Were We Mad to Donate our Entire House?

Have you ever read a piece of news that pulled you so strongly, you were compelled to act immediately?

In 2017, my husband and I were preparing to travel the world indefinitely, starting with a road trip through Australia. We were currently going through everything we owned, trying to decide what to sell – and how we wanted to sell it. (This was before Facebook marketplace really took off.) We’d already donated a lot to local charities. We’d set our daughter up for what she needed, as she headed into the world on her own. But we still had a lot left to decide on.

How had we accumulated so much? We had clothes, multiple couches, chairs, a dining room setting, a fridge, microwave, an almost-new washer and dryer, beds, linens, kitchenware… there was a lot to deal with, and we had only a few weeks to work it out. We looked at storing everything, but not knowing how long we’d be gone for, that was going to be pricey.

It was one step at a time. And we were getting there. I had every intention of being sorted by the time our lease was up.

But one morning, just as the sun was creeping up over the valley outside, my steaming coffee beside me, I sat and read the news like I do every other morning. I was drawn to an article titled:

“Farming family lose everything in the NSW fires”

I had been following the recent bushfires affecting my home state, but I was compelled to click on this one. Growing up in the country, I know how devastating bush fires could be. And this fire was close to where I grew up.

As I read the story, my heart clenched. The family in this article lost their house because they were out helping their neighbours. Realising the fire was coming for their property, they only had the opportunity to pack one suitcase before getting out.

I read line after line, as tears poured down my face. I could smell the smoke, feel the grit of it all on my fingers. I sat back in my chair, stunned and heartbroken. And then I looked around. I was sitting in a house full of furniture. Full of things we no longer needed, and this family had just lost everything.

I stood up and went into the bathroom. I took a shower, then got ready for my day, but my mind was processing the story. All of a sudden, instinct took over. I walked into my husband’s home office and, after taking a deep breath, I said, “I hope you’ll be okay with this but I want to change the plan.”

Telling Rich about the family who had just lost everything, I broke down crying. I couldn’t even get out their story or tell him what I wanted to do. I was so torn up about what this family – all the families in this area really – had just been through, that I could not finish a sentence. I waved Rich away, muttered ‘I’ll be right back’ and left to collect myself, so I could explain my thoughts coherently.

After a few minutes, I returned and said: “I want to donate all of our furniture to a family near Dunedoo who just lost everything in the Central N.S.W. fires. We have all of this (waving my hand) and it just makes sense to donate it all to them, rather than selling it off.”

Rich looked at me, at my face, and immediately nodded. “Yes. No argument. Of course.”

He knew I’d been following the fires in the area closely. I had grown up near the area – about an hour away in fact – and it was hitting me hard. Growing up in the Upper Hunter (N.S.W.), we were aware of the danger of bushfires, especially when winds could shift directions at any moment. I had experienced bushfires in my life, but had been fortunate never to lose anything  – or anyone.

In times like these, people pull together. It’s what you do.

With Rich’s agreement, I reached out to the family via their GoFundMe website. If I had to, I was willing to contact a moving company to see if they would volunteer their services to get our goods to the family. And, if the family didn’t want it, we’d sell everything locally and donate the proceeds back to the Bushfire Relief Fund. Either way, the people of Central N.S.W. would have our help.

Thankfully, the sister of the family replied almost immediately: Yes. They would take whatever we had to offer.

The more we heard of this family’s story, the happier we were to be doing this. This family had dealt with some hard knocks over the years, more than most, and I hoped that after this, they would have faith in humanity again.

Margot (the sister) and I spoke a few times. She told me a little more of what had happened. The reason the family left with only one suitcase was because they were out helping their neighbours. While Chris was tending to the fire on another property, his wife Sam was packing up a neighbour’s house, as they were currently overseas. Sam had just gotten home and started packing their house when Chris called and said “Get out. Get out now. The fire is coming toward you.” Sam had enough time (suffering a hernia in the process) to get the kids, the dogs, and the suitcase into the car, before the fire took their house and their livelihood … thankfully, not their lives.”

Margo and also spoke about how we’d get our house contents in Sydney, to the family in Dunedoo. Thankfully, Margo knew of a moving company, who had volunteered their time, truck, and petrol, to pick up our things a few days later. As we prepared for the moving truck’s arrival, we assessed every item in our house, asking ourselves was ‘keep or donate?’ I’ve never packed up a house so fast in my life. With everything we donated to Chris, Sam and their family, it filled the moving truck completely. The plan was to store it all in a shipping container, until the family could rebuild again.

As the truck drove away, we felt free. But we also felt happy we could do something like this.

It’s now seven years later.

We were left with camping gear for our Australian road trip, our sentimental stuff, and a few pieces we didn’t want to part with. We put those things into a small storage unit in Sydney, while we travelled full time for three years. But here we are, once again contemplating buying a house of our own.

When we suffered travel burnout mid-2019, we decided to rent a house in Tasmania. The plan was to stop for a year or so, assess where we were, what was next, maybe write a book, then we’d continue travelling, finding somewhere to base ourselves along the way.

Ah, but then COVID took over the plan. Then we had some other health issues. Oh! And a writing career that was launched along the way. 😉

For the last four years, we’ve been renting a fully-furnished house, which has been a godsend. But buying for us is not just about buying the property – it’s about buying the contents too.

One thing travelling has taught us – even the experience of walking the Camino – is we don’t need a lot. Thinking through the idea of what buying would entail, we listed out all the things we would need to buy, if/when we find a place. Currently, we have office equipment, basic kitchen supplies, a camping fridge and a set of linens.

For the rest, our needs are basic. We’d need a bed, a fridge (although the camping fridge would get us by for the short term), a microwave, and a washing machine. Oh, and we’d need a kettle and a toaster.  (We have to have some way to make the coffee in the morning!)

We have two outdoor chairs our daughter kept for a while, so we could use those until we bought a couch. We don’t watch television (we stream content instead), so we’d save money there. (We have an extra monitor that we could use to watch Netflix etc…) We’d need something to put our clothes into, like a chest of drawers, but there’s always IKEA for that, or we could check out the reuse centre.  🙂

Given what we’re facing – and the expense – do we regret giving everything away?

Not for a day. I mean, some days we miss our bed, but there’s always another one to buy. And, if we don’t have the money to buy it, we’ll wait. Our needs are simple. The idea that we’ve helped another family get back on their feet overrides any feeling of needing more stuff.

What do you think? Were we mad? Would you do this? Leave a comment and let me know.

Photo Credit: Jack Bass | Unsplash