Something I Thought I Would Never Say…

A couple of months ago my daughter stopped by to borrow a couple of books to take with her on her vacation. She was very specific about what she wanted: a serious nonfiction book, something she could learn from, and a lighter book, a beach read maybe, and preferably something that was funny or light-hearted.

The nonfiction book she had in mind was a book that I had given away, miraculously perhaps, but I do get rid of books from time to time.

I started looking on the bookshelves between the living room and the dining room and pulled down some books I thought might meet her requirements.

Then I went into my bedroom where there are two bookshelves, one that takes up most of one wall. Again, I took down a few books.

My night table has only three books on it, ones that I am supposedly reading, but not really, because I don’t read in bed that much anymore. But there is a pile of about a dozen books on the floor next to my bed, a pile that is my “to read” list, and much too large and cumbersome to sit on the night table. Again I chose some books.

My daughter went through the books asking about the ones I had read and the ones I had planned to read. After much discussion, she wasn’t really happy with any of the choices. We ended up loading a few books onto my Kindle, including the nonfiction book she had come looking for, and she took that with her.

Now I had several piles of books in my living room that needed to go back to their respective shelves. Or did they? As my daughter and I had talked about the books, I realized that many of them that I had planned to read no longer really interested me.

I have written about purging my books shelves before, here and here. But more recently I wrote about emptying my closet completely in order to have repair work done. The empty closet was an inspiration. The idea of starting with an empty space (or an empty bookshelf) and working to put back what I wanted to keep rather than taking out what I wanted to give away was so liberating.

What if I got rid of, donated, all of my books, and just brought back in the ones that really have meaning for me. The lure of completely empty bookshelves (well, empty except for multiple copies of books I’ve written and my mother’s childhood books – I’m already qualifying what I’m willing to get rid of) was compelling.

Empty bookshelves. What an appealing thought. That’s something I thought I would never say. I haven’t gotten rid of any books yet. But the idea intrigues me. I’m not sure how this will play out but I’ll keep you posted.

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

All I Need Is Super-Glue, and Other Ridiculous Moments in Downsizing

Today I decided to share some of the more ridiculous moments I have experienced in my multiple experiences of downsizing. I’m hoping you will share some of yours in the comments to this post as well.

Because I think we can all benefit from the chance to laugh as well as cry, rejoice, feel sad, and feel triumphant at various points in this never-ending process: don’t you?

So here they are…

Ridiculous Moment #1: “All I Need Is Super-Glue”

It is late at night, past midnight, the night before the property manager comes to inspect the house I am vacating, the night before a taxi comes to whisk me off to the airport to take me to France, where I am to teach a class.

It is, in other words, down to the wire, down to the last minute.

My glasses are broken and have been broken for days. I have to keep glueing one of the sides back on, but they keep coming apart again, and falling off of my face and into the boxes I am loading with books, miscellaneous junk and/or precious items, clothing, etc., and I have to keep fishing them out.

Yesterday I was able to take little, much-needed breaks from packing while the super glue I had freshly applied to them was drying. But today I find that the super glue has disappeared, no doubt gone into one of the sealed boxes surrounding me.

There is a knock at the door. It is a neighbor who hates waste as much as I do, and who has volunteered to come and pick up a huge pile of clothing, bedding, and various stray pieces of furniture to take off to a local thrift store for me after he gets off of work at 11 pm. As I greet him at the door gratefully, my glasses fall apart once more, and I explain to him, with a pitiful sigh, that unfortunately I seem to have packed my super glue. “Do you want me to go get some for you?” he asks. “It will only take me five minutes…” “Oh, that would be wonderful!” I say.

He stops at the door, looks back at me, and says, “Do you need anything else?”

It only occurs to me later how many ways I could have answered that question. But I answer the question in the most direct (and most appropriate) way possible. “No,” I say. “All I need is super glue.”

Ridiculous Moment #2: The Cross-Stiched Sampler of a Model T Ford

This is going back to the downsizing of my parents’ home, years earlier. There are little piles all over the living room, piles fitting that frustrating category “What Do We Do With This?” My brother and sister and I are working together to try to get that category worked into the other, more reasonable ones that you are always reading about (Keep, Sell, Donate, Throw Away). We are encouraging my brother-in-law, who is being very helpful, to take something for himself. My brother-in-law grew up poor, in Mexico, and though he does not say so, you can see that he finds this whole process, and the whole overwhelming array of stuff a bit amusing. He keeps saying he doesn’t want, doesn’t need, anything. But finally, he picks up a framed, cross-stitched sampler of a Model T Ford, one of a set of four that my mother had made. “Well, I guess I would like this,” he says. It is a somewhat curious choice, since my brother-in-law’s first job in the U.S. was at a Ford manufacturing plant, and though it left him with a bad back and memories that are probably not all that fond, my brother in law is a very positive person. Perhaps he also has an ironic streak that I hadn’t recognized before. In any case, he puts the sampler aside somewhere.

Though unfortunately, not “aside” enough. For, less than half an hour later, as my brother makes his way around the many piles of things in the living room, he loses his balance for a moment, and we hear a loud “crunch.” And what has caused the crunch?

You guessed it. The glass covering the Model T sampler, which is under his foot. There is a general groan, and then, after a pause, a deep belly laugh coming from my brother in law.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I really didn’t need it…”

Ridiculous Moment #3: Where Are The Keys?

This one is borrowed from one of the people I interviewed when we were writing our book. It is also from the last-minute-madness category.

The parents of the person we interviewed are about to finally leave their old home to go to their new residence in a retirement community. All of the boxes are packed and sealed. It is only at that moment that it is discovered that the keys to the house(s) (both the new one and the old one, which are together on a chain) seem to be missing.

Nothing to do but open all the boxes, right?

Which is done, but unfortunately after a dispiriting search, the keys are simply not to be found.

Who knows how or why, but it is only at that moment that someone, for some reason, opens the refrigerator.

And there they are.

Of course they are! Where else would they be?!

So, there you have it: these are several of the most ridiculous moments in downsizing in my repertoire of ridiculous moments. Can you add some of your Ridiculous Downsizing  Moments to the collection in the comments below?

We’re all ears! And all sympathy too… 🙂

 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

An Empty Closet and Its Possibilities

A crack in the grout in the bathroom tiles. An extensive home repair. An empty closet.

Previously I had written a post about having my wall oven replaced and how emptying the kitchen cabinets before the work began enabled me to sort through and get rid of many of my pots and pans. And a while back I had written a post about completely emptying a closet or a room, pretending to move, and how that really upends the task of decluttering, based on an article by Carl Richards in the New York Times: “Three Ways to Figure Out What Stuff You Should Keep.”

Recently a leak in a bathroom, one that shares a wall with my bedroom closet, meant I had to completely empty the closet. It’s a rather large closet and I keep the usual things in it: clothes and shoes and out-of-season clothes. But I also keep some photo albums of my kids, gifts I have purchased but not yet given, needlepoint pillow fronts I made years ago but never made into pillows, yarn, lots of yarn, a china tea set from my childhood, and my Swedish horses. (I know, the horses should be on display, but for now they have taken up residence in my closet.)

 

Emptying the closet felt much more personal than emptying my kitchen cabinets. My clothes, supplies for my hobbies, treasured memories, all reside in that closet and speak to who I am. Taking them all out, seeing that empty space, gave me pause. I have had some time to contemplate what all that stuff means and think about whether I need all of it. (I don’t, of course I know that, but it’s still something to I have to think about.)

The work was postponed several times, mostly for the usual reasons, like waiting for new tile to be delivered and scheduling with the repairman. (Talking about those issues is for another post, probably for entirely other blog, one about the joys and tribulations of home maintenance.) So for a couple of weeks, I have had a completely empty closet where, for the first time since we moved in, there is nothing in it.

Each time I walk past the closet, I feel a frisson of joy. I can actually see the floor, for the first time ever, not to mention the entire empty space.

Each time I see the closet, I marvel at the amount of space I have and the enormous amount of stuff that came out of it.

Each time I walk past the emptiness, I see the possibilities, the possibilities of looking at my stuff in a new way.

What do I keep? What do I toss? What has meaning to me? Stay tuned…as I ponder the future of my stuff.

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

Has Downsizing Ever Sparked Joy For You?

As regular readers of this blog will already know, I am less than 100 percent enthusiastic about the KonMari approach to decluttering. But I’ll be the first to admit the phrase “spark joy” is awfully appealing.

I’ve written a fair amount already about why keeping “only” the things that spark joy doesn’t help me that much, because WAY too many things spark joy for me, and I can’t keep all of those things.

So I thought that today I’d write about moments of getting RID of things that have sparked joy for me.

For me it sparks joy to give things away to people who can use them. When I was doing an aggressive clearing out of the last house I lived in in Maryland, the closer my deadline came, the more furiously things were going out the door.

At first I tried to sell things in a series of moving and yard sales, with modest, but limited success.

Yard sales can be a good way to start the process of downsizing gradually. You’ll probably find that it gets easier to get rid of things the more you do it. Practice makes perfect! 🙂

Then I started putting things out with “Free” signs and things went much faster.

It so happened that there was a crew of workmen working on our street in the last days I was there. A couple of times they helped me carry things out (things like bookcases!) when they could see they needed help. I urged them to take the clothing, furniture, toys, games, anything that was still left that I didn’t want that I was putting out at the curb, home with them at the end of the day.

This workman loved this hat, which my son didn’t want anymore, SO MUCH!!! A moment of sparking joy (for someone else!) to be sure…

In the final couple of days they started bringing their wives and children to my place in the evenings. At this point it became honestly kind of festive atmosphere, and much more of a human-to-human interaction. One night one mother asked me if I had a specific item of clothing for one of her boys that she didn’t see. “I don’t know, but I’ll look,” I said, and lo and behold, I found the needed item. That “sparked joy” for both of us!

Another night someone came by to thank me for a bicycle I had apparently sold to him for a very low sum at one of my yard sales. Because I didn’t remember either the man or the bicycle I’m inclined to believe it wasn’t even in one of the three yard sales I had held in the previous weeks. It was probably from at least a year ago. Anyway, he came by to tell me how useful the bike had been for him, and how much he appreciated being able to have a bicycle for such a low price. I think he also said something about my having given him whatever price he asked for instead of the marked price, I don’t know. To be honest, I was in such a downsizing/moving fog by that point in the process that I was having a hard time remembering my own name!

Another (admittedly perhaps somewhat bizarre) moment that sparked joy for me was when I heard some garbage pickers go through the pile of metal junk that I had I had set out strategically so there would be enough time for the people that do that kind of thing to find it before it was hauled off to the dump by the city. I heard a truck pull up in the middle of the night and saw someone taking all the things they could use, loading them up, and driving away. The pile was much smaller in the morning. That sparked joy for me too, because I knew it was in the spirit of “reuse” before recycling: that those things were going to be used by the people that picked them up, and the pile going into the dump was much smaller.

Anyway. These are some of the moments that sparked joy for me in a time that was to be honest (again) not all that joyful.

I gave away a TON of books also. And here is where Marie Kondo and I will never agree. There is no joy in giving away books for me. I’ve moved many times, and every time I’ve moved I’ve had to give up a lot of books I wished I could keep. This time, because I was contemplating an international move I had to cut much deeper, and the cut hurt.

There was no joy for me in giving away these books. I got rid of the ones I could bear to long ago. So this was a matter of just “doing what needs to be done” and trying not to dwell on it too much.

I can get over it, and I have written here about how it is much easier for book lovers to get rid of books now than it used to be and why it is.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. I still wish I could live the way a writer I admire did. Apparently he had two houses, side by side. One for him. One for his books.

That’s not going to happen for me, but if it did, that would REALLY spark joy. 🙂

 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

 

 

 

 

Stopping to Smell the Roses or Look at Old Photos

My maternal grandmother, on the left, with her sisters.

A study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences (I love that title) suggests people are happier when they take time to appreciate the good things in life, and in the study psychology professor Nancy Fagley defines appreciation as “acknowledging the value and meaning of something…and feeling positive emotional connection to it.”

The great advantage to living in the same place for well over 30 years is that it’s warm and comfortable and definitely feels like home. One of the disadvantages is that it’s easy to accumulate way too much stuff.

As everyone knows who reads this blog, I am constantly trying to sort through stuff that belongs to me, my husband, our parents, and our grandparents. I feel great pressure to make decisions about what to keep and what to give away, mostly pressure that I put on myself but also some that comes from husband and my kids.

As I was going through antique and vintage clothes that have been handed down to me, among them two Swedish dresses, actually blouse/slips that are worn under a wool skirt, that I’m interested in donating to a museum, I decided to look at my grandmother’s photo albums. Yes, I have photo albums that belong to me, some from my parents, my aunt, and my grandmother. Talk about overload!

I took time out to slowly browse through my grandmother’s photos albums, mostly photographs of people that I never knew, but filled with pictures of my grandmother and my grandfather and their families. I also looked through an album of my mother’s that had photos of my father’s family.

My paternal grandmother, on the right, with her siblings.

Looking at the photographs of my two grandmothers, I was filled with appreciation. Certainly, I wouldn’t be here without those two women who persevered through good times and bad to keep their families together and who helped shape the people who would become my parents. And seeing photos of their parents, my great grandparents, was an almost out-of-body experience.

I took time to smell the roses, to look at old photos, to appreciate what I have, and to marvel at the photos that show the lives of my ancestors. What a gift to me, one I gave myself, a gift that allowed me to slow down and appreciate the women who came before me.

A caveat here. Of course I would never suggest that someone start to declutter by looking at photos. That’s too difficult and emotional and nostalgia-inducing. And I wouldn’t suggest looking at photos if you are up against a deadline. If things have to be moved out, for whatever reason, deal with the stuff first and the photos later. However, I’m a big fan of taking a break, taking the time to appreciate.

I learned a lot from looking at photographs of my grandmothers.

Looking at old photos taught me and continues to teach me, foremost, the preciousness of time.

I also felt how fortunate I am to have such a strong family and how incredibly lucky I am to have photographs of them.

And I realized that looking at the old photos gave me more joy than looking at the items they left behind. That was a bit of a revelation to me and, in some ways, makes it easier to “get rid of the stuff and keep the memories.”

At the same time as I was looking back, I could see the value of things to come. As the Irish-American poet Lola Ridge, champion of the working classes, said, “You are laden with beginnings.” Everything I do is a new beginning, just as everything my grandmothers did was a new beginning for them.

My maternal grandmother at 17, right after she came to the US.

 

My grandmother with my father and my aunt.

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

Reflections on Downsizing and Decluttering: Savoring the Process

I’ll be the first to admit that most of the time downsizing and decluttering feels like pretty much the LAST thing you’d think of when you think of an experience for savoring.

A delicious meal. A perfect massage. The taste of fresh strawberries that really taste like strawberries melting on your tongue. A sunset so beautiful you wish you could press “pause,” but you wouldn’t really want to do that because with each passing minute it becomes a new kind of beautiful.

Those are the kinds of things more likely to match with the word “savoring” in my mind.

But downsizing? And decluttering? I don’t think so….

And yet.

One of the things that has always bothered me a bit in the conversation surrounding this topic is the often stated, seemingly obvious “truth” that people who leave lots of things for their heirs to go through are at the very least leaving them with an entirely unsavory task, and that this reeks of at the very least a kind of selfish irresponsibility.

And yet. As the child of two parents who left us with plenty of things to go through after they died, and a brother who left my sister and me an even more bewildering collection of unwieldy possessions to go through, I have for the most part stayed out of this conversation, harboring my own private thoughts about it.

Well, almost. I did write this about my brother and his stuff.

But here is what I would like to stay about this now, for what it’s worth.

I would like to say that while I agree entirely that what my parents and my brother left for us to go through could certainly quite accurately be described as “a burden.” There’s no denying that.

But to me this “burden” has not been entirely a negative experience, not at all. In fact, there have been many parts of this process that has unfolded actually over a number of years, that have been worthy of savoring.

There have been many little items that have, shall we say “sparked joy” as I came upon them. Some of them have sparked sadness also, but often along with the sadness they have brought a kind of poignant comfort to me, or to others. (And not all of them were saved by my parents. Some of them were saved by me (a chip off the old blocks if ever there were one!)

A few of the things I came across in my last round of going through the things in my storage locker were these: my father’s report card from grade school (back in the 1930s, in a little one-room country schoolhouse in rural Minnesota); a letter I had saved from a dear friend who is no longer alive, in which she had lovingly and beautifully written about her children when they were young (I sent the letter to her children); a little ceramic mouse that had been a “stocking stuffer” gift from my mother-in-law years ago, and which brought comfort to her son at a time when he needed comfort, and a reminder of his mother, desperately.

Going through these things one by one, piece by piece, is often a tedious process. The thing I like the least about it is this feeling that I am being sucked into the past, a past from which I’ll never escape. It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling, and certainly not worth savoring.

But parts of it are: those moments when you feel love expressed many years earlier in the form of a letter; or a little ceramic mouse; or a lump of brown and gray clay fashioned by a little boy, who had brought it to his mother one day while she was working, handed it to her, and said, “Mommy, this is a butterfly.”

Those are the moments I savor, and I always will. And because they are there to be savored, I think the tedium, all the tedium is worth it, really.

 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

 

Downsizing Stories, as Coach and Coached

Illustration by Quentin Monge

One reviewer of our book on Amazon said that with Moving On, you get the authors “coaching you, supporting you, and cheering you on with their very practical advice.”

The past couple of weeks I have felt both somewhat of a coach and very much one who is coached.

We have been sorting through our files, mostly business financial papers because we closed our company at the end of 2017. The impetus to get it done now was a free shredding event in our neighborhood.

As we emptied files we ended up with four bankers’ boxes of papers to be shredded. With that amount of stuff, “in our neighborhood” took on a different meaning. To get several blocks away with such heavy boxes became daunting so my husband called a shredding company to request a private pick up, for a fee.

Since we were getting papers picked up, I decided to go through more files, mostly of book stuff. I have a file, sometimes paper, sometimes electronic, sometimes both, for each book I have written, sometimes one for each book I’ve edited, and many files for books I’m thinking of writing. I culled much of that.

Then I started on personal files, which I edited down rather than getting rid of completely. For the file on my father’s funeral, I read through some of the papers I had used to write his obit and reread some very thoughtful and supportive condolence notes. By the end of the file, I was in tears but I got through it by invoking our mantra, “Keep the memories, toss the object…”

A friend’s mother died a few weeks ago at the age of 102½ (I seem to have quite a few friends with longevity in their genes), and my friend has to empty her mother’s apartment of many years. She had been to a couple of my downsizing talks and even wrote a lovely comment – with 5 stars – on our book’s Amazon page.

Now she was ready to implement the suggestions in Moving On so we talked about how important it is for those emptying a home, and certainly for her, to honor her mother’s life – as an Olympic gymnast, as a wife and mother, and as one who gave back all her life – while at the same time getting rid of a lifetime of stuff. I felt I could be a bit of a coach for her because I had been through that process when my father moved from his home of 50 years.

Another friend, a doctor, is getting ready to retire and wants to downsize. Her kids have been out of the house for years and she now wants to make her home more functional for herself and her husband. She came to me to ask for guidance and then said, “I’ll just buy the book.” So our book will be a coach for her – and she can always ask me questions along the way.

That same reviewer of our book on Amazon also said, “I knew I found my roadmap when I read this book.” (We are so grateful to that reviewer for such kind words about us and our book.)

I have used our book as a roadmap and have been coached and cheered on by my friends and family this past few weeks, just as I have coached and supported and cheered on my friends who are downsizing. It’s been a time of women supporting women.

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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