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

I Thought I Had a Plan

A friend of mine always says about her later years: I had a plan. She is a very organized person and had her finances and living situation in order for an eventual retirement. She had emptied her parents’ home and distributed items to family members, donated much of the stuff, and what she decided to keep, she protected in archival storage containers. Indeed, she was a woman with a plan.

Then life threw her a curve, actually a couple of curves. She was unexpectedly let go at work and she was facing a tough medical situation. All of a sudden, she was a person who thought she had a plan but found herself in a new situation.

How many of us enter our later years with, if not a plan, at least a vague idea of what we want to do and how we want to live. Sometimes that plan works and sometimes we have to rethink our lives, maybe not as dramatically as my friend did, but we have to reimagine some parts of it.

We know what we want to do with our stuff and with the family items we inherited from our parents. We share things with family members, give to charity, and make sure we dispose of the rest responsibly.

Then things go awry. Our living situation changes, our finances are not what we thought, our energy is less than we had hoped. How do we get back on track?

Begin by listening to your gut, or to your heart (they’re connected). Don’t beat yourself up. Let your plan go and revise it as you need to.

Start with what bothers you the most. Maybe it’s a particular room in your house. Maybe it’s a category of stuff – your clothes, many of which you no longer wear, or your papers, which are not organized for easy access.

When it comes to giving away your stuff, think of family more broadly. As Mother Teresa said, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Can we think of extended family, friends and neighbors, colleagues, and, of course, people who have less than we do, as our family?

If you’re really stuck with what to do with stuff you think you don’t want, ask yourself some questions to help loosen the bottleneck. Will I really need this some day? If I saw this in a store today, would I buy it? If I really don’t want or need an item, what’s holding me back from giving it away? The answers will help you be your own guide.

Learn to embrace change. (That’s a tough one!) You change, life changes, you go with the flow. We all grow and change, some of us more reluctantly than others. Change is part of life and growth is the result of change. We really can’t argue with it, that would get us nowhere, we can only learn to embrace it.

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 Are We Going to Keep in 2020?

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to reflect on what the past year has been like and what our hopes are for the upcoming year.

A few weeks ago I was looking up something online and came across a comment about our book that asked about what we keep, especially the commenter wanted to know, of the things left to us by our parents. That set me to thinking about what I keep. How many of us question what we choose to keep? And do we question it often enough?

Last month I saw a play by British performance artist Daniel Kitson called “keep” which was a kind of meditation on the things we keep. He starts to read a list of his 20,000 possessions, each noted on an index card kept in an old-fashioned library card catalog, one of the few props onstage. The list reading gets derailed, for obvious reasons, but along the way Kitson makes some thought-provoking statements:” I feel this responsibility to objects” and “It’s my stuff to deal with.” Does that responsibility mean we have to live with all that stuff? Does dealing with it extend to getting rid of the objects in a responsible, caring way?

The title of one review of the play is “Comedian Daniel Kitson rants about the joy – and tyranny – of stuff.” Joy and tyranny do come up often. In a somewhat anti-Marie Kondo moment, Kitson says, “if you’re only keeping stuff that makes you happy, you have only ever been happy.” Coming from the curmudgeonly comedian that is he, that is a very startling comment. He fully admits his memories are not all happy ones. So as writer Nicole Serratore says, keeping things is sometimes harder than you realize.

At one point Kitson says that holding onto stuff is a way of bringing the person you once were into the present. Is that why we keep so many of the things that belonged to our parents? Looking at his stuff is an exploration of how one presents oneself to the world. Are we better people with all our stuff or would we be better people if we gave away much of it? Kitson calls his home “a museum of me for me.” Which made me think: what does my museum look like? Do I really need a museum or can I keep the memory and let go of the object as we say in our book?

All these questions about our stuff are ones that will help propel us into the new year. As Zora Neale Hurston said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” I’m hoping that the year 2020 will be one with some answers.

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

An Extra Hour in the Day

For many of us who live in the United States and Canada, last Sunday gifted us with an extra hour in the day. Sometimes that feels silly, like why fiddle with the clocks only to have dusk or darkness descend earlier in the day. (Not the greatest outcome.) Sometimes that feels a bit magical, like just moving the hands of the clock actually provides us with more time. (Of course, it really isn’t more time, just the illusion of more.)

What can you do with an extra hour?

Sleep

Research has shown that an extra hour of sleep can help raise your salary (the researchers mean an extra hour per day, not just once) Interesting. Perhaps an extra hour of sleep helps job performance. Check out the article here. And an extra hour of sleep may boost your athletic performance.

Work

Working an extra hour, maybe just once to catch up, can be productive but working more hours in general is not good for your health. So here’s to one catch-up hour per year but not per day.

Play

Play in adults helps relieve stress, boost creativity, improve relationships, and makes you feel more energetic. How many of us spent our extra hour playing with friends and loved ones? Play is something to consider for my next extra hour.

Declutter

In our book and in the many book talks I have given, we always say “start small” and by this we mean start decluttering by spending only 20 minutes at a time at the task. Set a timer. Well, with an extra hour, a magical hour, a gift of time, what more could you accomplish?

Donate

Perhaps you have decluttered and organized your closets. This may be the time to donate all the excess. The extra hour could be spent finding new homes for the things you are ready to part with. Here’s a post that will help you.

There are many other ways to spend the gift of one hour: reading your favorite book, catching up with friends, cooking a wonderful meal, being creative, giving back. I would love to know how you spent your extra hour. Let us know by leaving 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

“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.

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

Stopping to Smell the Roses or Look at Old Photos

My maternal grandmother, on the left, with her sisters.

A study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences (I love that title) suggests people are happier when they take time to appreciate the good things in life, and in the study psychology professor Nancy Fagley defines appreciation as “acknowledging the value and meaning of something…and feeling positive emotional connection to it.”

The great advantage to living in the same place for well over 30 years is that it’s warm and comfortable and definitely feels like home. One of the disadvantages is that it’s easy to accumulate way too much stuff.

As everyone knows who reads this blog, I am constantly trying to sort through stuff that belongs to me, my husband, our parents, and our grandparents. I feel great pressure to make decisions about what to keep and what to give away, mostly pressure that I put on myself but also some that comes from husband and my kids.

As I was going through antique and vintage clothes that have been handed down to me, among them two Swedish dresses, actually blouse/slips that are worn under a wool skirt, that I’m interested in donating to a museum, I decided to look at my grandmother’s photo albums. Yes, I have photo albums that belong to me, some from my parents, my aunt, and my grandmother. Talk about overload!

I took time out to slowly browse through my grandmother’s photos albums, mostly photographs of people that I never knew, but filled with pictures of my grandmother and my grandfather and their families. I also looked through an album of my mother’s that had photos of my father’s family.

My paternal grandmother, on the right, with her siblings.

Looking at the photographs of my two grandmothers, I was filled with appreciation. Certainly, I wouldn’t be here without those two women who persevered through good times and bad to keep their families together and who helped shape the people who would become my parents. And seeing photos of their parents, my great grandparents, was an almost out-of-body experience.

I took time to smell the roses, to look at old photos, to appreciate what I have, and to marvel at the photos that show the lives of my ancestors. What a gift to me, one I gave myself, a gift that allowed me to slow down and appreciate the women who came before me.

A caveat here. Of course I would never suggest that someone start to declutter by looking at photos. That’s too difficult and emotional and nostalgia-inducing. And I wouldn’t suggest looking at photos if you are up against a deadline. If things have to be moved out, for whatever reason, deal with the stuff first and the photos later. However, I’m a big fan of taking a break, taking the time to appreciate.

I learned a lot from looking at photographs of my grandmothers.

Looking at old photos taught me and continues to teach me, foremost, the preciousness of time.

I also felt how fortunate I am to have such a strong family and how incredibly lucky I am to have photographs of them.

And I realized that looking at the old photos gave me more joy than looking at the items they left behind. That was a bit of a revelation to me and, in some ways, makes it easier to “get rid of the stuff and keep the memories.”

At the same time as I was looking back, I could see the value of things to come. As the Irish-American poet Lola Ridge, champion of the working classes, said, “You are laden with beginnings.” Everything I do is a new beginning, just as everything my grandmothers did was a new beginning for them.

My maternal grandmother at 17, right after she came to the US.

 

My grandmother with my father and my aunt.

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 Stories, as Coach and Coached

Illustration by Quentin Monge

One reviewer of our book on Amazon said that with Moving On, you get the authors “coaching you, supporting you, and cheering you on with their very practical advice.”

The past couple of weeks I have felt both somewhat of a coach and very much one who is coached.

We have been sorting through our files, mostly business financial papers because we closed our company at the end of 2017. The impetus to get it done now was a free shredding event in our neighborhood.

As we emptied files we ended up with four bankers’ boxes of papers to be shredded. With that amount of stuff, “in our neighborhood” took on a different meaning. To get several blocks away with such heavy boxes became daunting so my husband called a shredding company to request a private pick up, for a fee.

Since we were getting papers picked up, I decided to go through more files, mostly of book stuff. I have a file, sometimes paper, sometimes electronic, sometimes both, for each book I have written, sometimes one for each book I’ve edited, and many files for books I’m thinking of writing. I culled much of that.

Then I started on personal files, which I edited down rather than getting rid of completely. For the file on my father’s funeral, I read through some of the papers I had used to write his obit and reread some very thoughtful and supportive condolence notes. By the end of the file, I was in tears but I got through it by invoking our mantra, “Keep the memories, toss the object…”

A friend’s mother died a few weeks ago at the age of 102½ (I seem to have quite a few friends with longevity in their genes), and my friend has to empty her mother’s apartment of many years. She had been to a couple of my downsizing talks and even wrote a lovely comment – with 5 stars – on our book’s Amazon page.

Now she was ready to implement the suggestions in Moving On so we talked about how important it is for those emptying a home, and certainly for her, to honor her mother’s life – as an Olympic gymnast, as a wife and mother, and as one who gave back all her life – while at the same time getting rid of a lifetime of stuff. I felt I could be a bit of a coach for her because I had been through that process when my father moved from his home of 50 years.

Another friend, a doctor, is getting ready to retire and wants to downsize. Her kids have been out of the house for years and she now wants to make her home more functional for herself and her husband. She came to me to ask for guidance and then said, “I’ll just buy the book.” So our book will be a coach for her – and she can always ask me questions along the way.

That same reviewer of our book on Amazon also said, “I knew I found my roadmap when I read this book.” (We are so grateful to that reviewer for such kind words about us and our book.)

I have used our book as a roadmap and have been coached and cheered on by my friends and family this past few weeks, just as I have coached and supported and cheered on my friends who are downsizing. It’s been a time of women supporting women.

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

“Outer Order, Inner Calm” Sparks Joy for Me

Gretchen Rubin has always been an intriguing author for me because she is thoughtful, practical, and focused on what makes us happy – as she ought to be since her seminal work, The Happiness Project, is a book about exploring what makes Gretchen happy and more agreeable and how we might glean something for our own lives from her journey.

In her newest book, Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness, a short look into what works for her and suggestions for what might work for us, Rubin explains her challenges to find more order in a way that is thoughtful and helpful, yes, but also allows for the messiness that is part of life. There is not one way to do this, only different solutions that work for different people.

Here are some of the ways she has found, as the book blurb says, for getting control of the stuff in our lives and making us feel more in control of our lives by getting rid of things we don’t use, or need, or love, so we can free our minds and our homes for what we truly value.

Outer order isn’t a matter of having less or having more. It’s a matter of wanting what we have.

In most situations, we don’t need to make a perfect choice but just a good-enough choice.

People are reluctant to relinquish their possession, so if I think that it might be time to discard an item, I probably should’ve done so already – especially if that thought occurs to me more than once.

Here’s a wonderful explanation of some of the psychic challenges to getting rid of our stuff. The endowment effect: We value things more once we own them. The duration effect: The longer I own a possession, the more precious it becomes, even if it has never been particularly valued.

David Ekerdt, a professor of sociology and gerontology, observed that after age fifty, the chances that a person will divest himself or herself of possessions diminishes with each decade.

Do it now, or decide when you’ll do it.

When trying to make a tough choice, challenge yourself: “Choose the bigger life.” The helpful thing about this question is that it reveals our values.

Does this bring you joy? may be a useful question for some. But for me the question is, Does this energize me?

Someplace, keep an empty shelf or an empty junk drawer. My empty shelf gives me the luxury of space; I have room for more things to come into my life.

Remember love. When it gets to be too much, remember: All this junk is an expression of love.

Outer order is a challenge to impose and it’s a chore to maintain. Nevertheless, for most of us, it’s worth the effort. Especially because it helps us feel good and helps us create an atmosphere of growth.

And inner calm contributes to outer order. When we feel serene, energetic, and focused, that’s when it becomes easier to keep our surroundings in good order. It’s a virtuous cycle.

My possessions aren’t me, that’s true – yet it’s also true that my possessions are me.

When we look at our stuff, we see a reflection of ourselves. We’re happier when that stuff is in good order and includes things that we need, use, and love – because that reflection influences the way we see ourselves.

Thank you, Gretchen Rubin. Your new book echoes some of the themes in our book, Moving On, where we say that when downsizing it’s helps to remember the love that went into accumulating the stuff in the first place.

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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