When Excess Becomes Abundance

This table full of necklaces is amazing, isn’t it? But the excess of it is a bit shocking. Sometimes a very large quantity of something, whatever that something is, is daunting and problematical to deal with. And sometimes that same excess can be seen as abundance, as plenty, as a bounty of riches.

I was having difficulty seeing the upside of this huge quantity of jewelry.

In our book and in our many blog posts, we suggest downsizing to rid ourselves of excess, to have fewer things, to streamline. We give this advice, as most people do, because we look at excess as a negative. And we stand by our recommendation to declutter because having too many things can get in the way of living our best lives. Yet there is abundance in excess.

Last weekend I produced the large jewelry sale pictured here (one I’m still recovering from!), a sale that I have organized for the last dozen years, and this year I perceived the excess we encountered as not such a positive thing. I was blown away by the generosity of the donors but troubled by the excess of the resulting donations and I realized I needed a new outlook, a slightly different perspective so I could see excess as something good.

The jewelry sale is for a non-profit and the proceeds from the sale help support their social action programs, especially a program that makes lunches for the homeless, which are then distributed by City Harvest (an organization that started the food recovery movement in 1982 to address the issue of excess food for some while others struggled to feed themselves).

We collect jewelry from individuals: items they no longer wear, gifts that were not quite their style, or pieces they have inherited. And we are fortunate to get jewelry from designers who often donate new pieces from their collections. A small group of us sort through and price the jewelry. This year there was a profusion of donations, months of sorting, and I was feeling this excess as daunting, almost as a burden. Why do we have so much, I kept asking. No one should have this much jewelry. The excess of it all was beginning to eat away at me.

Then it occurred to me that I needed to adjust my thinking. The huge amount of jewelry was not a burden (yes, maybe it would be if it ended up in the landfill) but, rather, it was a sign of the generosity of the people who donated it. That generosity meant a greener environment because jewelry people no longer wanted was finding new homes. And this generosity of donors led to great sales, which meant funds to help people in need. It was a win-win situation.

My inability to see this excess as abundance reminded me of the quote from Ramakrishna,

“An ocean of blessings may rain down from the heavens, but if we’re only holding up a thimble, that’s all we receive.”

This weekend, with a little readjustment on my part, my thimble became a bucket.

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

10 Things to Do on Black Friday (Besides Shop)


We’ve all just celebrated a beautiful day, a day set aside to give thanks and be grateful for all the blessings we have. For the past 25 or so years, using some logic that has always escaped me, the day AFTER Thanksgiving has become a day for a mad (and sometimes literally deadly) scramble to acquire more things, and to get up at the crack of dawn, leaving home and family behind in order to do so.

We’ve written about that phenomenon before here and here. This year I thought I would offer 10 alternative ideas for things you can do on Black Friday, if you are one of the increasing number of people who have decided to “just say no” to all that.

1. Take out some of the board games (or puzzles, or DVDs) that you gave or received as gifts last year and play them! 

2. Get out the photo albums (or the unsorted boxes of photos) and work on labeling, sorting, dividing, getting rid of the bad ones, etc. Tell each other the stories that go along with the pictures as you work together on this task. (Maybe even record some of those stories?)

3. Begin making homemade gifts. (Think broadly: baked goods, poems, songs, stories all make wonderful gifts.) Or make lists of gifts you may want to order on CyberMonday (December 1 this year).

4. Visit someone who is ill, or in need of company.

5. Make music! Sing!

6. Bake cookies.

7. Read aloud, by the fireplace if you have one. A few suggestions:  “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  Or “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou. Or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

8. Take a walk, or a hike together. Or ride bikes, or ski!

9. Clear some space in your home for the holiday decorations and gifts to come.

10. Make a bundle of clothing, toys, books or other items to donate to those in need. Or make and freeze a meal to deliver to a homeless shelter next month.

I think I can almost guarantee that doing any one of these things–and probably many more you can think of–will be a much better way to keep the beautiful glow of gratitude and thanksgiving alive a little bit longer. And a better way to enter the holiday season ahead.

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

What I Learned While Helping at a Moving Sale

house-stuff 2David McGrievey

Last week I helped a friend organize and sell at a two-day moving sale. Her house had been sold and she was emptying it of all the contents, taking some of it with her and giving other things to friends, but selling what she could. Here’s what I learned.

• Do your homework. Researching prices ahead of time really helps. Original packaging enhances an item as does having the manual for small appliances. My friend was selling big items like furniture and it helped to have original receipts to establish provenance, manufacturer’s names, and age of the item.

• Organize and stage. Grouping like items together makes sense for customers who are looking for a particular item or even for those just browsing. But we also staged some areas, putting decorative pillows on chairs and lamps on occasional tables so people could see items in a more living-with-it context. We also grouped outdoor furniture under a backyard umbrella to make an inviting setting.

• Price appropriately for you. Pricing each large item is a must. But grouping smaller ones in a carton and labeling the cartons $1 each or $3 each makes sense. Offering a discount for multiple items also encourages sales. Be willing to negotiate, but it’s your choice to stay firm on prices of things that you feel are priced fairly or on those items you don’t want to haggle over.

• Advertise. My friend listed both large items of furniture and a notice of the moving sale on Craigslist a week or two before the sale. She also put ads for both in the local paper. From Craigslist she got buyers interested in specific items of furniture and was able to sell some of those before the day of the sale. Having both ads in the paper also brought serious buyers as well as people who simply like to amble through yard sales.

• Think about your start time. No matter what time you put on the signs and in the ads, people will show up early!

• It’s good to have friends. All the work involved in a moving sale is too much for one person to handle. Even though my friend did an astonishing amount of work ahead of time, and on the day of the sale, she was so grateful for helping hands.

• Sharing your story is awesome and humbling. The teak backyard table and chairs was sold to a disabled Iraqi war veteran who had a blade for a lower leg. He had moved with his family (wife and three kids) to a town nearby and was furnishing their new house. A woman with a cane bought one of the bikes, vowing that she was going to heal sufficiently to ride a bike again. A man who spoke little English and didn’t know the word for ‘blender’ had his very young daughter translate for him: “We need something like that,” she said. We are all so human.

• Think of others. My friend is incredibly generous person and she gave large items of furniture as well as small decorative pieces and kitchen items to friends and relatives before the start of the sale. She had also arranged with Habitat for Humanity to come pick up everything that didn’t sell at the sale.

Helping out at my friend’s moving sale was a great deal of fun; organizing, staging, pricing, selling, and hanging out with friends made for an enjoyable few days. And something else I learned: It’s a lot more fun and so much easier to get rid of someone else’s 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

Where Do You Start?

stuff illo

Last week, I participated in a downsizing roundtable for seniors and the question everyone asked was, “Where do you start?” From my experience in writing our book Moving On and our blog, here’s what I’ve learned.

Whether you are moving to a smaller place, straightening up because your apartment is going to be painted, or simply have that feeling that your possessions have taken over, the first question – and sometimes the one that stops you in your tracks – is always how do you get started. Here are some suggestions.

Start now. You can think about this, you can lament having to do it, but at some point you simply have to plunge in – even if “starting” simply means beginning to think about what you want to get rid of and talking to people about the best way to do that. The longer you put it off, the more difficult it will become. If you’re older, the sooner you start, the more you’ll be able to be actively involved in the process of sorting through your things. And whether you’re old or young, that means that the changes you’re about to make will be on your terms, not someone else’s.

Take your time. The best way not become overwhelmed with the process of downsizing is to take your time. Schedule regular sessions, maybe just a half hour at a time, adding a few 2- to 3-hour sessions when needed. Doing too much at once may exhaust you and make you postpone starting another session. Keep your sessions short but make them a regular habit.

Start with the easy things. Begin with the areas that have the least emotional impact for you because it will be easier to part with those things. For some, that might be getting rid of old towels (a welcome donation at most animal shelters). For others it might be that pile of unread magazines or the kitchen utensils in that overstuffed kitchen drawer. Start with whatever area works best for you.

Start small. Don’t try to do too much at one time. If it took you 20 or 30 years to accumulate all that clutter, it will take you more than a couple of weeks to sort through it all. And any job that seems overwhelming can be broken down into smaller parts. If going through your clothes is too big a job to contemplate, divide the clothes into smaller groups: office clothes, casual wear, shoes, coats, accessories, and tackle each group separately.

Communicate. Talk over your plans with your family and friends; let them know that you want to get your home in order. Seek out people who have been through the experience of downsizing to find out what they did right—as well as what they did wrong. After the fact, people often have some insight as to what needs to be saved and what can be tossed. And ask for advice from friends and colleagues who are particularly well organized. The more you talk about getting organized and the more you embrace this as your project, the more likely you will be to get it done.

Get help. Nobody has to do this alone. When you are sorting through personal mementos like family photos or going through your income tax files, you’ll want to work alone. But if you need help deciding which clothes to keep and which to give away, you could ask a friend whose taste you admire to give you a helping hand. And anyone can help with carting things away; you could ask a teenage neighbor for help.

Think beyond. What this means is that for some of us, it’s easier to get rid of things when we know that the items will have a life beyond our needs. There are many places, well-known charities, schools, community groups, and businesses, that accept all kinds of household items from used roller skates to nearly new business suits, from college textbooks to sports equipment.

Enjoy the process. You can decide that this process has its upsides, that it’s not all onerous, and to do that you may have to adjust your attitude somewhat. You can also realize that this is an opportunity to be generous. People we interviewed found great joy in giving things away, whether to friends or to those in need. With the right attitude and an awareness of the needs of others, you can make this a positive experience.

Remember that one drawer emptied of its clutter or a couple of shelves in a closet that are organized and easier to use is a great accomplishment. Give yourself permission to feel good about the first small step you take; that will make it easier for you to go on to the next step. And downsizing is a process of many small steps.

So let’s get started.

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

Easy Ways to Clean Naturally

lemon and salt

We often talk in this space about helping the environment by reusing items to keep them out of the landfill and by being thoughtful with what we purchase. We believe that together we can difference in the world.

Making a difference in the world sounds a bit daunting though, doesn’t it, so let’s start in our homes. If charity begins at home, then maybe making environmentally responsible choices can begin there, too.

In making good choices at home, there’s no better place to start than with cleaning. We all clean, at least occasionally, and what we choose to use makes a big difference. When we use natural ingredients – almost all of which are easily available in the grocery store – we help the environment, reduce our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, and leave our homes smelling better. And these ingredients cost less than commercial cleaners, too.

Here are four essential ingredients.

Baking soda – is an all-purpose cleaner. It soaks up dirt and grease, removes stains, and deodorizes.

Lemon juice – is a natural disinfectant that cuts through grease and can remove perspiration stains. It is fresh smelling.

Salt – can be used as an abrasive. For tough jobs, use Kosher salt, which has thicker crystals.

Vinegar – is a powerful cleaner. It cuts through grease, disinfects, and deodorizes.

Other ingredients you may want to add to your shopping list include hydrogen peroxide, a disinfectant; essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, and lemongrass which impart a lovely fragrance or tea tree oil which is a natural disinfectant (oils are strong so use them sparingly); cornstarch for soaking up spills; and olive oil or beeswax for polishing furniture.

Put “natural cleaning ingredients” into a search engine and you will discover many formulas for cleaning all sorts of household items from pots and pans to the bathroom sink, from clothing to hairbrushes. Here are a few sites to check out.

Green Cleaning Recipes from The Daily Green

25 DIY Green Cleaning Recipes from Apartment Therapy

Spring Cleaning from broccoli cupcake

We can clean our homes, keep ourselves healthier, and help the environment, all at the same time.

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

In Praise of Procrastination


Is there really anything good to say about procrastination?

We’ve written here so often about the need to do it NOW – whatever “it” is – to  start downsizing now, to make a decision about the clutter now, to be more organized now, that perhaps I’m posting this in the wrong place…

But before we dismiss procrastination as something that is to be avoided at all cost, let’s take a look at it from both sides.

We are all very familiar with the downside of procrastinating.

If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.

~ Olin Miller

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

~ W.B. Yeats

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

~ Andy Warhol

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to look at the upside of procrastinating.

A time to rest, to dream instead of do.

~ Sophie Fonanel

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

~ Annie Dillard

Why should I not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining world?

~ Mary Oliver

What can we gain from taking time away from the task at hand, from putting down the always present to-do list? We give ourselves an opportunity to rest, to dream, to look out on the hillside, to mark our days with thought and contemplation.

We can stop always having to do, and just be.

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

Tips for Making the Most of Your Family Reunion

Hulstrand Family Together 1990

It’s summertime again! Time for picnics, barbeques, trips to the beach—and family reunions!

Here are a few tips for ways to make your family reunion, if you’re having one, more special—and more lasting.

1)   Plan ahead of time to tell stories, and then do it! Send an e-mail to everyone in the family who’s coming to the reunion (and everyone who can’t make it as well). Ask them to share memories, and give them a few cues to get things rolling: memories about grandma and grandpa, the funniest thing that ever happened at a family reunion, childhood memories of family holiday celebrations, the time Uncle Edward fell in the pond, etc. Then when you’re all together, gather around for a storytelling time where people read their stories aloud, or just tell them.

2)   Capture these stories in video, and/or voice recordings.  Voice recordings are often better than video because they are less distracting, less likely to make storytellers self-conscious, and less likely to interrupt the natural flow of conversation. You can buy a digital recorder that is incredibly powerful, but only the size of a cigarette lighter in your local electronics supply store at surprisingly affordable prices. Then just turn it on and let the stories become part of your family history. (Of course you should let everyone know that’s what you’re doing and ask permission first, as a matter of courtesy.)

3)   Make a book of  memories to share. A few years ago one of my cousins and I organized a “Hulstrand Review” in preparation for our family reunion. We invited submissions from all members of the family. When it was gathered together, we had drawings and stories written by the very young (some of these were items created in response to school assignments about the importance of family, etc.); memories of the family elders about their growing-up years; even some of Grandma’s favorite cookie recipes, written in her hand. We photocopied the collection, and gave it out to everyone when we got together. Naturally, it was a big hit! We promised to make another one the following year, and that has not yet happened yet. But it will, one day: in the meantime we have a great moment in our family’s history captured that we will all always treasure—and some invaluable family stories recorded by people who are no longer with us.

4)   Don’t forget the obligatory group shot. Candid photos of individuals and small groups interacting are great. But don’t forget to get the group shots too, of everyone all together. You know the one: the one everyone groans about!  One day you’ll all be glad you have it. (In some families, having one “serious” and one “goofy” shot makes it more fun, and captures more than one side of everyone’s personality.)

5)   Remember that family reunions are not always called family reunions. Sometimes they are called weddings, or bar mitzvahs, or birthday parties. Anytime the extended family gets together, it’s a family reunion of sorts, and it’s cause for celebration.

6)   Don’t forget to savor the day. Family reunions can be occasions where family tensions come out as well as love of family. If someone starts pushing your buttons, try to keep things in perspective. Life is a gift, and we never know how long it will last, or when we’ll be together again. So count your blessings today, hug your family (no matter how mad some of them make you), and be happy!

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

Color It Green

Screen shot 2013-02-13 at 10.51.20 PM

Pantone, a company that is the global authority on color and one that provides professional standards for the design industry, has proclaimed Pantone 17-5641 Emerald as the Color of the Year for 2013.

What could be more appropriate than a shade of green, one that is, according to their press release, “a lively, radiant, lush green,” for the official color for 2013. And what could be better than a color chosen “to promote balance and harmony.”

The adjectives Pantone uses to describe the official color – in any order you arrange them – read like a poem celebrating the essence of being green.

Harmonious Rejuvenating Powerful Appealing

Balanced Lively Sophisticated Energizing

Renewing Inspiring Healing Unifying

With green as our focus for this year – in our decorating and in our lifestyle choices – let’s join our fellow stewards of the earth, people and organizations that help us take better care of our planet. Here’s a list of some of the ones that are doing great work.

The Daily Green http://www.thedailygreen.com/

Do the Green Thing http://www.dothegreenthing.com/

Earth 911 http://earth911.com/

EcoEvaluator http://www.EcoEvaluator.com/

Go Green Guy http://gogreenamericatv.com/

Green is Good http://greenisgood.fm/

Green Living http://www.greenlivingonline.com/

Greenopolis  http://greenopolis.com/

Help Recycle http://HelpRecycle.com/

Mother Nature Network http://www.mnn.com/

Recology http://blog.recology.com/

Treehugger http://www.treehugger.com/

Unconsumption http://unconsumption.tumblr.com/

We Recycle http://www.werecycle.com/

On this Valentine’s Day and throughout the year, let’s color everything green.

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


Getting Rid of … Musical Instruments

This is another post in our occasional series called “Getting Rid of…” but somehow “getting rid of” and “musical instruments” seem like an incongruous pairing.

We get rid of stuff we don’t want and yet most of us have such heartfelt feelings about musical instruments. They remind us of the joy of playing them ourselves or listening to others play for us.

The most important downsizing tenet – keep the memories, toss the item – comes into play here. If we remember the joy, we can pass the musical instruments on to someone who will welcome them.

You can begin your quest to donate by contacting music teachers in your local school, private music teachers, a local symphony orchestra, or area arts camp to ask if someone knows of a deserving student.

For a tax deduction, organizations that accept musical instruments can provide a letter with the instrument’s value.

Here are some charities that refurbish musical instruments and donate or loan them to students.

 Charity Music


 Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation


Collectibles with Causes


And some charities even accept pianos!

Instruments of Change


Keys 4/4 Kids


88 Keys Foundation


So keep the joy in your heart and share it at the same time. Donate a musical instrument that you are no longer using and see that it gets into the hands of a deserving student.

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

It’s Good to be Green

Repurposed pieces, Retro Revival Furniture

Theodore Roosevelt, often called our first environmental president, said:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Some very creative people have taken those words to heart. They show that while it’s good to be green and use what you have, it can be fun, too, to think of the advice to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in clever and unique ways.


Saving just one paper towel per person per day, says Joe Smith in his amusing TEDxTalk, will help reduce the 571, 230,000 pounds of paper towels used by Americans every year.


Reusing items that would otherwise end up in the landfill is an earnest endeavor but there is nothing serious about the refurbished pieces from Retro Revival Furniture (shown above). The furniture is bright and fun and charming.

If weathered wood and pastel tones are more to your taste, check out a remade dresser from Design Sponge.


Recycling items to give them a new and sometimes upscale purpose, or upcycling, is a way to help save the planet.

Repurposed knitting needles, Unconsumption

Lynda Slade has upcycled vintage plastic knitting needles, some with Bakelite tops, into bracelets, as shown on the site Unconsumption.

TreeSmart has created pencils from recycled newspaper.

Glass bottle house, photo cc by Flickr user Tech109

And using recycled items for a new purpose is not a recent idea as Good Design shows us. This old house in the ghost town of Calico, California, was made entirely of glass bottles reportedly scavenged from local bars.

Ingenious, creative, helpful, yes, and each of these creators has made a bold statement. Who inspires you to reduce, reuse, and recycle?

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

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