Living by Design, Not by Default

When I read the introduction to Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, a book about best business practices, I immediately thought that what the author was writing about could also apply to downsizing and decluttering.

And then in the first chapter McKeown does, in fact, make the analogy: Just as our closets get cluttered with clothes we never wear, so do our lives get cluttered with well-intended commitments and activities.

Yes, this is an author from whom I want to learn more.

McKeown goes on to show how an Essentialist, his word for someone who practices essentialism or living by design, not by default, would approach that closet.

  1. Explore and evaluate. “Do I love this? Do I look great in it?”
  2. To deal with the ‘maybe’ pile, he suggests asking: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?”
  3. To keep your closet tidy, you need a regular routine for organizing it.

His approach sounds so similar to what we’ve suggested over the years as best practices for downsizing and decluttering.

McKeown begins each chapter of his book with a quote and many of these relate to decluttering, too.

It is the ability to choose which makes us human. ≈ Madeleine L’Engle

The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten. We cannot forget that we can make choices, that we must make choices.

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything. ≈ John Maxwell

Very few things in our lives are exceptionally valuable. That’s a hard lesson to learn when you are downsizing the family home and want to save every precious-to-you item left by your parents.

Without great solitude no serious work is possible. ≈ Pablo Picasso

Take your time. “Take a breath, look around, think,” says the CEO of a marketing company. Good advice for downsizing, too.

No is a complete sentence. ≈ Anne Lamott

The freedom of setting boundaries is so important, with our possessions as well as our commitments. We can identify what doesn’t work for us, but we also have to eliminate it. McKeown reminds us that the Latin root for the word decisioncis or cid—literally means ‘to cut’ or ‘to kill.’

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. ≈ Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Have a plan.

Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. ≈ Doug Firebaugh

Mark your progress. Start small and get big results. What I say in my talks is: Work for 20 minutes a day three times a week. Set a timer. Do what you can in 20 minutes: empty one drawer, one bookshelf, sort through one category of clothing, shoes or scarves, for instance.

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. ≈ W.H. Auden

Having a routine, the right routine, one that “enshrines what is essential, making execution almost effortless,” is a powerful tool. It’s what McKeown calls “the genius of routine.”

Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply. ≈ Thick Nhat Hanh

Staying in the present moment, not thinking about what happened before or what may happen in the future, helps us keep our focus. What’s important now?

Greg McKeown concludes the book by saying, “As these ideas become emotionally true, they take on the power to change you.” We can become a different, better version of ourselves.

We can certainly endorse working towards a better version of ourselves, of our closets, and of our lives.

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

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A New Years Reflection on Gift-Giving

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January 6 is the “twelfth day of Christmas,” which for many people around the world marks the end of the Christmas season. It seems, therefore, a reasonable time to reflect upon the whole gift-giving aspect of the holidays, especially because of its connection in Christian tradition with the story of the three kings who presented the Baby Jesus with their gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

When children are small, in families that enjoy those few precious years of their believing in Santa Claus, there’s no way to avoid at least a bit of frenzy before Christmas. But the joy on their faces on Christmas morning makes it all worthwhile, and after all a certain amount of “frenzy” is a major and unavoidable part of parenting young children, period. It’s just a little more intense in the weeks before Christmas.

In recent years, with my boys both now adults, I have been very happy that our family has been able to minimize and sideline the importance of gift-giving, which to me takes the pressure off, and makes more room to enjoy all the other wonderful things the season has to offer: the music, the food, the gathering together; and for many people (including me) the religious aspect at the heart of it all.

Downplaying the importance and centrality of gift-giving takes a great deal of stress and also financial anxiety off of everyone, and really does allow time to enjoy everything else about Christmas, whether it’s the decorated store windows,  seasonal concerts, or just time spent with each other, baking, ice skating, reading Christmas stories, or visiting a hospital or nursing home to share Christmas cheer with those who could really use some.

We usually have a few presents under the tree that we open on Christmas morning, and there are stockings filled with either big or small treats, plus the requisite orange and walnuts in each stocking, a nod to the gifts my Mom received in her childhood years during the Depression, a tradition that she passed on to me, and I have passed on to my sons. It’s not a bad way to recognize and appreciate some of the everyday blessings of our lives that we tend to take for granted, and know that not everyone, everywhere has always been so lucky.

Then we go shopping together after the holidays, and are able to benefit both from a less frantic atmosphere in the stores, the lack of time pressure, and great sales. (Also, for the most part my sons pick out what they want, rather than having to exchange the things I thought they might want, and was wrong about.)

But it wasn’t always so.

Quite a few years ago, before I had children, I found myself in the Macy’s store at Herald Square a few days before Christmas, unhappily looking for a gift for someone. I had no idea what to get for them; the frantic crowds and the overworked, impatient clerks seemed to be all pretty unhappy too, or at least under great stress; and much as I love all kinds of Christmas music, the music playing over the loudspeakers was NOT cheering me up, it was enervating; all I wanted to do was get OUT OF THERE as soon as I possibly could.

But I couldn’t, because I had to find a present first. I was so miserable!

In that moment, I quite clearly remember thinking, “If I don’t find a different way of going about this, I’m going to end up hating Christmas.”

That is when I started doing most of my shopping by catalogue, and for the most part staying out of stores as much as possible, especially in the weeks prior to Christmas. And for the most part, this has solved the problem, and I have been able to retain my deep love of Christmas and the Christmas season.

I have mixed feelings about minimizing the aspect of gift-giving, though. I know how thoughtful and caring it is to spend time looking for meaningful gifts for friends and family, and I certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness of those who have done so for me and my children. On the other hand, generally speaking the whole mad rush has gone into some kind of insane overdrive, hasn’t it?

So what can any of us do? How can we retain the custom of thoughtful gift-giving, without driving ourselves crazy? Here are a few tips to consider for next year.

  1. Buy throughout the year. A friend of mine recently wrote about how this is what she does. Throughout the year, whenever she is out shopping and she sees something that she knows so-and-so-would like, she makes the purchase and puts it aside. (This is probably not going to work very well for me, since shopping is one of the things I really do not like doing. However, I could at least take some time to browse online from time to time without making myself miserable, and I intend to try to do that this year, so that I will be sure to be prepared with a few special things for the special people in my life when December rolls around.)
  2. Buy after Christmas. As described above, this is what we (mostly) do now in our family. It’s less expensive, less stressful, and a better way for people to get the things they really need/want/can use. (I’ve always found the spectacle of people making all those returns and exchanges the day after Christmas to be just a little depressing, don’t you?)
  3. Give gifts that make a difference, as outlined here, in our last post.

In the last few weeks, we also came across some thoughtful essays written by people who have found ways to celebrate the holidays with either no gifts at all, or minimizing them, and we shared them on Facebook and Twitter. In the weeks ahead we’ll be focusing on other topics, like organizing (it’s National Organizing Month now, you know!), spring cleaning, and other topics related to downsizing and decluttering.

We hope you’ll consider liking us on Facebook, or following us on Twitter this year if you haven’t already. It’s a great place for us to share articles that we know our audience will enjoy, and we love hearing from you in the comments on our Facebook page too.

With all best wishes for a happy, healthy, peaceful New Year!

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

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season to Give…with Gifts That Make a Difference

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.  ~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

In this season of giving, there’s no better gift than giving back. Keeping in mind that most of us have too much stuff, really, way too many material things, we relish the idea of giving gifts that can be consumed, or used up, or ones that will help others.

Here’s our guide to what we call alternative, maybe subversive gift giving – subversive in that they don’t accumulate in your house later.

Family items

One of the people we interviewed for our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, told us how her mother gave family items, family heirlooms, as gifts for birthdays and anniversaries. She said she didn’t want her family members to wait to inherit them from her and preferred that they enjoy the items now. We agree, and think it’s an idea worth considering for the holidays. And don’t forget to share the stories behind the objects.

Food and drink

We love to receive gifts of homemade food or something we wouldn’t necessarily buy for ourselves. Things like good chocolate, wine, home-baked banana bread, homemade pickles, a jar filled with dry ingredients and a favorite soup recipe, a make-your-own spice mix, an assortment of tea or coffee, a hot chocolate kit. Who doesn’t love food made with love.

And you could make a recipe book, a compilation of family recipes handed down over the years, for each member of your family.

Experiences

Giving a gift of an experience lasts far longer than a new scarf or gloves. Gifts of outings such as a camping trip or dinner at a lovely restaurant, a horseback ride, a massage, a museum membership, a bike rental, a yoga class, music lessons, or a workshop in their field of interest.

Sharing your talents

Use your skills like knitting, crochet, and woodworking, to create one-of-kind gifts. Or, your skills are more modest, you could frame a loved one’s wedding announcement or diploma, get seeds or bulbs for an avid gardener, or create a photo album commemorating a family event this past year.

A gift of time

Homemade gift certificates allow you to offer to help others in a festive way – and you get to spend time with friends and family while getting some chores done. You could offer to help with yard work or planting, make a dinner, bake a cake for a special occasion, offer babysitting to new parents, or take your grandkids out for ice cream, or help someone sort through their clothes or books.

Adopt a family

You can help those less fortunate by purchasing gifts of clothes and food for those in need, or adopt a soldier who is serving overseas and send notes and gifts.

Make a donation

Donating to a worthy cause is a gift that gives back. There are so many places to give but here’s a list of a few to consider.

A good place to look for creative programs is New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof’s annual gift guide. Here’s this year’s list.

Reach Out and Read is a literacy program for the disadvantaged that uses doctors to encourage parents to read to their children. During checkups, doctors hand out free books and “prescribe” reading to the child.

The Environmental Defense Fund helps to find climate solutions. They “create solutions that let nature and people prosper.” Their $1-for-$1 gift match offer, in effect until the end of December, doubles the impact of your gift.

The National Audubon Society’s Adopt a Bird program will send a plush toy bird as a gift for adopting a bird.

Heifer International helps make an impact on world hunger and poverty by finding sustainable solutions. You can donate an animal, help promote women’s empowerment, provide basic needs, or fund a project.

Help domestic animals by giving to the ASPCA.

It’s difficult to feel festive when you’re hungry. Feeding America supports a nationwide network of Food Banks and is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity. For every dollar donated, the Food Banks help provide 11 meals to people in need.

The best way to celebrate the season is to practice gratitude. Be happy and thankful for what you have. Recently spotted on a T-shirt: “Happiness is homemade” and I think that’s a great attitude for the holidays. Someone will always have more than you do. You could always have more than you do. But studies have shown that being thankful for the things you have, for friends and family, is mentally freeing, makes you calmer and more loving, and leads to a more peaceful life.

Wishing you and your family a peaceful holiday season.

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

When Is Storage a Good Choice?

Deciding whether to store items can be difficult. On the one hand, you don’t want to simply defer decisions – decisions like the answer to “Do I really need this?” On the other hand, temporarily storing some items can be a good interim step for many of us. Here are some things to consider in helping you determine whether using storage is a good choice for you.

Before you even think about storage…

Before you think about storage, sort through what you have and eliminate as much of it as possible.

It’s easy to get lost in a swirling sea of sentimental items, but keep the best and give away the rest. Give things to family and friends, donate to charity, toss or recycle the unusable stuff. You want to simplify: downsize, declutter, eliminate what you don’t need, and purge, purge, purge. Go through everything, whether it’s a drawer or a carton or a closet, before you decide what will go into storage.

It’s best to use offsite storage less like a warehouse where you put things away and forget about them, and more like a second garage where you store things until you need them, or can decide what you’re going to do with them, or who will get them.

When it’s time to find a storage space, think about getting the smallest space you can—one that suits your needs but not one that you will be tempted to fill indiscriminately. It’s better to think about how and when you will remove things from storage, than to think of the space as somewhere to keep putting things.

Smart questions to ask…

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself to help you determine whether using storage is the right step for you.

  • Does the item have practical value? Sentimental value? No value? Are you waiting for it to go up in value?
  • What is the cost—personal as well as financial—of renting a storage space?
  • Is everything well labeled? Have you created an inventory, a list to keep at home, of what’s going in storage? Have you taken photos of the items that will go in storage?
  • Are the conditions in the storage place appropriate for the items you want to store? Will wood warp? Will paper deteriorate? Will fabric rot? Climate-controlled storage space is more expensive, but for some items it’s the only safe way to store things for more than a short while.
  • Do you have a plan for the items? Are you storing them until you can have a yard sale, sell them at auction, or sort through them with another person? Is the plan open-ended, or do you have a specific timeframe in mind? (Hint: It’s best to have a specific timeframe!)
  • Be honest. Are you storing items simply because you cannot make a decision about them? If so, will having more time really help you?

When storage is a good option…

There are times in life when using off-site storage makes sense. Here are some life events where it seems the right thing to do.

You have a business commitment away from your home base for a year or maybe two, and you have to vacate your apartment. You need to store all your stuff until you come back.

You have a new thoughts about what you want your home to look like, and some of your stuff does not quite make the cut. You are actively working on a new plan and will decide what you will keep and what you will eventually give away—by a specific date!

You inherited some valuables, like a china service for 12, a huge stamp collection, or a large painting, and you want to store the item until you can decide what to do with it.

You’re living abroad for the time being and need to store the contents of your entire home until you decide where your permanent home will be.

Your parents passed away suddenly and you want to store their things so you can sell the house. Then you’ll deal with the household items.

You’re a student and need to store stuff over the summer or during a semester away.

You are the caretaker for your parents’ collections, for example your father’s record albums from the 1950s and 60s, or your mom’s comic book collection, and you want to keep them safe.

You have a lot of seasonal stuff: soccer balls for the fall, down coats for winter, sports equipment like skis or boating paraphernalia or camping equipment for the summer, and you want to keep it safe and out of the way during the off-seasons. Or you are planning to have another child and want to keep all the baby-related paraphernalia in storage for now. If your main living space is really limited it may be worth the cost of keeping a storage space long-term for these purposes.

What you should NOT put into storage…

Your important papers should also always be kept at home, not put into storage.

Most storage units have rules about what is not allowed to be stored on site. Be sure to follow those rules: most of them are aimed at maintaining a safe and secure environment, and preventing various kinds of environmental hazards.

Once you have made the decision that storage is right for you, choose a place that is convenient for you to get to, has a helpful staff and convenient hours of access, is climate-controlled if that’s important in your case, and is generally going to provide a pleasant experience for you. You want a place that is clean and well maintained, where your things will be well cared for, safe, and secure.

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand are the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, and creators of this blog.

 

Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday

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Thanksgiving is almost here…

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the fact that despite vigorous and unrelenting attempts to do so, to me it seems to have largely resisted the attempts to commercialize it, and has retained its quintessential purity and simplicity. It is really fundamentally about gathering with friends and family and being grateful for the gifts, the blessings of our lives.

For that reason I have never really liked the nickname “Turkey Day.” I love to linger on the word “thanks-giving” and, much as I love turkey and all the trimmings, I prefer to keep the focus on the giving thanks.

The very next day the commercial world goes into high gear with Black Friday: and while I understand the appeal of the opportunity to save big going into the holiday season, I have never understood why it has to start so early in the day. Why should people have to get up at the crack of dawn the very next day to shop? What, the bosses couldn’t give both shoppers and store employees a break, and start the sales a little bit later in the day? Give people a little bit of time to enjoy the afterglow of Thanksgiving Day?

Well, who knows, perhaps that will evolve in time. Certainly in the last few years there has been some pushback to a day that was becoming a bit frenzied to say the least. Many stores have begun reversing the trend to start the big sales on Thanksgiving Day itself; many parks, and cultural and community centers have begun offering alternative things to do, all of them wholesome, many of them free, for those who may decide that they’d like to avoid all the crowds, and make the day after Thanksgiving a “Buy Nothing Day” instead.

There is also Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday, when shoppers are urged to support small local businesses. And there is Cyber Monday, which gives everyone a chance to get some great bargains online going into the season.

But what is Giving Tuesday, and where and when did it start?

Giving Tuesday is relatively new: it began in 2012, and it is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Giving Tuesday is a day to focus on supporting educational, humanitarian, and cultural organizations around the world.

Like so many other wonderful things, Giving Tuesday began in New York City, specifically at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, at the 92nd Street Y.

This link will take you to the part of the Giving Tuesday site that tells you what you can do as an individual to become involved in supporting organizations near you—or halfway around the world.

Giving Tuesday happens to come at a time of year that is advantageous both to the organizations  that need support, and taxpayers  who want to increase their tax-deductible  donations before the end of the year.

So all around, it’s a win-win situation—especially for those who benefit from others reaching into their pockets, or giving of their time and talents,  to help make the world a better place in a variety of ways.

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving–and, however you choose to spend the days that follow–a safe, healthy, and joyful start to the holiday season.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for Ways to Make Money While Decluttering?

We were honored and pleased to be asked recently, as the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and this blog, to share our thoughts about decluttering for an article titled “15 Ways to Make Some Extra Money.”

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Here’s the link to the article: https://www.wpdiamonds.com/ways-to-make-money/

If you scroll down past the infographic (which has some great ideas, by the way!) you’ll see our place in the piece. Many thanks to WP Diamonds for helping us spread the word about our book and our blog–and for inviting us to share some of the wisdom we’ve gathered along the way with their readers.

We’ll be back next week with our next post–in the meantime, wishing all a good, safe, pleasant weekend!

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand are the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, and of this blog.

 

 

Happier at Home…Or How You Can Make Your Surroundings Friendlier

 

We’ve said often that getting rid of what we don’t need can add to our happiness. But what do we do with the stuff that we have chosen to keep? Three authors explain how making small changes at home can lead to a greater feeling of contentment.

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People, has traveled the world researching what makes people happy. He has discovered three strands of happiness—pleasure, purpose, and pride—gleaned from what he calls the world’s happiest places.

I understand how having a purpose in life makes us happier and how we need to experience pleasure or enjoyment, but pride was the one that kind of threw me. Buettner’s focus is on improving our surroundings. He says, “There are small things [we can do]. One facet of happiness is a sum of positive emotions. So I like the idea of a “pride shrine”—a place in your house that you pass a lot where you put pictures that trigger pleasant memories. Or diplomas or awards that remind you of accomplishments.”

Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life, says, “Of all the elements of a happy life, my home is the most important.”

Two stories that Rubin tells in her book speak to both the importance of a comfortable home to her and to the truth of our mantra, “Keep the memories, toss the object.” She also calls these set-ups “shrines” and shows how one item or a grouping of a few can make us happier.

Of the many items that Ruben had that belonged to her grandparents, she treasured most two small ceramic birds. She decided to put them on a shelf in her home office, a place where she would see them every day, and this enabled her to get rid of the rest the inherited things.

Ruben’s two daughters were accomplished ballerinas and Ruben kept the tutus from their many recitals in storage under their beds. The tutus soon outgrew the space available and Ruben agonized a bit over what to do about the costumes even though she had many photos of the recitals. She chose to set up a “shrine” in her foyer: several frames with photos of the events. She kept additional recital photos in a drawer in the hall table so she can swap them out from time to time. These photos are the first things Ruben sees as she enters her home.

Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life, writes about how to streamline your life by identifying the essential and eliminating the unnecessary, freeing you from everyday clutter and allowing you to live a better life.

In a recent blog post, he wrote about lowering your life’s requirements. He explains: he was walking through an airport in early morning and wanted a cup of coffee but the long line at the coffee bar made him change his mind. He didn’t need the coffee to be awake. His thoughts were, “What are your requirements, things you can’t do without?…What happens when we let go of these needs, and just keep them as a ‘nice-to-have’ option?”

He and his wife joined a no alcohol challenge, “just to push into the discomfort of not relaxing with a glass of wine at night.”

Babauta concludes, “The fewer requirements we have, the less of a burden these requirements become. The more often we have the same thing every day, the more likely they are to become a requirement.”

To make our homes happier, we can create small monuments to important aspects of our lives – “shrines” to our accomplishments, to our family, and to our favorite activities. We can also rethink our habits, what we do every day without thinking, whether it’s making coffee first thing in the morning or keeping too much stuff simply because it belonged to our parents or grandparents.

Is it time to rethink what makes us happy? These authors suggest that we can let a few things, a curated few, tell the story we want to tell. We don’t have to keep everything, or hold onto everything, whether it’s an item we inherited or a habit we have cultivated.

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