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

It’s Our 10th Anniversary!

Ten years ago next month we introduced ourselves to the world of blogging with this blog, Downsizing The Home: Lessons Learned.  Ten years, 120 months, more than 325 posts. Can you believe it!

Our journey began when my coauthor and I shared our personal downsizing stories with each other, stories of helping our fathers empty our childhood homes as they prepared for the next stage of their lives. We were surprised at how powerful the emotions connected to family possessions could be and, at the same time, how easy it was to let go of many things.

We decided we wanted to share the information we had gathered with others who were going through the same process, and the result was our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

As we promoted Moving On – being interviewed by the media, writing articles, and talking to people at bookstores and in a variety of other community settings – we were told many new downsizing stories. We saw how deeply this topic resonates with so many people, and how creative solutions that people had come up with could help make the process less tedious and more gratifying.

Our path led to new media and we started this blog to share some of the practical strategies and helpful advice, as well as poignant stories, we were continuing to gather.

What resonates most with me from these 10 years is the people we have met, starting with the remarkable and insightful editor of our book, Marisa Bulzone. She really understood what we wanted to say and helped us say it. As we wrote the book and created our blog posts we met authors and fellow bloggers, personal organizers and collectors extraordinaire, psychologists and end of life planners, and people just like us who shared their lives with us. Some of these people we have met in person, others as online voices only, but all of them have been so generous in sharing their stories with us.

And the stories they told were amazing. When we were researching our book, we heard from people who shared both strategies and advice, and told so many touching stories on thoughtful ways to deal with others who see the clutter – and life – differently than we do, people who have inspired us to write about them and share their lives and their work with you. We felt compelled to include anecdotes, anonymously for the most part, in our book because the stories were so interesting. And we have continued to include the stories of others in our blog posts. I have been helped enormously by listening to the voices of others.

An important lesson learned: It’s all about people and the stories they tell; it’s seldom about the stuff they have.

We started this blog as a way to promote our book – and we still want you to buy our book! But over the years we started to think outside the box, or in this case, outside the book. We came to realize that we could stretch ourselves and go beyond our original intention. Our blog has given us the chance to both deepen and broaden our focus, to go further and explore deeper than the scope of our book and to include thoughts about recycling and upcycling, ways to get rid of our things that help save the planet, views on how to live with less—and happily so, and a vision of how to treasure what we have, without the need to always have more. Writing posts that explore issues beyond the book has expanded my horizons.

We’re so happy that you have joined us on our journey and are here to celebrate our anniversary. Here’s to more stories about more people living the best way they can.

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

Book Review: Clutter: An Untidy History by Jennifer Howard

Clutter: An Untidy History, by Jennifer Howard, is 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, including what the author sees as one of the primary sources of this phenomenon–which has come into full bloom in the late 20th and early 21st centuries–back in Victorian England.

It is also a personal memoir that recounts her 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.” At one point she sums up her emotional state in facing that challenge as being “overwhelmed, angry, and utterly unprepared.”

The author 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? And throughout the book she stresses that although to some degree our personal habits for dealing with the inevitable mounting of clutter in our homes is an important factor for which each of us bears some individual responsibility, she also points out that some of these problems are really systemic–problems inherent to the capitalistic emphasis on consumption, and in fact, overconsumption.

In the last two chapters of the book she asks an even more important question, which is, what are we (all!) going to do about that problem, which is not individual, or family-based. It is global, and it is a very serious problem. The author is very clear about this. “Saving the planet and freeing ourselves from clutter go hand in hand,” she says at one point.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the author’s approach to the topic of hoarding, and especially her attitude toward TV shows like Hoarders, which have always bothered me. “These are not gentle interventions, but exercises in making private shames public,” she writes. She speaks to a number of experts on the topic, and goes to a conference sponsored by the Philadelphia Task Force on Hoarding, where she hears a speaker who has himself struggled with hoarding and now helps others suffering from this condition. “To see clutter as an expression of pain recasts the reveal-and-shame attitude popularized in news stories and reality TV shows,” Howard writes. “As [the speaker] said … for someone with hoarding disorder, the essential question isn’t ‘How did you let it get to this?’ but ‘What pain are we trying to handle? How do we figure out where that pain is coming from and how we decide to deal with it?'” This attitude is both more intelligent and much more compassionate toward what is often seen as behavior to be scorned, ridiculed, mocked. It is also almost certainly a more effective approach to actually solving the problem.

I also found the author’s comments about Marie Kondo interesting. I personally am quite skeptical about the whole “spark joy” approach, as I have written about before. And I must say, my skepticism skyrocketed when, after convincing her audience to empty their homes of mountains of stuff in plastic trash bags, Kondo introduced her own line of products that people could buy. (I thought we were supposed to be getting rid of all that extraneous stuff?!)

Howard, however, while not completely convinced, is more willing to give credit where credit is due, and to actually try out the method. “I did not subject my own house to the full KonMari treatment,” she says. “But my daughter and I did pile all our clothes on our beds…and had fun holding everything up and saying ‘Does it spark joy?'” And she adds, “The domestic changes that ensued, while not dramatic, have persisted, somewhat to my surprise.” (My coauthor tried this tactic also, with her abundant collection of necklaces, and reported on it here. )

Howard is a reporter, and her journalistic expertise is responsible for the depth and comprehensiveness of this approach to a subject that is all too often glossed over in a variety of ways. The book is richly researched: she speaks to psychologists, professional organizers, junk haulers, and firefighters among other professionals, as well as friends and colleagues, and she digs deep to make sense of it all.

She also reads voraciously, reports on what she has read, adds her own interesting analyses, and has provided an extensive bibiliography. (One of my few regrets about this book is that it doesn’t have an index. An index would be really useful in a book so packed with interesting and substantive detail that at least this reader is going to want to return to it again and again.)

In addition to all this, in telling her own story, she has imbedded much very useful, practical information that could be helpful to anyone going through this now very common experience.

She also offers interesting thoughts about various ways that we might, as a society, better address the mountain of stuff we’re currently drowning in. One of these harkens back to Victorian England which, though that may be where much of the massive overconsumption began in the first place, can also offer ideas about how to deal with all the stuff we’ve created. “Victorian Britain sustained a network of ‘street-finders,’ scavengers and peddlers who collected, traded, and sold everything from rags and bones to bottles and scrap metal and coal ash,” she writes. “Imagine what contemporary city life would be like if people regularly came down your street and offered to swap for or buy up your castoffs, sparing you the trouble of a drive to the dump–and giving you a bit of extra money in the bargain.”

Despite the heaviness of the topic, the book is a delight to read: I breezed through it in a few hours, and found it hard to put down. Deftly weaving all that research in with highly relatable anecdotes and thoughtful reflection, Howard has written a book well worth reading, whether you are a “keeper” or a “thrower.”

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

Is September the Start of the New Year?

While January has traditionally been the time to make resolutions or set goals for the year, September is often the time we think about how we are actually going to live our lives for the year. Why are we drawn to thinking about our goals more in the fall than in the middle of the winter, I wonder.

In a typical year, September is a month of starts. But what about this September, which is so different from other Septembers.

September starts the school year for most people. And for some of us, that was always a wonderful time, getting ready for school, buying supplies, getting new clothes, and anticipating making new friends. And for me, who loved school, the beginning of September was also my birthday so I was, in fact, starting a new year of my life.

But this year school may be virtual, it may happen only a few days a week, or it may not start at all. In certain ways, the start of school in September is a sign that we’re saying goodbye to the wonderful days of summer and getting ourselves ready for a more serious schedule. Wonderful days of summer? Not so much this year.

For some people, our days in September are just a continuation of our days in August and our days in July and days in June. For people with children, this September can be a fraught time as they have to decide how to negotiate the school year: in person, online, or a combination of both. For people who are going back to work, this September is full of many of the same issues. How safe is it to get together again? How much of school and work depends on social interaction? What’s best for my child, my job, my family? The start of school and the return to work have more worrying overtones this year. All these decisions make us realize all that we have we lost in these last few months. As a wise woman I know said, “We will grieve. And then we will step forward across the threshold into what lies ahead.”

Can you learn a new skill? September has always been a good time to try something new. Can you expand your network of friends and colleagues? Maybe this isn’t the time to see more people, maybe this is the time to continue to hunker down in your own pod. Can you set boundaries? In our world right now, that’s a great skill to have. Knowing who can come into your life and whom it’s best to stay away from can be life changing. Can you get organized? Life at home, life online, life lived mostly indoors requires a great deal of organization. September is the time to do all of these things, to make our lives better than they have been.

For the Jewish faith, the start of the new year is in September and consists of two important days, called High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year” – its been called the “spiritual birthday of the world” – and Yom Kippur, which means “day of cleansing” and, although the new year compels us to both be ourselves and be a part of self-discovery, most of the prayers during Rosh Hashanah are prayers for the health of the world. September is the time to think about the condition of our world, about climate change, about inequality, about the corona virus, about our personal integrity. All faiths require us to think about what we’re doing to help make the world a better place and September, especially this September, seems exactly the right time to contemplate the state of our world.

September is the time to think about our behavior, our cumulative behavior: what makes us better people individually and helps us create a world we all can live in and thrive in. A teacher posted on Facebook this week, twelve days into her first year of virtual teaching, “There are so many opportunities to love and serve one another.” What a great epigraph for this September.

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

Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live

Live simply so that others may simply live. Elizabeth Ann Seton

In thinking about what I should write about this week, I decided to look up quotes about downsizing the home, and this quote, by Elizabeth Ann Seton, is the one that appealed to me the most strongly. Because it seems to me this quote is the most relevant in our 21st century world.

It is not a contemporary quote: born into a socially prominent New York family in 1774, Elizabeth Ann Seton grew up to become the founder of both the first Catholic girls’ school in the United States, and also the first American congregation of the Sisters of Charity. Her life story is an interesting one.

While there are many reasons for Americans, and citizens of other affluent countries, to cut down on the rampant consumerism that we seem to have become caught up in, especially over the past 50 years or so, it seems to me this is both the most difficult to fathom, and the most important. Because truly, our daily habits are affecting our planet, and all of the billions of people who inhabit our earth.

We have written often on this blog about the importance of becoming more ecologically aware, of recycling, of reusing, of not consuming harmful products in the first place.

Scientists tells us, with increasing urgency, that the climate change crisis we are currently facing is real, and that urgent action is needed. The solution(s) to our problem are neither simple, nor anything any one of us can enact on our own.

But on our own, we can realize that our individual actions, when taken collectively, can indeed make a difference.

And that these things matter not only for the health of our beautiful planet, which will indeed survive, no matter what.

But for each and every one of the more than 7 billion people–our fellow human beings–who call this planet home.

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

Getting It Right

Although right means exact, precise, correct, in the world of decluttering, right is a relative word. It means different things to different people and to different families.

Shortly after we published our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, someone published a book with Rightsizing in the title rather than Downsizing and to me that made perfect sense.

So how do we get it right – right for ourselves and our families?

Start small.

Start with just one item that you can get rid of, whether you try to sell it, donate it, or just plain give it away. Then choose a second item. Take small, very small steps.

Remind yourself you are not a storage unit.

We hold onto things that other people gave us, that belonged to family members, that don’t quite fit, that aren’t quite our style, that we may use one day, that we can’t possibly give away… We hold onto a lot of stuff. Give some thought to the items for which you have excuses. Maybe those are the things that can go.

Live for today.

You don’t need too many things in your home that remind you of the past – even if they belonged to your family. You don’t need too many items that reference of the future – that refer to a person you aspire to be rather than the person you are today. And you don’t need to keep stuff for the person you once were or for the job you once had or from the relationship you were once in. What things do you need for the life you live today?

Be you.

Not everything has to be minimized. It’s not about having fewer things; it’s about having the right things. For some of us, that is books, for others it’s pots and pans and spices, for still others it’s a DVD collection of classic movies, for some it’s a big yarn stash, for others it’s stylish clothing. Being you is about having just enough things and learning to feel that you already have enough. It’s about having less of the things that don’t move you forward and more of the things you love.

Enjoy your stories.

Whether you keep an item or give it away, an important part of the process is to tell stories about it. What meaning does it have in your family? Who were you with when you wore that outfit? When did you purchase that thing and why? Tell those stories. After giving away some of your stuff are you feeling disappointed? Do you feel a bit of regret? Tell those stories, too. Stories help keep alive the stuff that has meaning whether you have kept the item or given it away. Stories help make it right.

What can you get rid of today that makes it right for you?

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

Is It Time for a Global Restart?

I saw an interesting article in The Guardian this week that made me think about my mother, and what I learned from her about clothing–among other things.

The article is about the effect that lockdown around the world has had on the fashion industry. It covers a number of aspects of this phenomenon–everything from some people deciding they really like dressing for comfort more than for fashion, to the natural slowdown in consumption habits that has occurred as a result of lockdowns, to people’s growing awareness of the deleterious effects that the production of textiles has on the environment, and a desire to do something about that.

The reason it made me think about my mother is that my mother was, like many of her generation, traumatized by a childhood spent in poverty during the years of the Great Depression, a trauma she was never really able to get over. In her case what it resulted in was some very strong habits having to do with not wasting anything; and also a compulsion to use things until they were completely unusable, and/or to reuse them for new purposes.

This was carried out in our home in many ways, not all of them entirely rational, or reasonable. For example, one of the things my sister and I found in the crawl space above our garage when we were cleaning out our parents’ home after she died was two very tall stacks of styrofoam egg cartons. My sister looked at me, shook her head, and said–a bit sadly, as I recall–“Why?”

Well, the “why” was because my mother must have been saving them for “something useful.” In the case of styrofoam egg cartons the only possible reuse I could think of would be as a kind of funky (and not very nice) costume jewelry organizer, although I suppose there may be others. I think it is more likely my mom was saving them was because in past years children were sometimes urged to bring such things to school to craft into art projects of one kind or another. No matter that our school years were long past, and that those egg cartons were never going to make it to a school anyway, stored in the crawl space of our garage as they were.

The conventional response to such behavior is to view a person like my mother with at best affectionate amusement, and at worst outright disdain and ridicule. It is seen, not entirely incorrectly, as a mild form of hoarding.

But who really is at fault when it comes to the problem of what to do with something like egg cartons made of styrofoam?

What to do with used styrofoam is a complicated problem, and I do not intend to try to propose a solution to it in this post. But I would just like to say that I think the problem of what to do about styrofoam is one that we really should be working on, and if there is anything to be ashamed about it is not the people who hold onto styrofoam egg cartons because they realize on some level that this is just not something that should be thrown into the trash: it is the fact that we are creating on a massive scale an oil-based product that no one really knows how to properly dispose of or recycle. Now that is a problem.

But to get back to the matter of clothing. One of the things I thought about while reading the Guardian article is how when I was a girl I had a great many hand-me-down clothes, mainly because I had two slightly-older-than-me girl cousins, and often when we would visit them we would come home with a bag full of the clothing they had outgrown. I don’t remember ever feeling embarrassed or ashamed about wearing hand-me-downs, in fact some of their clothing became favorites of mine. I had plenty of new clothing too. My parents could afford that, and I was not in any way deprived.

I think the one bad effect this had on me, was not any kind of stigma attached with wearing hand-me-down clothing. It was, rather, that well into my adulthood I thought of myself as being a person who was to accept secondhand clothing, but not necessarily to give it away. Perhaps in my case this is because once I had worn my older cousins’ clothing, we gave it back to the same family so the next girl in line could wear it. So when I grew up and there was clothing I was no longer wearing, I didn’t know quite what to do with it. So I just kept it, as my mother had kept pretty much everything, and never learned to let go in the way that one must do in order to avoid having too many things around. It took me a while to train myself into the habit of taking clothes to thrift stores as well as away from them. Old habits die hard!

What does any of this have to do with the lockdown, or with downsizing for that matter?

Well, here is the admittedly somewhat tenuous chain of connection that I make between these matters.

We are at a moment of global crisis in a variety of ways. And one of the things we have to do is figure out what to do about it. It is not easy, it is not simple, and there is not just one thing to do, of course.

But I think one thing we might do is reexamine our behavior–as a culture, overall–over the period that started in the 1950s and has continued until today.

This is a period in which it somehow became shameful, at least for many people, to wear old clothing, or the same clothing, or secondhand clothing, or mended clothing. But it somehow was not shameful that we were, with our cultural habits, filling landfills, and polluting the earth, and creating all kinds of ecological problems that now we really don’t know how to solve.

Finding a way out of this morass is not going to be easy: but it occurs to me that we might start by reexamining the attitudes we have about things like wearing secondhand (or mended) clothing; putting milk into glass bottles rather than plastic jugs; even hanging clothes out to dry a clothesline rather than using electricity to dry it inside. What, pray tell, is so bad (or shameful?!?!) about hanging clothes to dry on a line?

And maybe, just maybe, it is time to figure out how to create a world in which we are more concerned about what is in our landfills, and in our oceans, and in the air we breathe–than in our closets.

That might be a good start.

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



A Sentimental Journey Revisited



As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m a bit envious of people who are using their time at home these days to downsize and declutter and, most importantly, GET RID OF STUFF. I’m not there yet. I find it too difficult and fraught a process to be a stay-at-home activity like doing jigsaw puzzles or gardening.

For me, the process involves sentimentality, which as J.D. Salinger had one of his characters, Seymour Glass, describe, is giving “to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.”

One of the antidotes to getting bogged down in sentimentality, as my coauthor and I have said in our book, is to take your time. Perhaps time does not heal all wounds but it does give us some perspective.

And perspective can give us a new way of seeing things, a new perception of the old. So today I’m sharing a favorite post from the early days of our blog that calls attention to family items and how we view them.

A Bowl…Full of Memories

The bowl was clear glass with a fluted edge around the top opening. It sat in the center of my parents’ dining room table for as long as I can remember, sometimes with artificial flowers in it (not very attractive ones, in my opinion) in a seasonal color to match whichever tablecloth my mother had put on the table.

When my father was moving out of the house he and my mother had lived in for over 50 years, we used the dining room as a staging area.

The bowl was now off to the side in a “donate or give away” section, put there by my sisters on a previous visit. I moved it to a “still thinking about it; not sure what this means to me” area because I had such vivid memories of the bowl and how it spoke of my mother’s style.

The bowl was inexpensive, a testament to my mother’s frugality, and it usually sat alone in the center of the table, a sign of my mother’s simple decorating style. Although she had some good Swedish glass like Kosta Boda and Orrefors, my mother also had many things, as this bowl probably was, purchased at a five-and-ten.

When family dinners grew in number to include in-laws and grandkids, the bowl was moved to a sideboard to allow more room for serving dishes. But always, after dinner, the bowl was put back in place in the center of the table.

I remember the bowl in its central place on the dining room table when I returned home from college, a welcoming sight for me.

I remember it sitting there, too, when I brought my boyfriend, now husband, home to meet my parents.

I remember seeing it there when my kids played in the living room with my parents.

After my mother’s funeral, the bowl was probably moved to the sideboard to make room for the platters of food brought over by friends and neighbors. I’m sure, really sure, we put it back in its rightful place after we cleared the table.

Did I want this bowl, I asked myself as we emptied the house. At each visit to sort through more of my parents’ stuff, I pondered that. I had the luxury to think about it week after week.

Finally, I moved the bowl back to the “donate or give away” section. I didn’t want the bowl. But I was so grateful for the memories it had elicited.

What’s your favorite story about a cherished family object?

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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