“Throw It Away”

@Michael Ginsburg

Last week I attended a memorial service for a much-loved cabaret singer that consisted almost entirely of other entertainers singing songs. It was lovely, both entertaining and exceptionally moving.

One singer sang Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” with each chorus starting with that line “Throw it away” repeated twice. The songwriter was singing about past loves and the need to live and love for today. I thought of people I had loved and lost but I couldn’t help thinking about the things they left behind, the things my loved ones owned that now belong to me.

Why can’t I “throw it away” and move on? One line of the song caught my ear: “Cause you never lose a thing if it belongs to you.” I have the memories, they belong to me, and I can’t lose them. Keeping the memories gives me permission to find new homes for the things I no longer need.

With that in my mind, I read a blog post this week that seemed to carry these thoughts even further along. The writer’s subject was thinking about the future and, once again, I thought about all my stuff.

The writer suggested we think with intention. I have so often intended to get rid of things and not followed through. I have to be more vigilant about my intentions and more specific, like setting timelines and designating places to donate my stuff.

The writer suggested that we examine our self talk. Are we being more negative than we realize? I am capable of following through on my intentions of getting rid of too much stuff and I have to remember to speak positively about those intentions. Self talk that denigrates me does not help at all.

In another post I read the writer underscored the idea of owning your story. The writer suggested that we tell our best story and then own it. The idea that we see the best in ourselves is not always easy but we can try. One of the characteristics of successful people is that they see their own best story. I want to own my story, a story that reflects the best in me.

Isn’t it interesting how the universe seems to conspire in a way that we see and hear words and thoughts that apply to the thing we have been thinking about? Or, if one does not believe that the universe conspires to help us we can say: When we have a topic we are mulling over, we are so much more attuned to everything around us that pertains to that topic.

James Clear sends out a weekly email called 3-2-1 Thursday with three ideas, two quotes and one question. In this week’s email was the question: “What is one thing you can remove from your life that would improve it?”

Could there be a better question for me this week? I don’t think so. Did the universe conspire so that I would see that question? I hope so! What is one thing I can remove from my life that would improve it? What is the one thing you would remove from your life that would improve it? Let me know your suggestions.

Welcome home, dear books and papers!

Who could imagine that such a sight would make my heart flutter?

Those of you who have been following the continually unfolding saga of my protracted international move will understand how exciting it was for me when, last month, nine boxes of my most precious books and papers arrived in France.

I was lucky to be able to arrange for them to travel overseas in a shipping container that arrived in Le Havre and then made its way to a town only about a half an hour from where I am now living.

How lucky is that? Very lucky.

One of the things we discuss in our book are the pros and cons of putting things in storage lockers. The “cons” are pretty well known. (Out of sight out of mind. Paying to store things for years, then throwing them all away in the end. And so on.)

But there are some “pros” too.

And one of them is being able to get a few boxes of your most precious books and papers home again.

Reunited with some of my best book friends. What joy!!

Earlier this week I saw one of my sons off to a new teaching assistant post he will be doing in Lille. And I was able to give him one of a series of books that had comforted him when he was little and he had had a bad day, along with a note about how I hope most of his days will be good be ones, but for those bad days that inevitably come along for all of us, he could do worse than to reread one of Rosemary Wells’s wonderful Bunny Planet books.

Could I have simply bought the book again? Well yes, I suppose I could have.

But I would not have necessarily thought to do that.

The beauty of my books having joined me in my home once again is that as I was thinking about what kind of inspiring farewell message to share with my son on this, his latest adventure, all I had to do was turn to my bookshelves and light upon my beautiful little Bunny Planet trilogy.

And I knew that was the right gift for him.

I’ve decided that for me, feeling silly and/or guilty about my long-term storage locker situation is over. It’s a necessity of my life, and I’m not alone in it.

One day that locker will be emptied. I’m no longer trying to figure out when.

I’m just working on getting things out of it bit by bit. And trying to not rush the process. Because the number-one piece of advice in our book is to “Take Your Time.”

And that’s good advice! 🙂


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 Most Of Us Learned In Kindergarten—Or Should Have, Anyway

Fall always seems like the start of a new year to me, partly because I loved being a student (oh, so many years ago) and looked forward to the start of the school year and partly because it is a new year for me as my birthday is in the beginning of September.

What lessons did I learn in kindergarten and the years beyond that still apply to my life today?

Think before you act.

It’s always a good idea to think through a project, downsizing or otherwise, before getting started. Look at things dispassionately, exercise reason and patience. Laugh at your own foibles, then act in spite of them!

Be considerate of others’ feelings.

Life works so much more smoothly when we’re sensitive to one another and recognize that each of us is a different person with different ways of getting tasks done and different ways of celebrating. Talking about your needs and expectations ahead of time always helps. Patience, patience, patience—that’s a lesson I really need to learn.

Take your time.

You don’t have to rush through everything—or anything, for that matter. I learned recently that dopamine, the chemical in our brain that contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, is produced when we are looking for something, not when we achieve it. It’s the journey, not the goal, that makes us feel better.

Things worth doing are worth doing well.

If we take our time and think before we act, we will do a better job. Frequent breaks help, too. Recent research shows that taking two naps per week actually helps us live longer.

Share with others.

Life is about sharing, the good things and the more onerous tasks. Sharing is both enjoying the good things in life with others and dividing the burdens with others. Sharing is taking responsibility together.

Appreciate your family.

Family is anyone you love unconditionally, shortcomings and all, even when it’s not always easy to do so, and that includes blood relatives, friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers in life. Family is the group in your life that provides emotional support and shares your interests and values. As Mother Teresa said, “The openness of our hearts and minds can be measured by how wide we draw the circle of what we call family.”

Keep your priorities straight.

It’s always worth reminding yourself that it’s not the stuff you accumulate but the people you meet that matter. All the meaning and the memories in life—all that is important is your life – is inside you, not in the things you have.

Good work is deeply rewarding.

Chores, obligations, hard work, doing for others, maybe learning something new about a process or about ourselves—all of this is gratifying. As we get older we can make a resolution to remove and improve as a way to see more in life.

What did you learn in kindergarten—or last week—that helps you today?

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 Downsizing Story: Tom and Anita

Two years ago Tom and Anita decided to retire from their jobs: Anita had worked for many years for the federal government, and Tom was in the aerospace industry. They also decided to sell their sprawling, 6,00-square-foot Tudor home in suburban Washington D.C. As it is for many people, downsizing was for them a somewhat tumultuous adventure. Two and a half months after they had finally settled into a much smaller home (2,800 square feet), Anita kindly agreed to share their story with the readers of this blog. Our interview follows. Janet Hulstrand

Janet: How long had you been in your home before you went through your big downsizing experience? When and why did you decide to make this move?

Anita: First of all, when we bought our house we weren’t buying just a house: we were really looking for a particular lifestyle. We wanted our home to be a charming, green sanctuary, yet it had to also be urban and walkable. When we brought our twin babies home from the hospital it was to a Capitol Hill rowhouse that I had begun renovating as a single person where I lived with a giant Olde English Sheepdog. Somewhere along the way amidst renovations and both floor and wall demolitions, I met Tom. We married and had twin daughters. The sheepdog was delighted as his loving pack grew. And I got big, fast!

It took us two years to find our charming Tudor home, with a spring-fed creek, flower boxes brimming with seasonal delights, a bridge, and a garden. Inside there was room for lots of books, and nooks and crannies in which to read. We lived happily in this home for more than 25 years. We renovated, decorated, and it doubled in size, Eventually the house was larger than what we needed: unbelievably, our daughters grew up and moved away, the sheepdog died, and the house needed a new bustling family.

Janet: What was the experience like for you, in a word? Or maybe in three words?

Anita: The experience defies words. But Emotional Purging Tornado comes to mind. It was a tornado of emotions as we desperately went about getting rid of possessions. It took over a year to get the house on the market: hundreds of books, gone; armoires, gone; bookshelves, gone; baby grand, gone; tons of clothes, gone; CDs, gone; furniture and orientals, gone; paintings, gone. Finally a slimmed-down, Pottery-Barned version of our whitewashed house went on the market, and then it didn’t sell for three whole summer months. So we took it off the market while we traveled the world. When we came back we put it on the market again in the spring, and this time it sold in two days, with a bidding war.

Janet: What was most difficult about the experience?

Anita: I think the most difficult thing was realizing that the life I had always wanted, I had had: the family, the dog, the white picket fence, and now it was over. I never imagined this incredible sense of loss I would feel: yet it was a success: our daughters grew up and became who they were meant to be; and it took them away from home.

Janet: I know that at a certain point you were planning to put all of your things in storage and travel for a while, but you changed your mind about that. Why did that change?

Anita: After we took our house off the market, we traveled for 100 days straight: 12 countries, 22 flights, and we loved it. But after the traveling was over, we had a home to come home to. We had planned to put everything in storage and do it again, but the realization that we would not have an address, or a home, a place to put the few things we were keeping felt logistically complicated. And, financially, having some money in a house made sense to us.

Janet: Do you have any words of advice, comfort, or wisdom for boomers about to take this step?

Anita: My new advice is, don’t do it: die in the house and let the kids do it, like my parents did! It’s painful, exhausting, and two and a half months after the hell of moving, I still can’t bring myself to drive by my old house. I cried at the closing and my real estate agent cried when she saw me cry. There were so many happy memories attached to that house: and crises, too. So, there’s that.

Janet: What do you think about Marie Kondo’s advice now? Did your opinion of her and her advice change in the process of this move?

Anita: I did read the book. I’m still waiting for the joy! I actually was mad at her.

Janet: How do you feel generally now, as you are beginning to settle into your new home? Are some of the feelings of loss, sadness, disorientation dissipating? Is it “going to be okay”?

Anita: Ask me in a year. It’s definitely going to be okay. I have a ton less house to maintain, our yard is half the size, the house is nice, that’s a plus; but it has needed a lot of work getting it to my standards. I’ve had workmen in here nonstop. I do think this was the right choice. We could have moved anywhere, but nowhere stood out. We could have put everything in storage for a year and done 365 more days of travel. We could have moved into our 34-foot sailboat, or we could have bought a bigger sailboat. But we didn’t know what we wanted. For the first time in our lives we could have done anything, but in the end, this move felt right for now. There were so many choices to make, and only six weeks to get out of the house. Maybe you end up making the right choice by listening to your collective gut.

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

Something I Thought I Would Never Say…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here they are…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ridiculous Moment #3: Where Are The Keys?

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

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

Nothing to do but open all the boxes, right?

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

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

And there they are.

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

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

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

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

An Empty Closet and Its Possibilities

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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