• An Important Lesson

    “Throwers” relish clearing out and will empty a house quickly; “keepers” want to preserve special things as well as memories, and will linger over the process. People who balance these attributes have come to the realization that the most valuable thing in a house is the life that has been lived there. Read more about how “keepers” and “throwers” work together to downsize and declutter.
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    “…a downsizing bible” Oregon Home
    "...some items have special sentimental meaning... Huffington Post
    "clearing out the clutter...a wonderful gift to your family..."USA Today
    "sharing tips for getting the job done..."PBS’s Next Avenue
    "Downsizing: What to do with all that stuff?" Forbes
    “…discussions [help] avert misunderstandings…” The New York Times
    “…creative ways…of maintaining peace while dividing the family heirlooms” BloombergBusinessweek
    “practical suggestions for sorting through a lifetime of items…” The Washington Times
    “…about memories, feelings and people…” Chicago Tribune
    “tips on preserving relations and memories while sorting clutter...” The Salt Lake Tribune
    "lessons from two who have 'been there, done that'..."Your Organizing Business
    “…a useful resource...” Senior Living Institute
    “…help is on the way…” Illinois Public Media
    …the only book mentioned in the Comprehensive Checklist for Downsizing a Home Organize and Downsize

  • On Our Bookshelf

    Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand
    Buried in Treasures by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost, and Gail Steketee
    Caring for Your Family Treasures by Jane S. Long and Richard W. Long
    Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
    Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin
    Sell, Keep, or Toss? How to Downsize a Home... by Harry L. Rinker
    Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate? by Marlene S. Strum

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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.”


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.









A New Years Reflection on Gift-Giving


January 6 is the “twelfth day of Christmas,” which for many people around the world marks the end of the Christmas season. It seems, therefore, a reasonable time to reflect upon the whole gift-giving aspect of the holidays, especially because of its connection in Christian tradition with the story of the three kings who presented the Baby Jesus with their gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

When children are small, in families that enjoy those few precious years of their believing in Santa Claus, there’s no way to avoid at least a bit of frenzy before Christmas. But the joy on their faces on Christmas morning makes it all worthwhile, and after all a certain amount of “frenzy” is a major and unavoidable part of parenting young children, period. It’s just a little more intense in the weeks before Christmas.

In recent years, with my boys both now adults, I have been very happy that our family has been able to minimize and sideline the importance of gift-giving, which to me takes the pressure off, and makes more room to enjoy all the other wonderful things the season has to offer: the music, the food, the gathering together; and for many people (including me) the religious aspect at the heart of it all.

Downplaying the importance and centrality of gift-giving takes a great deal of stress and also financial anxiety off of everyone, and really does allow time to enjoy everything else about Christmas, whether it’s the decorated store windows,  seasonal concerts, or just time spent with each other, baking, ice skating, reading Christmas stories, or visiting a hospital or nursing home to share Christmas cheer with those who could really use some.

We usually have a few presents under the tree that we open on Christmas morning, and there are stockings filled with either big or small treats, plus the requisite orange and walnuts in each stocking, a nod to the gifts my Mom received in her childhood years during the Depression, a tradition that she passed on to me, and I have passed on to my sons. It’s not a bad way to recognize and appreciate some of the everyday blessings of our lives that we tend to take for granted, and know that not everyone, everywhere has always been so lucky.

Then we go shopping together after the holidays, and are able to benefit both from a less frantic atmosphere in the stores, the lack of time pressure, and great sales. (Also, for the most part my sons pick out what they want, rather than having to exchange the things I thought they might want, and was wrong about.)

But it wasn’t always so.

Quite a few years ago, before I had children, I found myself in the Macy’s store at Herald Square a few days before Christmas, unhappily looking for a gift for someone. I had no idea what to get for them; the frantic crowds and the overworked, impatient clerks seemed to be all pretty unhappy too, or at least under great stress; and much as I love all kinds of Christmas music, the music playing over the loudspeakers was NOT cheering me up, it was enervating; all I wanted to do was get OUT OF THERE as soon as I possibly could.

But I couldn’t, because I had to find a present first. I was so miserable!

In that moment, I quite clearly remember thinking, “If I don’t find a different way of going about this, I’m going to end up hating Christmas.”

That is when I started doing most of my shopping by catalogue, and for the most part staying out of stores as much as possible, especially in the weeks prior to Christmas. And for the most part, this has solved the problem, and I have been able to retain my deep love of Christmas and the Christmas season.

I have mixed feelings about minimizing the aspect of gift-giving, though. I know how thoughtful and caring it is to spend time looking for meaningful gifts for friends and family, and I certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness of those who have done so for me and my children. On the other hand, generally speaking the whole mad rush has gone into some kind of insane overdrive, hasn’t it?

So what can any of us do? How can we retain the custom of thoughtful gift-giving, without driving ourselves crazy? Here are a few tips to consider for next year.

  1. Buy throughout the year. A friend of mine recently wrote about how this is what she does. Throughout the year, whenever she is out shopping and she sees something that she knows so-and-so-would like, she makes the purchase and puts it aside. (This is probably not going to work very well for me, since shopping is one of the things I really do not like doing. However, I could at least take some time to browse online from time to time without making myself miserable, and I intend to try to do that this year, so that I will be sure to be prepared with a few special things for the special people in my life when December rolls around.)
  2. Buy after Christmas. As described above, this is what we (mostly) do now in our family. It’s less expensive, less stressful, and a better way for people to get the things they really need/want/can use. (I’ve always found the spectacle of people making all those returns and exchanges the day after Christmas to be just a little depressing, don’t you?)
  3. Give gifts that make a difference, as outlined here, in our last post.

In the last few weeks, we also came across some thoughtful essays written by people who have found ways to celebrate the holidays with either no gifts at all, or minimizing them, and we shared them on Facebook and Twitter. In the weeks ahead we’ll be focusing on other topics, like organizing (it’s National Organizing Month now, you know!), spring cleaning, and other topics related to downsizing and decluttering.

We hope you’ll consider liking us on Facebook, or following us on Twitter this year if you haven’t already. It’s a great place for us to share articles that we know our audience will enjoy, and we love hearing from you in the comments on our Facebook page too.

With all best wishes for a happy, healthy, peaceful 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.






‘Tis the Season to Give…with Gifts That Make a Difference

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.  ~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

In this season of giving, there’s no better gift than giving back. Keeping in mind that most of us have too much stuff, really, way too many material things, we relish the idea of giving gifts that can be consumed, or used up, or ones that will help others.

Here’s our guide to what we call alternative, maybe subversive gift giving – subversive in that they don’t accumulate in your house later.

Family items

One of the people we interviewed for our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, told us how her mother gave family items, family heirlooms, as gifts for birthdays and anniversaries. She said she didn’t want her family members to wait to inherit them from her and preferred that they enjoy the items now. We agree, and think it’s an idea worth considering for the holidays. And don’t forget to share the stories behind the objects.

Food and drink

We love to receive gifts of homemade food or something we wouldn’t necessarily buy for ourselves. Things like good chocolate, wine, home-baked banana bread, homemade pickles, a jar filled with dry ingredients and a favorite soup recipe, a make-your-own spice mix, an assortment of tea or coffee, a hot chocolate kit. Who doesn’t love food made with love.

And you could make a recipe book, a compilation of family recipes handed down over the years, for each member of your family.


Giving a gift of an experience lasts far longer than a new scarf or gloves. Gifts of outings such as a camping trip or dinner at a lovely restaurant, a horseback ride, a massage, a museum membership, a bike rental, a yoga class, music lessons, or a workshop in their field of interest.

Sharing your talents

Use your skills like knitting, crochet, and woodworking, to create one-of-kind gifts. Or, your skills are more modest, you could frame a loved one’s wedding announcement or diploma, get seeds or bulbs for an avid gardener, or create a photo album commemorating a family event this past year.

A gift of time

Homemade gift certificates allow you to offer to help others in a festive way – and you get to spend time with friends and family while getting some chores done. You could offer to help with yard work or planting, make a dinner, bake a cake for a special occasion, offer babysitting to new parents, or take your grandkids out for ice cream, or help someone sort through their clothes or books.

Adopt a family

You can help those less fortunate by purchasing gifts of clothes and food for those in need, or adopt a soldier who is serving overseas and send notes and gifts.

Make a donation

Donating to a worthy cause is a gift that gives back. There are so many places to give but here’s a list of a few to consider.

A good place to look for creative programs is New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof’s annual gift guide. Here’s this year’s list.

Reach Out and Read is a literacy program for the disadvantaged that uses doctors to encourage parents to read to their children. During checkups, doctors hand out free books and “prescribe” reading to the child.

The Environmental Defense Fund helps to find climate solutions. They “create solutions that let nature and people prosper.” Their $1-for-$1 gift match offer, in effect until the end of December, doubles the impact of your gift.

The National Audubon Society’s Adopt a Bird program will send a plush toy bird as a gift for adopting a bird.

Heifer International helps make an impact on world hunger and poverty by finding sustainable solutions. You can donate an animal, help promote women’s empowerment, provide basic needs, or fund a project.

Help domestic animals by giving to the ASPCA.

It’s difficult to feel festive when you’re hungry. Feeding America supports a nationwide network of Food Banks and is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity. For every dollar donated, the Food Banks help provide 11 meals to people in need.

The best way to celebrate the season is to practice gratitude. Be happy and thankful for what you have. Recently spotted on a T-shirt: “Happiness is homemade” and I think that’s a great attitude for the holidays. Someone will always have more than you do. You could always have more than you do. But studies have shown that being thankful for the things you have, for friends and family, is mentally freeing, makes you calmer and more loving, and leads to a more peaceful life.

Wishing you and your family a peaceful holiday season.

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

Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday


Thanksgiving is almost here…

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the fact that despite vigorous and unrelenting attempts to do so, to me it seems to have largely resisted the attempts to commercialize it, and has retained its quintessential purity and simplicity. It is really fundamentally about gathering with friends and family and being grateful for the gifts, the blessings of our lives.

For that reason I have never really liked the nickname “Turkey Day.” I love to linger on the word “thanks-giving” and, much as I love turkey and all the trimmings, I prefer to keep the focus on the giving thanks.

The very next day the commercial world goes into high gear with Black Friday: and while I understand the appeal of the opportunity to save big going into the holiday season, I have never understood why it has to start so early in the day. Why should people have to get up at the crack of dawn the very next day to shop? What, the bosses couldn’t give both shoppers and store employees a break, and start the sales a little bit later in the day? Give people a little bit of time to enjoy the afterglow of Thanksgiving Day?

Well, who knows, perhaps that will evolve in time. Certainly in the last few years there has been some pushback to a day that was becoming a bit frenzied to say the least. Many stores have begun reversing the trend to start the big sales on Thanksgiving Day itself; many parks, and cultural and community centers have begun offering alternative things to do, all of them wholesome, many of them free, for those who may decide that they’d like to avoid all the crowds, and make the day after Thanksgiving a “Buy Nothing Day” instead.

There is also Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday, when shoppers are urged to support small local businesses. And there is Cyber Monday, which gives everyone a chance to get some great bargains online going into the season.

But what is Giving Tuesday, and where and when did it start?

Giving Tuesday is relatively new: it began in 2012, and it is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Giving Tuesday is a day to focus on supporting educational, humanitarian, and cultural organizations around the world.

Like so many other wonderful things, Giving Tuesday began in New York City, specifically at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, at the 92nd Street Y.

This link will take you to the part of the Giving Tuesday site that tells you what you can do as an individual to become involved in supporting organizations near you—or halfway around the world.

Giving Tuesday happens to come at a time of year that is advantageous both to the organizations  that need support, and taxpayers  who want to increase their tax-deductible  donations before the end of the year.

So all around, it’s a win-win situation—especially for those who benefit from others reaching into their pockets, or giving of their time and talents,  to help make the world a better place in a variety of ways.

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving–and, however you choose to spend the days that follow–a safe, healthy, and joyful start to the holiday season.

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







Looking for Ways to Make Money While Decluttering?

We were honored and pleased to be asked recently, as the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and this blog, to share our thoughts about decluttering for an article titled “15 Ways to Make Some Extra Money.”

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Here’s the link to the article: https://www.wpdiamonds.com/ways-to-make-money/

If you scroll down past the infographic (which has some great ideas, by the way!) you’ll see our place in the piece. Many thanks to WP Diamonds for helping us spread the word about our book and our blog–and for inviting us to share some of the wisdom we’ve gathered along the way with their readers.

We’ll be back next week with our next post–in the meantime, wishing all a good, safe, pleasant weekend!

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



On My Reading List: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson


Well, this “coming soon” title has definitely caught my eye, not only because of my Swedish-American roots, but because the title of the book seems—to me anyway—ever-so-slightly ironic/sardonic, as well as obviously quite provocative. (Those Swedes, they don’t mess around! 🙂 )

Reviewed this week by Jura Koncius in the Washington Post, the book, which is scheduled for publication in the U.S. in January, sounds like yet another gentle pushing back at—or at least moderating influence over—the Marie Kondo “magic of tidying up” tidal wave that has swept the nation in the past few years. The publisher describes The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning as “a charming, practical, and unsentimental approach” to downsizing and decluttering, which sounds either helpful or frightening, depending I suppose, on one’s perspective—that is, as we have discussed in our book, on whether the reader of the book is a “keeper” or a “thrower.”

It’s interesting to me that this book comes from Sweden. I have often thought about the fact that within a few short generations my ancestors, who arrived in the U.S. with nothing more than a couple of trunks, a lot of courage, and the determination to succeed in a new land the way they hadn’t been able to in the old one, ended up with big houses, garages, attics, barns, and so on, crammed full of stuff that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren tended to feel very attached to, but were not quite sure what to do with. I have wondered if it is in part the fact that there was that lingering and painful historical memory of having had to leave everything behind in Sweden that fueled part of the fierce resistance to letting go of things that is very familiar to me as a Swedish-American Minnesotan.

So the explanation in the Washington Post article that “death cleaning”—that is, doing most of the getting rid of things before you die, so your survivors don’t have to it—is a very Swedish thing (“almost biological” says the Swedish ambassador to the U.S.) and the author’s view that it’s “not fair” to leave that task to others to me feels on the one hand surprisingly un-Swedish (that is, the getting-rid-of-things part), and on the other hand very Swedish indeed (the-importance-of-fairness part).

In any case, I’m looking forward to reading this book. And I imagine we’ll be letting you know more about how well it complements our approach to downsizing—or doesn’t?—later. So stay tuned for more…

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

More on the Limits of Sparking Joy


Photo by Janet Hulstrand. c 2015

Last year I wrote about Marie Kondo’s great success, about my skepticism in approaching her books, and about my surprise that I found her advice to be more sensitive toward and respectful of the “keepers” of this world than I thought it would be.

But at the time, I didn’t really admit that I was basically pretty uncomfortable with her famous phrase “sparking joy.” To me the whole “sparking joy” thing just seemed a little bit too facile. To me that phrase did not really seem like it would be a very useful mantra to use when trying to figure out what to keep and what to let go of.

One reason for this is that to be honest, it is very hard for me to joyful at all when I am immersed in the task of downsizing. Getting rid of things is not really something I enjoy a whole lot: it is something I do because I know I must.

Another reason is that, when I’m not in a bad mood because I’m trying to downsize, way too many of my things spark joy. For example, this book:


This book is called Sailor Dog, and it was absolutely one of my favorite favorite books when I was a little girl. I loved this book, and I particularly loved these two pages. So. Although this book has always sparked joy in me, and always will, when I was working on emptying out my storage locker last spring, I knew it had to go. So I asked my son to take a picture of my favorite pages, and I just kept the photo. That worked just fine for me.

On the other hand, what you see below is one of the things I did keep, and it does not spark joy at all for me. What it sparks is sadness about the younger brother who wrote this letter to Santa when he was a little boy; about the fact that he died too young, and that he never really found the happiness in life I wish he could have found; and that he is gone now, and I miss him.

Still. I kept this letter when I found it in his storage locker after he died. (And I wrote about the experience of finding it here.) And I put it in our family’s book of Christmas-time remembrances. And I treasure it.


So you see? For me, this whole notion that you would keep only the things that “spark joy,” and that this would pretty much solve the problem is problematic, to say the least.

Sometimes when I am speaking to groups about downsizing, I am asked about Marie Kondo’s book, and about the concept of “sparking joy.”

What I usually say is that apparently for a lot of people that advice has been extremely helpful, and for them, that’s a wonderful thing.

But that if it doesn’t really work for you, or doesn’t seem to help, there are lots of other ways to manage to get rid of the things you don’t need, and don’t want anymore.

And that you can always just listen to yourself too. Most people don’t need anyone else’s advice when it comes to making these decisions, not really. And even if they do, they appreciate having the chance to make the final decisions about what to keep and what to let go, and why, and how, themselves.

But you might want to consider buying our book. People have told us it’s been very helpful for them. Even though we never once used the words “sparking joy.” 🙂

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