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

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

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