Giving Thanks and Giving Back

GIVE illo

Thanksgiving, our national holiday for giving thanks, was established in 19th century; the very end of the 20th century brought us Black Friday for shopping in stores, and in the 21st century we have Cyber Monday for shopping online. Are we making progress? There is something not quite right about two “holidays” for getting more stuff and only one for giving thanks for what we have.

As a counter to all the “getting” we now have Giving Tuesday, celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – December 1 this year – that kicks off the season of giving and helps provide an alternative to the frenzy of shopping. Started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y, an important cultural institution in New York City, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving.

According to the #GivingTuesday website, the global day of giving “harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities… encourages the donation of time, resources and talents to address local challenges…brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners…to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.”

Some welcoming statistics from this giving holiday:

  • More than 30,000 partners in 68 countries participate.
  • Online donations have increased an estimated 40 percent on that Tuesday.
  • People have tweeted 32.7 million times with more than 750,000 hashtag mentions.

If you need help in deciding just how to participate in giving back, visit the Tools page as well as the Frequently Asked Questions segment of the website.

In celebration of giving back and not getting more, let’s express thanks to Jerry Stritzke, the CEO of REI, the sporting goods emporium, who decided to close all his stores on Black Friday to encourage his staff to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. Let’s all #optoutside on the day after Thanksgiving.

Black Friday started with stores opening their doors at 6 am on Friday. The opening time migrated back to midnight, and then to Thanksgiving Day itself. In response to an increasing dissatisfaction with people having to work retail on the holiday, many stores have chosen not to open at all on Thanksgiving. Not as wonderful a decision as that of REI’s chief, it’s at least something to be thankful for. Here’s a list of those stores that will remain closed on the holiday.

And for those of us who would like to vote with our feet, we can make a statement by staying out of the stores that plan to open on Thanksgiving, not only on the holiday, of course, but on the days following, or perhaps start a writing campaign by emailing the CEOs to express our dissatisfaction with their decision to remain open, during what should be their employees’ family time. Here’s a list of stores that will be open on Thanksgiving.

So this Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for what we have and not focus on how much more we want to get.

Here’s to a wonderful Thanksgiving to all our readers, a day of good food and family fun, a celebration of joy and health and happiness, and, most importantly, a time for 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

Talking Turkey (About Downsizing) at the Holidays

atis-fruit-clipart-outline-turkey-feather-turkey-clip-art---vector-clip-art-online-royalty-free-public-domain-hfcdh2ddIt may not be the first thing that comes to mind as an appropriate topic of conversation when family members gather during the coming holiday season.

But the holidays are actually a great time to take advantage of the opportunity, when family members are all (or at least more) in one place, to talk about The Future.

Many people dread this conversation, but most also find, once that deep breath has been taken and the subject launched, that’s it’s not as bad as they feared it would be.

Is it time to talk to your parents–or your kids–about an eventual (or imminent) move from the family home? What are the pros and cons? What are some of the available options? Are there waiting lists for some of the more desirable places? Are there tours you could take together while everyone’s together, “just to see,” whether any decisions are made now–or left until “later”? Are there ways you can help each other begin to figure out how to approach this process, how to begin dispersing and/or safeguarding important family records, treasures, favorite items of furniture–or whatever? Are there tasks that can be done now rather than later, so that when the time does come, it’s not so overwhelming?

Even if no move is planned–if the plan is for “aging in place”–there’s plenty to talk about in terms of making a family home safer and more accessible, and for various matters having to do with the passing on and/or distributing the responsibility and caring for treasured family items–not to mention treasured family members!

This may not be the best mealtime conversation, but surely it’s not a bad time to broach the subject and agree to sit down to a family meeting sometime while you’re all together.

If you’re planning a trip home for the holidays, we urge you to think about this in advance. Our book “Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home” can be helpful in planning ahead, and in figuring out how best to approach the topic. The people we talked to in the process of writing our book–just “regular folks” as well as professionals who help families and individuals through this process–have lots of good ideas for how each family can find their “own right way” to do this.


So if downsizing is on the horizon for someone in your family, we hope you’ll consider taking our book with you for reading on the plane–or maybe sharing it with other members of the family before you get together. Our new e-book version has lots of helpful links for resources that can be helpful in the process–guiding you toward detailed advice for dealing with everything from antiques appraisal to recycling or disposing of toxic materials.

Plus we’ve gathered helpful tips about how to navigate the delicate feelings and surprisingly intense emotions that tend to come to the surface along the way–and how to get through this process stronger and closer as a family, no matter what bumps in the road you encounter.

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

Train Travel, 78 RPMs, Chiggers, and Other Memories of Cleaning Out a House


As Family History Month draws to a close, we wanted to share this wonderful post written by a friend, which illustrates perfectly how a family can make time for sharing the memories and having some fun along the way in the midst of a big (and yes, sometimes tedious) job. Hope you will enjoy this post, and follow his very good advice at the end of the piece!

Originally posted on More to Come...:

Tom Brown transition My father in the midst of transition

I took a day off from work today to be with family in Tennessee.  My father – who earlier this year celebrated his 90 birthday – is transitioning from living in his home of the past 26 years to living in an independent living facility. (The home he is leaving is not to be confused with “The Old Home Place” aka 407 E. Main Street, where I spent my formative years from junior high through college.)

My two sisters and a brother who live nearby have handled most of the details of the move, and Daddy now spends much of his time with my sister Debbie and her husband Mark as he waits for his new apartment to become available.

However, before I was able to focus on family I had work to do along Music Row in Nashville, and I found myself…

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A Gift of Family History

img139. 1893-1895 Johannes Persson (1851-1933) and Johanna (1858-1950) Per Joel is boy on the right

My grandfather’s family in 1893. My grandfather is center front, my cousin’s grandfather is on the left.



The first page of our family history.

When my cousin Cecilia visited from Sweden this summer, she told me that she had a family history that traces our family back to 1663. She sent it to me recently, just in time for Family History Month.

Our grandfathers were brothers and someone in her family has traced back our family, on our grandfathers’ mother’s side, to Bengt Persson, our six times great grandfather, a man who lived from 1663 to 1709.

This is amazing to me. I’m so grateful to the person who researched this and to Cecilia and her husband Lars who preserved it and scanned it for us.

The gift of the family tree sent me to my grandmother’s photo album and what fun it was to see some of the history in family photos.


img136. the farm - around 1930

The family farm, called Gyllholmen, in 1930.


img138. with Anna Rahm Johnson 1930

My great grandparents with their 10 children, some of their spouses, and a few grandchildren.


For a previous post on Family History Month, I talked about school projects that got our family started on researching our history. And in another post, I listed some places that may help you get started researching your own history.

You can also get some help from the experts.

Family Tree Magazine has some suggestions for tracing your family tree.

Family Search Blog lists activities for celebrating the month.

On the Ancestry website, you can find family history events.

Here’s hoping you find a special way to celebrate and honor the story of your family.


kids, Bklyn2

The first generation born in the U.S. on a street in Brooklyn. My mother’s family on the left, cousins on the right. My mother is the baby standing by the carriage.

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

Donate, Reuse, Recycle: A Call for Help When Downsizing


Which are the hard-to-recycle-or-reuse items in this photo?

There are many reasons why some people have trouble getting rid of things when downsizing the home, or moving. Two of the best reasons are wanting to maximize the benefit to others by donating things that can still be used, and to minimize damage to the earth by keeping things that should be recycled out of landfills.

We’ve written a fair amount about both topics on this blog, and in many of our posts have provided tips and suggestions about ways you can go about doing both of these things. But some items are just harder to deal with responsibly, especially if the downsizing (or moving) has to be done in a hurry.

The photo above provides a clear example of the kinds of things that are fairly easy to get rid of responsibly, and the kinds of things that aren’t. Clearly, if the beautiful pot is not going along in the move, it could be easily donated (or, depending on the value, perhaps sold). Thrift stores would probably be happy to have the hangers. But what about the not-so-gently-used shoes, and the CDs? (Only a couple of CDs are shown here, but most homes would a fairly big pile of them ready to dispose of…)

This post will provide some guidance in finding ecological ways to dispense with these items. But the main purpose is to draw attention to the types of items that are unlikely to be properly disposed of when people have to move or empty a home in a hurry. And a plea that the powers that be–from shoe retailers to government agencies–help us find ways to make these things easier to recycle.

  1. Shoes. A couple of years ago my coauthor wrote a very helpful post about how to recycle or donate shoes here. And while I think it’s great that there are organizations that are helping with this process, I can’t help but wish that more shoe stores would step up (no pun intended!) and make it even easier. Why couldn’t the big chains have a program similar to Best Buy’s electronics recycling program for example? So that people in a hurry to empty a home would be able to take big bags of shoes that are no longer usable directly to the nearest store and just drop them off? Payless? DSW? Your thoughts?
  2. CDs and tapes. Earth 911 has a very helpful page on various options for dealing with CDs and videotapes you no longer want, but the fact is, most people are not going to do the right thing when it comes to old CDs and tapes if it isn’t made easier for them to do. And most people are not going to want to pay to recycle anything. Call me a dreamer, but it seems to me that if we know that having these items go en masse into our landfills is harmful to the environment (and future generations) it would seem an appropriate matter for collective action. In other words, Help! Isn’t there some way our local governments–or the state or federal government, someone, anyone!–can help make it easier for us all to do the right thing?
  3. Prescription Drugs. I didn’t realize the importance of proper disposal of prescription drugs until a cousin who is a doctor grimaced when someone suggested at a family gathering to just throw them into the trash. “No, no, no!” she said. “It goes into our water supply. That is not a good idea.” But here again the problem is the difficulty of doing the right thing. (Just take a look at these FDA guidelines and you’ll see what I mean.) So here again, I think we need help, and probably in this case pharmacies are the most likely source of assistance. Why couldn’t people bring unused/unwanted drugs back to pharmacies to be properly disposed of? Certainly they would know how to do it, right? The only option for me to properly dispose of the expired prescriptions in our home when I looked into this last summer was to drive several miles to a government office in an area with very little available parking to turn them in. It has to be made easier if we want people to do it.

I think most people understand the importance of protecting our earth from contamination. But if it’s too difficult to do things the right way, they will be tempted or forced into doing them the wrong way.

Are there other categories of items that you’ve found difficult to reuse, donate, or recycle when downsizing, or information about programs that make recycling shoes/CDs/prescription drugs easier? If so, I hope you’ll add them to the comment box below, so we can help spread the word.

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

What You Leave Behind


What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone but what is woven into the lives of others. – Pericles

And what you leave behind is not what you keep in storage. Wonderful memories are woven into the fabric of my life without any need to keep my mother’s teapot, my father’s books, my mother-in-law’s shell collection, or my father-in-law’s paintings.

After writing about downsizing for more than a decade, from co-writing Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and this blog to giving talks about how to live with less to helping people “Keep the memories, toss the stuff,” I have a confession to make. You guessed it. I have a storage room.

The reason we have a storage room is common one: we needed space to put things after we emptied my father-in-law’s apartment and yet again after we emptied my childhood home. We added to it by moving in things that we didn’t need at the time but weren’t sure what to do with. Sound familiar?

My husband and I decided that it’s now time to get rid of the storage room so we have been going through its contents. Here’s some of what we found there and how we dealt with it—and are continuing to deal with it.



Too many of my kids’ toys were put in storage. A dump truck, a talking Alf doll, stuffed toys, Raggedy Ann, a child’s rocking chair.

The truck is on e-Bay. The stuffed toys were donated to charity. We’re still deciding about the rest.



We stored various pieces of china, some of them handed down in my family for several generations.

My mother’s lusterware teapot is on eBay. I haven’t decided yet what to do with my grandmother’s pitcher and basin and other pieces of a boudoir set. I am giving a set of my mother’s dinnerware to my daughter.



For some reason, I kept some not very interesting or particularly good clothing that belonged to my mother, as well as several bridesmaid dresses from my wedding and my sisters’ weddings. I also had some old baby clothes. One piece has a German label in it, which means it probably belonged to my father, so it would be more than 95 years old.

I may look for a collector for the baby clothes. All the other clothing went to charity.

Camera equipment

My husband stored all his darkroom equipment (he hasn’t had his own darkroom in years) as well as a strobe meter and some other photography apparatus.

He is looking for a student who shoots film, not digital, who might want the equipment.

Old suitcases

We had large suitcases from the years when we traveled for several weeks at a time. We donated all of them to charity.


I have a couple of degrees in English. We stored cartons and cartons of books, from a combined six years of college and graduate school, as well as some books from my parents. (I’m not sure how we managed to bring so many heavy boxes to the storage facility.)

And—ta da—I found my high school yearbook! A little late for the reunion but I can now look up classmates I have recently become reacquainted with.

All the books—except my yearbooks and diplomas—went to charity. Once I made that decision, in the storage room, we put the books in the car and drove directly to the thrift store, no stopping at home to second-guess myself. I’m very proud of that but, of course, this was an easier decision than most because the books are replaceable; I can always buy another copy of a book or get it from the library.

So, the purging continues. I will keep you posted about my progress.

As we celebrate Grandparents Day tomorrow, may we honor our grandparents by the values they lived rather than by the stuff they left behind.

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

Introducing “Ask Linda & Janet”

Linda Hetzer responding to questions about downsizing at a “Keep the Memories, Get Rid of the Stuff” talk.

In the 10-plus years since our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home first came out, we’ve had the opportunity to talk about the pros and cons, the ins and outs, the ups and downs of downsizing the family home with so many wonderful people—from radio call-in show hosts, to newspaper and magazine reporters, to the people who’ve attended the events in libraries, community centers, retirement communities, and a host of other venues we’ve been invited to speak at across the country.

It’s been a pleasure to meet folks who have been through, or who are contemplating going through, this experience. It’s been great to be able to share what we’ve learned with our audiences, and equally rewarding to continue to hear new stories and learn new tips, strategies, resources, and ideas from them as well.

We have been writing our blog for five years now. And while it hasn’t been exactly surprising to discover how much there is to know about this process (that is, after all, why we realized there was a need for our book in the first place), it has been very interesting to see how many ways there are to make it go better—logistically, organizationally, ecologically, emotionally. And of course, as we’ve written our posts and talked to people—both experts and regular folks—it has been a continual learning process for us.


Janet Hulstrand discusses a follow-up question with a member of the audience following a “Decluttering for Spring” talk.

We thought at this point it made some sense to create a post (this one) where people could pose their questions about downsizing and we could share the knowledge we’ve gained in our responses. We think this will help people find their way to some of the helpful posts on our blog more easily.

Also, by having one place for readers to pose questions—in the comment box below—it will also give others an idea of what kinds of things there are to consider when downsizing.

So, we are hereby inviting you to send your questions our way!

There is of course, no guarantee that we will have answers for all of them, but we will do our best to direct you to a post we’ve written on the subject, or guide you toward experts who may be able to help you better than we can.

We think this is a fine way to enter the back-to-school season. So…what questions do you have about downsizing? We’re all ears!

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand are coauthors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Homenow available as an e-book.


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