Keeping Memories of War

As Memorial Day comes around once more, it’s time to honor the sacrifices made by veterans of war (and their families). The picnics are fun, and the beginning of summer is joyful. But let’s not forget the original meaning of the holiday. Who do you know who should be remembered for their selfless service? How can you honor their memory?

downsizing the home

IMG_0001 This is my Dad’s cousin Howard, who was almost like a brother to him. He was a pilot whose plane went down over the Adriatic Sea during World War II. His body was never found.

One of the tag lines for our book, and for this blog is: “Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff.” And as Memorial Day draws near, it seems to me a good time to think about keeping memories of war.

Memorial Day is often thought of as a day of picnics and the beginning of the summer season. But at its heart, Memorial Day is really about remembering those who died at war. That is why I’ve put a picture of a member of our family who lost his life in World War II above.

But I think it’s a good time to also remember those who came back from war, and what they…

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The Comforts and Sorrows of “Death Cleaning”

A few months ago, the New York Times published an articled titled “How to Discover the Life-Affirming Comforts of ‘Death Cleaning’” by Rhonda Kaysen. The article uses the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson as a jumping off point to talk about downsizing and decluttering while we are still able to do it for ourselves. The book by Magnusson is described as “a charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.”

When the article was published the Times asked for comments and then included many of the hundreds of responses in the Opinion pages a couple of months later. Some of these responses were “charming, practical, and unsentimental” while others were emotional and touching and some even heartbreaking.

While the responses from readers ran the gamut, many of the people who commented fell into the categories of downsizers we have discussed in our blog: the “keepers” who want to preserve special things as well as memories, and will linger over the process and the “throwers” who relish clearing out and will empty a house quickly.

But the most moving responses were from people who had had a profound reaction to sorting through all the stuff that belonged to loved ones and shared their stories in the comment section.

One commenter found the word “clutter” to be distasteful. “The word captures none of the wistful sadness of the triage required to downsize one’s accumulated past life, even while looking forward to the next phase.”

One person said that she had somehow become the keeper of the flame for the whole family. “Cleaning out the house has made me decide to give up that role and eliminate what I do not want or need.”

Another man was sorting through his parents’ home after his mother’s death and found, among much stuff, five copies of Mickey Rooney’s autobiography. After cleaning up somewhat and selling the house, he said, “I took the only things that truly mattered. My memories, my dad, his dogs and one copy of Mickey Rooney’s autobiography.”

After a man and his wife cleaned out his in-laws’ home of 50 years, he said it was the hardest task either of them had ever done, “taking a physical, emotional and to some extent even spiritual toll.” From that experience, he felt the best thing we can do “is to determine what’s truly important and get rid of the rest.”

One man writes that he never had a good relationship with his mother and, as one of her caregivers, was able to sort through some of her private papers while she was dying. He found teachers’ reports and artwork of his, clearly things that she appreciated and valued. He says, “By the time she died of dementia in her home, I had received the grace to grieve her loss in a way I thought unimaginable. Disposing of her physical belongings gave me the gift of realizing a love she had for me I never knew existed.”

One person’s response reminded me of what a friend told me as I was writing our book Moving On. She said that after her father-in-law passed away, her mother-in-law cleaned out her house of all the accumulated stuff, saying she did it as a gift to her children. The commenter said, “My goal is for my kids, instead of saying ‘what are going to do with all this stuff?’ will say ‘I wonder what happened to…’”

That’s worthy of adding to my list of goals for emptying my home of clutter: For my children to say, “I wonder what happened to…”

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.

Spring Cleaning for Downsizers

Photo by Michael Ginsburg

It’s that time of year again when people will soon be throwing open their windows and declaring that it’s time for spring cleaning. Some people may actually take the next step and DO it!

For those who are also either in the process of downsizing, or doing some serious thinking about it–mainly, nowadays, aging Baby Boomers–spring cleaning may mean more than just cleaning. It may mean getting rid of at least some of those things that you’ve been meaning to get rid of for a long time, but just haven’t done it.

A few years ago my coauthor wrote a post called Spring Cleaning: 50 Things to Get Rid of Right Now. Those who need inspiration/motivation to get started (or to keep going) may find this post helpful.

Of course, some of the things filling closets and attics and garages are actually things that should NOT just be thrown into the garbage for a number of reasons.

There are a few categories of items you should think twice about before tossing them into the garbage. Clothing (and other textiles) is one. Letters, photographs, and other things on paper is another.

These past posts provide tips about ecologically sound and historically respectful things you can do with some of those things.

April is National Recycling Month – for Clothing, too!

Family History Month: Spotlight on the Center for American War Letters

The Paper Chase: Decluttering

You’ll find lots of other ideas about what to do with “all that stuff” by browsing our site.

Happy spring, happy spring cleaning–and don’t forget to take time to smell the flowers!

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. 

8 Reasons You Can’t Get Rid of Your Stuff

Do you wrestle with these excuses for not getting rid of your stuff? I do…all the time. But we all want to feel more connected to the people around us, not to our stuff. We write in our book, and in our blog posts, how to push through and get rid of stuff but sometimes a pithy quote gives us a new perspective. Here’s some interesting advice from others.

I might need this some day.

Or maybe you feel it’s too good to throw away.

Someone said, “Once you need less, you will have more.” Give away the stuff that still has life in it, find new homes for these things and you will feel like you have more than you need.

I feel guilty for wasting money by getting rid of things.

The money won’t come back whether you save the item or give it away. Guilt is just an emotion that clutters your head. As Big Panda said when the leaves were falling from the trees in a James Norbury book, “Don’t be sad. Autumn is nature’s way of showing us how beautiful letting go can be.”

I’ll save this for my daughter or my son or my niece.

The next generation – in fact, the next two generations – do not want our stuff. Our best gift to them is to leave our things in manageable order. As Leonard Cohen said, “Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

I have such good memories of this.

All those memories!

The memories exist in our hearts and our souls not in material things. Keep the memories, absolutely. Take pictures, write down stories, record your thoughts for yourself and for future generations. As we say in our book, “Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff.”

It belonged to my mom (or my dad or my grandmother).

C.S. Lewis said, “We are who we believe we are.” If we believe we are our mother’s child, we are. And we hold our mother inside ourselves. If we believe we are our grandfather’s grandchild, then we are. We keep our loved ones inside us, on our hearts and in our memories. Parting with items that belonged to our parents or our grandparents is just that, getting rid of items. It is not getting rid of the people who the items once belonged to. Intellectually that’s not a difficult concept but emotionally it’s a leap. We can make that leap!

I’m saving it for a special occasion.

Or maybe you’re keeping it for “some day.” Use it now. Wear the elegant dress (if you own one!), use the fancy china. Follow the advice of Mary Engelbreit, “Don’t save anything for a special occasion. Being alive is a special occasion.”

I just don’t have the time.

Marcel Proust said, “Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart.” Time is a gift to our loved ones. If you love your family, if you love yourself, you will find the time to declutter your stuff, not all at once but bit by bit.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. All the stuff!

As we say in our book, just start. Anywhere. Do the easy things first. As Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Just take one step.

As a final quote. A crew member of Junk Vets said, after cleaning out a house, “Once you turn fifty you should just have to start giving away things.”

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.

On Your Mark, Get Set…Go! 2022 Is Here…

Our Motto

It’s true: we’ve got (almost) a whole new year ahead of us. Many of us were hoping that it would feel instantly different and better than the last year, but sometimes things don’t happen as quickly as we would like them to.

The result is that many of us are housebound again, whether because of the weather, or avoiding the virus, or having to isolate and get better after exposure to the virus.

So, that’s disappointing. But what can we do to turn things around and make a housebound January/February more productive? Here are five ideas for you to take or leave, as you please.

  1. What about dealing with those boxes of old photographs you were able to ignore in the pleasant days of summer and fall? You know the ones I mean. (The ones in those boxes, or that closet, that you’ve been trying to ignore.) Why not take some time to go through the pictures, put them in books, or frame them, and/or label the ones that your children may wish one day that you had labeled. (You can get some advice about how to do that without ruining the photographs in our book.)
  2. If, while you are following idea #1 you have some fun, touching, or tender memories about the people and/or places in the pictures, consider taking the time to write down (or record) the memories. Often stories about people are even more interesting than pictures of them. Certainly they are more interesting than just their names.
  3. One of the most difficult things about downsizing a home is the overwhelming nature of it. It’s good to break it down into small, manageable pieces. My coauthor wrote a great post about attacking an excess of items in her kitchen a few years ago, and it occurs to me that this would be a great housebound-in-winter task. (Not the whole house. Just the kitchen, for now…)
  4. Do you have a tradition of telling your kids their birth day stories? I was inspired by one of my cousins who has an annual tradition of recounting these stories to her kids, to at least write those stories up for my sons. This could be an enjoyable task to take on when you get tired of sorting things. 😦
  5. Not as much fun as thinking about the day(s) when your children came into the world, it’s important to prepare things for the day you will one day go out of it. Here’s another post by my coauthor about writing a legacy letter. This can be a wonderful thing to leave behind for your children: even better than china and silver, and even old photographs. 🙂

Whatever you decide to do with the sometimes dreary days at this time of year, do take good care of yourself and hold on for spring. It will be coming! We can count on that…and when it comes we probably won’t be in the mood for labeling photographs or organizing kitchen drawers.

So why not take advantage of the opportunity to do so now?

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. 

Helping a Parent Enter a Nursing Home

Family. The holidays are all about family. And this year we can actually get together with family and friends, such a wonderful change from last year!

As we celebrate family traditions – or create new ones – the time spent with loved ones can provide us with an opportunity to observe the older members. How are they doing? Could they benefit from more help at home or is it time to think about a nursing home.

This month we have the privilege of a guest post from Millie Jones, creator of the website SeniorWellness.

Millie Jones created SeniorWellness as a way to inspire older generations – including her own – to embrace their wellness throughout their golden years. Her goal for the site is that it will help people of all ages feel young at heart. Millie’s favorite activity is playing with her grandkids but she can be found writing, taking photos (film not digital, of course), and putting both those skills to use via scrapbooking. 

Today Millie offers helpful tips and many resources if you have a parent who needs to enter a nursing home.

Assisting a parent who needs the services offered by a nursing home can be a difficult process. You must assess the benefits and drawbacks of any community you consider.

Looking for a Nursing Home

Nursing homes vary wildly in quality and condition. Be thorough when reading reviews, tour several nursing homes, and meet with caregivers and other staff members. Following are some important steps to take:

  • Assess the cost. Make sure your parent can realistically afford to pay the monthly fees and related expenses.
  • Evaluate the staff-to-resident ratio. More caregivers in comparison to the number of residents typically lead to a higher quality of care.
  • Visit the community. Care providers can say anything online, and reviews may be unreliable. Visiting the community is the only way to assess the quality of life for yourself.
  • Ask about the amenities. The amenities available at a nursing home, such as the types of common rooms, therapy programs, and events and activities, have a profound effect on residents’ enjoyment of the community.

Paying for Care

The cost of nursing home care often catches families by surprise. Depending on the specific services the parent needs, rental prices can range drastically from month to month. Assistance is available, however, so assess federal and state programs to evaluate your options.

Consider Selling Your Parents’ Home

Many seniors run into problems financing nursing home care due to the cost. Selling a primary residence or other property can be a way to come up with the money necessary for long-term care. Before listing a home, make sure it’s ready to sell and likely to command a worthwhile price.

  • Update the home. Often, seniors have older homes that need fixtures, surfaces, and appliances replaced to appeal to more buyers.
  • Repair damage. Fix broken appliances and damaged infrastructure, replace broken windows and leaky pipes, and correct potential safety hazards before listing the property for best results.
  • Compromise if necessary. Getting into a nursing home may be time-sensitive, so consider the lowest amount you’re willing to accept for the property.

Helping the Other Parent Adjust

While one parent is preparing to enter a nursing home, the other must make important life changes as well. They may want to downsize if the home they shared with their significant other now feels too large or if it’s become hard for them to navigate. Some continuing care facilities include companion suites where both parties can keep living with each other while one receives the care they need.

Consider Their Feelings

Moving into a nursing home is a big decision and can be highly stressful for everyone involved. Be patient with a parent who says they’re not ready. Parents moving into nursing homes often feel they’ve lost a significant degree of independence and may become sad about losing their home or regular routines. Many nursing homes have therapy programs and psychiatrists available to help residents who become anxious or depressed in the new settings.

Make Sure They’re Happy

Once you’ve handled the financial aspects and dealt with the personal challenges of entering a nursing home, keep an eye on the parent in the nursing home. Their needs may evolve over time, so consider all your options, including switching facilities, as necessary.

Thank you, Millie.

Happy Holidays to all.

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.

Was Anything Accomplished at COP26?

Last week COP26, the annual UN-sponsored climate change conference ended in Glasgow. Was anything accomplished?

“Infuriating and disappointing” was the reaction of the youth climate activist organization FridaysForFuture Scotland. “They even succeeded in watering down the blah, blah, blah which is quite an achievement,” was the sardonic response of Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old founder of #FridaysForFuture.

Young people all around the world have really had it with the inaction, and the irresponsibility of world “leaders” to lead, and to treat the climate crisis as the crisis it is. They are, after all, the ones that will have to live with the consequences of decisions made by the people in power. They are the ones that are worried, not unreasonably, about what kind of world it will be if and when they have children. They have done their homework and they know what those consequences are more than likely to be: they are likely to be catastrophic, and indeed in much of the world they already are.

I became more aware of this youth climate action movement through a book published this year: it is called Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Heroes. This book showcases the incredibly innovative, impressive, and most of all energetic work that young people all around the world are doing, and the results they are having in tackling the massive environmental problems we are facing. And despite the severity of those problems, this is a book that inspires hope, and provides a myriad of ways for others to join in this work, and help make a difference.

Young people were at COP26 in large numbers, and that is perhaps the most important thing that happened there. In Glasgow, dedicated young climate activists coming from around the world had the chance to meet each other, draw strength from each other, and let us know what really did–and did not–happen at the conference. They are not giving up. They are working together to keep pressure on the powers that be. And they need our help in growing and strengthening this movement.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I must say that one of the things I am most grateful for this year is that young people are not sitting down and being quiet about climate change, or giving up on the chances for humans to survive on this beautiful planet. They are standing up, they are speaking out. They are demanding meaningful, substantive change. They are demanding, and are devoting themselves to #ClimateActionNow. We should all be grateful for this.

If you want to learn more about what youth around the world are doing, and how you can help, #FridaysForFuture is one good place to start.

This video features a few of the young climate activists who were in Glasgow sharing their thoughts about it. It’s six minutes, well worth your time. Even if you can only listen to the first couple of minutes, please do it. These kids deserve to be heard.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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. 

Q&A with Eve Schaub: On Zero Garbage

Photo by Stephen Schaub

When Eve O. Schaub decides to write about a problem, she enters into the research with gusto, and in a very personal–and empirical–way. This deep-dive approach has led to the publication of her two books: Year of No Sugar and Year of No Clutter, the latter of which she discussed with me in this post. She is currently working on her next book–Year of No Garbage, to be published in the fall of 2022. She recently took the time to answer my questions about this very challenging–and laudable–project. Thank you, Eve! Janet Hulstrand

Janet: You recently published a really interesting article in Hyperallergic titled “Fun Facts I Learned from a Year of Producing No Garbage.” Of course our readers may want to read the whole article; there’s a lot of valuable information in there. But maybe to entice them, can you tell us one or two of the most important facts you learned in that year? 

Eve: Well, I’m afraid the news isn’t good. The biggest take-away I had from our Year of No Garbage is that most of the things folks are doing in the name of recycling and environmentalism are, at best, a meaningless drop in the bucket, and, at worst, actually harmful. The key problem is that right now the manufacturing and recycling industries don’t see any profit in recycling, or in being more environmentally friendly, so instead they pretend to be recycling and pretend to be environmentally friendly. Which is another way to say that they are lying to us.

Janet: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your Year of No Garbage? And the most important piece of advice you have to share with our readers about trying to achieve (or even greatly minimize) the harmful kinds and amount of garbage we create?

Eve: Without a doubt the most important thing I’ve learned is the truly horrific harmfulness of plastic. No one wants to talk about this, but regardless of what your recycling provider is telling you, any plastic with a recycling number other than a #1 or a #2 is not getting recycled. 91% of plastic never gets recycled.

So what happens to it? Well, it can go to the landfill where it will never degrade. Instead, it will slowly emit toxic chemicals over the next several hundred years, ultimately leaching into our groundwater and the environment. Or, it goes to an incinerator where burning it creates toxic ash and releases carcinogenic gas into the air we breathe. Or, it gets dumped in our environment, showing up in one of the seven giant plastic garbage patches we have in our oceans, or dumped on the landscapes of impoverished nations which lack the infrastructure to deal with it.

The important thing to know is that, while plastic as trash is horrible, it’s not even the whole story. From the moment of its production, which uses fossil fuels and fracking, to the polluting nature of the plastic refining process, to the disposal of these products at their end of life, every step of the plastic process is bad for people and bad for the planet.

Finally, because plastic is so very durable, it’s a problem that never goes away. Scientists are finding microplastics in our bottled water, and in our food. We all have plastics in our bodies; we all eat a credit card’s worth of plastic a week. They’re finding microplastics in our poop and in the placenta of human babies and in the air we breathe.

Janet: What are some of the myths, or perhaps simply bits of misinformation floating around about recycling? And what about composting? 

Eve: Ever since China stopped taking our recyclable plastics in 2018, nothing except recycling numbers #1 and #2 are getting recycled. Many garbage services and communities accept all numbered plastics, from #1 through #7, but this is a deception. There’s simply no market for these materials, and therefore no financial incentive to recycle them. Period.

Another deception is compostables. Many people have encountered “compostable” single use products at their local coffee shop or in the aisles of their supermarket, as a more expensive but eco-friendly alternative to regular disposable products. They look and feel like plastic, but the materials come from plants. People buy these thinking “Hey, I’m doing something good for the environment,” and that’s commendable. Unfortunately most of these products are not actually compostable. If you put them in a home compost pile and come back a year later they will still be there and look exactly the same: like garbage.

Instead they are “industrially compostable” which means they require very specific conditions of pressure and temperature to allow them to degrade. So how do I dispose of my industrially compostable take-out plastic cup? Do I… put it in recycling, where it will contaminate anything actually recyclable? Or do I… put it in the trash, where it will be landfilled in conditions so airtight that it will never break down at all?

Compostables are one of those examples of where people are trying to do the right thing, but because of false advertising and the rampant confusion around these issues, end up doing something just as bad or worse. A recyclable #1 or #2 cup is better than one of these non-compostable-compostables. At least then it’s got a fighting chance to be recycled!

Of course, the best case of all is bring your own reusable cup- but even the most die-hard conscientious of us is going to be caught cup-less sometimes.

Janet: This kind of an activity–like a Year of No Sugar, or a Year of No Clutter, of necessity involves a whole family, right? Any words of advice, wisdom, or perspective about how to convince members of a family that these efforts are, well, worth the effort? Or just strategies for making it less tedious, maybe even kinda fun? 

Eve: Throughout all three of our family projects, No Sugar, No Clutter, and No Garbage, it has always been a family endeavor, and that has always been one of the most appealing aspects to me. It always feels so much more meaningful and allows us to have multiple perspectives on a problem. It also virtually guarantees that there will be drama- which is great from a writer’s perspective, although not so great from a parent’s perspective!

My advice on taking on any big family project is: first, everyone must go into the family endeavor as an equal partner and feel listened to and respected. Second, don’t be a totalitarian–recognize that there will be mistakes and misunderstandings and even downright I was not supposed to do this and I did, so now what? In any project, no matter how ambitious, you have to leave room for people to be human.

Eve chronicled her family’s Year of No Garbage through a series of both blog and Instagram posts.

Janet: What do zero garbage and downsizing/decluttering have to do with each other? 

Eve: I think one thing that people who are “Keepers” have in common with zero wasters is that we hate the idea of waste and we see potential everywhere, in everything. We hate the idea of something not being realized to its fullest- there’s a loss in that which we find distressing. For Zero Waste folks it’s primarily focused on the waste of resources and the environmental impact of a throw-away society, whereas for Keepers I think the issue is often more personal and emotional.

Of course, for anyone who’s ever watched an episode of a decluttering show knows, the typical advice for getting rid of too much stuff is to put lots of bags by the curb. Certainly, during my last project, Year of No Clutter, I did throw some things in the garbage, but in my book I talk quite a bit about wanting to find good homes for all this perfectly good stuff.

Doing a Year of No Garbage was like taking that enterprise to another level. Not only did I have to find homes for all the perfectly good things, I also had to find homes for things most folks call “garbage”: all the things we’re used to sending to the landfill without a thought. But what is “garbage”? Garbage is anything we are done with, but that doesn’t mean no one else wants it. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s just a matter of perspective.

So I came up with a mantra: wherever an object made me want to despair, I’d look at it and say, “Someone, somewhere, wants this.” Then it became my job to find that person.

Janet: What is the most effective thing we can do as individuals to minimize the amount of harmful garbage ending up in our landfills, and in our oceans? What do we need to be doing collectively? And how do we manage to really DO it? What are the first steps?

Eve: Most people won’t wake up one day like we did and say HELLO! HENCEFORTH I SHALL BE ZERO WASTE! and that’s good because it’s probably the worst-ever way to go about it. Rather, taking it one step at a time, trying one thing at a time seems to be the best way to make it stick. Even though our Year of No Garbage is officially over I’m still trying new things out, seeing what works for me. I never thought I’d get to the point where I’d use a bidet, but you know what? Since we bought one this year I actually love it. I buy half as much toilet paper now and that makes me unreasonably proud of my bathroom habits.

One practical tip I recommend is doing a garbage audit. What this means is take apart a bag of your garbage and take an inventory: what do you have more of than you thought? Are there recyclables in there that got missed? If there are lot of food scraps maybe consider making a compost pile. Maybe you use more aluminum foil than you thought and could try using containers for leftovers instead.

One day as I was sorting through our recycling I realized that we went through a bazillion aluminum cans of seltzer every week. Sure, the aluminum cans are recyclable, but even better would be not to have those cans or use that energy at all, and so as a result we bought a Soda Stream. Now we save money AND I make fewer trips to the basement to sort recycling.

Janet: During this year were you able to keep from being discouraged? Any words to keep us all from becoming discouraged also, and instead galvanize us into some kind of productive action? 

Eve: Our Year of No Garbage also happened to be the year 2020, which has been politely described as a raging dumpster fire of a year. For us this meant that the year did not play out at all the way we expected. For one thing, legitimate measures to protect health and safety during the pandemic also meant that as a society we were all using more disposables and plastic than ever before: our supermarket banned reusable bags, restaurants did only take-out, even at our beloved farmer’s market, they started putting all the produce in plastic bags!! Of course, those measures were understandable at the time, but it was disheartening.

There was a moment, a few months in, when my husband and I looked at each other and said “So? Do we keep doing this?” I mean, when the world is falling apart around you, sometimes it feels silly–or maybe even offensive–to keep on washing your cereal bags and obsessing over what to do with used staples. We decided to keep going, in part because the world doesn’t always cooperate with your plans and that’s just reality. The time is never going to be perfect to confront the difficult problems of garbage and plastic.

I’m so glad we did. It gave us something meaningful to do during a difficult time, and forced us to find new solutions on the fly. Also, the pandemic shutdown provided an amazing demonstration of what people can do when they all work together, and that gave me hope for solving the existential crisis that disposable plastic on our planet represents.

There were–and continue to be–many moments where I think that the problem of garbage, the problem of global warming, the problem of the environment, is all just too much. The manufacturing industry is just too powerful, and they’ve got us running in circles trying to recycle and remember our reusable bags, meanwhile they’re quietly ramping up plastics production to quadruple in the next 25 years. That’s four times as much disposable plastic as we have now — still not getting recycled. And if this happens, emissions from the plastic lifecycle will equal 50 times the annual emissions of all the coal power plants in the United States.

But I never remain discouraged for long because I know from experience that all this can change on a dime, if enough people actually have the facts. That’s what happened for us with sugar. One minute people were like “Why are you avoiding sugar, again?” and the next they were sending me pictures saying “LOOK HOW MUCH SUGAR IS IN THIS!?! ARE THEY TRYING TO KILL PEOPLE???”

The very best thing we can do is be informed, and to act on that information. Understand that perfection is literally impossible, so instead just try to focus on doing one good thing. And then another. If we know how very bad plastic is, try not to buy it. Don’t buy the greeting card wrapped in plastic, buy the other one. Know that every plastic bag you say “no thanks” to, is a victory. Take note of how it’s pretty much impossible to buy so many products today without plastic wrapping and wonder: What did we used to do before plastic? Could we try that again?

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.  Eve Schaub is author of Year of No Sugar, Year of No Clutter, and the upcoming Year of No Garbage. You can learn about her adventures and books at

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.

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