Heartwood and Shtisel: Writing a Letter to your Heirs

In Shtisel, a limited series from Israel, a main character writes letters to her unborn child, thinking she may not be around to see the child grow. (Spoiler alert: She does survive.)

In Heartwood: The Art of Living with the End in Mind, the author Barbara Becker tells of one of her patients in hospice who, too tired for anything lengthy, writes a simple letter to her grandson telling him she loves him and is proud of him.

These acts of writing simple, heartfelt letters really resonated with me, perhaps because we are awaiting the birth of the next generation in my family. I thought back to the numerous times we wrote in this blog about writing a letter or communicating in some other way with our loved ones.

In this post, we wrote about a woman who left the corporate world to create a company that helps people write Legacy Letters to their loved ones so the writer can, in her words, “expresses his/her life wisdom, love and life values with a loved one with the intention that it serve as a future guide, inspiration and support.” 

Another way to makes things easier for your loved ones is to create a list of all important things, practical things, you want them to know and where to find important papers and documents. Getting your house in order is an act of love.

Another way to communicate love is to tell family stories. In this post we share the power of telling our children the story of their birth. I remember sharing the stories with my kids because the events of the day and day before were so memorable. Here’s to telling that story.

We can also write down our family stories, a wonderful gift. Both of my kids wrote about family members for a school assignment and remember today how interesting the stories were.

And we can investigate our genealogy, either online through genealogy websites or by talking with family members. A cousin gave me the family history of my grandfather’s family going back to the 1600s and it is such a cherished gift, one I plan to leave with my children.

May we always honor and celebrate the story of our families.

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.

Sustainable Clothing 101: Getting Started

My Norwegian sweater, c. 1970s, meets the “use things longer” goal of sustainable fashion.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a new and welcome trend in clothing; sustainability. And I promised to explore this topic a bit more in future posts.

This month’s post will provide you with additional information about what is meant by sustainability in clothing; and this Good Housekeeping article is a good place to start. It explains not only what is meant by the concept of sustainability in fashion in simple, easy-to-understand language (for example: “…the main goal is to buy less and use things longer”). But it also gives lots of good information about why this is important: and good sources for sustainable fashion, some of which will also be included in this post.

When we hear the words “reuse” and “clothing” together, many of us may think first of all (and perhaps only) of buying clothing in garage sales and/or thrift stores, and indeed that is one way to do it. But in recent years many additional options have been created: and some of them provide ways not only to get cheap clothing to knock around the house in, or to wear doing yardwork–or even to find good bargains on clothing that is certainly good enough for school or work, or even fancy occasions–but is just not brand new.

But now there are also online sources for buying fine fashion that is not brand new, which is both more affordable, and more environmentally friendly. Two such sources are Poshmark, and Rebag. These two companies offer not only ways to buy fashion items, but to sell them as well. ThredUp is another online source to buy and sell used clothing.

The Good Trade is a resource for those who would like to learn more about sustainability, why it is important, and what each of us can do about it. And for those who would like to take a “deep dive” into this topic, Adam Minter’s book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale is a very interesting, and illuminating, read.


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

Spring Cleaning 2021

After spending so much time in our homes this past year, spring, the season of renewal, feels so welcome. And what better way to renew our souls than to sweep through our house and get rid of our clutter, physically and metaphorically.

This spring I’ve had my daughters some home, sometimes together, sometimes one at a time (they live nearby and all of us are vaccinated) to go through the closets, dresser drawers, and underbed storage in their room.

We are very fortunate to have multiple places to donate our stuff and that means I have separate areas, separate places in my home right now, each one with shopping bags designated for a different place. Here’s what I have.

Fabric recycling. Once a week, the city has a designated spot for fabric recycling so I have bags of underwear and T-shirts washed a few times too many and any clothes with holes in them. Yesterday I brought over a couple of bags and have a couple more ready to go.

Local thrift store. We have a thrift store that uses the money made in its store to fund programs for AIDS patients. All usable clothing, dresses, shoes, handbags, and household items are bagged up and ready to be dropped off.

A teen shelter. A friend of mine is a doctor who volunteers her time to a shelter for runaway teens (or, unfortunately, teens who have been kicked out of their homes). For her I gather jeans, shorts, T-shirts, sneakers, and other teen-appropriate clothing.

Prom dresses. One of my daughters has a friend who collects prom dresses for girls in need and I have a bag with special occasion dresses.

Here are some links to previous spring cleaning posts where we have talked about places to donate and/or recycle our stuff.

Clothing

Shoes

Electronics

Musical instruments

Books

Happy Spring Cleaning!

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.

Sustainable Clothing: A Welcome Trend

Normally I am not a person who is all that interested in fashion. (This is kind of an understatement.) In fact I am perfectly capable of wearing the same favorite garments for many years (yes, many!) without even an ounce of shame. (Why anyone should feel shame over such a thing will, I think, be the topic of a future post.)

Exhibit A is the photo you see above, of a favorite Hanna Andersson nightgown I’ve been wearing (well, not all the time of course) since the early 1990s. Yes, of course, it’s a bit the “worse for wear” (and now we can all see exactly what that phrase means). But it is still quite comfortable, warm and cozy in the winter (if it’s not too cold) and not too hot in the summer either. Exhibit B is a handmade wool sweater that a friend of mine brought home for me after a trip to Norway in the late 1970s. It was secondhand then. I’ve worn it, and worn it, and worn it some more, and the only thing wrong with it now is a little bit of fraying around the bottom of the sleeves. Those Scandinavians know how to make good quality clothing that lasts, which means that they also know about the value of sustainability.

Which is the real topic of today’s post. That is, it is about a fashion trend that has got even me really excited. It is called sustainable clothing, and the concept seems to be really picking up steam, which is a good thing for people whose budgets are not equal to keeping up with all the latest trends in fashion (or who are just kind of bored by fashion); and people who hate shopping; and it is an even better thing for the planet we live on.

What does it have to with the planet? Well, actually, a lot. Adam Minter has written about this in his very interesting book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. This is not light reading, but it is very interesting, and actually, although it is a very well-documented, seriously researched study, it is also quite readable as the author takes us along with him on his explorations in places as far-flung as Tokyo, Ghana, and his home state of Minnesota, among many other exotic locations. Along with learning a lot about how and why the clothes we choose to buy, and what we choose to do with them when we’re done wearing them indeed has quite an effect on our planet, along the way, through his anecdotes we meet a variety of interesting characters.

There is much more to say about this topic, and I believe I will be doing so in future posts, so stay tuned. But for today I want to leave you with a fairly recent news story that I find absolutely charming, about a middle school art teacher who decided she was going to wear the same dress for 100 days. And rather than try to tell you why she did this, or why I found it charming, why not take a look at this five-minute clip for the whole story. I think you might find it charming also.


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


The Importance of Important Papers

Conversations about the end of life, especially our own life, can be uncomfortable, even difficult. But making decisions now can help support and nurture us, help us focus on what is of great import and what is not.

When deciding how to proceed we want to approach this important topic in a way that comforts us, challenges us, and is meaningful for us. What we want is to get our end-of-life matters in order so we can continue to age abundantly and gracefully and free of some of the stress that comes with not knowing how our family and friends will react.

We have addressed this issue before in two posts that I wrote, one – One Life, Four Papers – about the four papers we should all have: a will, a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will, and the other – Getting Your House in Order – about the need for a comprehensive list of important information such as bank accounts and passwords, insurance policies and credit cards.

What brings me to the topic now is the death of two people I knew, one a dear friend whom I met in my 20s and the other a friend of a friend.

When my friend and I were in our 20s we were part of a woman’s consciousness raising group that met weekly. In our 30s a few of us continued to get together monthly. Later we saw each other a few times a year when another friend came to town. My friend died early last year but I only found out about her death at Christmastime.

The friend of a friend was someone I knew more casually. He was ill and was supported enormously by my friend who helped him with his end-of-life papers and his health care. Although she had keys to his apartment, when he died, alone at night, his apartment was cordoned off and my friend had no access to his computer. Many of his friends were calling her when they couldn’t reach him.

What both of these deaths had in common was that many of the people in their lives did not know about their passing. Getting that news in a timely way would have made it a little easier, a little kinder on their friends. What each of them needed was a list of people to notify of their deaths.

When I give talks on end-of-life issues (online for now but later in person again), I include this list, a list of people to be notified of our death, as a necessary paper. But now I’m going to emphasize the importance of this important paper.

It’s a simple list really, a list of names and email addresses would suffice. It’s a difficult task, though, to think about all the people in our lives, to come up with a list of that might include former classmates, former colleagues, people we worship with, book club friends, gym buddies. Not easy to do, perhaps, but so necessary for our peace of mind.

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 New Years Wish for Downsizers

As we go boldly, or cautiously, into this New Year after an “old” year that was full of unexpected challenges, here are my three top wishes for those of you out there who are struggling to “get rid of the stuff, keep the memories.”

  1. I hope if you are quarantined you will find that being “stuck at home” presents an opportunity to do some of those downsizing tasks you’ve been putting off. Now is the perfect time to do it! After all, who wants to go through closets packed full of clothes you never wear, or sort through and label old photographs, no matter how precious or interesting they are, when it’s springtime, and beautiful outside? Take advantage of this opportunity!
  2. I hope that you will enjoy the process as you go. Give yourself the chance to do both the tasks that are fun, and those that are not. Take this moment to ask some of those questions of family members that you’ve been meaning to ask but never do. Lockdown is a time when you may be more likely to get answers!
  3. I hope that you and your loved ones will be safe, healthy, and happy in this new year. What does this have to do with downsizing? Well, not much, really. But what could be more important than this?

Take care, and find ways to rejoice in the little pleasures of each day as it unfolds….


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 Are You Grateful For In 2020?

Mural of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, First Ave and 11th Street, New York City

Gratitude season looks a little different this year, a year that could be called annus horribilus, as Queen Elizabeth once described what 1992 felt like for her. It’s been a year of death and loss and heartbreak but it has also been a year that has brought out the best in people.

We have seen selflessness and heroics and lots of paying it forward. If we were awarding prizes for altruistic behavior in 2020, the top ones would definitely go to healthcare workers. But there have been so many other examples of people going above and beyond. In a previous post, I mentioned a community refrigerator and pantry run by a local restaurant for people who have lost their jobs. A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night, an historic church near us burned to the ground and displaced a woman’s shelter. By the time two friends and I walked down to the temporary shelter with clothing and toiletries on Saturday afternoon, the outpouring of support was so great that the shelter had to stop accepting donations. How wonderful is that!

What is your story of gratitude in 2020?

We would love to hear about a story about what’s happened with you this year and what you are thankful for. If our experiences this year are our teachers, what have we learned? What have we held onto, and what have we let go of? What have we gained in this strange year, what have we lost?

We are grateful for all of you who follow our blog and would like to gift a copy of our book to one of our readers. We are having a book giveaway. Share a story of gratitude, a moment you shared with a treasured friend, something you are grateful for in 2020. Share the story with us by leaving a comment to this post, and we will choose one grateful reader to receive a copy of our e-book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. The deadline for entries is January 4, 2021.

Gratitude is a state of being, an attitude, not a practice, or so we are told. But being in a state of gratitude may be more difficult for some of us than practicing gratitude. The most helpful piece of advice for me about being grateful came from a completely different source. After Joe Biden won the election, many politicians and pundits were offering up ideas of what he should be doing. In response to articles in the New York Times, one reader wrote: Do what’s possible. Don’t try to reverse climate change, just do one thing to protect one piece of land. Don’t try to revamp healthcare completely, just do one thing to help people get coverage. That letter, that piece of advice, really resonated with me.

Let’s do what’s possible. Let’s do one thing that we can do.

Let’s finish this year strong.

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

Celebrating Holidays in a Pandemic

It’s not saying anything new to say that 2020 has been a challenging year for almost everyone. With the end-of-year holiday season fast approaching (well, for many, officially beginning today) here are a few thoughts (both old and new) for how to celebrate the holidays in a pandemic.

First the old ideas. Because our focus on this blog is definitely not on consumption, certainly not on acquiring lots of new “things,” many of our posts from former years provide tips, suggestions, and ideas about how to celebrate the holidays in an earth-friendly way, and to help bolster the economy without buying a lot of meaningless “stuff.”

Our post Wishing You Green & Peaceful Holidays provides links to some of our posts from previous years about how to give gifts that don’t add to the clutter, how to recycle the “trappings and trimmings” of the holidays, and other ideas for celebrating the holidays in a way that is environmentally friendly, warmly human, and often less expensive too.

Of course because of the pandemic some of the ideas from previous years will perhaps not be able to be practiced this year: but there are other, new things to consider. For example, the pandemic has hit the restaurant business hard. So one idea is to consider having some of our holiday meals delivered, or picking them up from local businesses that have been able to stay open, and are providing take-out meals. These businesses need our help, and especially for the culinarily challenged among us, what a great way to minimize holiday stress while helping local businesses that could use the help.

It’s also just a few days until Giving Tuesday, “a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.” If the pandemic has taught us anything, I believe it should be that in a variety of ways it’s time for the human community to do just that. So please consider helping your favorite charity or charities next Tuesday. They’re doing good work, and they need our help to do it.

Here’s hoping that by next year the pandemic will not be wreaking such havoc, and that we can return to a somewhat more normal holiday season.

But for this year, wishing you and your family, whether they are near or far, whether you will be together or not, a happy, healthy, safe holiday season.


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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It Brought Me to Tears


Photo © Michael Ginsburg

Gratitude is not my go-to emotion, I have to admit. I’m more of a complainer/explainer or questioner. I’m more apt to ask: Why is this the way it is? Why can’t we change it? But this week three things brought me such gratitude that it brought tears to my eyes.

October is New York is usually a beautiful month with mild weather and the beginning of fall color in the trees. My favorite month, and for personal reasons as well. It’s the month I met my husband and the month we were married. This October was cold and rainy and gray, really drab. But over the weekend, the weather improved and the leaves started to change color. The city looked glorious and that brightened my mood. We had our beautiful October for a few days, even if it waited until November to show its face. The site of this tree brought me to tears.

The announcement on Saturday about the election results brought joy to many, with cars honking, people dancing in the streets, strangers exchanging high fives, and so many smiles. Regardless of your political leanings, the music of exuberance is something we haven’t heard in a while. The collective sigh of relief was audible all around me. The delight of people played out, almost like street theater, and it brought tears to my eyes.

A few blocks south of where I live, in a neighborhood with many in need, there is a community refrigerator and pantry on the street. The fridge is plugged into a mac ‘n cheese restaurant, the owners generously provide the power to keep it running. Anyone who needs something to eat, whether because of the pandemic or due to job loss, is encouraged to help themselves. This week, on a neighborhood Facebook page, someone asked if there were any stores or restaurants that might donate single-serving size containers and lids, 100 of them, because she was making soup for the community fridge. I was misty-eyed. In the comments were suggestions for places to ask. But one commenter said she would buy the containers for her in the discount store. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for people who will help those in need with something as basic as food in these difficult times. My neighbors’ generosity brought me to tears.

As we approach this Thanksgiving, one that will be without family and friends for most people, we still have much to be thankful for. We can all experience tears of gratitude.

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

My five favorite books about downsizing

Here, in no particular order (because it depends on what you’re looking for at any one time, and to be honest, I don’t like rating things numerically) are my five favorite books about downsizing and decluttering.

Year of No Clutter: A Memoir by Eve Schaub. Here’s what I said about the book when I first wrote about it. “With refreshing–even brave–honesty, with sensitivity and self-deprecating wit, Eve tells the story of how that year went, and how her family helped her–more or less–achieve her goal. Her book is not only entertaining–in fact, often laugh-out-loud funny–and deeply insightful, it is full of practical ideas that will be helpful for the keepers of this world who are trying to talk themselves into getting rid of things, and the loved ones who are either helping them, or looking on in horror and trying not to interrupt.” For my interview with Eve, click here.

Clutter: An Untidy History, by Jennifer Howard. This book is a recent publication, and here’s what I said about it when I reviewed it last month: “,,,a wonderful new book for anyone who is interested in the topic of emptying an extremely cluttered family home, especially for those who have not only a practical, but an intellectual interest in it. It is, among other things, a fascinating and very thorough study of the history of clutter… It is also a personal memoir that recounts the author’s own experience of emptying her mother’s home of ’50 years worth of detritus,’ a process that she describes (bravely, and honestly) with words such as ‘disgust’ and ‘horror.’..She asks, and attempts to answer, a number of key questions about cluttering and hoarding (and never loses sight of the fact that these are not interchangeable terms). One of the key questions she asks is, whose fault is it?” You can read the rest of my review here.

No Thanks Mom! The Top Ten Things Your Kids DO NOT Want (and what to do with them) by Elizabeth Stewart. This author brings her expertise in appraising art and antiques to discussing the by now pretty well known “generation gap” between baby boomers and their millennial offspring when it comes to what to do with all those precious family heirlooms. She also shares her personal experience of running up against that same generation gap in her own family when she discovered to her chagrin that all the special things she had been saving for her son were truly not wanted! The sub-subtitle gives a clue as to why this book is so valuable in terms of practical advice. You can read my interview with Elizabeth here.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. This book is not strictly about downsizing and decluttering, though there’s plenty about those topics in it, and as always Roz Chast has a way of making me (and millions of others) smile ruefully about all those things that life offers to be rueful about. My coauthor reviewed this book, along with several others, focusing on the caregiver aspect of the book. You can read her review here.

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand (yes, that’s me!) I was definitely brought up to not “toot my own horn,” but really how could I not include my (our) book on this list? First published in 2004, with an updated e-book edition published in 2013, our book was one of the first to tackle this topic in the comprehensive way we did, and to say something besides “just get rid of it.” 🙂 And although some things have changed in the years since we first published it, we’ve been told by those who have used it in their own families that one of the strengths of our book remains a kind of timeless wisdom as well as helpful, practical tips that offer ways for what we call the “keepers” and the “throwers” of this world to find common ground and maintain mutual respect as they seek to “get rid of the stuff, keep the memories, maintain family peace, and get on with [their lives].”


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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