A Conversation for the Holidays

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The holiday season presents families who are gathering together an excellent opportunity to have a conversation about family plans and what the future holds for the older generation. Or does it?

You can’t make your parents talk about what may be a difficult subject for them – how and where they are going to spend their later years.

You can’t expect your siblings to fall in line with your plans just because you think it’s the right time.

You can’t get rid of clutter or divide up family items, unless everyone is on board with the idea.

What can you do?

Remember that all-important conversation – the one that’s so difficult to initiate – is about what’s best for your parents. It’s at least as hard for your parents to talk about this as it is for you. You’ll want to begin the conversation slowly, and be considerate of their feelings as you go.

  • Start now. Whatever your parents’ age, it’s time for them to start talking about the eventual disposition of their belongings. Encourage them; let them know you’re ready to have this conversation whenever they are.
  • Listen more than you talk. Let your parents do most of the talking. Make the discussion a dialogue, not a lecture.
  • Ask how you can help. Your parents may have their own ideas about how to get the process started, and how they would like you to help. They may, or may not, want your opinions: they may, or may not, want your physical help.
  • Be prepared with your suggestions. If your parents are at a loss as to how to start, have some concrete suggestions for them. Even if they don’t accept your ideas, hearing about them may help them to formulate their own.
  • Ask questions. As you talk about specific items, discuss your parents’ feelings about them, and ask about any special memories they may evoke. You may be surprised at the details of family history that will emerge.

So what can you bring to the family table this season? Wear a big smile, have an open heart, and bring along a copy of our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Happy Holidays!

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

Holiday Preparations for Downsizers & Minimalists: Tips for Gift-Giving & More

 

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As the end-of-year holiday season draws near, now can be a good time to take stock of how to plan ahead, especially for people who are trying to acquire less “stuff,” or who are trying to get rid of all the things they’ve already acquired.

First, the matter of gift-giving: how does one reconcile the lessons learned in downsizing–one of the main ones being not to acquire so much to begin with–with the joy of giving gifts at the holiday season?

Of course there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In past years we’ve discussed a few ways to think about this, including this post on five different kinds of gifts that won’t cause clutter.

Over the past couple of years I’ve also seen a number of blog posts that discuss the “four-gift” concept. The idea is to limit the number of gifts children are given down to a minimal four, which is partly to reel in gift-giving madness, and partly to teach children not to be quite so materialistic, and to enjoy a few nice things as much as a bunch of them. The idea is to give each child

1. Something they want

2. Something they need

3. Something to wear

4. Something to read.

I’ve also seen some bloggers suggest giving five gifts, with the fifth gift sometimes being “something they don’t know they want but you do,” and sometimes a gift given to a charitable organization in the child’s name, perhaps chosen by the child.

When my children were small and starting to walk around the house circling items in toy catalogues, I found myself often repeating the words, “Remember, Christmas is about giving too…” (One day my son Sammy caught me off guard by altering the script,  as he sailed through the room with this off-hand remark:  “Remember, Mommy, Christmas is about giving too…so you have to give ME something!!!”  )

I know to some people the four-gift idea may seem stingy and Scrooge-ish. Certainly there can be an awful lot of joy in the faces of children when they see an abundant pile of presents under the tree. And there’s certainly no need for everyone to follow this rule, or even to come close to it.

But for those to whom it appeals, or whose budgets it fits, it can be a helpful way of teaching children to appreciate a few nice gifts along with the other joys of the season–singing, being together, enjoying special meals, baking cookies, sharing with others (aka as “giving too”)–all ways of focusing on the true meaning of the season–while avoiding the perils of overconsumption as well.

One thing that happened in the home I was growing up in is that often very practical, inexpensive gifts would be wrapped and placed under the tree, or in our stockings, along with the more special gifts. Since part of the joy of all those beautifully wrapped presents is precisely that–the sight of all those presents–why not do this? There can be thoughtfulness in choosing simple, practical gifts as well as the special ones, and why can’t the presentation be part of the present? (And surely everyone has had the experience of watching a small child enjoy playing with the boxes and the wrapping paper as much as with the toys themselves?)

When the pressure of gift-giving (thinking of and then finding the gifts; affording the gifts; acquiring and wrapping the gifts in the pre-holiday rush) threatens to take away from the enjoyment of the season, it may be time to step back and think about other ways to celebrate. There are many ways to do this, from giving gifts to charitable organizations to visiting people who need visiting–the old, the lonely, the sick–and spending some of the time that might be spent shopping, or wrapping presents, with them. This too can offer children a very important example.

Of course it’s good to talk with your family, whether they are children, or adults, about how you all want to decide to approach the matter of gift-giving beforehand. And now is a perfect time to have these conversations.

Second, as you plan to entertain or celebrate with family and friends, you might want to take a look at posts we’ve written in past years about ways to enjoy the holidays (and cleaning up after them) in less-consumer-focused, more ecological ways here.

Finally, the holidays can be a good time to plan as a family for downsizing projects. if your family is at a decision point about dismantling the family home, or you think you should be, and don’t quite know how to get started, you may find some help here.

And so as the season approaches, here’s wishing you and your loved ones all good things during the holidays–starting with a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving.

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

 

 

The Wisdom of Gratitude

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It’s getting to be that time of the year where we are supposed to count our blessings, but expressing gratitude year round, each and every day, has many benefits say experts on the subject.

“For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult…[but] acting grateful can actually make you grateful,” says Arthur C. Brooks in a New York Times article. That may be true, and acting grateful may help people, but it’s still difficult for many of us to incorporate the expression of gratitude into our lives.

Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, explains that gratitude has two key components. “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received,” and secondly, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

In John Tierney’s article on gratitude at a family Thanksgiving, he notes an experiment at Northeastern University that showed that students who had been helped were more likely to volunteer to help someone else—even a complete stranger. He quotes Sonia Lyubomirsky of the University of California, who advises, “Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture.” So it’s good to remember that helping others and saying thank you will help us be more grateful.

And gratitude is good for us. An article in Psychology Today states that “Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.”

For hands-on help in cultivating gratitude, you can check out “A Practical Guide To Gratitude” at Unstuck. It acknowledges that when “it’s hard to see positive forces when obstacles are blaring,” that is just the time to be grateful, to appreciate what’s not stuck about our lives.

Having read all these articles in a short time makes me feel more ready to express my gratitude. Here’s my thank-you list.

  • With all the cleaning out and decluttering we’ve been doing, I’m thankful for the stuff I have to give away, both to those struck by disaster and to those who are simply in need.
  • I’m grateful for my friends. To my best women friends, my group of women, my extended family of friends, the women I work with and the women I volunteer with, thank you to all of you who have helped me and supported me through this most trying year.
  • I’m thankful for my family, to my husband for being here, always, and to my kids for their love and care and concern.

What are you thankful for this year? How will you incorporate gratitude into your life?

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

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

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“Tucked away in attics, closets, and basements throughout this country are millions of letters written by men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces….” says the opening line on the “Letters” page of the website for the Center for American War Letters.

A relatively new entity, the Center  for American War Letters was established in 2014,  when  Andrew Carroll  donated  the vast collection of war letters he had started in 1998 (known as The Legacy Project), to Chapman University in California. The Center is performing a valuable service to the nation by preserving letters from soldiers, and their loved ones, from the nation’s earliest days to the present.

It is also providing people who are downsizing their homes and don’t know what to do with the stashes of old letters they find in the process with a wonderful solution to the problem, by providing a home where they will safely preserved, and can contribute to a better understanding of our history, especially as seen from the point of view of the “ordinary” men and women who have served the nation in times of war.

If you think you might want to donate letters to the Center, you can find out more about how to do so here.

The Center also has a page with helpful tips about how to properly care for old letters, for those who wish to keep them.

October is Family History Month, and Veterans Day is coming up soon. Wouldn’t it be a nice way to honor the veterans in your family, or among your friends, to find  a way to honor and preserve their documentation of their wartime experiences, their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives–and to safeguard them for future generations?

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

6 things I learned from 6 years of blogging

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Six years ago next month we introduced ourselves to the world of blogging with this blog, Downsizing The Home: Lessons Learned.

Our journey began when my coauthor and I shared our personal downsizing stories with each other, stories of helping our fathers empty our childhood homes as they prepared for the next stage of their lives. We were surprised at how powerful the emotions connected to family possessions could be and, at the same time, how easy it was to let go of many things.

We decided we wanted to share the information we had gathered with others who were going though the same process, and the result was our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. As we promoted the book, our path led to new media and to this blog.

Six things I learned from blogging:

It’s easier said than done.

It’s much easier to write about downsizing and decluttering than it is to actually downsize and declutter. That may come as a surprise to many of the people who read our blog or listen to us speak. Many times at my talks, someone comments about what a neat house I must have. Not so. But I do own up to it and express to everyone what a struggle it is to keep things organized and to make decisions about what we own and what we are willing to let go of.

People are wonderful!

People have so many interesting and inventive ways to rid themselves of clutter and excess and I’ve learned so much from others. I’ve met such wonderful people, many of them as online voices only, who have shared both strategies and advice, as well as many poignant stories, who have shared thoughtful ways to deal with others who see the clutter – and life – differently than we do, people who have inspired me to write about them and share their lives and their work with you. I have been helped enormously by listening to the voices of others.

Think outside the box.

Or, in this case, outside the book. We came to realize that we could stretch ourselves and go beyond our original focus. Our blog has given us the chance to go further and explore deeper than the scope of our book and to include thoughts about recycling and upcycling, views on how to live with less—and happily so, and a vision of how to treasure what we have, without the need to always have more. Writing posts that explore issues beyond the book has expanded my horizons.

Done is better than perfect.

And here’s a shout-out to all the other mantras that help me keep moving: Just do it. Start now. See beyond. And a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I find so helpful, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”

Life often does circle back.

The blog started with our book and ultimately comes back to our book but, oh, the places we have been! In some ways, as a writer, the biggest challenge is to make readers aware that our book exists. But having the opportunity to explore so many aspects of life with our readers, beyond the downsizing process we wrote about originally, has been such a privilege for me.

We are a community.

Yes, we are a community, you and I and everyone else in this Internet family constellation. I love hearing your thoughts and stories, in your own blogs and when you leave a comment on our blog. I’m so pleased when you follow us on Twitter and share our tweets, and when you share our Facebook posts. I love hearing from you. We are all in this together – and you have welcomed me into the group.

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

Downsizing: Keepers and Throwers, Unite!

0607150805 (1)In writing our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Home, one of the things we discovered is that the world seems to be divided into what we call “keepers” and what we call “throwers.”

When talking about downsizing, keepers often get a bum rap for obvious reasons. They tend to slow down the process, and in the stress and/or hurry of a move, their sentimentality, their concern for the environment, their desire not to waste-whatever it is that motivates their “keeping” ways–are often not at all appreciated.

But, as we have pointed out, for a downsizing-the-home project to be optimally successful, the attributes of both of these “opposite” types of people are needed. Throwers are good at clearing out and moving on; keepers are good at making sure that in the process special things and special memories are not lost. These two kinds of people–and almost always there are some of each in every family, or every downsizing situation–need to work together with respect, understanding, and most of all patience in order for the job to get done, and done in such a way that the future will not be full of regret for how it was done.

Keepers need extra time in this process: then they need to take a deep breath and give away, donate, or otherwise dispose at least some of the things that really, honestly, deep down, they’d much rather keep: they just have to!

Throwers need to slow down a bit, then take a deep breath and summon up the patience and understanding for keepers’ ways that is needed in order for the keepers   to go ahead and do what they have to do–without having their hearts broken.

When this kind of balance can be achieved, ugly fights, lingering feelings of resentment, and unproductive bouts of undermining each other’s work can be avoided.

Hopefully when all is said and done, the keepers will be willing to admit that getting rid of some of the things they dreaded getting rid of isn’t as bad as they thought it would be, especially when they’ve been given the time to find ways to “keep the memories.”

And hopefully when all is said and done, the throwers will be willing to admit that after all, the keepers did have some good reasons to slow the process down a bit–and that maybe they even come away from the process with some precious memories to savor that they might not have, had the keepers not been there to remind them.

Here’s hoping that as you go about downsizing your home, you and yours will find that harmonious middle ground that will allow you to respect each other’s ways in a difficult process. And to save precious memories–and last, but certainly not least–to get rid of much of the “stuff.”

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

 

 

 

Collecting: The Things We Love…

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“The things we love tell us what we are.” Thomas Merton

“The Keeper” is a fascinating exhibit at the New Museum in New York City that explores our relationship to things and reflects on “the impulse to save both the most precious and the apparently valueless.”

The exhibit is a series of studies spanning the 20th century that tell the stories of various individuals through the objects they chose to save and make us ponder the motivations behind their collections. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Partners (The Teddy Bear Project) by Ydessa Hendeies, a display of over 3,000 family-album photographs of people posing with teddy bears.

Some of the collections are of the result of a chance encounter. The Houses of Peter Fritz, preserved by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser, is a collection of 387 buildings built by Peter Fritz, an Austrian insurance clerk, that forms a comprehensive inventory of Swiss architectural styles.

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Some collections were saved by artists who were interested in the natural world. Korbinian Aigner, known as “Apfelpfarrer” or apple pastor, was a priest and art teacher in early 20th century Germany who inherited his family farm and began to document the apple and pear varieties on the farm. He continued recording to the end of his life, even documenting the species he cultivated while at Dachau.

Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) was the son of Vermont farmers who grew up in an area that received up to six feet of snow a year. From childhood on Bentley kept a daily log of the weather and made drawings of snowflakes. He photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes. Such focus, such single-mindedness from both these artists.

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And sometimes a collection is just so personal. Howard Fried, a California-based Conceptual artist, displays the wardrobe of his mother Hannelore Baron, who died in 2002. It provokes the viewer to ask: Is this collecting, is it hoarding, is it art?

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In a follow-up article to a review of the exhibit in The New York Times, readers were asked to explain their collections. Perry Casalino of Chicago found an album of photographic postcards of old Chicago in a building that was to be torn down and that started him on an eBay hunt for more, which led to collaboration with other collectors and eventually a database of the scanned images that is used by authors and historic preservation groups.

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Why do we collect?

Psychologists point out many reasons for collecting. Some people collect for investment, some for pure joy, some for the quest, some for the satisfaction of classifying and arranging one small part of the larger world, and some people collect to preserve the past.

When does collecting become hoarding?

According to psychologists, collecting becomes hoarding when it interferes with normal daily life. If it doesn’t, then a collection is to be enjoyed.

Do we bequeath a collection?

According to one collector who is selling a collection, to inherit a collection is a burden because the heirs never had the pleasure of the hunt or the satisfaction of the accumulation.

What to make of it all?

According to the exhibit, a collection often attests to the power of images and objects to heal and comfort, and a desire to honor what survives. In our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, we talk about ‘throwers’ who relish the experience of cleaning out and ‘keepers’ who are compelled to preserve special things as well as memories. The collectors shown here are keepers beyond compare, people who were compelled to save things that heal and comfort and honor the past.

What does your collection say about you?

We would like to hear about what you collect – and what it says about you. What do you love? Leave us a message in the comments space below.

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