downsizing to upsize: how I went from a one bedroom to a five bedroom with half the stuff

The box in my arms is heavy. Heavy is good, it means I’m about to feel lighter. As I heft it onto the GoodWill counter, a woman politely asks me if I need a donation receipt. I smile and shake my head, beelining for the door, like a coffee addict who’s name was just called into a crowded cafe. I hit fresh air and wait for the ensuing endorphin high. I’m not kidding. Purging my things gives me a rush.

I know what you’re thinking, “common, giving to Goodwill is obvious, what’s the real story of how you downsize your stuff and upsize your home?”

Step 1. Buy nothing, get something

Have you heard of a Buy Nothing group? Well if I smoked cigarettes, this group would be the wholesale store, where the cigarettes come in cases instead of cartons. Where all you can see from the outside are dusty windows plastered with every faded brand logo in history, Joe and the Marlboro Man rubbing elbows like the cancer-peddling bros they are.

A Buy Nothing group is simple: a geographic community (typically using Facebook as a platform) gives to each other without expectations. Post anything, ask for anything, borrow or keep, it costs nothing.

What are some things I’ve given away on my Buy Nothing group?


  • a Baby Jogger
  • a high chair and play mat
  • cake ingredients
  • art supplies
  • costumes
  • toys
  • sports equipment
  • cook books
  • too many bags of kid’s clothes to count
  • life vests (so basically I’m a lifesaver right?


What are some things I’ve gotten off my Buy Nothing group?


  • toddler shoes for my daughter
  • running shorts for me
  • a coffee thermos to borrow
  • a BOB stroller
  • moving boxes
  • cloth diapers
  • an Uppa Baby stroller
  • lots of new friends and a sense of community

You’ve bought something off Craigslist right? You know the curt efficiency, the lurking safety concerns, the mutual suspicion of being ripped off? Yeah, none of that is present in a Buy Nothing exchange. The mom I get the diapers from laughs in her doorway, her now potty-trained son on her hip as she gives me helpful washing tips. I can’t welch on her because I’m not paying. There is no urgency, just two parents with likeminded ideals yucking it up.

If giving to Goodwill is an endorphin rush, then giving to my Buy Nothing community is like biking to the top of Portola (big steep hill!). So much joy and excitement, knowing I not only get to dispose of something, but I get to do it in a way that gives new life to the item and happiness to a neighbor.

Is this all too California-egalitarian for you? Are you scoffing behind your screen? I don’t blame you, it sounds too good to be true. It turns out though, all you need is a culture for it. The San Francisco Buy Nothing group has over 7,000 members and thousands of success stories. Trust me, do yourself a favor and go find a group now, or start one of your own! Even if you’re not moving homes like me, this is a fantastic way to streamline your living space.

Step 2: A packable life

Is it becoming clearer how I went from an overstocked apartment to eight suitcases? Now it’s time to pack everything up. Moving internationally is the gold medal of Olympic packing. Well, maybe it’s bested by van life packing, so lets call it silver.

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How much stuff should you pack? Minimalism is in the eye of the beholder. From an outside view, my SF life might have looked minimalist: a one bedroom apartment, no car, no storage unit, ten pieces of furniture, how much could I really have to begin with? The answer for me is too much of one thing and not enough of another.

I had too many possessions but not enough space. Too many shoes and too many obsolete iPhone chargers but not a dinning room table, not a space for my kids to sleep that wasn’t also my space to unwind with my husband. So I KonMari’d my life (kept what sparked joy within me), and passed on the excess.

The mechanism of international packing is akin to spring cleaning: dump everything onto the bed or floor and start making piles. Unlike cleaning, there’s the added challenge of how to get your stuff from this country to that county. Some people ship boxes internationally or employ an international shipping company. These options are expensive and near impossible depending on your destination. Some people pack up their car and drive across the boarder (only available if your destination is over land, not sea). And then people like myself research the price of every major airline’s check’ed baggage fees. Spoiler alert, they’re all basically the same. It cost us $375 to move everything (for you math-whizzes, the extra cost was overweight luggage). It could have been less, but we chose to fly to LA for a few days first.

If you want to know exactly what I packed, let me know and I’ll post solely on the packing and flying experience.

Now, do I really only own what’s in those suitcases? Full disclosure, no.

Both my aunt and parents are holding on to boxes of my stuff. If you’re already an on-point minimalist, you might ask “what could be worth keeping that wasn’t worth taking to Mexico?” The answer is unoriginal: my wedding veil, a few quality pieces of art that I love, my two winter jackets that I’ll wear again, old photos I haven’t yet digitized.

Is my new house only populated with eight suitcases? Yes and no. I may not own more than those eight suitcases, but I am using more than that. The home we rent is semi-furnished. I have a dining room table (a literal dream come true), mattresses and couches, a coffee table and night stands.

If you’r renting abroad yourself, I highly recommend picking semi-furnished over fully. Yes I will have to buy a few kitchen items (I brought the portable ones with me), and since I only packed sheets for my bed, I’ll need to buy ones for the guest beds, but all the excess stuff that a fully-furnished apartment boasts, is missing here.

No rugs, no art, no trinkets or lamps. Is it sounding bleak?😂 For me it’s tranquil. The empty spaces are fine just as they are, or they provide room for my own taste, for that one new piece of local art, or a DIY project with my kids. Go tranquil, go semi-furnished.

Step 3: Upsizing

Millions of families live in similarly-sized accommodations to where I was months ago. To say it’s an impossible living situation is to minimize their experiences. Of course you can make it work (I’m proof of that). But it’s tough. If you want to be a minimalist but dread the thought of living in a Tiny House, remember, minimalism isn’t a set of rules, but rather an ideology of reducing the excess that clutters your heart and mind.

I have a five bedroom house now. Is that “minimalist”? Probably not, (I’m still aspiring) but it’s my minimalism right now, and my eight suitcases fill this home in a barely-noticeable way that gives me peace. In SF my minimalism was out of necessity, here it is out of desire.

Here I sit on my lanai (veranda) watching my kids toddle about the yard (oh my God I have a yard!), and I don’t feel the need to fill the space. The space itself is what I needed, that it my minimalism, and I increased my home by five fold in order to get it.


— Lavender