Is September the Start of the New Year?

While January has traditionally been the time to make resolutions or set goals for the year, September is often the time we think about how we are actually going to live our lives for the year. Why are we drawn to thinking about our goals more in the fall than in the middle of the winter, I wonder.

In a typical year, September is a month of starts. But what about this September, which is so different from other Septembers.

September starts the school year for most people. And for some of us, that was always a wonderful time, getting ready for school, buying supplies, getting new clothes, and anticipating making new friends. And for me, who loved school, the beginning of September was also my birthday so I was, in fact, starting a new year of my life.

But this year school may be virtual, it may happen only a few days a week, or it may not start at all. In certain ways, the start of school in September is a sign that we’re saying goodbye to the wonderful days of summer and getting ourselves ready for a more serious schedule. Wonderful days of summer? Not so much this year.

For some people, our days in September are just a continuation of our days in August and our days in July and days in June. For people with children, this September can be a fraught time as they have to decide how to negotiate the school year: in person, online, or a combination of both. For people who are going back to work, this September is full of many of the same issues. How safe is it to get together again? How much of school and work depends on social interaction? What’s best for my child, my job, my family? The start of school and the return to work have more worrying overtones this year. All these decisions make us realize all that we have we lost in these last few months. As a wise woman I know said, “We will grieve. And then we will step forward across the threshold into what lies ahead.”

Can you learn a new skill? September has always been a good time to try something new. Can you expand your network of friends and colleagues? Maybe this isn’t the time to see more people, maybe this is the time to continue to hunker down in your own pod. Can you set boundaries? In our world right now, that’s a great skill to have. Knowing who can come into your life and whom it’s best to stay away from can be life changing. Can you get organized? Life at home, life online, life lived mostly indoors requires a great deal of organization. September is the time to do all of these things, to make our lives better than they have been.

For the Jewish faith, the start of the new year is in September and consists of two important days, called High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year” – its been called the “spiritual birthday of the world” – and Yom Kippur, which means “day of cleansing” and, although the new year compels us to both be ourselves and be a part of self-discovery, most of the prayers during Rosh Hashanah are prayers for the health of the world. September is the time to think about the condition of our world, about climate change, about inequality, about the corona virus, about our personal integrity. All faiths require us to think about what we’re doing to help make the world a better place and September, especially this September, seems exactly the right time to contemplate the state of our world.

September is the time to think about our behavior, our cumulative behavior: what makes us better people individually and helps us create a world we all can live in and thrive in. A teacher posted on Facebook this week, twelve days into her first year of virtual teaching, “There are so many opportunities to love and serve one another.” What a great epigraph for this September.

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

Getting It Right

Although right means exact, precise, correct, in the world of decluttering, right is a relative word. It means different things to different people and to different families.

Shortly after we published our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, someone published a book with Rightsizing in the title rather than Downsizing and to me that made perfect sense.

So how do we get it right – right for ourselves and our families?

Start small.

Start with just one item that you can get rid of, whether you try to sell it, donate it, or just plain give it away. Then choose a second item. Take small, very small steps.

Remind yourself you are not a storage unit.

We hold onto things that other people gave us, that belonged to family members, that don’t quite fit, that aren’t quite our style, that we may use one day, that we can’t possibly give away… We hold onto a lot of stuff. Give some thought to the items for which you have excuses. Maybe those are the things that can go.

Live for today.

You don’t need too many things in your home that remind you of the past – even if they belonged to your family. You don’t need too many items that reference of the future – that refer to a person you aspire to be rather than the person you are today. And you don’t need to keep stuff for the person you once were or for the job you once had or from the relationship you were once in. What things do you need for the life you live today?

Be you.

Not everything has to be minimized. It’s not about having fewer things; it’s about having the right things. For some of us, that is books, for others it’s pots and pans and spices, for still others it’s a DVD collection of classic movies, for some it’s a big yarn stash, for others it’s stylish clothing. Being you is about having just enough things and learning to feel that you already have enough. It’s about having less of the things that don’t move you forward and more of the things you love.

Enjoy your stories.

Whether you keep an item or give it away, an important part of the process is to tell stories about it. What meaning does it have in your family? Who were you with when you wore that outfit? When did you purchase that thing and why? Tell those stories. After giving away some of your stuff are you feeling disappointed? Do you feel a bit of regret? Tell those stories, too. Stories help keep alive the stuff that has meaning whether you have kept the item or given it away. Stories help make it right.

What can you get rid of today that makes it right for you?

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 Sentimental Journey Revisited

 

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m a bit envious of people who are using their time at home these days to downsize and declutter and, most importantly, GET RID OF STUFF. I’m not there yet. I find it too difficult and fraught a process to be a stay-at-home activity like doing jigsaw puzzles or gardening.

For me, the process involves sentimentality, which as J.D. Salinger had one of his characters, Seymour Glass, describe, is giving “to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.”

One of the antidotes to getting bogged down in sentimentality, as my coauthor and I have said in our book, is to take your time. Perhaps time does not heal all wounds but it does give us some perspective.

And perspective can give us a new way of seeing things, a new perception of the old. So today I’m sharing a favorite post from the early days of our blog that calls attention to family items and how we view them.

A Bowl…Full of Memories

The bowl was clear glass with a fluted edge around the top opening. It sat in the center of my parents’ dining room table for as long as I can remember, sometimes with artificial flowers in it (not very attractive ones, in my opinion) in a seasonal color to match whichever tablecloth my mother had put on the table.

When my father was moving out of the house he and my mother had lived in for over 50 years, we used the dining room as a staging area.

The bowl was now off to the side in a “donate or give away” section, put there by my sisters on a previous visit. I moved it to a “still thinking about it; not sure what this means to me” area because I had such vivid memories of the bowl and how it spoke of my mother’s style.

The bowl was inexpensive, a testament to my mother’s frugality, and it usually sat alone in the center of the table, a sign of my mother’s simple decorating style. Although she had some good Swedish glass like Kosta Boda and Orrefors, my mother also had many things, as this bowl probably was, purchased at a five-and-ten.

When family dinners grew in number to include in-laws and grandkids, the bowl was moved to a sideboard to allow more room for serving dishes. But always, after dinner, the bowl was put back in place in the center of the table.

I remember the bowl in its central place on the dining room table when I returned home from college, a welcoming sight for me.

I remember it sitting there, too, when I brought my boyfriend, now husband, home to meet my parents.

I remember seeing it there when my kids played in the living room with my parents.

After my mother’s funeral, the bowl was probably moved to the sideboard to make room for the platters of food brought over by friends and neighbors. I’m sure, really sure, we put it back in its rightful place after we cleared the table.

Did I want this bowl, I asked myself as we emptied the house. At each visit to sort through more of my parents’ stuff, I pondered that. I had the luxury to think about it week after week.

Finally, I moved the bowl back to the “donate or give away” section. I didn’t want the bowl. But I was so grateful for the memories it had elicited.

What’s your favorite story about a cherished family object?

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 Motivates You?

During this prolonged stay-at-home time, many people have founds ways both traditional and innovative to fill their time. They are reading more, gardening, knitting, working on jigsaw puzzles, baking, and taking video classes (I took one on neuroscience). Some brave souls have taken to downsizing and decluttering years of possessions. My hats off to them and the initiative they have. Me, not so much.

What motivates someone to decide to accept the challenge of owning too much stuff and then actually getting rid of what they don’t need? Let’s look at what impels people to declutter.

Does it spark joy?

Although Marie Kondo has strict guidelines for herself and her home, she shows great respect for others who can’t quite declutter by asking that one simple question. As I wrote in a previous post: She doesn’t begrudge anyone anything. No judgment, just a gentle nudge to be more mindful of what we have. With no place open to donate to, Kondo-ing doesn’t seem quite right for this moment.

Pretend you’re moving

For those of us stuck at home right now that seems a bit drastic – we can’t move anywhere – although there is much to recommend here. As suggested in an earlier post, perhaps we could use the “move out” method on closets and dressers. Empty them completely and then put back only what we need and love.

Soul searching

Soul searching is thinking about who we really are in relation to our stuff: what we need to keep and what we can get rid of because it no longer speaks to who we are. Perhaps there is a good time for that, as discussed here, but right now it seems too difficult a task for those sheltering at home.

“The best, favorite, necessary”

Emily Ley, an author and creator of the Simplified Planner has created a #RuthlessDeclutterChallenge and asks her followers to keep only “the best, favorite, necessary.” That has become a new mantra for me. Asking what is the best, the favorite or the necessary works for any collection of things from too many T-shirts to too many pots (and maybe even to too many books) and gives us new criteria against which to make decisions about our stuff.

Some of us are under more strict stay-at-home orders, some of us live in areas that are beginning to open up. All of us, to some degree, are at home with everything we own. What motivates you to sort through your stuff? We’d love to hear from you. Share what motivates you in a comment 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

How Wide is Your Window of Tolerance?

A statue of Peter Stuyvesant wearing appropriate PPE.

New times bring new thoughts, or how do we adapt to the times we’re now living in? Several terms are cropping up in social media that can help us rethink and perhaps better understand what we’re going through.

And one of them is not a new definition of cranky people. Cranky still means “given to fretfulness, easily angered, ill-tempered, grouchy, cross.” Sound familiar? Sheltering at home is not always easy. Sometimes resilience is just putting one foot in front of the other.

Someone has asked, “How wide does your window of tolerance have to be?” Window of tolerance, a term coined by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, a psychiatrist, is defined as the zone in which people are able to function most effectively.

“When a person is within their window of tolerance, it is generally the case that the brain is functioning well and can effectively process stimuli. That person is likely to be able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling either overwhelmed or withdrawn.”

How wide does our window of tolerance have to be for us to adapt to the disconnection and solitude we are experiencing, to being alone and not having the company of family and friends? What can we do so we don’t feel overwhelmed and withdrawn, which are legitimate feelings in these times. Much food for thought.

One of the ways in which we can be more tolerant of our situation is that we are now better able to see what is essential, another current meme. We now know we don’t need things, we need people, so the media is telling us. It makes me smile, a bit ruefully, that my coauthor and I have been talking about this for nearly two decades, as have others involved in the world of downsizing and decluttering. But now it seems that our message if being heard, loud and clear, by a newer and bigger audience.

What do I miss most? A friend says she can’t wait to invite us over for tea and cookies (she’s a great baker) and I can’t wait to accept her invitation. I would like the library to reopen, even if it’s just to pick up books. And I would love to get a haircut. I would like to greet my favorite people at the farmers market from a distance closer than 6 feet. I don’t miss going to the theater as much as I thought I would, maybe because there is so much available online. I don’t miss in-person meetings (although video conferencing is getting to be a drag). I would love to get on public transportation so I could visit loved ones who are a train ride away.

This need to rethink our lives brings us another new term, or rather an old term that has found new relevance: a circular economy. What this means is to reuse or recirculate what you have.

In practical terms, it means to darn your socks (as my coauthor pointed out a few weeks ago), patch your jeans, wear clothes until they wear out or pass them along to someone who will. It’s a world of wearing hand-me-down clothes, fixing electronics when possible to make them last longer, borrowing books from the library (which is not possible right now) or sharing your books and jigsaw puzzles with others. It’s a world of eating leftovers, not wasting food. It’s making protective face masks from old t-shirts. It’s carrying a bag with you when you shop, being willing to forego the free plastic shopping bags. It’s a world where we care more about the planet and its people than we do about what we can get or own or have.

We widen our window of tolerance, which helps us see that people matter more than things and that makes us more caring of the world around us.

Stay safe. Stay well. Keep sharing what you have.

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 Matters

Bryant Park, New York City

An update on our situation seems unnecessary since the virus dominates the news these days. Being alone, or alone with our significant other, becomes a time to ponder, to wonder about life, and to think about what matters.

Here are some of the things that matter to me.

Helping others. I continue to be in awe of the people who offer services to those in need, to buy and deliver food, to pick up medication, to run errands. Very selfless, and so needed. Many of us are trying to help support local businesses, those still open for pick up and delivery only. We want them to stay in business, to make it through this difficult time and to be here when we’re able to be out and about again.

Offering support. Every night, promptly at 7 pm, neighbors everywhere hang out their windows or step outside their buildings to clap for the healthcare workers. At first my inner curmudgeon came out and I said why clap, why not send masks and other PPE. But now I realize how bonding this applause is. We’re in this together.

An amazing number of people do make masks to donate and many people donate money to the various charities that help support the helpers. This week the groundskeepers at Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York Public Library, mowed a heart in the grassy center of the park, as a tribute to the first responders. How wonderful is that.

Being distracted. Or being focused. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, whichever works for you in the moment. For the first couple of weeks, I worked out to an exercise class on Zoom every day (you can see that didn’t last long) and I’ve also taken classes in literation and in popular culture.

Teleconferencing platforms allow me to continue to meet with my women’s groups weekly as well as participate in my book club and in one of the boards I’m on. Jigsaw puzzles take focus and are wonderfully distracting, a good combination. And I read. I realized that I probably have enough books to keep me busy for the rest of my life (when it comes to books, no decluttering or downsizing here), and that’s comforting. To quote Louise Penny about one of her characters, “Stories lined the walls and both insulated [me] from the outside world and connected [me] to it.”

Having hope. Staying put is hard but we’re all in this together. So grateful for the many helpers. So grateful for friends and family and keeping in touch. So grateful for a moment to pause. May we all have the hope and the vision to see a new world, one where compassion and caring are more important than “getting and spending” (to quote Wordsworth).

Be safe. Be healthy. Be kind.

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

Sheltering in Place: Me and My Stuff

Broadway looking north from 43rd Street — with theaters closed and no traffic.           Photo by Peter Macklin

When I first started putting together this post, my sheltering in place was voluntary, now we’re in “pause” and, since New York City has become the epicenter of the virus in the United States, no one knows how long it will be before we are in total lockdown, something our much praised governor, Andrew Cuomo, is reluctant to do. It is difficult to imagine New York City in total lockdown. We hope it never comes to that.

Everything is changing by the minute and so much has been written and posted already about how to cope with sheltering at home, social distancing, and the emotional upheaval of it all that it’s difficult to say anything new. But I would like to add some personal thoughts.

Be useful.

In our downsizing and decluttering world that means we tackle a clutter issue, we use this time to sort through and possibly pass along things we no longer need. I was fortunate to get a couple of bags to Housing Works, a thrift store that uses its income to help the sick and needy, right before they closed. Literally, an hour before they closed down for the foreseeable future. (What’s foreseeable? Who knows how long that will be.) A neighbor and friend is a doctor who volunteers at shelters and she is always grateful for clothing and toiletries. I took several bags of clothing my daughter had left here and brought them to her front door, just a block away. It was social distancing since we did not meet face to face. Many friends have posted about cleaning our their closets, going through their drawers, straightening kitchen cabinets, and redoing their spice cabinet. I’m not there yet.

Be kind.

Several people in our neighborhood list-serv have offered to go to the grocery store or pharmacy or run errands for others. A woman in my building posted in the mailroom that she would do the same for any residents. That selflessness blows me away.

If we choose not to go out, from the comfort of our homes we can call friends who are alone, chat via any of the web-based videoconferencing platforms, and we can pass along via email all the opportunities to participate online. One morning I took a tour of the orchid show at the New York Botanical Gardens, listened to a concert by a singer/friend’s accompanist, and shared a video of the students at The Berklee College of Music’s rendition of “What The World Needs Now.” Last night I watched a reading of a Broadway play.

And we can be kind to ourselves. I started my day with an online meditation followed by a restorative yoga class. Many of us are working from home and Team Vertellis urges us to be grateful for that. Many others do not have that option, most importantly, health care workers. We are grateful for their dedication. We are also grateful for the first responders, the truck drivers who deliver food, the people who work in our grocery stores and pharmacies, and people who make deliveries, all of whom make our lives better. Thank you for your service.

Be creative.

Many of my friends are posting photos and recipes of the most tantalizing meals, ones that make me hungry and envious. Cooking elaborate meals is not my forte. Soup is more my thing. Other friends are knitting and crocheting. Busy hands are happy hands, as they say, but I’ve found it difficult to focus on a knitting project. Some people are sharing their expertise online. While others are binge-watching shows they hadn’t had time to watch before. I just started The Stranger. Not sure watching television qualifies are creative. Perhaps continuing to read interesting books is a form of creativity.

Be careful.

We are all washing our hands, wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant, keeping our distance (a cotton scarf folded over helps keep out 50 percent of the germs, so I’ve read), or are simply staying home. Many of us have posted the meme where healthcare workers in a hospital hold cards that say: We stay here for you, please stay home for us. We belong at home, the safest place we can be right now. Stay safe. And keep others safe.

This is our disaster. But we can learn from the experiences of others.

Two interesting points from Jon Mooallem. In his New York Times Sunday Review essay about the great earthquake in Alaska in 1964 and how people got through it, he described the cluttered basement where rescuers found 30 boxes in which an Anchorage radio broadcaster had “assiduously packed thousands of letters, photographs, diaries, audio recordings and other material from her life. Here it was: all the joys and agonies of one person’s life, but so blurred and compressed that it was impossible not to recognize the form that all our lives assume from such a telescopic distance — a forgettable blip, a meaningless straight line from birth to death.” Gives one pause, especially for the keepers among us. Does it take a disaster to remind us that stuff is just stuff and it’s people that matter?

Soon after learning of the earthquake, disaster researches expected to witness the breakdown of a society but, upon arrival, “immediately began discovering the opposite: The community was meeting the situation with a staggering amount of collaboration and compassion.”

Wishing everyone safety and health and an opportunity to share with loved ones. We need to face the situation our world is in right now “with a staggering amount of collaboration and compassion.”

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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