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People laugh when I refer to my cardboard box money, but they always understand what I mean. They may call it a retirement fund or their 401(k), but we’ve all been saving so we won’t have to live in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere. 

Most of the time I’m good at managing my money, but sometimes I’m not.

Like a couple of years ago when I found a 200-year-old, iron, cow head that once hung over the door of a charcuterie, a French butcher shop. Let’s just say it wasn’t cheap, and I spent even more to crate it, pay customs and ship it home from Paris. As a Texas girl, you’d think I could have found a cow head closer to home…

To my credit I’ve emptied all four of my storage units! At a $1,000 a month, my cardboard box money is breathing a sigh of relief. Half of what was in storage was meant for the house my late husband and I never got to build, and some of it was mother’s. Some of my things I sold back to the antique dealers I bought them from, and the rest I sold over six months at two, local auction houses. 

The front elevation of the house we were going to build before my husband died. Except for the sink on the left, these pieces were in storage.

I’m not telling you anything new, but our kids aren’t interested in our stuff, and more than likely… We’re not going to sell it for a great price, plus all the consignment shops are full and might as well say “The Boomer Stuff Store.”

Want some unsolicited advice? Just sell your stuff and don’t look back! It doesn’t hurt as much as you think it will.

Don’t agonize for months and years about how much you paid for things, how much you think it’s worth and how much you want for each piece. Instead focus on the wad of cash it’s costing you to keep it in storage and keep you from downsizing. That was the advice I got from my darling friend, Nick Dawes, Founding Appraiser for Antiques Roadshow and Vice President of Special Collections for Heritage Auctions in New York. Of course if you have some important pieces, check with experts like Nick, but don’t hold your breath about getting the prices you want on those, either.

The yellow Taxi on the fridge is really a cookie jar. My friend, Rob, and I have always referred to it as “Sid” because it says “Sid’s Taxi” on the side. He was with me and my first husband when we bought it in an art gallery in Santa Fe. To the left of the fridge is an old Orange Crush dispenser from the ’30’s… the kind you would have found at a drug store soda fountain. My first husband bought it in an antique store in a small Texas town. The chandelier is one of a pair I had made for the Little House at the ranch. So many memories!

Sure you can hang on to everything, thinking you’ll sell it–piece by piece on Craig’s list–but that’s a pain in the butt plus, again, there’s a glut of Boomer things on the market. You also run the risk of inviting wackos into your home! It happens! Everything else I took to Goodwill–for a tax write-off–or called Junk King. Upfront they tell you they’ll pickup ANYTHING, but dead bodies.

After all of this I’m left with roughly 10 percent of my things which are now in my garage in cardboard boxes that only say, Office, Library, Closet… not even which closet. At least James had the good sense to label–in detail–the things he packed like “Ski Wear, Goggles, Boots, Ski Caps.” All the important stuff.

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  1. Excellent advice! We are getting ready to downsize and I could not agree with you more about just getting rid of the stuff and selling it. I love your little taxi Sid, a whimsical piece with special memories.

    • Hi Elizabeth, I love whimsical things. My home has always been eclectic, but the best thing is they’re all pieces I’ve collected since I was in my 20’s. They each have a story. Thanks so much, Brenda

    • Thank you, Anita. Yes, they’re grey and white marble… One of two things the guys who flipped this house did right. The other were the floors… manufactured hardwoods. The rest of the homes in my area have beige, oversized floor tiles from the ’80’s, which really dates their homes. Brenda

  2. Having moved 3 times in 7 years, a hearty Amen! The hardest to part with are books! And family pieces are still trying out nesting spots. Everything I’ve kept has sentimental attachment.

    • Penny, I know what that’s like because I moved three times in two years. I sold a lot of pieces that were important to me… lots of sentiment attached, but I didn’t have room for them, so I let them go. No regrets because I loved and used them for 40 years. Plus now I have a few of my mother’s things, so that’s nice. I hope you’re settled and not planning on moving again anytime soon, Brenda

  3. My grandmother left me the first bedroom suite she and my grandfather bought. It was from the 1930’s. I didn’t have room for it so I gave it to a friend. I still feel bad about giving it away even though I didn’t really want it.

    • Jamie, Don’t feel bad about giving it away! The fact that it was the first bedroom suite your grandparents bought isn’t a good enough reason to keep it. Obviously it didn’t blend with your tastes and/or you didn’t like it. That’s okay! I have my father’s bedroom set from when he was a little boy. My grandmother used it until she died. I’m fortunate to love it and it works for me in my guest room, so all is well. Thanks for your comment, Brenda

  4. As we downsized, I realized that no one is buying china, crystal or silver. I had thought my girls might like a set of china that was their grandmothers but…No! So, I either gave it friends or donated it to an old house that has been preserved, is open to the public and sells antiques, etc. to cover costs. It’s gone – good! I know so many that hold onto these things because they should be worth something. When I want something gone, I price it to sell. No fooling around or overvaluing.
    Cardboard box money, lol. I’m going to use that one, if I may.
    PS. I love that steer!

    • Joanna, Yes, He’s a steer. Not a “cow.” LOL! You’re smart to price things to sell, or donate them and take a tax write-off. When I think that I stored all of these things for 14 years, at $12k a year… It gives me the shivers, but then I’m relieved I finally got rid of them and that cash drain is over. Our “cardboard box money” is in much better shape! xoxo, Brenda

  5. I have never heard the term “cardboard” box money but it is so spot on. I have been gradually trying to get rid of things at my house. Husband and I both hang onto things for crazy reasons and they need to go.

    • Hi Victoria! Love seeing you here, again! I may have dreamed the term, cardboard box money, up, because I’ve never heard it before. Since I’m not flush with money, it was easy for me to let things go, even though I was sentimental about them. Kind of like clothes you haven’t worn in a while. Just donate or sell them and be done with it. I promise you won’t regret it. Brenda

  6. I so need to do this! My husband and his siblings had a horrible time going through things their mother left. I don’t want to do that to my kids! I love your environment you’ve created – full of good memories, and things that are beautiful and functional and fun.

    • Beckye, It can be difficult to take an unbiased approach to what to keep and what to give away, but yes… Your children will love you for it. My girlfriend still has the “junk” her mother collected, mainly ceramic poodles and 1,500 cookbooks!! The problem is, she’s become just like her mother, collecting little porcelain Chinese people, dozens of brass candlesticks, clocks and maps. Her house is wall to wall stuff! I don’t think she realizes she’s not any different than her mother. xoxox, Brenda

  7. I find this very serendipitous as I am going through a major need to purge. I love to collect and a little bit of many things including artwork of which I no longer have the wall space to hang another painting. It feels like my planets are aligning – everywhere I look there is an article on decluttering! Thanks for the tips!

    • Hi Sarah, Interesting how “things” come into our lives when we need them. Yes… Just do it! I promise, you’ll breath a sigh of relief and never look back. Good luck, Brenda

  8. This is great advice, and I love your cow! We’re not planning to downsize, because when we bought this house it was with the intention of upsizing. Never mind that it is significantly larger than the average 2500 sf house today, here we are five-ish years later, and we just don’t have the energy or desire to move again (a lot of moves over 23 years together). We love the neighborhood, and the layout is great for our eventual empty nest with most of the square footage on the ground floor, and we’ll still have plenty of room when kiddos come for visits or if one of them boomerangs for a bit. We did however get rid of all off site storage, and have been whittling away at the unnecessary and unwanted “stuff” that seems to be constantly surfacing. I love that you say selling stuff won’t hurt as much as you think it will – so true. It’s a relief, actually.

    We’re off to a bit of a late start with our cardboard box money, but with relatively low housing expenses we have more dollars we can dedicate to saving, and it’s nice to see those accounts grow. While I’m blessed with a great life, I was very financially irresponsible as a younger woman. If I could change one thing, or wish I’d had one experience that I didn’t before I was, say, 25, it would be to know what saving even $100 a month really feels like. Of course it sounds smart (I mean it is smart), but internalizing it through experience is entirely different. I think my children have an advantage being able to check their savings accounts everyday and see their money grow before their eyes. They’re very sensible and impulse purchase averse – technology has been a blessing that way.

    • Bayboxwood, I didn’t save when I was young, either. In fact, my first husband always said he wanted to run out of money and breath at the same time. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. What a shock to learn, at 37, after he died, how in debt we’d been. I sold everything out of my house, plus a car and traded his guns for a year’s worth of haircuts and color. I had barely enough to keep the lights on and pay property taxes. I could beat myself up about how much I’ve spent since then, but I won’t do that… I just move forward, making better decisions like getting rid of four storage units. Really, when your stuff is all gone… You’re not going to miss it! Promise! Brenda

  9. Good for you! I started to get rid of stuff a couple of years ago by putting an under employed niece in charge and told her she could keep the profits. It turned into a business for her. I feel so much better knowing that I am not paying storage fees and can actually park in my garage. I plan to sell my house and move to a tiny house near the beach and I know I won’t regret selling or giving anything away.

    • Oh, Madeline! That was so smart, and you motivated and helped your niece! Good job! As soon as the weather’s a bit cooler, I’m going to finish unpacking the boxes in my garage so I can actually park my car in there. Right now I’m about halfway unpacked. Part of my garage is for Junk King to remove, part of it’s to maybe keep… the rest I need to open and see what’s in there. Hoping to be done by the first of the year! The great thing about downsizing and in your case, moving to the beach, is everything you’ll take with you is really important to you. Wise choice! Brenda

  10. YES! Declutter – Downsize! What is the obsession with having STUFF and BIG HOMES? We are only in our early 50’s but when our darling children moved out with their partners to make their own homes, we sold our 5 bed + studio acreage ranch style home for a 3 bed + study near the city with a garden courtyard. We gave them half the furniture from the big house plus my over sized collection of kitchen accessories and linen cupboard to start them off. I have never looked back. Just like one commenter above, I too had to clean out my mother and step-father’s house after they had been disabled for 20+years and no-one had thrown anything out all in that time. We filled skip after skip of junk – trash, dusty old birthday cards, painful memories and trashy memorabilia. I don’t want that experience for my kids either. For my part when I go, I want to leave a light material footprint on the world, but a big one in people’s hearts and leave behind a legacy of wisdom – not STUFF. We also are working hard now to put away for our ‘cardboard box’ money so we can have a surety of a certain standard of life until the end of our lives. I can now clean our place from top to bottom in no time, keep on top of spring cleaning and clutter. We are happier and healthier for it. Everything here has a purpose and we use only the good china and best crystal glasses everyday now. Great article xxxxx

    • Hi TJ, I love that you only use the good china and the best crystal everyday!! We should all do that. Saving things for “good” and company? Who’s better to enjoy our things than we are. Company won’t like and appreciate it as much as we do. So smart. I use my good stuff half the time. I don’t have kids to leave my things to, but have drawn up my Will so my things go to my friends and/their children who’ve expressed an interest in them. You bring up another important point: Legacies are important. I wonder how many of us are seriously thinking in those terms? What we give to others, now, from our hearts, will have a greater impact on them than a coffee table! Wise woman!!! Brenda

  11. Such great advice, Brenda! And I agree, letting go of stuff really doesn’t hurt as much as we think it will. David and I donated/gifted/sold so much before we moved out of our house – our only regret? That we didn’t get rid of more. I only said to David a week or so ago that one of the first things I’m going to do when we return to London is have another clear-out. Lots of love, Essie xxxx

    • Hi Darling Friend, I’m going to check Facebook in a minute to see if you and David left me a note. I think about you almost everyday and am so eager to share your journey with people. People leave me comments about how brave I am for doing “this or that,” but I’m not even in the same league as you and David. It takes guts to sell your things and ride a bicycle across half the world. You’re amazing!! Stay safe! I love you!! Brenda

  12. We had a charming condo in Sun Valley ID. When we decided to sell, we asked the kids if they’d like any of the country antiques we had decorated the condo with. You’re right, nada, We sold some and gateway a ton to Habitat For Humanity. Some people got some fabulous treasures and my kids go to Ikea!

    • Sandra, LOL! Ikea!!! I know… It can’t compare to your country antiques, but our kids are not us! It’s hard to say their taste in things are better or worse than ours… Just different. Habitat for Humanity!! Now that’s giving from the heart. Brava to you both! I took some more things to Goodwill, again, the other day. On the way out, the guy at the door said, “Word gets around pretty fast that you’ve been here, again. You’ve got great stuff.” LOL! Yes, to me it’s stuff, but I’m happy to hear someone likes it. xoxox, Brenda

  13. Hi Brenda! It is lovely to have you join us this week at #MLSTL. We will be downsizing next year and I must admit it is so difficult to decide what to keep and what to give away or dispose of. I think it is the sentimental things that are really the problem for me. I would like to keep some to hand down to my children but other things like birthday cards which I’ve kept over the years certainly tug at my heart when I think of throwing them out. Thank you for the advice and I’m sharing on social media. xx

    • Hi Sue, Downsizing is challenging, but my things were in storage for 10 years before I got rid of anything. All those years later, things like birthday cards didn’t justify the added space I would need for them, especially since I’d rarely look at them. When the time comes I wish you an easy downsize, Brenda

  14. Hi, Brenda – You offer excellent advice and modeling. I love the photo of your current rightsized home. I’m also glad that you bought (and kept) the 200-year-old, iron, cow head. #MLSTL

  15. Love your advice, love your words! Having cleaned out more than a few people’s houses post mortem, I realize we are really doing our kids and our family a favor by being mindful of how much we are acquiring.

    • Thank you, Christine! So many of us believe the things we’ve collected will be treasured by those who come after us. If only we could realize that for the most part, we find it a pain in the backside to have to deal with it. Great comment!! Brenda

  16. I understand the desire to want to hold onto your things. Things are memories, and even, like your furniture for your future home, full of hope and potential. We downsized by over 50%, then realized we had no room in our home for our family and bought another bigger house. Much of the stuff I had hung on to doesn’t really work in the new house. I’ve made a lot of trips to thrift shops! I am working on a happy balance, getting rid of clutter and excess and getting things that work with the way we live now. You are right, my kids don’t want our stuff!

    • Oh, Michele! I hear this so often… We downsize without considering space for when family and friends visit, and so, we upscale yet again!! You and your finances must feel like yo-yos! I hope you get it right. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Brenda

  17. Great advice and I loved your stories! We have downsized and gave a lot of our things to charity (and our children!). We didn’t have much of value to sell, but a few things found their way to make money for our cardboard box! I absolutely agree, getting rid of things is emotionally hard at the time, but really not so difficult afterwards and you really don’t miss it as much as you thought you might! #MLSTL

    • Brava, Johanna!! You made some cardboard box money!! When my things were in storage, I was always so surprised when I went to my storage unit, because many of the things in there I’d forgotten I owned!! How sad is that? And it was just stuff! Thanks to #MLSTL for finding me and stopping by, Brenda

  18. I’m the biggest advocate of not holding onto stuff that no longer serves a purpose and I HATE houses that are full to the brim with so much stuff that you feel stifled visiting – let alone finding a free chair to sit on or a space to put down your coffee cup! I think you’ve done an amazing job offloading 90% of your surplus and I know it must have been a bit heart wrenching at the time – but also it gives you a sense of lightness now you’re not weighed down by it all. And a sense of moving forward and living the life you have now – letting go of old dreams is still a process and I think you’ve done an amazing job of working through it with grace. #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM – don’t forget to pop around and share some love with the other linkers! xx

    • Hi Leanne, You have THE best group of bloggers!! Almost every one of them has something I want to read and an interesting take on things I haven’t thought about. I’m grateful to be among them! Houses full of stuff… That’s a girlfriend of mine’s house, and it’s funny because she used to complain about how her mother collected “stuff,” and now she’s become just like her. I’m wondering if it’s a learned thing or is part of her DNA? xoxox, Brenda

  19. That’s such great advice and well put too Brenda! The cost of storage is huge so selling or getting rid of things makes complete sense. It must be a weight off your shoulders and much more manageable now. We haven’t moved in a long time but we don’t have too much stuff taking up space and nothing in storage so I’m not in a panic just yet. I too hadn’t heard the cardboard box label and love it!, sharing for #mlstl

    • Hi Debbie, I feel so much lighter… in every way… not to mention that $1,000 I spent each month on storage can go for things I need. LOL! Happy you like my “cardboard box money” term! Thanks for stopping by, Brenda

  20. Emptying out the storage sheds is quite an achievement Brenda. I’m afraid much of what we’ve been holding on to isn’t even worth selling. That’s sometimes the hard part, letting go of something with “sentimental value” that no one else wants. It feels wrong throwing away memories. But in truth you still have the memory. I know we need to declutter, downsize, whatever you want to call it. Convincing my husband (who has even kept the hardware out of his shoulder and knee surgeries) is going to be the hard part. #MLSTL

    • LOL! Oh, Christie!! I can identify with your comment in so many ways… except for surgical souvenirs! You’re right: Most of our things are even worth our time to find a way to sell them, but it goes against the grain to just toss them out or give them away for nothing! And yes… we will carry their memories with us. Thanks so much #MLSTL, Brenda

  21. Currently my husband and I are living in a four-bedroom house that once housed a family of five. We have LOTS of room (extra room) and yet the place is full. I don’t feel the impetus to downsize because I have space. But I know that someday soon that situation will change. And I most definitely don’t want to leave my children with the job of sorting through my excess junk. Perhaps I should start small … a little bit each month … instead of waiting until the “big move” to cull all at once.

    • Hi Molly, A little bit at a time… Theoretically that sounds good, but I’ve had several friends try that approach, and they weren’t successful. One, because she now had even more space, filled it with NEW STUFF. My other friends lost interest. It’s easier and more fun to watch football on the weekends or visit the farmer’s market. Good luck! Brenda

  22. I love your kitchen and that cow is worth whatever you paid + what must have been a whopping bill for shipping. Some things are just worth keeping. I have two crystal chandeliers that my husband and I purchased over thirty years ago. When we do choose to downsize, those will go with us, even if we have to hang them in a closet. I love my space and my stuff, and even though it is not cluttered, I do eliminate things from time to time that I know my daughter will never want. Add something, get rid of something is my motto.

  23. Hi Suzanne, I’ll never reveal how much my cow head cost. If I add the round trip to France… then it’s truly absurd. Chandeliers… I kept two chandeliers!! One is in my master bathroom. The other hangs in the middle of my garage. People must think I’m a crazy lady!! Loved your comment, Suzanne! Hope to see you here, again! Brenda

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