Holiday Preparations for Downsizers & Minimalists: Tips for Gift-Giving & More



As the end-of-year holiday season draws near, now can be a good time to take stock of how to plan ahead, especially for people who are trying to acquire less “stuff,” or who are trying to get rid of all the things they’ve already acquired.

First, the matter of gift-giving: how does one reconcile the lessons learned in downsizing–one of the main ones being not to acquire so much to begin with–with the joy of giving gifts at the holiday season?

Of course there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In past years we’ve discussed a few ways to think about this, including this post on five different kinds of gifts that won’t cause clutter.

Over the past couple of years I’ve also seen a number of blog posts that discuss the “four-gift” concept. The idea is to limit the number of gifts children are given down to a minimal four, which is partly to reel in gift-giving madness, and partly to teach children not to be quite so materialistic, and to enjoy a few nice things as much as a bunch of them. The idea is to give each child

1. Something they want

2. Something they need

3. Something to wear

4. Something to read.

I’ve also seen some bloggers suggest giving five gifts, with the fifth gift sometimes being “something they don’t know they want but you do,” and sometimes a gift given to a charitable organization in the child’s name, perhaps chosen by the child.

When my children were small and starting to walk around the house circling items in toy catalogues, I found myself often repeating the words, “Remember, Christmas is about giving too…” (One day my son Sammy caught me off guard by altering the script,  as he sailed through the room with this off-hand remark:  “Remember, Mommy, Christmas is about giving too…so you have to give ME something!!!”  )

I know to some people the four-gift idea may seem stingy and Scrooge-ish. Certainly there can be an awful lot of joy in the faces of children when they see an abundant pile of presents under the tree. And there’s certainly no need for everyone to follow this rule, or even to come close to it.

But for those to whom it appeals, or whose budgets it fits, it can be a helpful way of teaching children to appreciate a few nice gifts along with the other joys of the season–singing, being together, enjoying special meals, baking cookies, sharing with others (aka as “giving too”)–all ways of focusing on the true meaning of the season–while avoiding the perils of overconsumption as well.

One thing that happened in the home I was growing up in is that often very practical, inexpensive gifts would be wrapped and placed under the tree, or in our stockings, along with the more special gifts. Since part of the joy of all those beautifully wrapped presents is precisely that–the sight of all those presents–why not do this? There can be thoughtfulness in choosing simple, practical gifts as well as the special ones, and why can’t the presentation be part of the present? (And surely everyone has had the experience of watching a small child enjoy playing with the boxes and the wrapping paper as much as with the toys themselves?)

When the pressure of gift-giving (thinking of and then finding the gifts; affording the gifts; acquiring and wrapping the gifts in the pre-holiday rush) threatens to take away from the enjoyment of the season, it may be time to step back and think about other ways to celebrate. There are many ways to do this, from giving gifts to charitable organizations to visiting people who need visiting–the old, the lonely, the sick–and spending some of the time that might be spent shopping, or wrapping presents, with them. This too can offer children a very important example.

Of course it’s good to talk with your family, whether they are children, or adults, about how you all want to decide to approach the matter of gift-giving beforehand. And now is a perfect time to have these conversations.

Second, as you plan to entertain or celebrate with family and friends, you might want to take a look at posts we’ve written in past years about ways to enjoy the holidays (and cleaning up after them) in less-consumer-focused, more ecological ways here.

Finally, the holidays can be a good time to plan as a family for downsizing projects. if your family is at a decision point about dismantling the family home, or you think you should be, and don’t quite know how to get started, you may find some help here.

And so as the season approaches, here’s wishing you and your loved ones all good things during the holidays–starting with a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving.

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



A Passion for Elder Care Leads to a Twitter Chat

ElderCareChat pix1


ElderCareChat pix 2_MichelleMichelle Seitzer has been part of the OurParents/SeniorsforLiving team since 2008 and launched #ElderCareChat in 2010. She is a freelance writer whose retirement/elder-care focused content has appeared on,, and She also writes about her international adoption experiences on

To read more about Michelle’s role as a blogger and social media expert and how her interest in elder care evolved into a Twitter chat, check out the article here. You can register for the next #ElderCareChat, at this site.

Michelle graciously accepted our invitation to be interviewed for this post. And I thank her for inviting me to be one of her guest panelists.

~ What exactly is the Elder Care Chat? How would you define it? 

#ElderCareChat is a live Twitter conversation that happens twice monthly, but it is also representative of a larger community, a forum that is represents an ongoing conversation about important elder care issues.

~ How did you get involved with this? Did you create it? How did it start?

I co-created and launched the chat in November 2010 with Denise Brown (known on Twitter as @Caregiving) of Initially, I reached out to her to find out what chats existed on the topic of elder care. She said there were none, so we decided to start our own. Six years later, we’re still an active, growing chat.

~ Who is your audience? How many people participate in a chat? What is the reach?

Our audience is very broad. We have seniors, music therapists, family caregivers, activity directors from assisted living, home care agencies, health care consultants, elder law attorneys, Alzheimer’s advocates, universities, senior living providers, senior living marketers, policy makers who focus on elder care issues, nurses, leaders from volunteer organizations, and many others. On average, we have about 40 participants each chat, but the hashtag is used widely all the time, regardless of the live forum time. During a one-hour chat, analytics show we have over a million “impressions” comprised of RTs, tweets sent during the live hour, and views of tweets with the hashtag before, during and after the real-time discussion. Our LinkedIn group has over 700 members.

~ When I participated in the chat, sharing downsizing tips from our book, I was astounded at how fast and furious the responses came in and what great suggestions were passed along. What is the greatest surprise you found in working on the chat? What was the greatest piece of advice you received from one of your participants?

The greatest surprise? How we have been able to sustain consistent growth, interest and attendance for six years. I’m pretty sure that’s a record – longevity-wise – as far as Twitter chats go. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the fact that in six years, I can count on one hand the times we’ve had “spambots” invade and impact our chat in a negative way (although we pushed through anyway and kept chatting), and that attendees and participants have always maintained a respectful, compassionate tone through our discussions. We’ve thankfully never had to ask anyone to leave the conversation on account of negative, offensive input, and the self-promotion stays at a minimum thanks to our “share links in the last 5 minutes only rule.” Again, for six years of conversations, I think that’s quite an impressive record! I’ve also enjoyed some of our “celebrity” guests, like Dorothy Breininger from the A&E show, Hoarders, and the Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO) from IBM, Frances West, who talked about exciting elder care technology in the pipeline. The greatest piece of advice from a participant? That’s a tough one since we’ve had over 150 conversations over the years, but I would say many of the insights about self-care have stayed with me.

~ What are the most popular topics that you have covered? Which topics are you looking forward to covering in the future? 

Among the most popular topics covered: Alzheimer’s research, technology and aging/caregiving, ideas for creative caregiving, doing self-care and preventing caregiver burnout, and legal issues in elder care. Exciting topics to come? The power of soft therapies: music, art, and storytelling therapy, for example; Elder Wisdom; and the Family Dynamics of Assisted Living.

~ How do you think downsizing, my particular area of interest, affects an elder’s quality of life? Have you found that this topic has come up in other chats you have had?

I think it’s an important part of many elder care conversations, particularly as it logistically and emotionally affects strained sibling relationships and difficult family dynamics in decision-making for an elder, which is a topic that comes up very often.

~ What has been the impact of caregivers gathering together online?

We constantly get feedback from new and long-time attendees about how much the group has helped them – inspiring new ideas, encouraging and informing them in their caregiving journeys (personal and professional), motivating new ventures, connecting them to other thought leaders and organizations/individuals with similar interests.

~ What other things does have to offer?

We offer access to care advisors, through a toll-free number (866) 873-0030, who can guide you through a search for senior care. The site offers an extensive directory of senior living listings, which visitors can search for free. Our blog is full of resource-rich articles about various aspects of senior care, and of course, we offer the #ElderCareChat forum and all its additional resources (the LinkedIn group, the transcripts, the recap posts, etc.).

~ Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the Elder Care Chat?

We’re always looking for topic ideas of relevance and interest to the community, and for guest panelists. You can email me at or send a DM on Twitter to discuss the next steps.

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 Tasks for Snowy Days

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Snowed in, are you? Here are three great downsizing tasks good for snowy days:

1. Attack that pile of junk mail, magazines, etc. that is staring you in the face and that you now find even harder to ignore. Recycle anything you don’t need/want. File (right away!) anything you do need/want.

Now: Enjoy gazing upon a clear, clean surface, where once only guilt and dread were staring you in the face.

Alice & Johnny HulstrandUncle Lewey war letter


2. Do something about the old family photos/videos/movies/letters you keep meaning to “do something about.” But before doing anything, read up a bit on the issue of digital preservation. You can learn about why this is a complicated issue here, or here. And you can get some help in knowing what to do about it from the following sources:

From the Library of Congress

From the National Archives (Most of the information here is good, and still current. Some is surprisingly out of date, for example the allusion to videos. (Budget cuts?)

From The Legacy Project 

3. Browse around this blog and see what other information may be helpful to you as you plan your attack on All That Stuff when spring is here. It won’t be long now!

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

Back to School, Back to Downsizing: Selling and Donating Books

Getting Rid of Books

Bye, bye, eight more boxes of books! Thanks for all the great reading!


It’s back to school time, and for me for the past few years, that has meant buying and selling used books.

Late August and early September are prime times for selling books, especially textbooks, as everyone goes back to school (including to college). As before, I’m using Amazon to get rid of the textbooks my sons no longer need. We have also been buying many of the textbooks they’ve needed in high school and college through Amazon used books, as well.

The system is quite well-organized, user-friendly, and easy to set up. Anyone who is used to using the Internet can do it quite easily, but here are a few of the most important things to know:

  •  Sellers are expected to ship their orders promptly once received. So be sure not to list books for sale, and then go off on vacation. You have to be ready to ship within a few days when the orders roll in.
  • Check competing offers. If the book you want to sell has more than 100 copies being offered for a penny, yours is not that likely to sell, unless it is in pristine condition and you still want to sell it for a penny. It may make more sense to just give the book away, to a school or library. Or maybe (if you’re really lucky) you could sell it in a yard sale for 50 cents or a dollar.
  • You have the best chance of selling a book if you “match lowest offer,” especially if your book is in better condition than most of the others ones listed.
  • Consider the weight factor. Selling a very light book for a penny can work out fine, because the way the cost is structured you will still be able to make a decent profit on the book. (This is because you may get more of shipping allowance from Amazon than you need to pay for shipping at the media rate). But for heavier books, you may end up actually losing a little money on some sales, if you haven’t priced the books high enough. (This sounds more complicated than it is. If you have as many books as I do, you’ll quickly see how it works, and when it doesn’t.) I’ve had to send one or two books where I lost a little bit on the deal (never more than a dollar). But I’ve more than made up for that in the money I’ve earned from all the other books I’ve sold–for an amount that would be hard to get for used books anywhere else.

This year, in addition to selling my son’s textbooks from last year, I’m also continuing the process of “proactive downsizing” of my own huge book collection. Although I have no immediate plans for a move, I know that my days in the place I am currently living are probably numbered. As I have previously discussed here, many of the reasons I wanted to keep books I had already read on my shelves no longer exist. So, although I know I will always have plenty of books with me wherever I go, I really do want to minimize the number I take with me in my next move, whenever that is. I’d much rather do it now than under duress and in the midst of all the chaos of moving. As I give away books I know I’d really rather keep (but at this point in my life shouldn’t), I remember that question my mother was always asking me as a child, in the early days of my book-buying ways: “Why don’t you just get it at the library?” (Finally, though sadly she’s not around anymore to hear my answer, the answer is: “You’re right, Mom!”)

Here are a few more tips for good ways to thin your book collection:

  • After my brother died, my sister and I shared the task of emptying out the storage locker where he had stored hundreds, perhaps even thousands of his books. We ended up selling most of them at Half Price Books. If you live in one of the 16 states where Half-Price books operates, that can be a great way to get cash for your books. The system they have organized is efficient, and feels pretty fair too. You bring the books in and wait while they evaluate them. Then they pay you–cash, on the spot! (Note: my sister and I cannot swear this to be true, but we do think that maybe you get a proportionately higher cash amount when you bring in just a couple of stacks of books, rather than a truckload, as we did once. 🙂 And that would kind of make sense, wouldn’t it?)
  • If you’re not moving right away, but you want to start getting rid of some of your books, you might want to consider building a Little Free Library, a way of sharing used books with others. The concept is simple: you place books you don’t want anymore in your Little Free Library: others take them out, and leave books they don’t want anymore for you. Some Little Free Libraries are very simple, and some are wildly creative. That’s up to you! But all of them function sort of like placing your books outside on the stoop or sidewalk for the taking–with the added benefit of offering the books protection from the elements while they’re waiting to be read again.
  • Libraries and schools are excellent places to give away the books you don’t want anymore and can’t, or prefer not to sell. And think beyond the obvious: churches, preschools, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters. Most of these places have libraries, reading rooms, or at least some open bookshelves–and most of them welcome donations. Prisons are also an excellent place to donate books. You can find out how to go about doing so here.
  • This post, by my coauthor, has some great tips for other places that welcome used books, many of them places that share books with people who can really use them.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to give away ALL your books. I certainly didn’t. Before loading the eight boxes of books I just hauled off to my local library’s used bookstore, I plucked out a few I decided I just wasn’t quite ready to part with yet. I may be ready to let them go when I really do move. For now, they’re not taking up very much space, and seeing them makes me smile.

Books I Kept


And there are still plenty of books left in my home. I think there always will be. 🙂

Still Got Books 1still got books 3

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 cartoon

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

“A Gift to your Family: 10 Tips to Clear Clutter”

Our deepest thanks to Nanci Hellmich for her article in USA Today that highlights advice from our new, updated e-book. This was posted online on May 13, 2014 with an informative video with Nanci and appears in the print edition today, May 14, 2014.



Clearing out the clutter — from old tax returns to clothes you don’t wear to keepsakes that are no longer meaningful to you — can be a wonderful gift to yourself and your family, organizing experts say.

Linda Hetzer, co-author of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home with Janet Hulstrand, has talked to hundreds of people about paring down what they own…Read more



“3 Things That Will Help You Downsize and De-clutter”

Again many thanks to Rachel Adelson for her coverage of the various  issues raised when downsizing the family home. This is the second in her three-part series, published in the Huffington Post  on March 17, 2014.

huff post 2

My previous post about the emotional journey of downsizing traveled the Internet widely. The discussion of how to work through separation anxiety from “stuff” seemed to touch a chord. Sigh.

Read more…

“Downsizing? Unclutter Your Feelings First”

Many thanks to Rachel Adelson for her coverage of the emotional, logistic, and intergenerational issues raised when downsizing the family home. This is the first in her three-part series published in the Huffington Post, beginning on February 21, 2014.

huff post

It had to go. My piano, a big, black upright, weathered eight moves, three amateur musicians, one actual copycat and climates ranging from semi-tropical to sub-Arctic…  Read more

“Get Organized Month” Helps Jumpstart the New Year

Get Organized illo

January always holds the promise of a new beginning, the power of possibility. That’s why so many people make or, at least, begin to make a list of New Year’s resolutions.

One resolution that many of us home in on is to be more organized, to get a handle on all the chaos (the papers, the people, the perspectives) in our lives. And many of us need some help with that.

Well, help is on the way. January is National Get Organized (GO) Month, which is a public awareness campaign that promotes the benefits of getting organized that is sponsored by the National Association Of Professional Organizers (NAPO). Its members celebrate the month by offering “tips, tricks, advice, and information so you can make 2014 your best year ever.”

With that great push forward from NAPO, what else can we do to make the process of decluttering a little less onerous, a little more pleasant perhaps, and definitely something doable? Here are some tips and advice that have appeared online in the first weeks of January.

“It’s important to acknowledge that we all have too much stuff.” So says a newspaper columnist who was writing about the plethora of new gadgets out this year but who could just as easily have been writing about books or clothes or kitchen utensils. So the first step for all of us is accept the fact that we have too much stuff, whichever categories of stuff we might have.

“If I keep everything, then nothing I save is important.” says Jennifer Nice in her article Cut Clutter by Staging a Virtual Move in OregonLive. She offers a dozen tips to clear clutter and create more order but her number one tip is to repeat the mantra: “If I keep everything, then nothing I save is important.”  She challenges us to prioritize our stuff.

“Choose one word that basically sums up your overall vision for the year.” suggests Janet Barclay in a New Year post for Your Organizing Business. She was intrigued by the “one word” strategy mentioned by a number of fellow bloggers, and she chose the word Maximize. What word would you choose? To learn more about this approach, choosing one word to provide clarity, you can check out the My One Word website.

“The point isn’t the number of things I end up with… [The point] is about finding a balanced value in each thing that takes up space in my life.” So says Emily Theis in a thoughtful article about stuff management in the Boston Globe. Her wake-up call came when she was packing for a trip. She realized that stuff didn’t solve anything, it only distracted her. She started a journey toward minimalism, a journey she describes as “a continual commitment to saying, ‘I will only invest my time and money in things that add value to my life.’” Do the things we invest time and money in add value to our lives?

“Toss the item; keep the memory.” That’s what we say in our new updated e-book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. We offer suggestions for ways to approach the difficulty of getting rid of stuff, suggestions we have received from professional organizers, senior move managers, and other people just like us who work each day at balancing our desire to have less stuff with the emotions attached to the things we have.

And a final word from Paul Coelho: “Once you make a decision the universe conspires to make it happen.”  Here’s to the universe helping us in our quest to “Get Organized.”

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

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home


Moving On is now available as an e-book!

We’re pleased to announce that the new e-book edition of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home is now available. It’s updated, with live links to a variety of helpful resources.

Here’s what readers and reviewers have said about Moving On: 

“Well-organized, easy-to-read, with lots of practical advice…”

“An essential ‘how-to’ book, with a special sense of how to preserve family relations…”

“…injects an impartial, yet understanding, voice of reason into an often highly charged subject.”

“…a downsizing bible.”

If you’ll be gathering with family over the holidays and plan to talk about transitions in living arrangements, our book can help make the conversations go easier and the planning process smoother.

And…this is one book that won’t add to the clutter!

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand are coauthors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, now available as an e-book.

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