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Bellevue, WA, 98007
United States


Going Small(er)

Filtering by Category: Shrinking

Spring Forward, Empty Cupboards

Marc Scattergood

Downsizing always seem to have stages. The excitement stage, or “Wow, think of all the awesome things we’re going to get to do in the new place!” The depression phase, e.g., “Oh my god, we have so much crap, why why why??!!!!”

And then there’s the inevitable, “We have what?” phase.

It was the start of Daylight Savings time this past weekend. Parents with younger children know what a delight the biannual time change always is. And it's not exactly pleasant for the rest of us. Coffee sales must see a serious spike. In addition to moving our clocks forward one hour, and fervently hoping our child will sleep a little later Sunday, we went through our medicine cabinets, and our kitchen. The medicine cabinet thing is something I picked up during my time working for an online pharmacy—it’s important to get rid of expired medication, since old medicine may not work as well, or at all. It’s equally important to dispose of it properly, which does not include flushing it down your toilet.

This bag is only so small because we had already done a major culling a few months prior.

This bag is only so small because we had already done a major culling a few months prior.

We love cooking, and one of us has a Penzeys addiction, so I’m sure we had a vague idea there would be some stuff we should put in our yard waste bin. That, however, did not take into account:

  • The “make our own chocolate dipped strawberries at home” phase
  • The “make candy at home” phase
  • The “bake with alternative flours” phase
  • The “spending way too much money at Penzeys” phase
  • The “I like to make cupcakes, let’s do nifty decorations” phase
  • The “alternative sweeteners” phase

Some of this is stuff we can give away on our favorite Facebook group, the Buy Nothing project. People regularly give away canned goods, half of a buy one get one, even leftovers. The “spending way too much money at Penzeys” items will go there.

Marc: I DO NOT HAVE A PENZEYS PROBLEM. (Every plastic bag you can see in this is a bag of spice, chocolate, etc, from Penzeys)

Marc: I DO NOT HAVE A PENZEYS PROBLEM. (Every plastic bag you can see in this is a bag of spice, chocolate, etc, from Penzeys)

Some of it, however, is just too old. We are fortunate we are in a position where we can afford to experiment with different ingredients, that our budget is not so tight that we must watch every dime spent. And so, this is where we will repeat: when it’s that time of year you need to change your clocks, you should check your smoke detectors, clean out your medicine cabinet, and make sure you don’t have a bag of stale flour, or a box of (now powdery) chocolate chips from 2010.

Not too bad for a kitchen with two cooks who love to experiment with everything, but.. yuck! What you can't read: "Best if used by: Mar 2010" for the flour. And given most flour sits on shelves for a good six months before you buy it, extra gross. 

Not too bad for a kitchen with two cooks who love to experiment with everything, but.. yuck! What you can't read: "Best if used by: Mar 2010" for the flour. And given most flour sits on shelves for a good six months before you buy it, extra gross. 

It took us three trips to our yard waste bin to dump all of old ingredients. It was a little sad to see; many baking experiments never carried to fruition, items lost or simply abandoned after one try. There are tangible benefits, though. It will make us more conscientious going forward, about what we chose to spend money on—important given we will most certainly have less storage space. For the short-term, we have more cabinet space, and less clean-up to do if downsizing gets to the wire. And the sanity those things bring is pretty priceless.

What are some of your annual traditions for spring cleaning, general clutter reduction, or sanity benefiting whirlwind reorganizations of your home?

We Park In Our Garage

Marc Scattergood

Well, almost always. Unlike our neighbors, who never seem to. If we don't, it's usually because we are doing a project that requires the space in there. Staining and finishing moulding is a great example. At some point, I decided I didn't like any of the pre-finished moulding available, so I started a multi-year project to replace all of it in our house. I'm about.. 2/3rds done. As a recommendation, don't do this unless you really love staining and finishing work. It's a BIG time commitment.

Sorry, not the point. It's 7AM, August 21st, 2014. I've been awake for a bit, fed the cats. Turn on the shower. Steam comes pouring out instantly. Ok, our water heater is good, but rarely that hot. Manage to get it to a normal temp, take a quick rinse, get dressed. Stacie is awake at this point. It feels really muggy in the house. I haven't had coffee though, so I don't really think about it. Stacie asks "Does it smell like rain to you?" It does, come to think of it. Finish getting ready, head downstairs to the garage to head off to work.

I get to the bottom of the stairs. "Uh, hon. There's rain all right. Or at least a lake." Sometime in the prior four hours, the thermostat on our 40 gallon tank water heater decided to give up the ghost. When this happens, the boiler just does it's thing, and never turns off. It also can create enough pressure to pop the tank open, which it did, continuing to pump in more water on a really hot boiler element. It felt like walking into a kind of moldy smelling sauna, with subtle copper notes. I turn off the gas to the boiler, get out my large plumbers wrench and run outside to turn off the water to the house. Now we get our plan of attack established.

This is where my wife's and my tag team shtick really comes in handy. I ping off a quick mail to work, letting folks know I might be a wee bit late, and get the shop vac out, close the door to upstairs to keep the cats away from our brand new swimming pool, and get to cleaning. While Wife is on the phone with our insurance, with ServPro to get cleaning underway, with a local water heater company, and eventually with a contractor that specializes in restoration work. All the while, I'm getting anything delicate off the floor as quickly as I can, and on to tables, couches, etc. Anything that will survive sitting in the damp for a few hours gets left. Among the first things to get taken upstairs is my still functioning Amiga 1000, packed away in their original boxes. Thankfully, it still works. Insurance for that would have been weird, and getting a replacement would have been hard to justify.

It really was a remarkable PC for the time. We got ours in 1984. One of the first.

I don't think that's how drywall is supposed to be installed....

It would be  almost three solid weeks of fans and de-humidifiers, in August WITH industrial equipment before everything was dry. It would be November before all the walls were replaced (3 foot sections cut out of every room), new floors put in (water warped Pergo stinks), and we could move stuff back in downstairs.

Tonight, we will have hot water! Or that's roughly what we were thinking at the time.

What does this have to do with our garage? Well, we had the option to have all our stuff put in storage, or just have them pack it in the garage. We talked about it, but realized there was an opportunity here. Even if it meant parking outside for a few months.

Having about half of your house packed into boxes in the garage is a great time to really get rid of stuff. After we got past the worst of getting downstairs recovery underway, we started spending evenings and weekends going through a couple boxes here, a couple boxes there. After the first night, we already had a solid Goodwill run ready to go. Over the coming weeks, we would probably do about 5 to 10 more trips. We got really efficient and packing the stuff in to minimize our trips.

There was a LOT of stuff.

Much of it barely even in our consciousness any more. A good sign that you won't really miss it if it's gone. Our house was built in 1962, and the garage is an attached, fully enclosed two car style. There's just enough room to have shelves on one side, and a few things carefully leaning against the other side. Enough space on the back wall for a workbench, a table saw, and some other miscellaneous objects (that shop vac that was so important earlier on in the post). Our mountain of boxes filled the garage, stacked up against the shelves, leaving just a narrow path on the eastern part of the garage between the door into the house, the back door, and the garage door. A VERY narrow path was still open along the workbench, so we could access various tools and implements, but the garage was otherwise unusable during this time, until we started making serious progress through the mountain. Good motivation.

We got pretty brutal. Small, sentimental items that could fit in one of our memory shoe-boxes could stay. Almost everything else, unless we knew what the plan for it was, or used it regularly already, was on the chopping block. Some stuff got thrown away - things that you end up eyeing each other and sharing that look that says "Why the heck were we holding on to this?"  Our recycling bin got filled frequently, but most of it went to Goodwill. Books, clothes, knick knacks and doodads that may have served a purpose at one point, but we had long since packed away, forgotten, and never missed.

Of course, we also found a few things that have been added back into our various rooms. Kitchen implements I thought were lost. Small electronic components that I like having around in my tool kits when I'm working on a computer. That sort of thing. But other than furniture, the lions share of books that we kept, and a hefty supply of stuff for the craft room that would get its own serious thinning over the coming months, we probably eliminated almost half of that mountain of life accretion.

We were lucky, of course. As I discussed recently, we barely even use our downstairs. The biggest inconvenience of this whole affair was doing laundry (the cleanup crew moved the machines into the garage while they tore out the drywall around them) and parking our cars outside. Well, and spending some amount of money we weren't expecting to.

  • Replacing old tank water heater with inline gas water heater: ~$3500
  • Replacing dodgy pine pergo with engineered acacia hardwood floors: About ~$2500 out of pocket after insurance
  • Approximate cash value of donations to Goodwill: $3000
  • Getting rid of 10 SUV's full of stuff we barely knew we had: Priceless. Shoot. Do I owe MasterCard a royalty for using that?
  • Wifely Addition: Encouraging her to do a major culling of the craft room, also priceless.

Ultimately, I don't recommend flooding half your house to kickstart clearing out stuff from your life. Just pick a room and go. It's cathartic. It's good for your taxes if you itemize (and just as good for those in need, even if you don't). It's like getting rid of a nagging thought at the back of your brain; you know it's there but haven't quite acknowledged it.

This last weekend, we did a whirlwind through our bedroom again, performing a culling that will have unworn items of clothing cowering in fear for years to come. Seriously, between our two closets, it was about 70 pounds of clothes. I had to drag it downstairs.

Looks like we need to head to Goodwill again next weekend.

Got any stories of unexpected downsizings? Secretly a hoarder who's been working on ways to reduce the amount of stuff you hoard? Do you park in your garage, unlike three fourths of America? As always, we'd love to hear your stories, or link to them in our next episode if you have your own blog about this sort of life adventure.

Reading List and Errata:

  • On hiatus this week. Still hoping to finish the Capitalism book, but had way too busy a schedule this week for reading.
  • Moved over to Windows 10. I was pleasantly surprised! I expected it to be pretty good, but other than a single device incompatibility (The Oculus DK2, for you VR fans out there - they're working on Win 10 drivers though), it's been flawless. Fixes all the little things that annoyed me about Windows 8, and it's screaming fast compared to Win 7 or Win 8. If you're a power user, I'd recommend upgrading. If you're just a casual PC user, maybe wait a while for all the driver compatibility issues to get resolved then do it.