — Take Advantage Of That!

I’ve been in multiple long distance relationships. And no matter how much you love someone, you can’t help but become a little dissociated from your partner. Your daily lives, lessons, and personal growth have a great potential to diverge — there isn’t as much reinforcing feedback that realigns you every single day.

I found this was the same with my stuff! Especially with my clothes. I used to wear flashy, colorful tops, dresses, and shoes. When I moved to SF, I only took with me the most basic set. I left behind my sequined shoes and other frilly/girly clothes in storage.

I lived my life for over a year in these basic clothes, and I slowly grew to be that person. Not having the girly clothes that I could choose from to reinforce who I was before actually allowed me and my style to transform.

Do I miss being a girly girl somedays? Yes, absolutely! But my life is much simpler. I don’t miss 90% of the clothes and shoes I donated. And honestly SF is too cold to be wearing dresses and sandals anyways.

Try putting anything you might want to get rid of away and see if you still want it in a few months!

2. It’s True What Everyone Says — It’s a Sunk Cost, Just Accept It!

It was really hard letting go and throwing away things I had “invested” my money in. Clothes, shoes, pots and pans. I thought about all the money that went into buying these things, and don’t get me wrong, a lot of the items I purchased were things I enjoyed with high frequency.

Others…not so much. Like that zucchini spiralizer. I learned to accept that these items were no longer part of who I was or my interests, and I bit the bullet and donated it all. It was a direct decision, do I like this box of random stuff more than the $50-100 it would cost to ship it? The answer was almost always “no”.

Even if you aren’t moving across the country, I find it helpful to ask myself, do I like this box of stuff more than the $X it costs in time and money to move it at all?

3. The More You Buy, The More Guilt and Trash You Have to Deal With Later

The other difficulty in letting go was just the guilt of throwing the stuff away. You just keep imagining this perfectly useful x, y, z is going to end up in a landfill somewhere when the real issue is you just don’t have the time to find the person who may need it.

Large groups of items like kitchen utensils/containers or clothes or shoes are easy to donate. But there were other items that I felt bad putting a box and donating.

Now when I want to buy something, I think, is this something that after I use it for a few years, I could actually donate? Or will I have to relive that biting guilt and think “such a waste of a perfectly good x”?

4. It Doesn’t Cost That Much To Replace The 10% Of Items You Actually Need

Other issues I had with throwing stuff out was the one evil question, “WHAT IF?”

What if I needed this zucchini spiralizer because I wanted to make zucchini noodles?! What if I needed this travel pouch of toiletries I got for free on a Delta flight because…I needed to travel somewhere? What if I needed these extra socks with holes in them in case I ran out of socks without holes in them? These are actually thoughts that went through my brain!

I had a scarcity and pauper’s mindset. I was settling in to be unemployed for 6 months or more. But even before that I was making so little the idea of ever replacing anything was unfathomable to me. I never felt I was in a position to replace anything.

I learned that when you don’t have the item and can’t afford it…You’re:

  1. Really great at just living without them (No more socks without holes in them? Well let me just do the laundry!)
  2. Really great at improvising (No zucchini spiralizer the 1 day out of 2 years I had thought to make zucchini noodles? I’ll just hand cut them with a knife!).
  3. You just figure out how to replace it. You aren’t trying to replace everything you threw away at once. It’s not going to cost you a fortune to buy a pack of socks if you really wanted.

5. Memories Are Still Memories

Along with all the things I threw away, there were also the tickets and pamphlets I had kept since college. This was super difficult to let go of! I was afraid if I threw these away, I would forget all the cool things I had done and experienced.

But at the end of the day, a concert ticket or pamphlet was just a trigger for a good memory. I started taking my old roommate’s advice and taking pictures of the things I wanted to remember.

6. Declutter NOW, Not Later

It wasn’t necessarily unpleasant to sit in my storage unit for 2 days straight looking through all my things. It was really interesting and funny to see the stuff I kept.

But it would’ve saved me TONS of time if I had been more aggressively getting rid of stuff the first time around (when I was putting it INTO the storage unit). At the time, a lot of these decisions were overwhelming and since I had the room in the locker, I figured I would allow future me to think about it.

So when future me returned to re-evaluate my stuff. I thought…”Didn’t I just look through this stuff a year and a half ago…Why am I here….”

7. Owning less is liberating! Let It Gooo (D’uh)

You spend less when you own less! After leaving all my stuff in the storage unit and forgetting about it, it was like getting to start with a clean slate! It showed me I already had all my necessities covered. It showed me to live with less.

The thoughts of moving any new stuff I want is enough to get me to think twice about purchasing it. In general, I buy less, spend less money, and am much more distinguishing with purchases. For example, I would ask myself, “Should I really buy all these leather making tools. Am I really going to make 20 leather keychains tomorrow?” (Yes a real dilemma I had a couple months ago)

 

So maybe I had more issues getting rid of stuff compared to the average person. But at the heart of it, I was just like everyone else. I thought my stuff was the exception because I was the person who actually needed all that stuff for one reason or another (classic hoarder thinking). At some level, we all think this! But be honest with yourself and get rid of the things you don’t need. You’ll be much happier for it!

Was having a storage unit worth it? The simple answer: no. The complicated answer: yes. I learned so much about myself and letting go through it, though it was a hard earned lesson that cost a good chunk of money. I would love to hear anything you’ve had trouble parting with! Was there anything you had that was the equivalent of that spiralizer for me?! Let me know in the comments below!

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

6 thoughts on “7 Lessons I Learned From Spending Money On A Storage Unit

  1. The “what if” is probably the biggest problem I have in letting go of all my things. Intellectually I understand that I am not going to miss all of the things I’ve had in boxes for 2 years and have never once used, so I should just donate and be done with. But the “what if” starts popping up.

    I definitely think asking yourself “is it worth shipping costs” is a great motivator. I am itching to live a life with less stuff so that I can be more mobile in life.

    1. Yeah I think the “What If” was probably THE biggest struggle for me. I think, personally, another huge factor is salary. If in your mind, your salary (or maybe even just an aggressive budget) doesn’t have flexibility to spend to replace things you parted with if suddenly you realize you actually need it, it’s more difficult to throw things away. I notice ever since I changed careers and increased my salary and therefore had a more flexible budget, I’m much more objective in assessing whether I need to keep something!

  2. 🙂 I take pictures of everything I want to remember, back up the photos in 5 different ways, and then throw them out (if I need to!). Moving at the end of the month, and I’m going to take your advice and tell myself that I don’t need the socks with holes in them.

  3. I laughed so hard at “No zucchini spiralizer the 1 day out of 2 years I had thought to make zucchini noodles?” because that’s totally me. I’m a HUGE sucker for kitchen gadgets but I’ve come to realize that if I just use my knife, I can eliminate about a quarter of them! Also, life without holey socks is vastly superior to the alternative.

    1. Ying! So happy you stopped by 🙂 Yeah I had a shameful 2-3 year period of hard core kitchen gadget collecting! I think maybe because my parents literally only owned 2 knives my entire childhood, I just had to see what I was missing out on. Turns out it wasn’t much…

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