Downsizing is an art. It requires emotional courage, intelligent organizing, and strategic thinking. But, most of all, it requires necessity.
For whatever reason, we reach a point in life where we come face to face with a desire to retire. Bundled in that desire can be that we have to leave, we want to leave, or we are emotionally ready to leave our current surroundings. Our attitude towards the things we have collected over the years, however, can make the departure process more or less difficult. With the right approach, the necessity to downsize can be profitable before and after retirement.
When it comes to lifestyle adjustments, people who choose to retire overseas have several approaches to downsizing.
GROUP 1: The lucky can just clean up their papers, have a couple garage sales or give away things that collect dust, direct deposit pension checks, autopay bills, forward the mail, lock up the house or move to a smaller apartment (keys to neighbors or kids) and take off for what will become a quieter, more comfortable life overseas. They’ll come home once or twice a year to visit.
GROUP 2: Another group wants to or must sell out entirely, using the money gained to help finance retirement overseas. For the most part, the money is there to put valuable things in storage. When it isn’t, those things must be sold or stored with friends or family. But, the house and most of everything in it has to go. Depending on emotional attachments to things, it can take a while to divest and detach.
GROUP 3: The final group just wants out. They dump everything and run, often damning the consequences.
For a person who is currently in the process of preparing to retire overseas, it’s a perfect time to study and begin downsizing before “crunch time,” when one is faced with actually packing and moving. The prep time allows one to pro-actively market their goods to get the most money out of items and avoid carting truckloads to charity shops or the dump just to be rid of a previous homage to materialism.
In terms of downsizing strategy:
GROUP 1 probably wants to get rid of just a few things and can simple find ways to do so without necessarily seeking the highest price for their accumulated items of value. They are not in a hurry, however, and will retain their original home or keep an apartment as a “second home” and as a storage space for their most valuable or cherished items.
GROUP 2 actively chooses to sell belongings, including property, and hopes to divest themselves of a lifetime of “things” at the highest going rate in order to help finance the move and their future in paradise. Depending on how fast they want to depart can make a big difference in how they approach the marketing of their things.
GROUP 3 experiences the ultimate in psychological satisfaction, but there’s no time for a strategic or profitable move.
Move Over eBay and Craigslist – HELLO, ETSY!
No matter your situation, everyone knows the usual methods of ridding yourself of unwanted items. If you want a tax deduction, these include Goodwill, Salvation Army, local churches and libraries, and other non-profit 501(c)3 charities. If you want actual cash in the pocket, one uses garage sales, local auction houses, craigslist or e-bay.
Now, there’s a more dynamic online business model in the mix that can not only help rid you of your more interesting things at the price you want, but provide you a potential income source as an entrepreneur at your overseas haven.
Etsy (www.etsy.com), which started in 2006 with only three members participating, is now a worldwide site with millions of transactions a day taking place between buyers and sellers. The site primarily started as a place for artists and crafters who wanted to offer, display and sell handmade wares that got lost in the jumble of places like church bazaars and e-bay. Beyond just sellers posting their available wares, buyers can ask sellers for “custom” items made to specification.
With novel software, Etsy buyers can now watch items come up in real time as they are listed; search by colors for clothes, jewelry, decorations, or other accessories; RSS feed certain shops; and stay in close and pleasant communication with sellers using the “convo” function (basically the site’s internal e-mail system).
Listening carefully to its audience, etsy.com branched out from just handmade items and quickly went on to develop two other important key sales areas.
- For suppliers, who sell the nuts and bolts of arts and crafts (hand dyed yarns, handmade buttons, necklace clasps, paints, canvas, gems, etc.) or even heirloom seeds for gardeners, Etsy gave a unique home base, and
- For vintage (anything older than 20 years) sellers, who provide interior decorators and other buyers with new and unusual items from around the world, Etsy offered a target audience and a haven from the uncertain outcomes of e-bay auctions.
In creating these two new areas, Etsy “handmade” sellers became buyers of supplies on the site; Etsy buyers of handmade items started to become suppliers of crafting paraphernalia or creators of custom orders; and vintage sellers found a world of people who see designing their home and business environments as a dynamic, creative process that includes well-kept, cherished antiques and collectibles.
As a business model, etsy.com was genius!
Including ETSY.COM as a Key Element of Your Downsizing Strategy
It’s hard to beat Etsy for cost-effectiveness in marketing. Unlike the now dreadful maze of rules and charges on e-bay and the uncertainty of 3 or 7 day auction outcomes, Etsy is a fixed price site where you can ask the price you want and accurately estimate your sales cost. In preparation for selling, you know upfront know exactly how much you have to invest in order to reap the rewards.
It’s also hard to beat Etsy for exposure. A garage sale or craigslist advertisement is a local proposition and your items will sell at rock bottom prices. On etsy.com, your items have worldwide exposure. With a depressed U.S. dollar these days, that means international buyers are excited about picking up what they see as bargains from U.S. sellers on Etsy.
Listing a single item is merely 20 cents (U.S) and that includes five (5) free photographs to display your item for four (4) months, an adequate amount of time to know if the item will sell. Etsy fees for a sale are 3.5% of the total sales price, not including shipping fees. Paypal fees, if you choose to use that route to receive payments, are additional. However, compared to what you can expect from garage sales, Etsy can bring much higher prices and many more potential customers for your handmade, supply, or vintage items. Worst case scenario: if, after four months, you find your have an item that won’t sell on etsy, you move it to your garage sale or charity pile for disposal.
For someone just getting started out downsizing using Etsy as part of their strategy, the concept of DE-STASH is a very important one. De-stash simply means that you have some one thing or collection of things that you have been saving for years to “use up” in a project of some sort. Here, at last, it’s thirty years later and the project was never completed. Take the supplies you stored for the project and bundle them into a “de-stash” listing. Or, take out your old costume jewelry or Grandma’s old knitting basket and “de-stash” it! If you’ve ever had a box of fabric you swore you were going to use for a quilt (maybe you even started it but never finished it) and put it out at a garage sale just to get rid of it, you know how “de-stash” translates into reality. Etsians (buyers and sellers on Etsy) just love to buy “de-stash” because it’s usually inexpensive compared to buying new and often full of things they can use in their own special art or craft project.
Etsy’s flexibility actually facilitates downsizing. It allows individuals to specialize and collectives to form. It allows for sales and discounts as you see fit. It brings the phrase “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” into reality. You can be a seller for as long a time or as short a time as you want – just enough time to downsize or long enough to build an empire. Etsy has multiple free handbooks and webinars to teach you how to effectively sell on the site. Shops can sell anything as long as the products fit into the ever-broadening categories of handmade, supplies, or vintage.
Handmade items must be made by you personally (not by a third party) and can include hand knitted sweaters, handmade quilts, wood carvings, jewelry or even patterns and e-books. Vintage, which are items at least twenty years old, can include antiques, shabby chic furnishings, grandmother’s crocheted doilies, evening gowns, old crafting books, or even your old high school letter sweater (if you think someone would buy it). Supplies encompass almost anything including glass eyes for making dolls or fishing lures, charms for making bracelets, yarns, thread, bubble wrap, paints, needles, or anything else a crafter or artist could use.
ETSY as an Overseas Income Source
Although all Etsy transactions take place in U.S. dollars, one can buy and sell from anywhere in the world. If you find that Etsy is helpful in getting rid of your items before leaving for your overseas home, you’ll find that the “identity” you gain with your site among buyers will be of value in your new surroundings, if you wish to continue to use the shop to create a cash flow.
Wherever you go in the world to retire the local culture has wonderful things for sale. In the case of China, incredible sorts of crafting supplies are available that one can sell to eager buyers on Etsy. In the case of Eastern Europe, Etsians are selling beautiful handmade sweaters and wool yarns. Etsians in Western Europe are offering lovely vintage items they pick up on the local economies. All over the world, old and new textiles are available on Etsy for artists to pick up for use in new projects. One can find native woods, foreign coins, eccentric clothing, hand tied fishing flies, old brass door knockers, and almost any other imaginable item. If you can fit them into an Etsy category, you can sell them to a ready made audience of interested buyers all over the planet.
Then, even with your day job and W-2 behind you, as a U.S. citizen you easily can incorporate your Etsy shop into your taxes as a sole proprietorship.
An Example – Personal Experience with ETSY
Having lived and traveled overseas for years, we had collected enormous quantities of strange, unique and unusual textiles, ceramics, jade, jewelry, and woodcarvings. Although we had purchased a house many years before in the U.S. to keep our treasures on display, retirement meant we no longer had to live overseas. We could choose where we wanted to be when we wanted to be there. With all this freedom to move around, we felt ready to remove unnecessary items from the house.
The house in the U.S. was already stuffed with treasures, so we began there. The move to downsize put us first into a sorting and organizing mode. We soon found that we were no longer attached to much of what had been collected. With a bit of research, we realized Etsians, with their love of design, art, and crafts, were a perfect audience for the more unusual items we had to offer. It didn’t take long before prospective buyers from Australia, Japan, Greece and the U.S. were in our shop sending “convos” to ask about the provenance of our offerings. Sales quickly followed. We had never met a nicer and more diverse group of creative people online!
Not wanting to lose the momentum that had started with selling in the U.S., we used our regular travel overseas to identify items that would sell on Etsy. Wonderfully, it didn’t matter where we were in the world. As long as there was a post office, items could be sold and posted from anywhere. Although we have not yet started selling from overseas, we are building an online business and a customer base that will allow us to sell from anywhere at any time that we find a unique item Etsians might like.
In addition, we were able to create a collective of family members who were crafters or who had unusual items to sell. As we travel now, we work with friends and family to get their items online. If they join the collective, we photograph, post and sell. Others provide the items and do the mailing when an item that belongs to them is sold. Monies are transferred from buyers to our Etsy shop and then to the actual sellers in the collective via a variety of methods. Or, sometimes we will train a friend with skills at making handmade items who wants to start an individual shop (e.g., visit our friend at http://etsy.chesapeakecreations.com), thus helping someone to start an entirely new small business.
Start From Where You Are
Of course, the key to downsizing is to begin!
If you are a few years away from retirement, consider starting your downsizing now using Etsy as a key element of your plan. If you are already comfortably ensconced overseas, take a look at what etsy.com can offer you in terms of starting a business selling local crafts, supply items, or vintage items from overseas.
No matter your situation at the moment, etsy.com provides a whole new dynamic to people who want to accomplish profitable downsizing and/or create an income stream from overseas!
About the Author: Tracy Zhang recently retired and now spends her time with friends and family in China and around the U.S. She’s also busy downsizing and helping others do the same. Visit her shop at http://www.charliebear.etsy.com to check out her patterns, e-books, and vintage items.