We decided we wanted to try living as nomads after we reached FIRE (financial independence / retire early) in 2018. Alison retired in April of 2018 and I gave notice three months later. We moved out of our 760 square foot condo in October of 2018 and sold it so we could leave our career-focused lives in Seattle behind and spend some time traveling.
When we moved away from Seattle we hoped we would live internationally as nomads for at least five years and maybe longer. But we also thought it was possible that we’d decide to set up a home base in the USA again after only a year or two. Life is unpredictable so we try to consider all of our options!
We did consider leaving a few boxes with various family members so we could avoid paying storage unit fees but that seemed like too much to ask of them and too much of a hassle for us to scatter our things between our siblings since our place in Seattle was a few states away from each of them. None of our siblings could easily accommodate more than two or three boxes and we originally planned to store at least a dozen boxes so a storage unit seemed like the right plan for us. On top of that we were already planning to leave two bags of extra clothes with one of my sisters in California and another two bags of extra clothes with one of Alison’s sisters in Arizona so we could swap out clothes between our trips when we came back to visit family. The point is, we didn’t want to become a burden to anyone!
The storage unit idea was never intended as a longterm solution. It was a failsafe in case our nomad life turned out to be a short-term adventure so we would be ready to settle down again if that’s the way the wind blew. And since life is funny, that’s exactly what happened.
What Went Into Storage?
The first things we decided to keep in storage were artwork. A lot of the artwork we had in our condo was large, and a lot of it was given to us by family members. We have some paintings that used to belong to Alison’s aunt and other paintings that used to belong to my grandma. We also picked up a few pieces of art on our own over the years that we loved. So when it came down to it we decided to keep most of our artwork because it means a lot to us and because seeing it makes us feel at home.
Storage in Downtown Seattle
While we were packing up our condo and getting ready to sell it we called a few local storage units but they had no units available. Then we found a brand new storage facility very close to our condo in downtown Seattle and rented a 5×10 unit there. We would have gotten something smaller but 5×10 unit was the smallest they built in their facility. That unit was tall enough and wide enough for all of our artwork but it seemed crazy big for what we needed to store. Once we safely packed up our artwork and stacked it all in the back of our storage unit we realized how much extra space we still had. We decided we might as well fill it up since we were paying for the space anyway.
Filling the Storage Unit
The decision to keep our artwork in storage was like a gateway drug so when we next looked around our condo the kitchen cabinets caught our eye right away. I definitely wanted to keep my colorful Fiesta Ware dishes and Alison wanted to keep her Roycroft Buffalo dishes. Back in the early 1990’s my grandma gave me all of my original Fiesta Ware when I started living on my own. My aunt gave me a few pieces as well and I have enjoyed adding to them over time with more colors and different types of pieces. In the late 1990’s Alison’s mom wanted to split up her family heirloom Minton china between her daughters but Alison wasn’t interested in fine china and declined to take any (*gasp). So Alison’s mom gave her a set of Roycroft dishes instead. We are each in love with our dishes and we always thought it was fun to alternate between the different styles every day and use a variety for dinner parties with friends. So we decided to keep all of our dishes and put them in storage as well.
Once we added all of our dishes to the storage unit we still had a ton of space left. So we put basically every kitchen related item we had in there including our Kitchen Aid Mixer and all of its fun accessories, pots and pans, bowls and bakeware, wine and whisky glasses, and even our old mismatched silverware. We had a total of six rolling racks in our 760 square foot condo to help us manage our perfectly small living space, so we decided to move all of those racks into our storage unit to keep the boxes organized and make it easier to navigate. We also put some file boxes in our storage unit with original trust and tax documents, some old family photos and slides from Alison’s parents and grandparents, and a few other family keepsakes.
After all of those boxes were in there we still had a ton of extra room so then we added Alison’s favorite chair and my favorite chair. Plus a few other odds and ends like tools, our walking sticks, and our camp chairs. We figured we might as well keep our collection of Christmas ornaments too. On the last day we pulled our maps off the walls in our condo and tossed them in the storage unit too. Finally the condo was empty and the storage unit was mostly full, and by November 1, 2018 we were ready to leave Seattle. Whew!
Change of Plans
In January of 2020 we were in Mexico starting our second year of nomad life. We were thrilled with how things were going after one year and 13 countries and felt like we had really found our comfortable groove with our travels. We were planning to stay in Mexico until early May of 2020 and then we would return to the USA for most of May and June to see family and friends. We decided to visit our storage unit in May to consider letting it go. We were incredibly happy with our nomad life and very excited about our plan to be spending the summer in Ireland, England, and Scotland followed by the fall and winter in Croatia and Portugal. At that point it seemed clear that we didn’t need our old things anymore since we had no plans to settle down again so we might as well give the rest of it away.
But by March of 2020 the pandemic had covered the world and we were starting to talk about changing our travel plans. After we returned to the USA in May it wasn’t long before we started preparing for the possibility of buying a home and settling down again. By September of 2020 we bought a house and were very glad we had so many of our favorite things packed away in our storage unit! We hated the idea of starting from scratch to set up our new home.
Just to be clear, the storage unit was expensive. Everything in downtown Seattle was expensive and our storage unit was no exception. The cost of our storage unit for the first 12 months starting in October 2018 was $95/month with an introductory offer. We were pretty comfortable factoring those original numbers into our annual budget. But the cost of our storage unit went up in the second year after that initial offer was over, so from October 2019 through January of 2021 we paid $142/month. We were definitely not as comfortable with those numbers in our annual budget. Our total spend for the storage unit in downtown Seattle for just over two years was $3,412. Ouch!
We’re very glad we moved out of our storage unit. Renting that place was the right choice for us and we have no regrets. We don’t believe in holding onto guilt or shame about our spending. But honestly it would have made us crazy to see the cost of that storage unit in our annual budget for longer than two years.
Our Seattle Storage Unit Costs
The Bottom Line
Recently we were chatting with some FIRE friends who are planning their future nomad life and they asked if we would do it all again. We can’t go back in time but we can look forward, and if we’re talking about the future the answer is no. We wouldn’t get a storage unit again. The key element in this decision for us is “permanence.” The reason the storage unit made sense for us last time is that we didn’t have a sense of permanence about anything we were planning. We knew nothing about nomad life and had no idea if we’d be gone traveling for one year or five years or forever. We’re glad we got a storage unit in 2018 because it turned out to be the right thing for us. But if we decide to live abroad or nomadically again in the future we wouldn’t be rookies anymore. We would feel comfortable making a more permanent decision and that would make a storage unit unnecessary. If there is another chapter of nomad life out there for us we’ll leave a couple of family mementos with one or two of our sisters and leave it at that.
We’re glad we paid for a storage unit for two years, even if it was terribly overpriced due to location. Was it the best use of our money from a financial perspective? Maybe not. But it was a reasonable choice for us considering the changes we were going through as new retirees, and then the changes we faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to personal finance, sometimes being reasonable is more appropriate than being rational. This is just one more example that personal finance is just an element of personal life. We make personal finance decisions by considering our emotional needs and and our finances together.
As much as we love giving things away and getting rid of stuff we still have an emotional attachment to some things. We’re settling in at our new house now and comfy in our old favorite chairs. I’m drinking Earl Gray tea out of one of my Fiesta Ware mugs and Alison is drinking peppermint tea out of one of her Roycroft mugs. And we’re happy!
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