What Motivates You?

During this prolonged stay-at-home time, many people have founds ways both traditional and innovative to fill their time. They are reading more, gardening, knitting, working on jigsaw puzzles, baking, and taking video classes (I took one on neuroscience). Some brave souls have taken to downsizing and decluttering years of possessions. My hats off to them and the initiative they have. Me, not so much.

What motivates someone to decide to accept the challenge of owning too much stuff and then actually getting rid of what they don’t need? Let’s look at what impels people to declutter.

Does it spark joy?

Although Marie Kondo has strict guidelines for herself and her home, she shows great respect for others who can’t quite declutter by asking that one simple question. As I wrote in a previous post: She doesn’t begrudge anyone anything. No judgment, just a gentle nudge to be more mindful of what we have. With no place open to donate to, Kondo-ing doesn’t seem quite right for this moment.

Pretend you’re moving

For those of us stuck at home right now that seems a bit drastic – we can’t move anywhere – although there is much to recommend here. As suggested in an earlier post, perhaps we could use the “move out” method on closets and dressers. Empty them completely and then put back only what we need and love.

Soul searching

Soul searching is thinking about who we really are in relation to our stuff: what we need to keep and what we can get rid of because it no longer speaks to who we are. Perhaps there is a good time for that, as discussed here, but right now it seems too difficult a task for those sheltering at home.

“The best, favorite, necessary”

Emily Ley, an author and creator of the Simplified Planner has created a #RuthlessDeclutterChallenge and asks her followers to keep only “the best, favorite, necessary.” That has become a new mantra for me. Asking what is the best, the favorite or the necessary works for any collection of things from too many T-shirts to too many pots (and maybe even to too many books) and gives us new criteria against which to make decisions about our stuff.

Some of us are under more strict stay-at-home orders, some of us live in areas that are beginning to open up. All of us, to some degree, are at home with everything we own. What motivates you to sort through your stuff? We’d love to hear from you. Share what motivates you in a comment below.

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

Can Even Extreme Keepers Follow Marie Kondo’s Advice (at least occasionally?)

Eve Schaub. Photo by Stephen Schaub

 

We often talk on this blog about the world being divided into “keepers” and “throwers.” I am a keeper, and so is Eve Schaub, even though she is also the author of a (wonderful) book called Year of No Clutter. (The book explains very well why, despite the title, she is indeed a keeper.)

I interviewed Eve (as well as some members of her family) a few years ago when this book came out. You can read that interview here

And I follow her Year of No Clutter blog. As Eve is a kindred soul (and a very good writer) I find her reflections on downsizing and decluttering not only witty and helpful, but also thought-provoking. I bumped into another of her posts the other day, in which she struggles with Marie Kondo’s famous advice to keep only those things that “spark joy.”

She starts out by saying. ” Don’t call me Marie Kondo. I’ll get all bent out of shape about it…”

I have struggled with the popularity of Marie Kondo and the advice she gives as well, and I have written about that several times on this blog. So I read Eve’s post with interest; and as usual, I found her take on the whole matter healthily balanced, witty, and insightful.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Why not visit her blog and see for yourself? Here’s the link: https://eveschaub.com/2019/07/08/the-life-changing-magic-of-clear-plastic-storage-bins/

I think you’ll enjoy it: especially if you are always looking for kindred souls who struggle with the Kondo phenomenon…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

How Wide is Your Window of Tolerance?

A statue of Peter Stuyvesant wearing appropriate PPE.

New times bring new thoughts, or how do we adapt to the times we’re now living in? Several terms are cropping up in social media that can help us rethink and perhaps better understand what we’re going through.

And one of them is not a new definition of cranky people. Cranky still means “given to fretfulness, easily angered, ill-tempered, grouchy, cross.” Sound familiar? Sheltering at home is not always easy. Sometimes resilience is just putting one foot in front of the other.

Someone has asked, “How wide does your window of tolerance have to be?” Window of tolerance, a term coined by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, a psychiatrist, is defined as the zone in which people are able to function most effectively.

“When a person is within their window of tolerance, it is generally the case that the brain is functioning well and can effectively process stimuli. That person is likely to be able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling either overwhelmed or withdrawn.”

How wide does our window of tolerance have to be for us to adapt to the disconnection and solitude we are experiencing, to being alone and not having the company of family and friends? What can we do so we don’t feel overwhelmed and withdrawn, which are legitimate feelings in these times. Much food for thought.

One of the ways in which we can be more tolerant of our situation is that we are now better able to see what is essential, another current meme. We now know we don’t need things, we need people, so the media is telling us. It makes me smile, a bit ruefully, that my coauthor and I have been talking about this for nearly two decades, as have others involved in the world of downsizing and decluttering. But now it seems that our message if being heard, loud and clear, by a newer and bigger audience.

What do I miss most? A friend says she can’t wait to invite us over for tea and cookies (she’s a great baker) and I can’t wait to accept her invitation. I would like the library to reopen, even if it’s just to pick up books. And I would love to get a haircut. I would like to greet my favorite people at the farmers market from a distance closer than 6 feet. I don’t miss going to the theater as much as I thought I would, maybe because there is so much available online. I don’t miss in-person meetings (although video conferencing is getting to be a drag). I would love to get on public transportation so I could visit loved ones who are a train ride away.

This need to rethink our lives brings us another new term, or rather an old term that has found new relevance: a circular economy. What this means is to reuse or recirculate what you have.

In practical terms, it means to darn your socks (as my coauthor pointed out a few weeks ago), patch your jeans, wear clothes until they wear out or pass them along to someone who will. It’s a world of wearing hand-me-down clothes, fixing electronics when possible to make them last longer, borrowing books from the library (which is not possible right now) or sharing your books and jigsaw puzzles with others. It’s a world of eating leftovers, not wasting food. It’s making protective face masks from old t-shirts. It’s carrying a bag with you when you shop, being willing to forego the free plastic shopping bags. It’s a world where we care more about the planet and its people than we do about what we can get or own or have.

We widen our window of tolerance, which helps us see that people matter more than things and that makes us more caring of the world around us.

Stay safe. Stay well. Keep sharing what you have.

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

Reading About Downsizing During Quarantine

Still Got Books 1

 

There are of course many things you could read during a period of quarantine, and happily many people are using this opportunity to do so.

There are also many things one could be doing during such a period, especially things related to the process of decluttering and downsizing. I wrote recently about some of those things here.

And there are lots of books about downsizing that you could read when you need a break from the actual doing of it. Here are a few of my favorites:

Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast) 

Caring for Your Family Treasures: Heritage Preservation (Jane S. Long)

No Thanks, Mom (Elizabeth Stewart)

A Year of No Clutter (Eve O. Schaub)

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of things (Randy Frost and Gail Steketee) 

 

There’s also a new, and very interesting book out now: Secondhand: Travels in the Global Garage Sale, by Adam Minter.  Stay tuned for an interview with the author on this blog, coming soon.
Of course, my coauthor and I hope you will also consider buying our book. The latest version is the e-book, which you can buy here.
Stay safe, stay well, happy reading, and happy downsizing!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

What Matters

Bryant Park, New York City

An update on our situation seems unnecessary since the virus dominates the news these days. Being alone, or alone with our significant other, becomes a time to ponder, to wonder about life, and to think about what matters.

Here are some of the things that matter to me.

Helping others. I continue to be in awe of the people who offer services to those in need, to buy and deliver food, to pick up medication, to run errands. Very selfless, and so needed. Many of us are trying to help support local businesses, those still open for pick up and delivery only. We want them to stay in business, to make it through this difficult time and to be here when we’re able to be out and about again.

Offering support. Every night, promptly at 7 pm, neighbors everywhere hang out their windows or step outside their buildings to clap for the healthcare workers. At first my inner curmudgeon came out and I said why clap, why not send masks and other PPE. But now I realize how bonding this applause is. We’re in this together.

An amazing number of people do make masks to donate and many people donate money to the various charities that help support the helpers. This week the groundskeepers at Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York Public Library, mowed a heart in the grassy center of the park, as a tribute to the first responders. How wonderful is that.

Being distracted. Or being focused. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, whichever works for you in the moment. For the first couple of weeks, I worked out to an exercise class on Zoom every day (you can see that didn’t last long) and I’ve also taken classes in literation and in popular culture.

Teleconferencing platforms allow me to continue to meet with my women’s groups weekly as well as participate in my book club and in one of the boards I’m on. Jigsaw puzzles take focus and are wonderfully distracting, a good combination. And I read. I realized that I probably have enough books to keep me busy for the rest of my life (when it comes to books, no decluttering or downsizing here), and that’s comforting. To quote Louise Penny about one of her characters, “Stories lined the walls and both insulated [me] from the outside world and connected [me] to it.”

Having hope. Staying put is hard but we’re all in this together. So grateful for the many helpers. So grateful for friends and family and keeping in touch. So grateful for a moment to pause. May we all have the hope and the vision to see a new world, one where compassion and caring are more important than “getting and spending” (to quote Wordsworth).

Be safe. Be healthy. Be kind.

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

Five Suggestions for Living in Lockdown

Well, isn’t this an interesting time we find ourselves in (collectively)?

All those things we’re always saying we wished we had the time to do: we can do them now!

But something tells me I’m not alone in having discovered that there are some things I could be doing now that, actually, when push comes to shove (like now) I find that i really really really. REALLY! don’t want to do them after all.

Because now I have the time, and guess what?

Still not doing ’em… 😦

Nonetheless, in the spirit of sharing a few ideas about those hard-to-get-to tasks that “sheltering in place,” quarantine, and/or total lockdown present a perfect opportunity for, here are a few suggestions for ways to make whatever period of time you may be “stuck” at home more productive. (Also in the spirit of “Do what I say, not what I do…”)

And don’t worry. After my suggestions, I’ll share the link to a wonderful article that will help you feel better even if you’re really not (yet) up to doing any of them… 🙂

1) Deep clean your house, especially the kitchen and bathroom. (This is a doubly good idea in the middle of a pandemic.) There are some great tips about how to go about it here.

2) Organize family photos and videos. Probably don’t need to say much more about this. You can find some great tips about how to safely label and otherwise preserve old photographs and letters here.

3) Read, or (as my coauthor suggested last week) take advantage of the opportunity presented by the internet to enjoy cultural events online. My coauthor mentioned having “taken an [online] tour” of an orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden last week. I found myself pleased as punch to be able to “attend” a poetry reading that was held at the University of Virginia years ago. Who ever has time for these things? Well, many of us do, now.

4) Clean your closets. What more perfect time could there be than this, for that? And if you find a stash of old war letters in one of those closets that you’ve been meaning to read, now could be a very good time to do it. Then, if and when you don’t want the responsibility of keeping them in your family anymore, you might consider donating them to The Center for American War Letters. (Be sure to check with everyone in the family before doing so, though.)

5) Just enjoy spending time with your family, and friends whether it’s together in your home, or online through social media platforms. There are so many of them and it is wonderful to see all the newly creative ways they are being put to use these days, everything from online seders and Easter services, to…I dunno…yoga classes!

Finally (and importantly): If you find yourself too unsettled, or just not ready, to do any of these things, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just take the main necessary precautions about which surfaces in your home to disinfect, and let the rest go for now.

One of the things many people are having a hard time with these days is feeling “productivity pressure.” This article is aimed at academics, but there’s a lot of valuable advice, and helpful tips, that can apply to almost anyone.

Hang in there, everyone. We’ll figure out how to get through this time. (Or rather, the doctors and nurses, and scientists, will.) Then the rest of us should listen hard to whatever they have to tell us in terms of health (of ourselves, of the planet) from here on out…and make sure they get the kind of thanks, attention, and respect they really deserve.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

Sheltering in Place: Me and My Stuff

Broadway looking north from 43rd Street — with theaters closed and no traffic.           Photo by Peter Macklin

When I first started putting together this post, my sheltering in place was voluntary, now we’re in “pause” and, since New York City has become the epicenter of the virus in the United States, no one knows how long it will be before we are in total lockdown, something our much praised governor, Andrew Cuomo, is reluctant to do. It is difficult to imagine New York City in total lockdown. We hope it never comes to that.

Everything is changing by the minute and so much has been written and posted already about how to cope with sheltering at home, social distancing, and the emotional upheaval of it all that it’s difficult to say anything new. But I would like to add some personal thoughts.

Be useful.

In our downsizing and decluttering world that means we tackle a clutter issue, we use this time to sort through and possibly pass along things we no longer need. I was fortunate to get a couple of bags to Housing Works, a thrift store that uses its income to help the sick and needy, right before they closed. Literally, an hour before they closed down for the foreseeable future. (What’s foreseeable? Who knows how long that will be.) A neighbor and friend is a doctor who volunteers at shelters and she is always grateful for clothing and toiletries. I took several bags of clothing my daughter had left here and brought them to her front door, just a block away. It was social distancing since we did not meet face to face. Many friends have posted about cleaning our their closets, going through their drawers, straightening kitchen cabinets, and redoing their spice cabinet. I’m not there yet.

Be kind.

Several people in our neighborhood list-serv have offered to go to the grocery store or pharmacy or run errands for others. A woman in my building posted in the mailroom that she would do the same for any residents. That selflessness blows me away.

If we choose not to go out, from the comfort of our homes we can call friends who are alone, chat via any of the web-based videoconferencing platforms, and we can pass along via email all the opportunities to participate online. One morning I took a tour of the orchid show at the New York Botanical Gardens, listened to a concert by a singer/friend’s accompanist, and shared a video of the students at The Berklee College of Music’s rendition of “What The World Needs Now.” Last night I watched a reading of a Broadway play.

And we can be kind to ourselves. I started my day with an online meditation followed by a restorative yoga class. Many of us are working from home and Team Vertellis urges us to be grateful for that. Many others do not have that option, most importantly, health care workers. We are grateful for their dedication. We are also grateful for the first responders, the truck drivers who deliver food, the people who work in our grocery stores and pharmacies, and people who make deliveries, all of whom make our lives better. Thank you for your service.

Be creative.

Many of my friends are posting photos and recipes of the most tantalizing meals, ones that make me hungry and envious. Cooking elaborate meals is not my forte. Soup is more my thing. Other friends are knitting and crocheting. Busy hands are happy hands, as they say, but I’ve found it difficult to focus on a knitting project. Some people are sharing their expertise online. While others are binge-watching shows they hadn’t had time to watch before. I just started The Stranger. Not sure watching television qualifies are creative. Perhaps continuing to read interesting books is a form of creativity.

Be careful.

We are all washing our hands, wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant, keeping our distance (a cotton scarf folded over helps keep out 50 percent of the germs, so I’ve read), or are simply staying home. Many of us have posted the meme where healthcare workers in a hospital hold cards that say: We stay here for you, please stay home for us. We belong at home, the safest place we can be right now. Stay safe. And keep others safe.

This is our disaster. But we can learn from the experiences of others.

Two interesting points from Jon Mooallem. In his New York Times Sunday Review essay about the great earthquake in Alaska in 1964 and how people got through it, he described the cluttered basement where rescuers found 30 boxes in which an Anchorage radio broadcaster had “assiduously packed thousands of letters, photographs, diaries, audio recordings and other material from her life. Here it was: all the joys and agonies of one person’s life, but so blurred and compressed that it was impossible not to recognize the form that all our lives assume from such a telescopic distance — a forgettable blip, a meaningless straight line from birth to death.” Gives one pause, especially for the keepers among us. Does it take a disaster to remind us that stuff is just stuff and it’s people that matter?

Soon after learning of the earthquake, disaster researches expected to witness the breakdown of a society but, upon arrival, “immediately began discovering the opposite: The community was meeting the situation with a staggering amount of collaboration and compassion.”

Wishing everyone safety and health and an opportunity to share with loved ones. We need to face the situation our world is in right now “with a staggering amount of collaboration and compassion.”

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

What Ever Happened to Darning…(and other thoughts about clothing)

I’m currently reading a very interesting book, called Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter. I will have more to say about this book in a future post, but for now I just want to say that it’s gotten me to thinking about (among other things) clothing. Or more precisely the fabrics that our clothing is made of, and what happens to it when we’re no longer wearing it.

Then this week I ran across a post by an artist in the U.K. named Kate, whose main medium is “reclaimed fabric.” She begins the post, which is called  “Mending Clothes as an Act of Revolution,” by saying “I have often wondered when it was that Western society collectively decided that visibly mended clothes were a mark of reduced status. Of a life worth less. Where a patch or a darn was certainly not acceptable in polite company…”

I have wondered this too! I certainly remember seeing my mother and both of my grandmothers darning socks all the time I was growing up. They would be sitting and chatting, and one (or both) of them would be mending a sock stretched over the left hand while they sewed with the right.

And though I have never taken up the habit myself I have always felt kind of guilty about just tossing holey socks into the garbage. It just doesn’t seem right.

And in fact, in many ways, it isn’t right. That most of us do so now is just one more symptom of a world in which we aren’t thinking enough about what happens to all the things we toss into the garbage once they’re out of our sight.

Because I know it isn’t right to just throw my holey socks away, I usually try to first use them as rags; but the truth is that socks just do not make great rags: they are not tee-shirts!

There’s plenty of advice about how to darn socks on the internet. This gives me a bit of hope that maybe there is more darning going on in the world than it seems.

But is it, though? Is anyone out there still darning their socks? Do you? Do you know anyone who does?

Leaving you with those questions for this week…and hoping to hear from some darning enthusiasts!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

 

I Thought I Had a Plan

A friend of mine always says about her later years: I had a plan. She is a very organized person and had her finances and living situation in order for an eventual retirement. She had emptied her parents’ home and distributed items to family members, donated much of the stuff, and what she decided to keep, she protected in archival storage containers. Indeed, she was a woman with a plan.

Then life threw her a curve, actually a couple of curves. She was unexpectedly let go at work and she was facing a tough medical situation. All of a sudden, she was a person who thought she had a plan but found herself in a new situation.

How many of us enter our later years with, if not a plan, at least a vague idea of what we want to do and how we want to live. Sometimes that plan works and sometimes we have to rethink our lives, maybe not as dramatically as my friend did, but we have to reimagine some parts of it.

We know what we want to do with our stuff and with the family items we inherited from our parents. We share things with family members, give to charity, and make sure we dispose of the rest responsibly.

Then things go awry. Our living situation changes, our finances are not what we thought, our energy is less than we had hoped. How do we get back on track?

Begin by listening to your gut, or to your heart (they’re connected). Don’t beat yourself up. Let your plan go and revise it as you need to.

Start with what bothers you the most. Maybe it’s a particular room in your house. Maybe it’s a category of stuff – your clothes, many of which you no longer wear, or your papers, which are not organized for easy access.

When it comes to giving away your stuff, think of family more broadly. As Mother Teresa said, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Can we think of extended family, friends and neighbors, colleagues, and, of course, people who have less than we do, as our family?

If you’re really stuck with what to do with stuff you think you don’t want, ask yourself some questions to help loosen the bottleneck. Will I really need this some day? If I saw this in a store today, would I buy it? If I really don’t want or need an item, what’s holding me back from giving it away? The answers will help you be your own guide.

Learn to embrace change. (That’s a tough one!) You change, life changes, you go with the flow. We all grow and change, some of us more reluctantly than others. Change is part of life and growth is the result of change. We really can’t argue with it, that would get us nowhere, we can only learn to embrace it.

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

Valentines: What to Keep, What to Toss?

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Vintage valentine, c. 1950s?

Valentines present–at least for “keepers” like me (and both of my grandmothers, and both of my parents)–a bit of a challenge in downsizing.

On the one hand, it’s important to ask ourselves, can we really keep all of the valentines that were ever given to all of us forever?

(The answer is no.)

On the other hand, after they’ve already been carefully saved for 20, or 30, or 50 (or more!) years, we shouldn’t just carelessly toss them into the garbage, or the recycling bin now. Should we?

(For me, the answer is, once again: no.)

But then what SHOULD we do with all those vintage valentines that were carefully preserved and stored in boxes for decades in our homes?

Well, I can’t tell anyone else what to do, but I can tell anyone who might want to know what I did when faced with this very dilemma a few months ago.

I took all those pretty valentines I came across as I went through the many boxes of papers I’m still going through from my parents’ home. Those pretty valentines that evoked so interestingly changing times and tastes and aesthetics, and sometimes even held bits of evidence of tender feelings. I put them carefully into a big ziplock bag and brought them to a thrift store where I knew someone who collects vintage valentines might be very happy to find them, and give them the respect they deserve.

And I tried not to think about other things that might happen to them. 🙂

The main point is, I found a good possible future life for them: and I am not storing them any longer.

It occurred to me as I thought about what to write about today that this series of questions might be helpful to “keepers” when they are trying to decide which sentimental things to keep, which to toss, and which to bring to another “safe” home.

Here are the questions:

Is it beautiful?

Is it important and meaningful to me (or might it be important and meaningful to someone else in my family?)

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” but the answer to the second question is “no” then you might want to consider taking the item to a thrift store (or wherever), where someone who would appreciate its beauty would be happy to find it.

If the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is yes also–like, hmmm, well–like maybe old love letters–well, then…

I don’t really have to tell you what to do about them do I?

I think (especially if you are a keeper) you will know…

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

 

 

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