Is “Sparking Joy” Always the Answer?

978-1-60774-730-7First of all, full disclosure: I have not read either of Marie Kondo’s books from cover to cover. But I have read a lot about them, and this week–because people so often ask me what I think about her method, when I am talking about downsizing in connection with our book–I thought it was time to find out more about what she has to say about “the life-changing magic” of tidying up.

I must confess to have approached my exploration of these books with something of a prejudice from the get-go. I am first of all quite skeptical of anything that claims to be either “life-changing” or “magic.” And yet, I have heard some people happily and enthusiastically declare that Kondo’s book has changed their lives; and far be it from me to wish ill on, or disbelieve, anyone with such a claim.

So I believe the first thing to say is that for some people this book is apparently, if not magic, at least life-transforming, in a positive way. And that of course is a good thing.

The second thing to say is that, somewhat to my surprise, though I find the basic premise of the book (“if you properly simplify and organize your home once you’ll never have to do it again…”) probably at least a little bit inflated, there are many practical and useful suggestions offered, and the books are organized in such a way that it is easy to find guidance and tips for the specific categories of items you may be struggling to organize (or get rid of).

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In addition, unlike some decluttering gurus–whose methods and attitudes toward what my coauthor and I have called the “keepers” of this world sometimes border on the contemptuous, even brutally dismissive–Kondo does have sensitive, useful advice for how to get rid of those items that you know you really should get rid of, but which are difficult to discard because of the sentimental value, and the important memories, connected with them. In Spark Joy she tells the story of how she got rid of a dearly beloved stuffed animal (“Koro-chan”) from her childhood, to which she was very attached, but which had become a dusty allergen that had to go. She describes the process in which she came to terms with this decision; thanked Koro-chan for having been so important to her in her childhood; and then, along with her father, gave him a tender ceremonial farewell. She concludes the anecdote by saying, “I always thank my things when I discard them, but I treat things like stuffed animals that seem to have a soul with extra respect, as if conducting a memorial service.”

The notion of thanking objects, and giving special objects a ritualistic goodbye is not unlike the advice we give in our book, to find ways to capture, honor, and safeguard the memories evoked by the objects we’re letting go of–summarized in our motto of Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff. 

I think it’s fair to say, however, that these books are not going to be life-changing for everyone, a fact that Kondo herself freely admits: “You won’t die if your house isn’t tidy and there are many people in the world who don’t really care if they can’t put their house in order. Such people, however, would never pick up this book…” (Present company excepted! :-) )

Those of you who aren’t ready or willing, for whatever reasons, to commit yourselves to the Kondo method, to a minimalist lifestyle generally, or to taking the time to fold your underwear in ways that are unarguably very tidy, but also much more time-consuming than just throwing them into a drawer, may find the kind of help you need in our book instead. Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home is focused on how to deal with a massive and often overwhelming task, as well as how to make it less overwhelming by starting early and proactively working ahead of the clock. We even claim that, approached the right way, it can be fun!

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

 

 

Getting Organized, with Wisdom from the Ages

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January is always a good time for fresh beginnings, updated goals, and a more put-together you. Fittingly, the National Association of Professional Organizers has designated January as “Get Organized Month.”

So how can we focus on getting organized, help make our lives run more smoothly, and stay the course until the work is done?

Let’s take a look at some wisdom from the ages.

Get started

All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action. – James Russell Lowell

It’s most likely that Lowell meant “a single lovely action” to be kindness towards others but this quote applies to getting organized, too. No matter how many thoughts we have about being organized, it’s action that counts. Do one thing. Toss one item, give something away, organize one shelf.

Make time

You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it. – Charles Buxton

What a great quote for our busy lives! We can always use the excuse that we don’t have time to organize or downsize – so we have to make it a priority, put it in our schedule.

Don’t procrastinate

“Now is the time. Needs are great, but your possibilities are greater.” – Bill Blackman

Yes, now is the time to get organized. Start small, start with the easy stuff, but do start. The results will be worth it: what great possibilities await.

Stay the course

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

Rather than looking at getting organized as one big project, try seeing it as a series of many small projects. Some of the small decluttering plans may be quick, some may take time; some may be easy, some may be a struggle. But all are worth doing.

Toss the object, keep the memory

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. – Herman Hesse

Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff – the mantra of our book – says it all. You are not letting go of your life, or your memories, you are just getting rid of stuff that clutters your life.

Action is better than perfection

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” – Dr. Robert Schuller

Simply said, done is better than perfect.

Wishing everyone a less cluttered, more organized month.

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

January is Get Organized Month!

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After the hectic activity of the holiday season, I always find January offers a welcome change of pace. Yes, it’s sad to see the Christmas tree go, and take the holiday cards down. But then there’s all that white space opened up again, and there’s something kind of nice about that.

January is the month for getting back to work, and it’s also been designated “Get Organized Month” by the National Association of Professional Organizers.

Here are a few of our past posts that may help you in this sleeve-rolling-up, back-to-work mode of January.

For those of you who are still “de-Christmas-ing” https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/a-few-tips-for-a-green-post-christmas/

Tips for recycling holiday decorations https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/recycling-christmas-trees-lights-cards-and-wrapping-paper/

In many parts of the world it’s cold outside, and it’s warm inside. Also, tax time is coming soon. What a great time for those who are determined to attack those piles of PAPER this month to get started with it. And here is some help for that task: https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/the-paper-chase-decluttering/

Finally, in recognition of Get Organized Month, there’s this post from last year: https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/get-organized-month-helps-jumpstart-the-new-year/

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and less cluttered New Year!

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

 

 

Gifts That Have Meaning

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Much has been made lately – the topic seems to come up every year – about gift giving in this season of so much stuff. Do we buy too much? Do we have too much? Are gifts really necessary?

Here’s a look at some gifts that have meaning and resonate far beyond the gift itself. A gift of a donation to one of these groups, or to so many other worthy causes, is a gift that can have a lasting impact.

Gifts that help the environment and its creatures

Although we can and do applaud the United Nations Climate Agreement that was signed this month in Paris, there is still much to be done to protect our planet.

The Environmental Defense Fund helps to find climate solutions. They “create solutions that let nature and people prosper.” Their $2-for$1 gift match offer, in effect until the end of December, triples the impact of your gift.

The National Audubon Society’s Adopt a Bird program will send a plush toy bird as a gift for adopting a bird.

Heifer Foundation helps make an impact on world hunger and poverty by finding sustainable solutions. You can donate an animal, help promote women’s empowerment, provide basic needs, or fund a project.

Projects that help people here and around the world

A favorite place of mine to look for creative programs is New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof’s annual gift guide. Here are a few suggestions from his columns over last few years.

Red Cloud Indian School is a private Lakota and Jesuit school educating 600 children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. On the website, click on the Gift Shop for handmade items.

Buy a rat! In Angola, “Hero Rats” have been trained to sniff out land mines and save the lives of humans who used to do the job. At Apopo Foundation you can adopt a rat for $7 a month.

Reach Out and Read is a literacy program for the disadvantaged that uses doctors to encourage parents to read to their children. During checkups, doctors hand out free books and “prescribe” reading to the child.

A gift of food for those in need

We all love to eat and the season from Thanksgiving through the New Year provides so many opportunities to eat wonderful food – and often to overdo it. Not everyone gets to share in this bounty. Here is a way to help those in need.

It’s difficult to feel festive when you’re hungry. Feeding America supports a nationwide network of Food Banks and is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity. For every dollar donated, the Food Banks help provide 11 meals to people in need.

Let’s make a choice this holiday season by choosing gifts with meaning. Let’s make a difference this holiday season by choosing to help those in 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

Wishing You Green & Peaceful Holidays

Trees-of-the-Adirondacks-Eastern-Hemlock-28-July-2012-5The season is upon us, and one of the happy things to report this year is what seems like a bit of a swinging back of the pendulum, from the excesses in recent years of frantic, blockbuster sales encroaching even into Thanksgiving Day. This trend has compromised the quality of a really special day of focusing on gratitude for what we have (rather than what we still want or intend to get!) for many retail workers and their families, not to mention consumers lured away from the simple joys of cooking and being with family for deals they just didn’t want to miss. We saluted this trend in our last post, and hope it continues to grow!

There are all kinds of ways to approach the holidays, and of course every individual and every family has to figure out their own best way. If you are looking for ways to make your holiday season less stressful, more meaningful, less expensive and maybe more environmentally friendly, you may find some helpful ideas in these past posts.  And tips for giving gifts that don’t create more clutter can be found here.

We hope that our readers will enjoy both getting and giving presents in the weeks ahead–but hopefully ones that will truly enrich your lives, and not just add to the clutter.

In other words, we hope that you will have holidays that are filled with the excitement and joy of the holidays–but as little worry and stress as possible. And that you will find happiness in those simple gifts that require no packaging at all–time spent with friends and family, appreciation of holiday music and art, enjoyment of the general cheerfulness to be found (if you look in the right places! :-) ), and of course the peace and harmony that we all wish for at this time of year.

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

 

Giving Thanks and Giving Back

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Thanksgiving, our national holiday for giving thanks, was established in 19th century; the very end of the 20th century brought us Black Friday for shopping in stores, and in the 21st century we have Cyber Monday for shopping online. Are we making progress? There is something not quite right about two “holidays” for getting more stuff and only one for giving thanks for what we have.

As a counter to all the “getting” we now have Giving Tuesday, celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – December 1 this year – that kicks off the season of giving and helps provide an alternative to the frenzy of shopping. Started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y, an important cultural institution in New York City, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving.

According to the #GivingTuesday website, the global day of giving “harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities… encourages the donation of time, resources and talents to address local challenges…brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners…to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.”

Some welcoming statistics from this giving holiday:

  • More than 30,000 partners in 68 countries participate.
  • Online donations have increased an estimated 40 percent on that Tuesday.
  • People have tweeted 32.7 million times with more than 750,000 hashtag mentions.

If you need help in deciding just how to participate in giving back, visit the Tools page as well as the Frequently Asked Questions segment of the website.

In celebration of giving back and not getting more, let’s express thanks to Jerry Stritzke, the CEO of REI, the sporting goods emporium, who decided to close all his stores on Black Friday to encourage his staff to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. Let’s all #optoutside on the day after Thanksgiving.

Black Friday started with stores opening their doors at 6 am on Friday. The opening time migrated back to midnight, and then to Thanksgiving Day itself. In response to an increasing dissatisfaction with people having to work retail on the holiday, many stores have chosen not to open at all on Thanksgiving. Not as wonderful a decision as that of REI’s chief, it’s at least something to be thankful for. Here’s a list of those stores that will remain closed on the holiday.

And for those of us who would like to vote with our feet, we can make a statement by staying out of the stores that plan to open on Thanksgiving, not only on the holiday, of course, but on the days following, or perhaps start a writing campaign by emailing the CEOs to express our dissatisfaction with their decision to remain open, during what should be their employees’ family time. Here’s a list of stores that will be open on Thanksgiving.

So this Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for what we have and not focus on how much more we want to get.

Here’s to a wonderful Thanksgiving to all our readers, a day of good food and family fun, a celebration of joy and health and happiness, and, most importantly, a time for gratitude.

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

Talking Turkey (About Downsizing) at the Holidays

atis-fruit-clipart-outline-turkey-feather-turkey-clip-art---vector-clip-art-online-royalty-free-public-domain-hfcdh2ddIt may not be the first thing that comes to mind as an appropriate topic of conversation when family members gather during the coming holiday season.

But the holidays are actually a great time to take advantage of the opportunity, when family members are all (or at least more) in one place, to talk about The Future.

Many people dread this conversation, but most also find, once that deep breath has been taken and the subject launched, that’s it’s not as bad as they feared it would be.

Is it time to talk to your parents–or your kids–about an eventual (or imminent) move from the family home? What are the pros and cons? What are some of the available options? Are there waiting lists for some of the more desirable places? Are there tours you could take together while everyone’s together, “just to see,” whether any decisions are made now–or left until “later”? Are there ways you can help each other begin to figure out how to approach this process, how to begin dispersing and/or safeguarding important family records, treasures, favorite items of furniture–or whatever? Are there tasks that can be done now rather than later, so that when the time does come, it’s not so overwhelming?

Even if no move is planned–if the plan is for “aging in place”–there’s plenty to talk about in terms of making a family home safer and more accessible, and for various matters having to do with the passing on and/or distributing the responsibility and caring for treasured family items–not to mention treasured family members!

This may not be the best mealtime conversation, but surely it’s not a bad time to broach the subject and agree to sit down to a family meeting sometime while you’re all together.

If you’re planning a trip home for the holidays, we urge you to think about this in advance. Our book “Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home” can be helpful in planning ahead, and in figuring out how best to approach the topic. The people we talked to in the process of writing our book–just “regular folks” as well as professionals who help families and individuals through this process–have lots of good ideas for how each family can find their “own right way” to do this.

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So if downsizing is on the horizon for someone in your family, we hope you’ll consider taking our book with you for reading on the plane–or maybe sharing it with other members of the family before you get together. Our new e-book version has lots of helpful links for resources that can be helpful in the process–guiding you toward detailed advice for dealing with everything from antiques appraisal to recycling or disposing of toxic materials.

Plus we’ve gathered helpful tips about how to navigate the delicate feelings and surprisingly intense emotions that tend to come to the surface along the way–and how to get through this process stronger and closer as a family, no matter what bumps in the road you encounter.

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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