What Ever Happened to Darning…(and other thoughts about clothing)

I’m currently reading a very interesting book, called Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter. I will have more to say about this book in a future post, but for now I just want to say that it’s gotten me to thinking about (among other things) clothing. Or more precisely the fabrics that our clothing is made of, and what happens to it when we’re no longer wearing it.

Then this week I ran across a post by an artist in the U.K. named Kate, whose main medium is “reclaimed fabric.” She begins the post, which is called  “Mending Clothes as an Act of Revolution,” by saying “I have often wondered when it was that Western society collectively decided that visibly mended clothes were a mark of reduced status. Of a life worth less. Where a patch or a darn was certainly not acceptable in polite company…”

I have wondered this too! I certainly remember seeing my mother and both of my grandmothers darning socks all the time I was growing up. They would be sitting and chatting, and one (or both) of them would be mending a sock stretched over the left hand while they sewed with the right.

And though I have never taken up the habit myself I have always felt kind of guilty about just tossing holey socks into the garbage. It just doesn’t seem right.

And in fact, in many ways, it isn’t right. That most of us do so now is just one more symptom of a world in which we aren’t thinking enough about what happens to all the things we toss into the garbage once they’re out of our sight.

Because I know it isn’t right to just throw my holey socks away, I usually try to first use them as rags; but the truth is that socks just do not make great rags: they are not tee-shirts!

There’s plenty of advice about how to darn socks on the internet. This gives me a bit of hope that maybe there is more darning going on in the world than it seems.

But is it, though? Is anyone out there still darning their socks? Do you? Do you know anyone who does?

Leaving you with those questions for this week…and hoping to hear from some darning enthusiasts!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

 

Valentines: What to Keep, What to Toss?

fe9c99f4ac2cd4713682563e7775c234--valentine-images-vintage-valentine-cards

Vintage valentine, c. 1950s?

Valentines present–at least for “keepers” like me (and both of my grandmothers, and both of my parents)–a bit of a challenge in downsizing.

On the one hand, it’s important to ask ourselves, can we really keep all of the valentines that were ever given to all of us forever?

(The answer is no.)

On the other hand, after they’ve already been carefully saved for 20, or 30, or 50 (or more!) years, we shouldn’t just carelessly toss them into the garbage, or the recycling bin now. Should we?

(For me, the answer is, once again: no.)

But then what SHOULD we do with all those vintage valentines that were carefully preserved and stored in boxes for decades in our homes?

Well, I can’t tell anyone else what to do, but I can tell anyone who might want to know what I did when faced with this very dilemma a few months ago.

I took all those pretty valentines I came across as I went through the many boxes of papers I’m still going through from my parents’ home. Those pretty valentines that evoked so interestingly changing times and tastes and aesthetics, and sometimes even held bits of evidence of tender feelings. I put them carefully into a big ziplock bag and brought them to a thrift store where I knew someone who collects vintage valentines might be very happy to find them, and give them the respect they deserve.

And I tried not to think about other things that might happen to them. 🙂

The main point is, I found a good possible future life for them: and I am not storing them any longer.

It occurred to me as I thought about what to write about today that this series of questions might be helpful to “keepers” when they are trying to decide which sentimental things to keep, which to toss, and which to bring to another “safe” home.

Here are the questions:

Is it beautiful?

Is it important and meaningful to me (or might it be important and meaningful to someone else in my family?)

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” but the answer to the second question is “no” then you might want to consider taking the item to a thrift store (or wherever), where someone who would appreciate its beauty would be happy to find it.

If the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is yes also–like, hmmm, well–like maybe old love letters–well, then…

I don’t really have to tell you what to do about them do I?

I think (especially if you are a keeper) you will know…

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

 

 

The Wisdom of Wanting Less

This new year of double numbers seems to have provoked thoughts of wanting less, or at least of not wanting more, in many people. Wanting less just seems to be in the zeitgeist. Here are four people who have expressed those thoughts in just the last week or so.

Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and Tribe of Mentors, recently wrote a blog post titled “Finding the One Decision That Removes 100 Decisions (or, Why I’m Reading No New Books in 2020).” The theory behind his decision to not read any new books this year is the challenge to find a single decision that will remove or eliminate many other decisions.

Reading no new books seems like a very daunting prospect for many of us but we can apply the challenge to other parts of our lives. Here are some thoughts on making one decision that eliminates many others: for urbanites, deciding to wear only black clothes; for those with bulging closets, to not buy any new clothes for the year; for those who want to eat better, to eat breakfast and dinner at home on weekdays; for those who sit too much and never get to the gym, to get out for a 30-minute walk every day. What would your decision-to-eliminate-decisions be?

As Jennifer Szalai explains in her review by of Kyle Chayka’s new book The Longing for Less, there are ”two kinds of minimalism: sleek lifestyle branding and enforced austerity.” Chayka admits to being a minimalist, but only “by default,” and explores why the idea of “less is more” keeps resurfacing. Szalai says “the book itself is like an exercise in decluttering, as Chayka cycles through different ideas in order to find those he wants to keep.”

Pointing out much of the excess in our world today, Chayka hopes minimalism might provide an antidote or a balm. It’s encouraging to think of getting rid of stuff, attempting a turn toward minimalism, might be a corrective to the state we’re in now. Is decluttering a balm for you?

In a Here to Help column in the New York Times, Vanessa Friedman responds to a question by a reader who writes that an Amazon search for ‘Women’s Tops’ yielded 20,000 listings over 400 pages and laments the resources used to create such excess. She asks if we consumers can do to try to “force” manufacturers to be more responsible.

Friedman says if consumers want to force the issue with manufacturers, the way to do that is to buy less. She suggests buying better clothes, wearing them more often, and taking care of them by cleaning and repairing them on a regular basis. I think most of us are guilty of buying cheap clothes and then replacing them often. My challenge would be: Can I resist a “bargain” and spend more on quality clothes? Who wants to join me?

In a Critical Shopper column, Jon Caramanica explains that selling your things online is part of modern life. We can all be retailers now. He writes of his selling experiences:

“What hole deep inside me all of this fills isn’t totally clear. What I do know is that when several layers of life seem unpredictable, or unwieldy, it can be gratifying and motivating to sell something, pack it up tight, take it to the post office and know that in short order its going to be put to better use. The benefits are ethical and environmental, and also financial, but mostly psychological.”

I love his list of the benefits of getting rid of our stuff: ethical and environmental and financial and psychological. In what other ways does getting rid of our stuff, selling it online or dropping it off at our local thrift store, provide solace for us?

It’s all part of the wisdom of wanting less, part of working towards owning and caring for less, and part of seeing that our stuff can be used to help others.

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

My Mother, A Keeper par Excellence

My mom, a few years before she died.

This morning when I woke up two thoughts occurred to me as I was groping my way toward full consciousness.

One is that it was my turn today, to post on this blog.

The other one is that this is the day that my mother died, 29 years ago.

And so I decided today’s post would be some kind of tribute to my mother, who I must say was a “keeper” par excellence.

My mom died far too soon. She died far too soon to have the time to read all those newspaper articles she was keeping to read “someday.”

And far too soon to do some of the things my coauthor and I recommend that people do in preparation for the day when they will no longer be around, to make things easier for the ones they leave behind.

She did not have the chance to do any of that. She was only 64 when she died. She worked as a nurse until a few short months before the cancer she had rendered her incapable of working anymore. And by then she was too sick to do anything else.

But she had done what she could: not about downsizing, exactly, but certainly about “keeping the memories,” when she still had the time and energy to do so. She put little notes, usually written on masking tape, and attached to the bottom surface of various pieces of pottery, jewelry boxes, and the like. Little notes that would let us know why some of the things she kept were special. Little notes that became pretty special themselves when we found them after she was gone…

This whole thing about downsizing can be pretty complicated. I wrote about some of those complicated feelings I had, especially about my mother, a couple of years after our book was first published, in an essay that was published in the Christian Science Monitor, a newspaper she loved. That essay ended with these words:

Once, when I was in my 20s and home for a visit, I was trying to find an iron and ironing board in the maddening clutter of the place. I’m now sorry to say that I spoke harsh words to my mother about how hard it was to complete the simplest action in that house. What I said was true, but it was not kind, and it was not the most important thing that could be said about my parents’ home.

I had the chance to say the most important thing in the book I ended up writing after the experience of getting rid of all that accumulated stuff. I dedicated the book to my mother, “who filled our home with many, many things–but most of all, with love.”


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

What Most Of Us Learned In Kindergarten—Or Should Have, Anyway

Fall always seems like the start of a new year to me, partly because I loved being a student (oh, so many years ago) and looked forward to the start of the school year and partly because it is a new year for me as my birthday is in the beginning of September.

What lessons did I learn in kindergarten and the years beyond that still apply to my life today?

Think before you act.

It’s always a good idea to think through a project, downsizing or otherwise, before getting started. Look at things dispassionately, exercise reason and patience. Laugh at your own foibles, then act in spite of them!

Be considerate of others’ feelings.

Life works so much more smoothly when we’re sensitive to one another and recognize that each of us is a different person with different ways of getting tasks done and different ways of celebrating. Talking about your needs and expectations ahead of time always helps. Patience, patience, patience—that’s a lesson I really need to learn.

Take your time.

You don’t have to rush through everything—or anything, for that matter. I learned recently that dopamine, the chemical in our brain that contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, is produced when we are looking for something, not when we achieve it. It’s the journey, not the goal, that makes us feel better.

Things worth doing are worth doing well.

If we take our time and think before we act, we will do a better job. Frequent breaks help, too. Recent research shows that taking two naps per week actually helps us live longer.

Share with others.

Life is about sharing, the good things and the more onerous tasks. Sharing is both enjoying the good things in life with others and dividing the burdens with others. Sharing is taking responsibility together.

Appreciate your family.

Family is anyone you love unconditionally, shortcomings and all, even when it’s not always easy to do so, and that includes blood relatives, friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers in life. Family is the group in your life that provides emotional support and shares your interests and values. As Mother Teresa said, “The openness of our hearts and minds can be measured by how wide we draw the circle of what we call family.”

Keep your priorities straight.

It’s always worth reminding yourself that it’s not the stuff you accumulate but the people you meet that matter. All the meaning and the memories in life—all that is important is your life – is inside you, not in the things you have.

Good work is deeply rewarding.

Chores, obligations, hard work, doing for others, maybe learning something new about a process or about ourselves—all of this is gratifying. As we get older we can make a resolution to remove and improve as a way to see more in life.

What did you learn in kindergarten—or last week—that helps you today?

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 Downsizing Story: Tom and Anita

Two years ago Tom and Anita decided to retire from their jobs: Anita had worked for many years for the federal government, and Tom was in the aerospace industry. They also decided to sell their sprawling, 6,00-square-foot Tudor home in suburban Washington D.C. As it is for many people, downsizing was for them a somewhat tumultuous adventure. Two and a half months after they had finally settled into a much smaller home (2,800 square feet), Anita kindly agreed to share their story with the readers of this blog. Our interview follows. Janet Hulstrand

Janet: How long had you been in your home before you went through your big downsizing experience? When and why did you decide to make this move?

Anita: First of all, when we bought our house we weren’t buying just a house: we were really looking for a particular lifestyle. We wanted our home to be a charming, green sanctuary, yet it had to also be urban and walkable. When we brought our twin babies home from the hospital it was to a Capitol Hill rowhouse that I had begun renovating as a single person where I lived with a giant Olde English Sheepdog. Somewhere along the way amidst renovations and both floor and wall demolitions, I met Tom. We married and had twin daughters. The sheepdog was delighted as his loving pack grew. And I got big, fast!

It took us two years to find our charming Tudor home, with a spring-fed creek, flower boxes brimming with seasonal delights, a bridge, and a garden. Inside there was room for lots of books, and nooks and crannies in which to read. We lived happily in this home for more than 25 years. We renovated, decorated, and it doubled in size, Eventually the house was larger than what we needed: unbelievably, our daughters grew up and moved away, the sheepdog died, and the house needed a new bustling family.

Janet: What was the experience like for you, in a word? Or maybe in three words?

Anita: The experience defies words. But Emotional Purging Tornado comes to mind. It was a tornado of emotions as we desperately went about getting rid of possessions. It took over a year to get the house on the market: hundreds of books, gone; armoires, gone; bookshelves, gone; baby grand, gone; tons of clothes, gone; CDs, gone; furniture and orientals, gone; paintings, gone. Finally a slimmed-down, Pottery-Barned version of our whitewashed house went on the market, and then it didn’t sell for three whole summer months. So we took it off the market while we traveled the world. When we came back we put it on the market again in the spring, and this time it sold in two days, with a bidding war.

Janet: What was most difficult about the experience?

Anita: I think the most difficult thing was realizing that the life I had always wanted, I had had: the family, the dog, the white picket fence, and now it was over. I never imagined this incredible sense of loss I would feel: yet it was a success: our daughters grew up and became who they were meant to be; and it took them away from home.

Janet: I know that at a certain point you were planning to put all of your things in storage and travel for a while, but you changed your mind about that. Why did that change?

Anita: After we took our house off the market, we traveled for 100 days straight: 12 countries, 22 flights, and we loved it. But after the traveling was over, we had a home to come home to. We had planned to put everything in storage and do it again, but the realization that we would not have an address, or a home, a place to put the few things we were keeping felt logistically complicated. And, financially, having some money in a house made sense to us.

Janet: Do you have any words of advice, comfort, or wisdom for boomers about to take this step?

Anita: My new advice is, don’t do it: die in the house and let the kids do it, like my parents did! It’s painful, exhausting, and two and a half months after the hell of moving, I still can’t bring myself to drive by my old house. I cried at the closing and my real estate agent cried when she saw me cry. There were so many happy memories attached to that house: and crises, too. So, there’s that.

Janet: What do you think about Marie Kondo’s advice now? Did your opinion of her and her advice change in the process of this move?

Anita: I did read the book. I’m still waiting for the joy! I actually was mad at her.

Janet: How do you feel generally now, as you are beginning to settle into your new home? Are some of the feelings of loss, sadness, disorientation dissipating? Is it “going to be okay”?

Anita: Ask me in a year. It’s definitely going to be okay. I have a ton less house to maintain, our yard is half the size, the house is nice, that’s a plus; but it has needed a lot of work getting it to my standards. I’ve had workmen in here nonstop. I do think this was the right choice. We could have moved anywhere, but nowhere stood out. We could have put everything in storage for a year and done 365 more days of travel. We could have moved into our 34-foot sailboat, or we could have bought a bigger sailboat. But we didn’t know what we wanted. For the first time in our lives we could have done anything, but in the end, this move felt right for now. There were so many choices to make, and only six weeks to get out of the house. Maybe you end up making the right choice by listening to your collective gut.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

Reflections on Downsizing and Decluttering: Savoring the Process

I’ll be the first to admit that most of the time downsizing and decluttering feels like pretty much the LAST thing you’d think of when you think of an experience for savoring.

A delicious meal. A perfect massage. The taste of fresh strawberries that really taste like strawberries melting on your tongue. A sunset so beautiful you wish you could press “pause,” but you wouldn’t really want to do that because with each passing minute it becomes a new kind of beautiful.

Those are the kinds of things more likely to match with the word “savoring” in my mind.

But downsizing? And decluttering? I don’t think so….

And yet.

One of the things that has always bothered me a bit in the conversation surrounding this topic is the often stated, seemingly obvious “truth” that people who leave lots of things for their heirs to go through are at the very least leaving them with an entirely unsavory task, and that this reeks of at the very least a kind of selfish irresponsibility.

And yet. As the child of two parents who left us with plenty of things to go through after they died, and a brother who left my sister and me an even more bewildering collection of unwieldy possessions to go through, I have for the most part stayed out of this conversation, harboring my own private thoughts about it.

Well, almost. I did write this about my brother and his stuff.

But here is what I would like to stay about this now, for what it’s worth.

I would like to say that while I agree entirely that what my parents and my brother left for us to go through could certainly quite accurately be described as “a burden.” There’s no denying that.

But to me this “burden” has not been entirely a negative experience, not at all. In fact, there have been many parts of this process that has unfolded actually over a number of years, that have been worthy of savoring.

There have been many little items that have, shall we say “sparked joy” as I came upon them. Some of them have sparked sadness also, but often along with the sadness they have brought a kind of poignant comfort to me, or to others. (And not all of them were saved by my parents. Some of them were saved by me (a chip off the old blocks if ever there were one!)

A few of the things I came across in my last round of going through the things in my storage locker were these: my father’s report card from grade school (back in the 1930s, in a little one-room country schoolhouse in rural Minnesota); a letter I had saved from a dear friend who is no longer alive, in which she had lovingly and beautifully written about her children when they were young (I sent the letter to her children); a little ceramic mouse that had been a “stocking stuffer” gift from my mother-in-law years ago, and which brought comfort to her son at a time when he needed comfort, and a reminder of his mother, desperately.

Going through these things one by one, piece by piece, is often a tedious process. The thing I like the least about it is this feeling that I am being sucked into the past, a past from which I’ll never escape. It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling, and certainly not worth savoring.

But parts of it are: those moments when you feel love expressed many years earlier in the form of a letter; or a little ceramic mouse; or a lump of brown and gray clay fashioned by a little boy, who had brought it to his mother one day while she was working, handed it to her, and said, “Mommy, this is a butterfly.”

Those are the moments I savor, and I always will. And because they are there to be savored, I think the tedium, all the tedium is worth it, really.

 Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

%d bloggers like this: