Downsizing Chronicles: The Storage Locker, Part 3 (Interlude)

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Consigning items for sale at my favorite thrift store in Bethesda, Maryland. (St. John’s Norwood Opportunity Shop)

As assiduous followers of this blog may already know, for a variety of fairly good reasons, I have been keeping a lot of my stuff in a storage locker for three years now.

As the coauthor of a book on downsizing the home, I certainly know all the reasons to try to avoid doing such a thing.

But as a person who is in the middle of a protracted international move, I know some of the advantages as well.

Renting a storage locker has allowed me to free myself of the necessity–and the expense–of holding down a place to live in Country A while I have been making the transition to living in Country B.

Because storage lockers are much smaller than homes, it also inspired me to get rid of a LOT of the things I was keeping before I emptied the house I had been living in for the past eight years, and flew across the ocean to a new life.

One of the biggest drawbacks of what I did, of course, is that it’s pretty hard to continue the process of downsizing when all your stuff is in a storage locker; you live across the ocean from that locker; and you don’t have a home anymore, anywhere near that locker.

Which is why the process of getting all of my stuff out of the locker is probably going to take something like forever to complete.

I returned to the storage locker a year ago with the somewhat–I now realize–overly ambitious plan of emptying it and redistributing the things in it in a few short weeks. That turned out to be a plan that was not only overly ambitious, but in fact, was actually not feasible, for a variety of reasons.

At first this was frustrating, and to be honest, a bit embarrassing too.

But I’ve decided there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The transition I am making is a complicated one. And, although the commonly heard cliché is that “it’s all just stuff” is true of many of the things that got thrown into that locker–and in the three years since I first put them there, I’ve gotten rid of many of them–it’s also really not true of many of the other things I put there.

Many of the things I put in that storage locker were special in one way or another, some of them very special–and bit by bit I am finding ways to honor, preserve, treasure, reunite with, and enjoy some of them again–and give away, sell, or donate the rest. And yes. Some of the things are just plain being recycled or thrown away.

I’ve been at the task again over the past few weeks. In the process I’ve gained new insights into and had new thoughts about the whole matter of “stuff”–why we keep it, why it’s hard to part with some of it, why sometimes keeping certain things matters, and why sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve met some interesting people along the way, made some new friends, and been filled with gratitude for the support and kindness of old friends who have helped me through this process in a myriad of ways.

There will be more to come about all of this, I’m sure, in future posts. But for now, with all due respect to the minimalists of the world, I’d just like to say…

You know what? Sometimes it’s really not “all just stuff…” Sometimes it is the stuff that holds our memories together, and makes our houses homes. Some of it is documentation of the lives we’ve lived…

And some of that stuff is worth keeping. Even when it’s a lot of trouble to do so.

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

 

 

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When is it really NOT “all just stuff”?

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Most of the things in this photograph I got rid of, and I do not miss them at all. (Okay, I still have the chair, hand-caned by my grandmother.)

It is frequently observed, by people who have just finished the process of downsizing a family home, that although the process was not exactly fun, and that some of the getting rid of things had been hard to do, these people had to admit (or had come to realize) that really, “it’s all just stuff.”

And while that is to a large degree true, I have been thinking a bit lately about when it is NOT true.

This is probably because I am one of those people who is currently keeping a certain amount of my stuff in a storage locker.

Yes, “True Confessions” time on a downsizing blog!

We’ve written a fair amount, both in our book, and on this blog, about the pros and cons (mostly cons!) of paying for extra storage. All too often, for many of us, it is just a procrastinating technique for keeping all manner of things that it makes no sense to keep anymore. There are so many stories about storage lockers kept for multiple years and then emptied out and all, or nearly all, the things inside given away or trashed.

But in one of our recent posts, we outlined a few of the situations in which keeping a storage locker for a temporary period of time can actually be a good thing.

I am currently in such a situation, since I am halfway into a probably-permanent (but not yet certain) move to another country. And getting my stuff from Country A to Country B has proven to be expensive and bureaucratically complicated.

And so, reluctantly, I have been continuing to spend more money than I would like every single month, to keep some of my stuff in storage. For now.

But I can’t honestly say that it it’s really “all just stuff.”

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Take the items in the photograph above. These are a few of the things I was able to take with me from Country A to Country B the last time I was able to take a trip to my storage locker.

There is a drawing of me at a younger age by my husband.

There is a beautiful handcrafted ceramic tile created by a dear friend.

There are baby pictures of my two sons, and me; a bracelet I received as a gift on Valentine’s Day; a wooden heart with a Swedish prayer painted on it; an index card with my son’s handwriting; and a green scarf given to me by a friend who declared she had found the perfect color for me when she presented me with this gift.

Although I did not really notice it until I was writing this post, there are a lot of hearts in that picture. Heart-shaped picture frames; a bracelet with hearts; a heart-shaped wall decoration with a Swedish prayer.

So I guess there is an underlying theme here, of “things I love, from people I love.”

But to get back to my original point, I maintain that none of these things are really “just stuff.”

Could I live without them? Certainly.

But. I must say that these few items have brought a great deal of quietly joyful moments to me since I managed to stuff them into my suitcase and bring them over to my new home in Country B.

In fact, just a few days ago when it became quite cold here, I was thinking about how sad I was that I didn’t have my pretty green scarf anymore. (I did some really radical giving away of things before my move: there is nothing like an unfunded, independent international move to inspire draconian getting rid of things…)

And so I didn’t remember that I had actually kept the pretty green scarf, and that it had been rescued from the locker and added to the treasures in my suitcase on my last trip. What a delightful surprise it was to find that indeed I had kept it, and here it was, right here in my closet!  I put it around my neck when I went outside the next time, and I felt instantly warmer in more than one way!

There are a lot of other things still in the storage locker that are much bulkier than these few special items. (If there weren’t I wouldn’t still need the locker!)

But those things are not “just stuff” either. In that locker are many more works of art by artist-friends, by my children, and quite a few boxes of books I’ve edited, and of photographs, letters, and journals that I am not ready to let go of.

So what is the point of this essay, especially on a downsizing blog?

I think the point is this. When you’re going through the (for many people, often) painful process of getting rid of “all that stuff,” give yourself (or those you are feeling impatient with) a little bit of a break.

Realize that you don’t have to get rid of everything. And you don’t have defend every decision.

You can keep a few things “just because.” And those items may serve to cheer you in ways you can’t know until experience them.

It’s a question of balance.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Is Storage a Good Choice?

Deciding whether to store items can be difficult. On the one hand, you don’t want to simply defer decisions – decisions like the answer to “Do I really need this?” On the other hand, temporarily storing some items can be a good interim step for many of us. Here are some things to consider in helping you determine whether using storage is a good choice for you.

Before you even think about storage…

Before you think about storage, sort through what you have and eliminate as much of it as possible.

It’s easy to get lost in a swirling sea of sentimental items, but keep the best and give away the rest. Give things to family and friends, donate to charity, toss or recycle the unusable stuff. You want to simplify: downsize, declutter, eliminate what you don’t need, and purge, purge, purge. Go through everything, whether it’s a drawer or a carton or a closet, before you decide what will go into storage.

It’s best to use offsite storage less like a warehouse where you put things away and forget about them, and more like a second garage where you store things until you need them, or can decide what you’re going to do with them, or who will get them.

When it’s time to find a storage space, think about getting the smallest space you can—one that suits your needs but not one that you will be tempted to fill indiscriminately. It’s better to think about how and when you will remove things from storage, than to think of the space as somewhere to keep putting things.

Smart questions to ask…

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself to help you determine whether using storage is the right step for you.

  • Does the item have practical value? Sentimental value? No value? Are you waiting for it to go up in value?
  • What is the cost—personal as well as financial—of renting a storage space?
  • Is everything well labeled? Have you created an inventory, a list to keep at home, of what’s going in storage? Have you taken photos of the items that will go in storage?
  • Are the conditions in the storage place appropriate for the items you want to store? Will wood warp? Will paper deteriorate? Will fabric rot? Climate-controlled storage space is more expensive, but for some items it’s the only safe way to store things for more than a short while.
  • Do you have a plan for the items? Are you storing them until you can have a yard sale, sell them at auction, or sort through them with another person? Is the plan open-ended, or do you have a specific timeframe in mind? (Hint: It’s best to have a specific timeframe!)
  • Be honest. Are you storing items simply because you cannot make a decision about them? If so, will having more time really help you?

When storage is a good option…

There are times in life when using off-site storage makes sense. Here are some life events where it seems the right thing to do.

You have a business commitment away from your home base for a year or maybe two, and you have to vacate your apartment. You need to store all your stuff until you come back.

You have a new thoughts about what you want your home to look like, and some of your stuff does not quite make the cut. You are actively working on a new plan and will decide what you will keep and what you will eventually give away—by a specific date!

You inherited some valuables, like a china service for 12, a huge stamp collection, or a large painting, and you want to store the item until you can decide what to do with it.

You’re living abroad for the time being and need to store the contents of your entire home until you decide where your permanent home will be.

Your parents passed away suddenly and you want to store their things so you can sell the house. Then you’ll deal with the household items.

You’re a student and need to store stuff over the summer or during a semester away.

You are the caretaker for your parents’ collections, for example your father’s record albums from the 1950s and 60s, or your mom’s comic book collection, and you want to keep them safe.

You have a lot of seasonal stuff: soccer balls for the fall, down coats for winter, sports equipment like skis or boating paraphernalia or camping equipment for the summer, and you want to keep it safe and out of the way during the off-seasons. Or you are planning to have another child and want to keep all the baby-related paraphernalia in storage for now. If your main living space is really limited it may be worth the cost of keeping a storage space long-term for these purposes.

What you should NOT put into storage…

Your important papers should also always be kept at home, not put into storage.

Most storage units have rules about what is not allowed to be stored on site. Be sure to follow those rules: most of them are aimed at maintaining a safe and secure environment, and preventing various kinds of environmental hazards.

Once you have made the decision that storage is right for you, choose a place that is convenient for you to get to, has a helpful staff and convenient hours of access, is climate-controlled if that’s important in your case, and is generally going to provide a pleasant experience for you. You want a place that is clean and well maintained, where your things will be well cared for, safe, and secure.

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand are the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, and creators of this blog.

 

Downsizing Chronicles: The Storage Locker, Part Two

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Most of the stuff you see in this picture has gone on its way…but there’s still a lot inside the storage locker! 😦

Oh, well. So my plan to empty my storage unit during the month of March was a bit overly ambitious, and even more overly optimistic.

The point is, as one of our readers pointed out in a comment posted on my last post (and I take some comfort in the fact that she is a professional organizer!) I made progress! And that is what I am choosing to focus on.

It turns out that two of the three complicating factors to my move turned out to be if not insurmountable obstacles, clear signs that my idea of totally emptying my storage unit, moving some of it to France, and some of it to Minnesota, all within less than a month, turned out to be not so doable. Or at least not the smartest thing to do at this time, for a variety of reasons.

So: a lot of my “stuff” is still in the same storage locker where I left it two years ago.

And so, instead of the inspiring picture of an empty locker that I had so optimistically imagined posting today, here instead is my interim report, unaccompanied by a photo of the storage unit because even though a lot of stuff went out of there, it doesn’t actually look so much like it did!!! 😦 (My coauthor has been able to post such a picture, of her emptied storage locker, in this post, and the fact she has been able to do so I hold before me as an inspiring vision of what is possible, even for those of us who are, at heart, “keepers, not throwers.” 🙂 )

AND YET! The truth is, that there IS a lot less stuff in the locker now than there was when I arrived there in early March.  Some of what was in there (very little!) went to my millennial, minimalist son, who is now furnishing his first apartment in New York. A lot more of it (books, lamps, dishes, towels, etc) went to various local thrift stores and charities.

Also, many more pounds of paper went into recycling bins in Maryland. (Some of this was paper I had no problem getting rid of, but had not had time to do in my far-too-rapid moving out of my home two years ago; some of what I dumped this time was excruciating for me to do, but I did it. There will be more on that process later..)

A few of the precious things I wanted to have with me (mostly family pictures, some sheet music, a very few select books, a quilt made for me by my mom and my two grandmothers, and some art work) were packed into the one almost-empty suitcase I had brought with me, and the rest filled a second suitcase that was in the storage unit. Here are a few of the things that made it into my suitcases for my return to France.

A few small items of jewelry and other antique objects that I realized I am probably never going to wear or have room to display, I left in my favorite local thrift store, which also takes some items on consignment. There I had an interesting lesson in What to Do With Old Jewelry and Other Things Like That from the kind and knowledgeable volunteers. (There will be more on why they became my favorites in another post too…)

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Me with my new friend Kay (at left), one of the volunteers at the St. John’s Norwood Op Shop in Bethesda, Maryland. Here she is reviewing and pricing some of the things I left with them on consignment. The volunteers at St. John’s Norwood are very nice people, they run a well-organized shop, and the proceeds from the store benefit local charities. I felt good about leaving my stuff there!

This journey really began, for me, with the downsizing of my parents’ home more than 15 years ago, the experience that led to writing the book that my coauthor and I wrote, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. And as we have pointed out in our book, for most people downsizing doesn’t happen just once. For most people it happens several times in their lives.

Having just emerged from a fresh bout with this very human, often very physically and emotionally challenging activity, has brought both practical information and tips, and material for contemplation and reflection back into the forefront of my mind. There will be more of all that to share in the weeks and months to come. I hope that some of what I remembered, discovered, rediscovered, or learned for the first time this time, will help others get through the experience less painfully, more joyfully. It can be done! 🙂

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

Downsizing Chronicles, Stage 2: The Storage Locker (Part 1)

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Dealing With the Storage Locker, Day 1

Almost two years ago I moved out of the home I had been living in in Maryland for the past eight years, and went to France. At the time, I wasn’t really sure where I was going to be living next: I was only sure that I wanted to stop living in the house I had been renting in Maryland. So, after going through Downsizing Stage 1, during which I sold, donated, gave away, recycled, or trashed a large percentage of what was filling that house (you can read about that wild ride, which had to take place in a mere 27 days, here and here), I put whatever was left into storage.

Early this year, as I was going over my expenses I realized that I was spending an awful lot of money to store things that I really kind of wished I had with me in France. One of those things was my piano.

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Pianos are both cumbersome and delicate. They are expensive to maintain and move. They also bring great joy into our lives: this one has great sentimental value for me. More important, it is a very fine musical instrument that both my son, who is a musician, and I love to play.

Another thing was about 10 boxes of books and papers that I really kind of need to access for my work. It occurred to me that this situation didn’t make any sense, so I decided to return to the “scene of the crime,” roll up my sleeves, and do something about it.

My initial thought was that I should Step 1: Get rid of some of the things I hadn’t had time to deal with getting rid of in the first round; Step 2: Ship those few things I really need or strongly want to France; and Step 3: Take the rest of the stuff–mostly old family heirlooms, and more books and papers–to Minnesota, my home state, where I like to be when I’m not in France, and where storage rental rates are much less expensive.

At this writing I am in the middle of a  figuring out the actual plan for 1) how to get the things I really need back out of storage; and 2) lower the cost of storing the rest. This is a pretty complicated situation for basically three reasons: 1) the piano; 2) the international nature of the move; and 3) the fact that this move is self-funded, and I do not have unlimited funds. It is not clear yet whether that move of some of the stuff west to Minnesota is going to make sense. And there are many details concerning the moving of things to France that are not clear yet. Bureaucracy is involved. (Stay tuned!)

However, I knew that no matter what happened concerning Steps 2 and 3, Step 1 was crystal clear. Since I had had only 27 days for my Stage 1 downsizing (which flies in the face of the most fundamental piece of advice in our book: Take Your Time! 😦  ), I had not been able to do a really thorough job of sorting. (This is an understatement.) This meant that many things went into storage that would have been dispensed with if I had had more time for the move.  There were even quite a few boxes that were not at all full, and other ridiculous things like that that I just simply couldn’t help.

I attacked Step 1 couple of days after I arrived back in Maryland. The timing was fortuitous, since my older son has just rented his first apartment in New York, so he was able to take some of the things he had in storage out of the locker, and also take some of the household furnishings that I now know I won’t be needing.

I had asked him in advance to set aside the first weekend I was here to come down and help me with the first round of “getting rid of more stuff.” He was in a way the perfect person to help me with this task. Both by temperament and by generational inclination, he is, unlike me, definitely not a “keeper.” On the one hand he is a millennial, and as we have discussed (and has been widely discussed elsewhere), millennials are well known for not wanting to inherit their parents’ stuff. On the other hand he is a sensitive, kind, and patient person who knows when to stop pushing and give his “keeper” mom a break).

Step 1 went very well. On Day 1 we succeeded in getting enough stuff out of the locker that I was able to get into the locker, to deal with whatever else was in there. (This was not really possible until a certain amount of stuff had been taken out and driven to the nearest thrift store.)

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My 9 x 10 storage locker, chock full of stuff

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This is about half of the first round of “redistribution” of stuff: off to the thrift store and the library!

The next day I drove him back to New York. There were many things I encouraged him to take to his new apartment but, typical of a millennial, for the most part he refused them. I did convince him to take with him my mother’s cast-iron skillet; his other grandmother’s garlic press; a couple of pasta bowls; and a quilt made by my grandmother. He also  happily took the almost-new mattress I had left behind.

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My son, with quilt, skillet, garlic press.

His reaction to one antique wine glass that had belonged to my mother helped me decide to cart it away to the thrift shop. “This wine glass was my mother’s,” I said. “It’s really old.” “Ohhh,” he said in what I thought at first was his expression of being impressed. It was not. His facial expression made it clear that to him it was pretty ugly. And I realized I didn’t really think it was all that beautiful myself: it was just old, and my mother’s.

With his permission, and in fact his urging, I was able to get rid of a lot of other things too, including a handmade felt heart mini-pillow he had made for me in about third grade. (Though this was not that easy to do, my  only real regret about this is that I did not think to take a picture of the two of us standing side by side and holding the heart before I did so. 😦 ) Oh well. Next time!

This week I’ve been very busy meeting with international movers, and consulting with domestic movers of pianos and other goods. My coauthor will be posting again in two weeks, and I’ll be back in a month with the next installment of my Downsizing Chronicles, which I hope will be helpful and informative for other people who may be planning similar moves.

In the meantime, here’s wishing you happy spring cleaning, and happy downsizing. And remember our motto: Keep the memories, Get rid of the stuff!  (It’s not as hard to do as you think, especially if you do it in stages 🙂 )

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

We Emptied Our Storage Room!

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My grandparents’ commode

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My grandparents’ pitcher and wash basin

We bid a fond farewell to the old bagel factory that sheltered our family treasures (and our junk)—without judgment—for, well, for more years than I care to count.

As I wrote in a previous post, the reason we have a storage room is common one: We needed space to put things after we emptied my father-in-law’s apartment and yet again after we emptied my childhood home. We added to it by moving in things that we didn’t need at the time but weren’t sure what to do with. An old story, but a familiar one.

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One of my father-in-law’s paintings

The results of our purge.

We donated and donated and donated. Clothes and toys and cartons and cartons of books went to charity. We sold a few things. We gave away as many items as we could. Some of the china went to my daughter’s apartment. We still have some work to do: finding a photography student who could use my husband’s equipment and looking for a museum that might be interested in the antique pitcher and basin.

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My daughter’s toy truck

Lessons learned.

Out of sight, out of mind. We found many things that we didn’t remember putting into storage. An inventory would have helped.

Keep the memories, toss the stuff. Our mantra is so true. I don’t need my father’s books, voracious reader that he was, to help me think of him, or my father-in-law’s paintings, a prolific artist, to remind me of him.

There will always be regrets. A minor one so far: We sold the toy truck for much less than it was worth.

We stored items for too long. We kept things we didn’t really need or want. Why did we keep the room for so long? Perhaps procrastination played a part. And perhaps we found it difficult to deal with the hold that memories have on us.

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A wonderful sight–the empty room

The takeaway.

The big lesson, always, is that people are more important than things. As we say in our book, people who successfully downsize, declutter, or empty a house (or a storage room) come to the realization that the most valuable thing in the house is the life that has been lived there. Everything else is just 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

What You Leave Behind

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What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone but what is woven into the lives of others. – Pericles

And what you leave behind is not what you keep in storage. Wonderful memories are woven into the fabric of my life without any need to keep my mother’s teapot, my father’s books, my mother-in-law’s shell collection, or my father-in-law’s paintings.

After writing about downsizing for more than a decade, from co-writing Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and this blog to giving talks about how to live with less to helping people “Keep the memories, toss the stuff,” I have a confession to make. You guessed it. I have a storage room.

The reason we have a storage room is common one: we needed space to put things after we emptied my father-in-law’s apartment and yet again after we emptied my childhood home. We added to it by moving in things that we didn’t need at the time but weren’t sure what to do with. Sound familiar?

My husband and I decided that it’s now time to get rid of the storage room so we have been going through its contents. Here’s some of what we found there and how we dealt with it—and are continuing to deal with it.

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Toys

Too many of my kids’ toys were put in storage. A dump truck, a talking Alf doll, stuffed toys, Raggedy Ann, a child’s rocking chair.

The truck is on e-Bay. The stuffed toys were donated to charity. We’re still deciding about the rest.

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China

We stored various pieces of china, some of them handed down in my family for several generations.

My mother’s lusterware teapot is on eBay. I haven’t decided yet what to do with my grandmother’s pitcher and basin and other pieces of a boudoir set. I am giving a set of my mother’s dinnerware to my daughter.

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Clothing

For some reason, I kept some not very interesting or particularly good clothing that belonged to my mother, as well as several bridesmaid dresses from my wedding and my sisters’ weddings. I also had some old baby clothes. One piece has a German label in it, which means it probably belonged to my father, so it would be more than 95 years old.

I may look for a collector for the baby clothes. All the other clothing went to charity.

Camera equipment

My husband stored all his darkroom equipment (he hasn’t had his own darkroom in years) as well as a strobe meter and some other photography apparatus.

He is looking for a student who shoots film, not digital, who might want the equipment.

Old suitcases

We had large suitcases from the years when we traveled for several weeks at a time. We donated all of them to charity.

Books

I have a couple of degrees in English. We stored cartons and cartons of books, from a combined six years of college and graduate school, as well as some books from my parents. (I’m not sure how we managed to bring so many heavy boxes to the storage facility.)

And—ta da—I found my high school yearbook! A little late for the reunion but I can now look up classmates I have recently become reacquainted with.

All the books—except my yearbooks and diplomas—went to charity. Once I made that decision, in the storage room, we put the books in the car and drove directly to the thrift store, no stopping at home to second-guess myself. I’m very proud of that but, of course, this was an easier decision than most because the books are replaceable; I can always buy another copy of a book or get it from the library.

So, the purging continues. I will keep you posted about my progress.

As we celebrate Grandparents Day tomorrow, may we honor our grandparents by the values they lived rather than by the stuff they left behind.

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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