Downsizing: What Happens When You Can’t Do It Right?

Downsizing

Downsizing Day 1: The Decision Is Made, Starting to Pull Books Off the Shelves. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Several weeks ago, I made a bold, fateful, and possibly slightly insane decision.

I decided to move out of my home; sell, donate, throw out, and otherwise get rid of much of my stuff; and put whatever was left into storage.

All in 27 days.

The home I had been living in for the past eight years was the place where I had raised my sons through their teen years, and was also the home in which several treasured pieces of furniture, many boxes of letters, photographs and other memorabilia, as well as many other things that came both from my family and my husband’s, which we had inherited in the 30 years we were together, not to mention our own accumulated letters, photos, files, mementos and various other things that had accumulated. It was also the location of my home office, and as such there were files, office supplies and equipment, and books of the trade to deal with. So this was neither an easy, nor a small task.

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Downsizing Day 8: Moving Sale Photo by Janet Hulstrand

Much of it was important. Much of it was not. Much of it was in that in-between gray area. All of it required decision-making. To keep or not to keep? To store or not to store? How to prepare for storage? To recycle, or haul to the dump? And so on.

Given all the time I have devoted to thinking, writing and talking about the process of downsizing a family home for more than a decade now, I knew from the beginning that dealing with such large task on such a short timetable was an essentially impossible task.

So why did I try to do it?

Let’s just say that a rental situation which had never been a very good one became bad enough that I decided I had had enough, and the time to cut my losses and make a change was now.

How did it go? Well, it was an incredible experience, probably most accurately described as “a wild ride.” There were many sweet and poignant moments, more than I would have imagined there could be, in mostly small ways, on an almost daily basis. I made new friends, got to know my neighbors better, benefited from the help of friends and “the kindness of strangers” in numerous ways. I was able to savor the experience of passing on a lot of things that were just cluttering up my home, and now also my life’s forward path, to people who would really appreciate having them, some of whom I knew, others I would never meet. And of course there were many moments of appreciation, smiles, chuckles, a few tears, as I discovered sweet notes written in childish scrawls, and old school projects–my children’s and even some of mine (yes! because my mom was “a keeper” par excellence!)

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Downsizing Day 12: Souvenirs From My Childhood. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

It was also worse than I had allowed myself to envision, especially during the dreadful last few days when my need to board a transatlantic flight and report for a teaching assignment abroad exerted a pressure and anxiety on me that was almost unbearable. If it had not been for the intervention of kind friends and friendly strangers, it might have been an unmitigated disaster rather than just a highly chaotic and upsetting scramble at the end.

Once I had made the decision to do it, I decided I would try to be as conscious of this process as I possibly could be every step of the way, so that I could share any new insights/perspectives/stories/observations I might be able to capture, for the benefit of our blog readers.

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Downsizing Day 17: A Wider Circle helps Washington-DC area families by supplying them with donated furniture and household goods. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

And so even in the mad scramble to beat the clock I kept notes and took pictures, as best I could. And I began sharing some of those moments on Twitter and Facebook, live, during the process. Some of you may have followed along with that day-to-day reporting of the experience. You can find the trail here, and here.

In the weeks and months to come I will be looking back on this experience and sharing with you what I learned in this latest round of downsizing, some of the thoughts I had in going through a major downsizing project—this time my own—without being able to follow our number-one piece of advice when it comes to projects such as these: namely,

Take Your Time!!

Did the advice in our book  help me anyway? You bet it did!

Did I get ideas for new things to write about on this blog? I certainly did!

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Downsizing Day 22: Keep the things that bring you the most joy, even if it’s impractical to do so. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

So, stay tuned for more fresh-from-the-downsizing-front posts to come, going forward.

In the meantime, have a Happy Fourth of July, and a great summer ahead.

And don’t forget to use up those sparklers sitting, forgotten, on a high shelf in the pantry, now! You won’t want to have to deal with them at the last minute in your next move :-)

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Learning to Live with Less

Book & yarn
©Michael Ginsburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago we had a flood in our apartment—a pipe broke several floors above us and flooded our bedroom closets and the linen closet. Of course, we threw out things that were soaked and, fortunately, we didn’t lose anything of great value, monetary or sentimental value. But everything that came out of the closets is now in piles in our living room, not a pretty sight.

We have too much stuff and we have to deal with that. We have decisions to make. We need to find places for the stuff we no longer need to keep. I remind myself that I co-wrote a book about downsizing and I try to apply the suggestions in the book.

My mother kept a scrapbook of the high school years and her early twenties, a document of a life lived many decades ago. The book is filled with dance programs, theater ticket stubs, memorabilia from sports events, newspaper clippings—ephemera of another era. I have contacted the historical society where she grew up and they are interested in the scrapbook. Reminder from our book: Some of the things I have may be of interest to museums and historical societies.

Yarn and fabric and other needlework supplies, materials from the many crafts books I have worked on and from hobbies I no longer pursue, have been donated to a reuse center that provides materials to nonprofit organizations with arts programming and to public schools. Reminder from our book: Artists and art teachers can use all sorts of materials as well as odds and ends—and the items don’t end up in a landfill.

We donated books (yes, again!) to an organization that collects books for hospitals. Reminder from our book: For those of us who live with too many books, it’s a good idea to purge at least once a year (but, one hopes, in a calmer manner than when forced to so by a flood).

None of this is easy. It’s hard, really hard, and I needed some moral support.

Where did I find help?

In a New York Times article about wealthy people who are “Frugal When They Don’t Have to Be” a financial adviser says “It’s about paying attention to what makes you happy and not just doing what our society tells us to do.” It’s about not accumulating stuff but about spending money on something that matters.

I’ve always spent money on experiences, not material things, but, still, stuff accumulates and I have to deal with that.

Ryan Nicodemus, one half of The Minimalists, who write about living a meaningful life with less stuff, wrote a poem called “The Cycle of Letting Go.” In it, he traces the cycle of owing stuff from I want it to It owns me to I am happier with little and ends the poem with I was transformed with little.

The poem is guidepost for me.

Joshua Becker, in his blog Becoming Minimalist, asks “What if there is actually more joy in owning less?” and then walks the reader through a tour of the house focusing on seven areas, from clothes to toys to cooking utensils, with suggestions for ways to live with less.

Becker presents a challenge, one I accept, to live life with less stuff.

As always, the mantra of our book provides a helpful guide: “Keeping the memories, getting rid of the 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

What Is an “Age-Friendly” Community ?

I’ve recently been asked to write a guest post on the subject of “age-friendly” communities.

It’s a phrase that has a lovely sound: but what does it mean?

I imagine it means different things to different people: and it occurred to me, as I begin mulling on and researching this topic that I could do worse than to turn to our readers–to ask you what “age-friendly” community means to you.

What kinds of services, resources, entertainment would make a community friendly to older people?

What things could make life better/safer/more enjoyable for people as they age?

What kind of community do you want to live in as you grow older?

If you have a definition of “age-friendly community,” I’d love to hear it. Or any of your (even random) thoughts in answer to any of the questions above.

You can respond by commenting on this post–hope to hear from some of you soon!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Simple Practices: Forming New Habits and Taking Conscious Risks

Better Than Before Risk-Reward

 

Earlier this week I attended an author series featuring two best-selling authors whose new books “challenge readers’ daily approach to work and life.” Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and Anne Kreamer, author of Risk/Reward: Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices Are the Best Career Moves You Can Make, take a look at new ways to approach the small moments in work and in life.

There are two kinds of people in the world, or so it’s said, those who divide people into categories and those who don’t, and Rubin and Kreamer definitely divide by category—as a way to better understand ourselves, say the authors.

In Better Than Before Gretchen Rubin’s thesis is that the key to changing our lives is to change our habits. The more we develop habits, the less we have to depend on willpower. “One of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t…have to make decisions.” In the book, Rubin identifies 21 strategies to use to make or break habits that will work for each of the personality types she identifies: Upholder (one who meets inner and outer expectations), Questioner (one who resists outer expectations but meets inner ones), Obliger (one who meets outer expectations but resists inner ones), and Rebel (one who resists inner and outer expectations).

The takeaway: What bad habits do we have – dropping the mail as soon as we come in, not putting things away when we’re finished with them – that we could change by creating good habits? How would this transform our issues with clutter?

Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, which we talked about here.

In Risk/Reward Anne Kreamer says that embracing “conscious, consistent, and modest risk-taking at work can help us become more able to recognize opportunity when it appears, and more likely to seize the chance to make the right change at the right moment.” Much of this seems relevant to managing our homes, too. Kreamer writes about four Risk/Reward personality types: Pioneers, Thinkers, Defenders, and Drifters, and presents a matrix so the reader can identify his or her own innate risk style.

The takeaway: What conscious risk can we take – one that may seem radical at first but is really modest – that will directly alter the way we look at the tasks we perform to keep our homes in order? How will this help us make the right change at the right moment?

Both authors show how a little thought, a little more awareness about what we do each day can lead us to rethink our routines. What works for us, and what doesn’t? If something doesn’t work, can we shed it and replace it with a habit that does work? If a practice works for us, can we enhance it and make it work even better? Are we up to the challenge of taking a risk to change our behavior?

The key takeaway from these authors is to be aware of the small things we do every day and to make those moments more meaningful. As Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” Here’s to forming new habits and taking conscious risks to make our days better.

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Gretchen Rubin signing books at @Macaulay Author Series.

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

 

Preserving War Letters

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This week has been National Preservation Week, a week when libraries and other institutions call attention to what we can do, both individually and collectively, to preserve our personal and shared collections of various kinds.

It’s also spring cleaning time, a time when we try to “get rid of the stuff” while “keeping the memories.”

And of course, in less than a month we will celebrate Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country.

So this seems like an appropriate time to address the question of what to do with old war letters we may be keeping–or finding–in boxes or drawers, on shelves or in files, in our homes.

Clearly, old war letters are not just “stuff.” They’re an important part of our collective history. They can be valuable to historians–and to the rest of us–in trying to help us understand wars as they have been experienced by those who lived through them, not just as they have been written about in history books. They should be honored, and preserved, as valuable documentation of servicemen and women’s lives: of the sacrifices they made, the fears they felt, the difficulties they overcame, the pride they felt in serving their country.

Keeping old letters in homes, especially in rooms where they are subjected to extremes of temperature and humidity, or to dust, is not a good idea. But how should they be kept, and where?

The good news is, there’s a whole new Center for American War Letters being created to provide just such a place. The Center is directed by Andrew Carroll, who in 2013 donated his entire collection of 100,000 war letters to begin the Center. The touching story of how he came to this work is told in a Washington Post story here. “Every day, letters get thrown out,” Carroll says, in the interview. “When people move or pass away, they get lost.”

That is really just a shame.

So, as you work on downsizing or spring cleaning this year, you should know that if and when you are ready to find a safe home for any family war letters you may be holding onto, that now there is a safe place for them to be.

And if you’re not ready to give them up yet, you can find good advice about how to keep them safe for posterity here.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

More Spring Decluttering: Cleaning Out Your Garage

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With the warmer weather finally here, spring cleaning is unavoidable (as much as some of us would like to avoid it!) and that means cleaning out the garage, too.

We know that there is a life beyond for the things we no longer need. Our trash can be someone else’s treasure if we take the time to get the items we would like to discard to the right places.

Here are some suggestions for recycling certain items in your garage.

Tires

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, in 2013 more than 95 percent by weight of the scrap tires generated in the United States were reused: as tire-derived fuel, in ground rubber applications such as playground surfaces, and for engineering and construction uses.

Regulations for recycling tires vary by state. To locate a place to recycle tires in your area, search online under “local tire recycling.”

Motor Oil

Used motor oil can be recycled. Many service stations and repair facilities will accept used oil and used oil filters. Local recycling centers may accept motor oil or be able to steer you to a place that does. The best way to locate a collection center is to visit Earth911 and search by ZIP code.

Bicycles

For places to donate your bike and for places that help recycle/reuse bicycle parts, check out Ibike.

There are programs that provide bikes to developing countries, such as Bicycles for Humanity and World Bicycle Relief; you won’t get rid of your bike but you will help others to obtain a bike that is “an engine for economic and cultural empowerment” as they say on one of the sites. What could be better than that!

Sports Equipment

Play It Again Sports will buy back used sports equipment and this blog post on houzz offers suggestions for getting rid of sports equipment in an eco-friendly way.

Sometimes an organization like the Boy Scouts or a church youth group will sponsor a drive for gently used sports equipment. Check out organizations in your area to see if they are interested in your used items.

Tennis Balls

ReBounces has suggestions for recycling large numbers of tennis balls and check out “How to Recycle Tennis Balls” at 1-800-Recycling.com.

Shoes and Sneakers

And if you have worn-out or outgrown sneakers and sports shoes lying around, check out our post on where to recycle shoes.

Keep the memories of you and your kids playing sports or enjoying a bike ride in the park, but get rid of all the stuff you no longer need. The result? A more organized garage, a grateful recipient of the donated items, and a healthier environment.

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 Decluttering: Keep the Memories, Get Rid of the Stuff!

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Yay!!! Spring is here at last–at least for most of us it is, and for those who think it will never come–it will, it will!

So it’s time to think spring cleaning–and spring decluttering–once again.

Here are five tips for making the task less painful, more productive—maybe even a little bit joyful. Don’t believe it? Read on…

Find ways to enrich the lives of others (and/or protect the environment) as you make your home a more comfortable place to live in.

Clothing, kitchen items, furniture, unused appliances—all of these things can make life easier and better for people in need and for the organizations that help them. Many organizations will pick up furniture and clothing, and get it to people in need. Best Buy stores accept electronics–TVs, computers, printers, etc.,–and will properly recycle them. Staples and Office Depot give store discounts for returned printer cartridges, and collect batteries for recycling. Many libraries still take books, and if they don’t, schools, prisons, hospitals and other community organizations can use them. (And you can find ideas for other places to donate books here.) Old sheets and towels can be donated to animal shelters. You get the idea! What you don’t need, someone else can use, and for many people who are loathe to part with things, knowing that’s it’s going “to a good cause” can help.

Break large, overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.

Does the sight of an overstuffed closet make your heart sink? Don’t be discouraged! Start with just one shelf, or the floor of the closet. Or work by category: today, shoes, tomorrow: sweaters. Ignore the rest for now (develop tunnel vision!) and press on. You can do it! One step at a time. 

Take time to congratulate yourself along the way.

Who said this task was easy? It’s not! Take time to celebrate the progress you’re making. DON’T focus on all there is still to do. Instead, DO look at that one shelf, or corner of a room you just cleared. Doesn’t it make you feel good?! Okay, now, back to work!

Allow yourself to back away from difficult decisions “for now.”

Sometimes what it is unbearable to think about parting with on Day 1 can be much easier to let go of in a month, a week, or even the next day. Don’t linger over difficult decisions–or even worse, give up on the task. Just put those items aside and keep on making the easier decisions.

Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff!

This has become our mantra. Find ways to honor, safeguard and keep the precious memories that make it hard for you to get rid of some of the things cluttering up your life. Take pictures, tell stories, write them down (or record them) to share with family and friends. For most people, with most objects, the memories are what count: they don’t take up space, and giving them away is a joyful and good thing.

Our e-book has helpful stories about the imaginative ways people have found to make the process of downsizing and decluttering less tedious, more joyful. And the resource section in the back of the book, with helpful links, will help guide you toward places where you can donate or recycle everything from grand pianos to wine corks, from nearly-new prom dresses to old carpets.

And–think of this–this is one book that won’t take up space on those shelves you’re trying to clear. :-)

 Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

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