October Is National Family History Month…

Alice & Johnny Hulstrand

Today is the last day of National Family History Month, but if you missed it, don’t worry! This is one celebration that certainly can, and should, go on all year round. And in terms of downsizing, it’s a good activity to keep going so that when it’s time to make your next move you won’t be caught with boxes and boxes of unorganized photographs and documents–you’ll have separated what’s important from what’s not, and made sure the important stuff is properly preserved and kept. 

Here are links to a few great resources and ideas about how to preserve, discover, celebrate and explore your own family’s history.



As the holidays approach, there will be all kinds of opportunities for you to celebrate your family’s present–as well as your shared history.  Enjoy it!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Finding My Way in My Grandparents’ Attic

attic 4A

“She figured she loved it for the reason we always love attics, for the reason they figure in our dreams: because they are the hidden rooms where we store our pasts.”

So says a character in Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House, the story of a turn-of-the-last-century estate whose attic plays a prominent role in a tale of family and fate, art and love, surprises and secrets.

I loved my grandparents’ attic. It was above the garage, behind the house that my grandfather had built in the early 1920s. It was large, it had windows to bring in light, and it was filled with their treasures and their junk.

Everything was saved in my grandparent’s day. They, like others of their generation who raised families during the Depression, saved everything and valued their possessions in ways we can barely fathom. I remember my sister and I riding the bikes, with big front baskets attached with leather straps, that had belonged to my mother and her sister. And the attic was filled, not with the bikes, but with things they thought they might use again.

Have I used anything that belonged to my grandparents? My mother gave me my grandmother’s china – not very old, but lovely, a set that my uncle had brought back from Japan after the war – when my kids were young. I cautioned my mother that with young kids I wasn’t about to use china that I had to handle with care, and I didn’t. The plates went into the dishwasher, which over the years, cleaned off the pattern along with the food. (I still have the set of twelve perfect cream soups because, somehow, my life is such that there was no occasion for setting a table with cream soup bowls.)

Have I treasured anything that belonged to my grandparents? I have a wooden candlestick, carved from a tree on my grandfather’s family farm outside of Stockholm, prominently displayed on a shelf in my living room. It’s sturdy and practical like my grandfather, who was a carpenter and a builder, and it reminds me of him.

I also have a delicate gold pin, a gift from my grandfather to my grandmother on birth of their first child. In some ways, the pin reminds me of my grandmother; it’s small and delicate and not ostentatious, a good description of her, a woman barely five feet tall. But in other ways jewelry is not like her, at least not how I saw her, a woman who was so practical that she dyed her wedding dress so she had a dress to wear to church, made all her food from scratch, and sewed so beautifully that she earned her living as a seamstress. Both candlestick and brooch are everyday items but for me they evoke powerful memories.

October is National Family History Month, a fitting time to get family members involved in talking about family history. I feel that I have honored my grandparents by looking through old family photos – prompted, of course, by this blog post – and seeing photos of their house I hadn’t seen in years, by remembering them through a few – just a few – favorite objects that belonged to them, and mostly by sharing stories about them here and with my family.

So here’s to looking though your attic – literally or figuratively – and finding ways to bring the past we’ve stored there into the present, to share family memories.

Below is a list of places, some we’ve mentioned before, that may help you and your family get involved in family history.

Family Tree Magazine


Minnkota Genealogical Society


Practical Archivist: Family Archivist Survival Kit


Adventures in Genealogy




Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

A time to keep, a time to throw away….and a time to preserve…

Uncle Lewey war letter

In our book, we talk about the fact that in the process of downsizing a family home, it often seems that the world is divided into the “keepers” and the “throwers.” And how in most families there are some of each personality type, and how one of the challenges in getting through the process harmoniously requires these two opposite types to respect each other’s differences, and find ways to cooperate, collaborate, and find a middle ground–to keep some things, and to get rid of many others.

One of my cousins has been engaged in the process of going through all the things left behind by her recently deceased parents. And she has reminded me that in downsizing a family home, it’s not always just about keeping some things, and getting rid of others. Sometimes it’s about preserving things–not necessarily for ourselves, but for our families, or our communities.

My uncle was a man deeply involved in his church, in his political party, and in his community. He was also by nature an archivist. After he died my cousin spent many hours, many days, many months going through his papers. At a certain point she called for help from the local historical society, who came to take a look at the overwhelming collection of documents she was dealing with. Ultimately they took 26 boxes of his papers, and were delighted to receive them. Several more boxes went to his alma mater, a small liberal arts college where he had sat on the board, and kept all his notes from board meetings over a period of many years. Other files were delivered to his church, and some were kept for the family. All of the recipients of these documents, which my uncle kept so carefully for so many years, deeply appreciated the care my cousin had taken in going through what many people would have simply thrown out.

“When we talk about preserving things, it’s more about keeping things for others than for ourselves,” my cousin says. Of course the painstaking, often tedious task of going through papers is extremely time-consuming, and not everyone can do it. My cousin did not go through every piece of paper in her father’s office, she couldn’t! But she did at least look into every drawer, she tried to assess what was there, and what she couldn’t deal with herself, she gave to someone she knew would be able to do so.

When it comes time to empty out the family home, it’s good to remember that there is another option presented than the strict dichotomy of “keeping” or “throwing.” And there are many institutions and organizations set up to help preserve those things we don’t know what to do with–but know somehow, should not just be thrown out.  If you’re not sure where to turn or who to contact in your community, your local librarian can help. There is also help in the resource section of our book. Goodhue Cty thanks

Of course, this kind of painstaking care with preserving the artifacts and documentation of our collective history can’t be done in a weekend, or a month. In order to ensure that you will have the time needed to find the right place for everything to go, you’ll need to follow our first and most important piece of advice: start now!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

What I Learned While Helping at a Moving Sale

house-stuff 2David McGrievey

Last week I helped a friend organize and sell at a two-day moving sale. Her house had been sold and she was emptying it of all the contents, taking some of it with her and giving other things to friends, but selling what she could. Here’s what I learned.

• Do your homework. Researching prices ahead of time really helps. Original packaging enhances an item as does having the manual for small appliances. My friend was selling big items like furniture and it helped to have original receipts to establish provenance, manufacturer’s names, and age of the item.

• Organize and stage. Grouping like items together makes sense for customers who are looking for a particular item or even for those just browsing. But we also staged some areas, putting decorative pillows on chairs and lamps on occasional tables so people could see items in a more living-with-it context. We also grouped outdoor furniture under a backyard umbrella to make an inviting setting.

• Price appropriately for you. Pricing each large item is a must. But grouping smaller ones in a carton and labeling the cartons $1 each or $3 each makes sense. Offering a discount for multiple items also encourages sales. Be willing to negotiate, but it’s your choice to stay firm on prices of things that you feel are priced fairly or on those items you don’t want to haggle over.

• Advertise. My friend listed both large items of furniture and a notice of the moving sale on Craigslist a week or two before the sale. She also put ads for both in the local paper. From Craigslist she got buyers interested in specific items of furniture and was able to sell some of those before the day of the sale. Having both ads in the paper also brought serious buyers as well as people who simply like to amble through yard sales.

• Think about your start time. No matter what time you put on the signs and in the ads, people will show up early!

• It’s good to have friends. All the work involved in a moving sale is too much for one person to handle. Even though my friend did an astonishing amount of work ahead of time, and on the day of the sale, she was so grateful for helping hands.

• Sharing your story is awesome and humbling. The teak backyard table and chairs was sold to a disabled Iraqi war veteran who had a blade for a lower leg. He had moved with his family (wife and three kids) to a town nearby and was furnishing their new house. A woman with a cane bought one of the bikes, vowing that she was going to heal sufficiently to ride a bike again. A man who spoke little English and didn’t know the word for ‘blender’ had his very young daughter translate for him: “We need something like that,” she said. We are all so human.

• Think of others. My friend is incredibly generous person and she gave large items of furniture as well as small decorative pieces and kitchen items to friends and relatives before the start of the sale. She had also arranged with Habitat for Humanity to come pick up everything that didn’t sell at the sale.

Helping out at my friend’s moving sale was a great deal of fun; organizing, staging, pricing, selling, and hanging out with friends made for an enjoyable few days. And something else I learned: It’s a lot more fun and so much easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff!

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Back to School, Back to Downsizing: Selling and Donating Books

Getting Rid of Books

Bye, bye, eight more boxes of books! Thanks for all the great reading!


It’s back to school time, and for me for the past few years, that has meant buying and selling used books.

Late August and early September are prime times for selling books, especially textbooks, as everyone goes back to school (including to college). As before, I’m using Amazon to get rid of the textbooks my sons no longer need. We have also been buying many of the textbooks they’ve needed in high school and college through Amazon used books, as well.

The system is quite well-organized, user-friendly, and easy to set up. Anyone who is used to using the Internet can do it quite easily, but here are a few of the most important things to know:

  •  Sellers are expected to ship their orders promptly once received. So be sure not to list books for sale, and then go off on vacation. You have to be ready to ship within a few days when the orders roll in.
  • Check competing offers. If the book you want to sell has more than 100 copies being offered for a penny, yours is not that likely to sell, unless it is in pristine condition and you still want to sell it for a penny. It may make more sense to just give the book away, to a school or library. Or maybe (if you’re really lucky) you could sell it in a yard sale for 50 cents or a dollar.
  • You have the best chance of selling a book if you “match lowest offer,” especially if your book is in better condition than most of the others ones listed.
  • Consider the weight factor. Selling a very light book for a penny can work out fine, because the way the cost is structured you will still be able to make a decent profit on the book. (This is because you may get more of shipping allowance from Amazon than you need to pay for shipping at the media rate). But for heavier books, you may end up actually losing a little money on some sales, if you haven’t priced the books high enough. (This sounds more complicated than it is. If you have as many books as I do, you’ll quickly see how it works, and when it doesn’t.) I’ve had to send one or two books where I lost a little bit on the deal (never more than a dollar). But I’ve more than made up for that in the money I’ve earned from all the other books I’ve sold–for an amount that would be hard to get for used books anywhere else.

This year, in addition to selling my son’s textbooks from last year, I’m also continuing the process of “proactive downsizing” of my own huge book collection. Although I have no immediate plans for a move, I know that my days in the place I am currently living are probably numbered. As I have previously discussed here, many of the reasons I wanted to keep books I had already read on my shelves no longer exist. So, although I know I will always have plenty of books with me wherever I go, I really do want to minimize the number I take with me in my next move, whenever that is. I’d much rather do it now than under duress and in the midst of all the chaos of moving. As I give away books I know I’d really rather keep (but at this point in my life shouldn’t), I remember that question my mother was always asking me as a child, in the early days of my book-buying ways: “Why don’t you just get it at the library?” (Finally, though sadly she’s not around anymore to hear my answer, the answer is: “You’re right, Mom!”)

Here are a few more tips for good ways to thin your book collection:

  • After my brother died, my sister and I shared the task of emptying out the storage locker where he had stored hundreds, perhaps even thousands of his books. We ended up selling most of them at Half Price Books. If you live in one of the 16 states where Half-Price books operates, that can be a great way to get cash for your books. The system they have organized is efficient, and feels pretty fair too. You bring the books in and wait while they evaluate them. Then they pay you–cash, on the spot! (Note: my sister and I cannot swear this to be true, but we do think that maybe you get a proportionately higher cash amount when you bring in just a couple of stacks of books, rather than a truckload, as we did once. :-) And that would kind of make sense, wouldn’t it?)
  • If you’re not moving right away, but you want to start getting rid of some of your books, you might want to consider building a Little Free Library, a way of sharing used books with others. The concept is simple: you place books you don’t want anymore in your Little Free Library: others take them out, and leave books they don’t want anymore for you. Some Little Free Libraries are very simple, and some are wildly creative. That’s up to you! But all of them function sort of like placing your books outside on the stoop or sidewalk for the taking–with the added benefit of offering the books protection from the elements while they’re waiting to be read again.
  • Libraries and schools are excellent places to give away the books you don’t want anymore and can’t, or prefer not to sell. And think beyond the obvious: churches, preschools, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters. Most of these places have libraries, reading rooms, or at least some open bookshelves–and most of them welcome donations. Prisons are also an excellent place to donate books. You can find out how to go about doing so here.
  • This post, by my coauthor, has some great tips for other places that welcome used books, many of them places that share books with people who can really use them.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to give away ALL your books. I certainly didn’t. Before loading the eight boxes of books I just hauled off to my local library’s used bookstore, I plucked out a few I decided I just wasn’t quite ready to part with yet. I may be ready to let them go when I really do move. For now, they’re not taking up very much space, and seeing them makes me smile.

Books I Kept


And there are still plenty of books left in my home. I think there always will be. :-)

Still Got Books 1still got books 3

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.



Today we share this lovely meditation written by a friend, author of the blog “The Sober Heart: More About Life, Love, Recovery,” who has recently been through the downsizing process. We think many of you will draw inspiration and/or comfort from her words.

Originally posted on The Sober Heart:


Today my genial and graceful moving man came to pick up the last of the boxed possessions that I have jettisoned in the past six months in an effort to downsize my life.

In recovery we talk a lot about “right sizing” ourselves. Grandiose dreams and expectations, whether realized or ruined, are not a part of sober behavior. Chasing rocket fantasies tends to make us want to get higher any way we can. So I am trying to make my life more manageable by reducing the number of things I must tend on a daily basis.

As I write this my sinfully adorable dog, Kirby, has parked himself on my shoulder, reminding me that I only need to care for one precious creature to be joyously fulfilled.

Here is what I learned in the process of emptying half a dozen overflowing closets, a dozen giant bookshelves, eight rooms of furnishings…

View original 333 more words

Reaching Beyond The Clutter

marcia_clutter free

We are so pleased to have Marcia Muskat (marciany@me.com), a personal organizer and founder and owner of ‘section by section,’ a home organizing business, as our guest blogger this week. Marcia shares with us lessons she’s learned from working with older people.

As a personal organizer who has worked mainly with older people, I have found that seniors have a particularly hard time separating themselves from their belongings. But cleaning out does not have to mean losing what they value most. And while satisfaction with life, especially in our golden years, is very much about looking back with pride, it is also about living well now. Seniors I have worked with, who have embraced the process of separating the essentials from the expendables, find that they can accomplish more with less.

Excessive accumulations that threaten health, safety and quality of life add an extra urgency to my role as a personal organizer. Case in point is a client of mine. A reporter for a big city newspaper, she tackled challenges in domains usually reserved, in her day, for driven men with strong resumes. Today, a young 80-something, she easily navigates the stairs in her fifth-floor walk-up apartment (kudos to her muscle memory) while carrying groceries in a sturdy knapsack. An ardent literary and art fan, she makes her way downtown to the renowned Strand Book Store or uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But at home, she has lost her bearings.

She has outlived family and friends, neighbors and doctors. She sits captive in her only available chair among a dusty, toxic avalanche of professional news clippings, art books, brochures and the like.  And while she will be the first to tell you that she would love to live in a comfortable, safe and productive home, she agonizes over even more loss, especially the things that are so critical to her personal identity and integrity: the loss of her papers and books. Each bit of memorabilia feels like a piece of herself.

But my client, always a high achiever, is not to be underestimated. The more she trusts that our organizing process protects her valuables, the more she is able to part with what’s not important, and the more apartment space she gets back to do more of the things she has wanted to do. With her newly cleaned off desktop and more walkable floor space, she can now entertain her dreams of critiquing a local art exhibit, adopting a cat and staying relevant to her life today.


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