Letting Go

My mother at her wedding in 1944

This is not the post I was planning to write ay this time. And it’s certainly not a post I want to write but it’s a story that needs to be told.

We had a flood.

Hurricane Ida, which devastated parts of New Orleans, headed north and merged with a front to wreak havoc in the Northeast. In New York City, subways were shut down overnight, the first time since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, due to flash flooding.

As a result of a somewhat freaky turn of events, we had a flood coming in from our neighbor’s terrace and apartment. The force of the water overwhelmed her terrace, came flooding through her apartment and out into the hallway. The water came through the wall we share with her apartment, which is our bedroom, dressing room, and my closet, and it continued into our linen closet. What a mess.

In my closet, I had my mother’s and my aunt’s wedding dresses. The flood damaged the hem of my mother’s dress and completely ruined the long train on my aunt’s dress. What did I do with the dresses? After they dried out, I took them to fabric recycling.

Don’t judge me, at least not yet. I had done due diligence on the 1940s dresses years ago, trying to donate them to the local historical society in the area where they got married. The woman said everyone wants to donate vintage wedding dresses and they only want it if you have things that go with it. Well, I had everything because my mother saved everything: the engagement announcement in the newspaper, the wedding announcement, the wedding invitation, even the place cards for my grandparents. More than just a dress, there was a story there. The woman seemed interested but never got back to me. As the dresses were drying out, I researched to see if I could find someone who made new dresses out of parts of old ones, and I couldn’t find anyone.

I decided to let the dresses go. Was that hard? Yes, but it was also a relief. Did I feel okay after donating personal items with such a profound family history? Yes and no. The practical side of me wishes someone could have used the fabric to create something new. (I still hope someone creative trolls the fabric recycling warehouse and finds them.) The sentimental side of me is at peace with my decision. I have to clean up the apartment to make it safe for my family and that is more important than saving sentimental items.

My husband’s decision was to let go of two antiques items that belonged to his parents. They were both in the living room and not affected by the flood, but it was time to part with them. One was a small end table and matching chair that he put on Craigslist and sold right away. The second is a Hitchcock style chair that he will list soon.

We are letting go of these items and we are content with our decision. (Why did we have these items for so long? Well, that’s a topic for another post.)

We’re just happy to be letting go. As Maya Angelou said, “We need much less than we think we need.”

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.

What We Part With Beyond our Stuff

The other day a friend of mine told me that she was not going to go to a knitting weekend on an island in Maine that she had attended for years. She would usually fly to Maine and a friend would drive the two of them on the 2 to 3 hour trip to the island. Her friend told her she no longer drives for such an extended time

My friend went through some of the common steps of mourning the loss of this gathering. At first a bit of denial: It didn’t really matter that she wasn’t going. There wasn’t much anger but there was bargaining: She would arrange another trip to see the friends she usually sees when she’s in Maine. Maybe a bit of depression: She realized that if she didn’t go this year that she would probably not go again and she had to come to terms with that loss. And finally, acceptance: Her friend’s life had changed, her life had changed, and this is where they are now.

What she was losing was not stuff or things or something you could touch but she was parting with companionship, a communal activity, and the chance to be with friends.

Other friends of mine seem to be living through similar experiences. One friend is getting her lake house ready to sell. She is older than me and a very independent widow who had always driven to the house by herself. It was getting difficult now and the house needed some repairs after a flood. Another friend is selling her beach house. Her life has changed after the pandemic and this seems a necessary step.

 Although these women are getting rid of their stuff, things that had accumulated in their vacation homes over the years, what they are parting with is a way of life, the opportunity to spend time in their favorite place to relax, a place where they welcomed generations of their families.

When we were cleaning out our storage room, I remember my husband contemplating his fly-fishing equipment. It was not the stuff, the waders and nets and fishing rods, he was reluctant to give away, it was the loss of a favorite activity. With his back issues it was no longer possible to have such an active lifestyle. He was giving up a part of his former life.

How have you dealt with a change in lifestyle? What positive changes have you made that you would like to share with us?

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.

Eco-Friendly Travel Tips

Now that things seem to be slowly getting back to normal, at least for the time being, people are starting to travel again. Of course one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we’ve had a chance to think about the pros and cons of travel–especially (but not only) international travel. And also about more eco-friendly ways to travel, whether internationally or domestically.

Sustainable Travel International has some great general tips, everything from choosing off-the-beaten-track destinations rather than pressing into crowded “bucket list” ones that in some cases are being “loved to death”–to slowing down the pace, and choosing more eco-friendly choices for getting around, such as trains, buses, and bicycles–or even walking.

And when it comes to packing, the professional hobo has some great tips about how to choose eco-friendly products for your travels.

I’d like to add a word about souvenirs. Way before anyone was thinking as much about sustainability as we all are now, I found the whole “must-do” of buying souvenirs to bring back for family, coworkers, and friends after a trip to be one of the most unpleasant parts of travel. This is not because I am a selfish person (at least I don’t think it is). It is mostly because I really really really do not enjoy shopping of any kind. (Except shopping for books.) So, for me, the idea of having to spend precious time when in an exciting and interesting new place trying to sift through the junk and find something that a) I could afford to bring home; b) could be easily packed and carried, and didn’t take up too much space; and c) wasn’t going to just add to the meaningless clutter in someone’s home was really just not very fun.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to have ever felt this way. (Haters of Shopping, Unite!!) Therefore, I propose that in the interest of not only the psychological relief for shopping-haters to have that burden lifted from them, but also to give everyone more time to meaningfully explore the places we are visiting, and less clutter to be added to our already overstuffed homes, maybe we ditch this habit. Or at least make it feel less like an obligation?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend the time we spend shopping doing some of the things proposed by Sustainable Travel International, for example? Like spending time with locals learning how to cook local dishes? Or going on hikes or tours led by local people?

Even I would never say that finding special gifts for people while traveling is something I dislike. It is more the idea that there is an obligation to spend time looking for gifts for a whole list of people that has a way of turning something that should be pleasurable into a chore. Seeing something that spontaneously says to me “Oh wouldn’t this be nice to bring home for x, y, or z? Or for the whole office?” is quite another matter.

In the interest of sustainability, and in minimizing the buildup of clutter, those who do not hate shopping, who maybe even enjoy it, might want to consider my sister’s post-downsizing-our-parents’-home rule for buying gifts. “From now on, I’m only getting people things that can be USED UP!” she proclaimed once we had finally emptied our parents’ home of a lifetime worth of accumulated objects, many of them meaningless objects that definitely added to the clutter in our home.

If we think about sustainability (and the prevention of increasing clutter) as we shop for gifts, whether at home or abroad, we can still continue to support the people whose livelihoods depend on selling souvenirs. So, think consumable items (that can cross borders): local jams and jellies, fair-trade coffee or chocolate, sachets, soaps, and of course postcards, which provide opportunities for returning travelers to share stories with their friends and families about the things they have seen and done in their travels.

Here’s wishing everyone safe, enjoyable, interesting, and sustainable travels, wherever (and whenever!) you may roam…

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. 

Heartwood and Shtisel: Writing a Letter to your Heirs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Sustainable Clothing 101: Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

Spring Cleaning 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clothing

Shoes

Electronics

Musical instruments

Books

Happy Spring Cleaning!

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Sustainable Clothing: A Welcome Trend

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

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

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

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

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


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You


The Importance of Important Papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

A New Years Wish for Downsizers

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

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

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


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

What Are You Grateful For In 2020?

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

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

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

What is your story of gratitude in 2020?

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

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

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

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

Let’s finish this year strong.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

%d bloggers like this: