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

Too Many Papers and How Surprisingly Little Time It Took to Sort Through Them

It began when my husband needed some information from my Social Security card. I started to look for the card in desk part of my secretary and couldn’t find it. An hour or so later, after clearing out outdated bank statements, deposit slips, and the like, I had a cleaned-out, clutter-free secretary, or the desk part anyway. Some of the items were trash and some had to be shredded but all unnecessary stuff was gone.

I love that secretary, a smaller version made for my father of the one his father had had, and I acquired it after my grandmother died. It is immortalized in an illustration on page 50 of the paperback edition of our book Moving On and shown above. But I tend to abuse the desk, actually the entire secretary, by stuffing it with too many papers. The photo of the open desk, below, is not beautiful, but to me it is because it shows how clean and organized it now is.

As much as I don’t like paper clutter, I like going through papers even less so I have lots of piles that need attending to. According to professional organizers, clutter tends to gather in certain parts of our homes and for me there are three places that paper clings to: the secretary, the top of my dresser, and on my desk next to the computer.

The clutter-free secretary spurred me on. I was so inspired by my efforts – I keep opening the desk and admiring how clean and orderly it is – that I was able to tackle the other two areas of paper clutter.

The top of my dresser in the bedroom is a place that gets cluttered with shopping receipts and packing slips from online orders, jewelry I have worn and haven’t put away, and things I want to look at before I get rid of them. Less than two hours after I started, I have a cleaned-out, clutter-free dresser top where you can now see the smooth wood.

Onto the third area of clutter, the space on my desk next to my computer. This is the worst one. I know many experts say to start with the toughest problem but I had to work myself up to confronting this pile.

Next to my computer is where I keep papers about the projects I am working on. Research in paper form (that somehow isn’t online), articles from the New York Times (since I still get the paper delivered to my door every morning), notes to myself (lots of notes) about current projects and future ones, and business cards of people I want to follow up with (although I do have a folder for those).

I usually sort through this pile at the end of a project, a book or an article I have written or one that I have edited. But, for whatever reason, perhaps some laziness, definitely some procrastination, I have put off the periodic clean ups and the pile seemed insurmountable.

For that reason and because of the nature of the items, sorting through this pile required much more thought and decision-making than it did for the other piles and it took me several sessions over a period of a few days to sort through everything. I keep a file, or more than one sometimes, on each of my projects and I created new files for the newer ones so everything had a place to go.

This will be the most difficult area for me to keep clean. So far the secretary and the dresser top look so clean and neat that I haven’t dared to put anything there. And the items that tended to accumulate were everyday papers that could easily be dealt with. But the area next to my computer is an active workspace and so it will continue to accumulate papers. I just have to be more vigilant about sorting through them on a regular basis, small sorting sessions rather than one so large I consistently avoided it.

I have to set a goal of sorting through my papers periodically (and frequently) and then follow through by actually cleaning out the stuff I don’t need. Every so often, ask me how I’m doing!

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

Family History Month: Spotlight on the Center for American War Letters

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“Tucked away in attics, closets, and basements throughout this country are millions of letters written by men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces….” says the opening line on the “Letters” page of the website for the Center for American War Letters.

A relatively new entity, the Center  for American War Letters was established in 2014,  when  Andrew Carroll  donated  the vast collection of war letters he had started in 1998 (known as The Legacy Project), to Chapman University in California. The Center is performing a valuable service to the nation by preserving letters from soldiers, and their loved ones, from the nation’s earliest days to the present.

It is also providing people who are downsizing their homes and don’t know what to do with the stashes of old letters they find in the process with a wonderful solution to the problem, by providing a home where they will safely preserved, and can contribute to a better understanding of our history, especially as seen from the point of view of the “ordinary” men and women who have served the nation in times of war.

If you think you might want to donate letters to the Center, you can find out more about how to do so here.

The Center also has a page with helpful tips about how to properly care for old letters, for those who wish to keep them.

October is Family History Month, and Veterans Day is coming up soon. Wouldn’t it be a nice way to honor the veterans in your family, or among your friends, to find  a way to honor and preserve their documentation of their wartime experiences, their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives–and to safeguard them for future generations?

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

January is Get Organized Month!

SNOW

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.

 

 

A Gift of Family History

img139. 1893-1895 Johannes Persson (1851-1933) and Johanna (1858-1950) Per Joel is boy on the right

My grandfather’s family in 1893. My grandfather is center front, my cousin’s grandfather is on the left.

 

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The first page of our family history.

When my cousin Cecilia visited from Sweden this summer, she told me that she had a family history that traces our family back to 1663. She sent it to me recently, just in time for Family History Month.

Our grandfathers were brothers and someone in her family has traced back our family, on our grandfathers’ mother’s side, to Bengt Persson, our six times great grandfather, a man who lived from 1663 to 1709.

This is amazing to me. I’m so grateful to the person who researched this and to Cecilia and her husband Lars who preserved it and scanned it for us.

The gift of the family tree sent me to my grandmother’s photo album and what fun it was to see some of the history in family photos.

 

img136. the farm - around 1930

The family farm, called Gyllholmen, in 1930.

 

img138. with Anna Rahm Johnson 1930

My great grandparents with their 10 children, some of their spouses, and a few grandchildren.

 

For a previous post on Family History Month, I talked about school projects that got our family started on researching our history. And in another post, I listed some places that may help you get started researching your own history.

You can also get some help from the experts.

Family Tree Magazine has some suggestions for tracing your family tree.

Family Search Blog lists activities for celebrating the month.

On the Ancestry website, you can find family history events.

Here’s hoping you find a special way to celebrate and honor the story of your family.

 

kids, Bklyn2

The first generation born in the U.S. on a street in Brooklyn. My mother’s family on the left, cousins on the right. My mother is the baby standing by the carriage.

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

Preserving War Letters

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This week has been National Preservation Week, a week when libraries and other institutions call attention to what we can do, both individually and collectively, to preserve our personal and shared collections of various kinds.

It’s also spring cleaning time, a time when we try to “get rid of the stuff” while “keeping the memories.”

And of course, in less than a month we will celebrate Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country.

So this seems like an appropriate time to address the question of what to do with old war letters we may be keeping–or finding–in boxes or drawers, on shelves or in files, in our homes.

Clearly, old war letters are not just “stuff.” They’re an important part of our collective history. They can be valuable to historians–and to the rest of us–in trying to help us understand wars as they have been experienced by those who lived through them, not just as they have been written about in history books. They should be honored, and preserved, as valuable documentation of servicemen and women’s lives: of the sacrifices they made, the fears they felt, the difficulties they overcame, the pride they felt in serving their country.

Keeping old letters in homes, especially in rooms where they are subjected to extremes of temperature and humidity, or to dust, is not a good idea. But how should they be kept, and where?

The good news is, there’s a whole new Center for American War Letters being created to provide just such a place. The Center is directed by Andrew Carroll, who in 2013 donated his entire collection of 100,000 war letters to begin the Center. The touching story of how he came to this work is told in a Washington Post story here. “Every day, letters get thrown out,” Carroll says, in the interview. “When people move or pass away, they get lost.”

That is really just a shame.

So, as you work on downsizing or spring cleaning this year, you should know that if and when you are ready to find a safe home for any family war letters you may be holding onto, that now there is a safe place for them to be.

And if you’re not ready to give them up yet, you can find good advice about how to keep them safe for posterity here.

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

A time to keep, a time to throw away….and a time to preserve…

Uncle Lewey war letter

In our book, we talk about the fact that in the process of downsizing a family home, it often seems that the world is divided into the “keepers” and the “throwers.” And how in most families there are some of each personality type, and how one of the challenges in getting through the process harmoniously requires these two opposite types to respect each other’s differences, and find ways to cooperate, collaborate, and find a middle ground–to keep some things, and to get rid of many others.

One of my cousins has been engaged in the process of going through all the things left behind by her recently deceased parents. And she has reminded me that in downsizing a family home, it’s not always just about keeping some things, and getting rid of others. Sometimes it’s about preserving things–not necessarily for ourselves, but for our families, or our communities.

My uncle was a man deeply involved in his church, in his political party, and in his community. He was also by nature an archivist. After he died my cousin spent many hours, many days, many months going through his papers. At a certain point she called for help from the local historical society, who came to take a look at the overwhelming collection of documents she was dealing with. Ultimately they took 26 boxes of his papers, and were delighted to receive them. Several more boxes went to his alma mater, a small liberal arts college where he had sat on the board, and kept all his notes from board meetings over a period of many years. Other files were delivered to his church, and some were kept for the family. All of the recipients of these documents, which my uncle kept so carefully for so many years, deeply appreciated the care my cousin had taken in going through what many people would have simply thrown out.

“When we talk about preserving things, it’s more about keeping things for others than for ourselves,” my cousin says. Of course the painstaking, often tedious task of going through papers is extremely time-consuming, and not everyone can do it. My cousin did not go through every piece of paper in her father’s office, she couldn’t! But she did at least look into every drawer, she tried to assess what was there, and what she couldn’t deal with herself, she gave to someone she knew would be able to do so.

When it comes time to empty out the family home, it’s good to remember that there is another option presented than the strict dichotomy of “keeping” or “throwing.” And there are many institutions and organizations set up to help preserve those things we don’t know what to do with–but know somehow, should not just be thrown out.  If you’re not sure where to turn or who to contact in your community, your local librarian can help. There is also help in the resource section of our book. Goodhue Cty thanks

Of course, this kind of painstaking care with preserving the artifacts and documentation of our collective history can’t be done in a weekend, or a month. In order to ensure that you will have the time needed to find the right place for everything to go, you’ll need to follow our first and most important piece of advice: start now!

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

The Paper Chase: Decluttering

paper cartoonhttp://www.digitalbloggers.com

Having too much paper is a common complaint. It’s something that we all have too much of.

I have a pile of papers next to my computer that needs to be sorted and I decided it would be helpful to take a look at this paper in a somewhat different way: by hierarchy, subject matter, and filing system.

We all impose a hierarchy on paper, often without realizing it. When we buy groceries with cash, the receipt goes in the trash. When we use a credit card, we save the receipt until the end of the month to reconcile it with the credit card statement. When we sort mail, the junk mail goes in the trash but the bills get top priority. How can I create a hierarchy for the items in my pile of papers?

It may sound like a no-brainer that we need to divide our paper by subject matter to make the pile more approachable and the sorting more doable. Yes, it’s easier to sort through and prioritize the papers, if we separate them by subject: health, financial, credit cards, insurance. How many categories and subcategories do I need?

Filing systems are good. But everyone’s brain, their memory, the intuitive way we understand things, works differently. A system that works for a professional organizer might not be right for me, my system might not work for you, your system might not work for your sister. How do I create a system that works for me (so I’ll be more likely to actually use it)?

Here are a few articles that offer help for paper clutter.

Curb Paper Clutter at Home This article has a very helpful way of going about curbing the buildup of paper clutter in your home, depending on whether you are a “filer” or a “piler.”

How To: 4 Steps to Less Paper Clutter Here organizing expert Carol Keller shares her four-step plan for having less paper: analyze, sort and purge, classify and label, create a regular decluttering routine.

10 Best Tips for Organizing Paper Clutter This article has some good suggestions for how to approach the problem proactively by choosing to go paperless for bills, and getting yourself off the junk mail lists.

What Documents to Keep, What You Can Toss This is a helpful list of what household papers to keep and for how long and, most importantly, when you can toss them.

The takeaway:

* Get rid of as much paper as possible (don’t bring it into your home at all, toss before you enter, go paperless).

* Create a system for keeping the papers that works for you.

* Declutter regularly.

* Revisit your system, as needed.

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

Today is “Clean Out Your Computer Day”

computer

 

Originally started by the Institute for Business Technology in California, Clean Out Your Computer Day is observed on the second Monday in February and for this year that’s today, February 10, 2014.

Studies have shown that slow computers and virtual clutter have a negative impact on our work, so this day was created as a way to help us remember to clean up our computer.

For those of you with PCs, you can open up the computer – or ask someone with experience to open it – to clean out the dust. For all of us, we can go beyond the dust and cobwebs, to clean out and organize our files.

Always back up your files before starting to work on your computer.

Here are some suggestions from the experts for cleaning and decluttering.

– Yahoo offers 10 tips for cleaning out the physical parts and the software.

– Iolo Technologies has useful PC clean out tips.

– GigaOm offers tips for the operating system and the files.

– Microsoft has help for speeding up your computer.

Need some help with organizing your virtual files? It’s useful to think of categories when organizing. As we discuss in our e-book, with our real stuff, our physical items, we use the mantra “keep, toss, or donate” but with our virtual files we can amend the mantra to “keep, toss, or archive.”

Of course, you’ll want to keep everything that you are currently working on. But toss out, send to trash, anything that’s old, out of date, or of no interest to you. Start a folder labeled “archive” for papers or files you want to keep but do not need to see every day.

Create as many or as few folders within those categories as you need. Some people work best with a few large topics while others prefer many smaller folders. Use a system that works for you and your computer will be a more user-friendly and organized place to work.

And today is the day to do that.

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 Help After a Death

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http://yogiisofbit.blogspot.com

It happens to each of us, sadly, at some point. We have to sort through and dispose of an entire household after losing a loved one.

Where do we start? What’s the best way of dealing with the stuff? Who can we ask to help?

We looked to several fellow bloggers for advice as well as to our own experiences and those of the people we interviewed in our book Moving On. Here’s the best of what we found.

Take your time.

Lisa Montanaro in her post Organizing After the Loss of a Loved One, emphasizes taking one’s time. “After the death of a loved one, some people are tempted to sift through belongings and make decisions quickly. If this feels natural to you, fine (consider checking with a grief counselor before moving too quickly through the process). But most people need more time after a loss to organize a loved one’s possessions.” Some people need only a few months; others take years to sort through everything.

Keep a few special things.

Erin Dolan in her post Uncluttering After the Loss of a Loved One says that uncluttering – getting rid of the clutter and keeping what you value – is a way to keep the best of your loved one with you. She says, “Find the handful of things that you value most and that best honor your memories of [your loved one]…the pieces that make your heart sing.”

Save what’s meaningful to you.

As Jeri Dansky says in her post Not Clutter: The Odd Sentimental Items, “Memorabilia is very personal. Go ahead and save meaningless-to-anyone-else sentimental items – but it does help to be selective and save only the most precious. And don’t worry about getting rid of things that you think should be meaningful, but aren’t.”

Get help.

Tina Segal, founder of The Estate Settlers, has set up an information network and a service to assist an estate executor that helps families during the emotional and trying times following a death in the family. Her company focuses its efforts on the financial side of the estate as well as the “stuff” that’s left behind: the furniture, the cars, the jewelry, as well as the house itself.

The death of a loved one is a trying time in one’s life. Go at your own pace and deal with the items in your own way. And ask for help when you need it. As Lisa Montanaro says, “Give yourself permission to grieve first, heal, and then to organize.”

And her best advice: “Be kind to yourself.”

And one more thing…

Get your own house in order.

Getting your own papers and favorite items in order for your heirs is the best gift you can give them. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, make sure you have the four important papers updated and kept in a safe place. And make sure to create a list of all the important stuff in your life as a guide for after you’re gone.

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

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