Downsizing: Is It Comforting to Have a Partner to Help?

We wrote in our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, and often say in our posts that it’s a good idea to get help when downsizing and decluttering. But what makes a person a good helper and what is the best way to make use of their help?

The person who helps could be your best friend or a sibling but sometimes it’s better to work with someone who has a little distance from the task at hand, someone who knows you but who has a little more perspective on the situation.

A person who helps in whatever way should be kind and nonjudgmental and on a similar wavelength as you are. It’s not helpful to hear “Oh, just get rid of that,” when you’re contemplating something you want to keep, or “You couldn’t possibly get rid of that,” when you’re thinking of letting something go. The person you choose should offer companionship and encouragement, not make decrees. A partner can also help you minimize regrets by allowing you the time to think through your decisions.

Whether you’re a “keeper or a thrower” – and most likely, if you’re reading this post, you are a keeper – you can gain insight from someone whose view is just slightly different than yours.

A helper can be just an extra pair of hands, helping to throw out the trash and take the donated items to their respective places. Or a helper can be a mental or emotional “pair of hands,” someone who helps keep you focused and offers support, and helps keep you from procrastinating. A helper can also help provide a deadline, or at least a schedule. Making appointments, weekly or otherwise, with a friend or helper is creating a schedule for your decluttering.

As you break down the job of decluttering into manageable parts, it helps to match the helper with the task you’re working on.

If you’re sorting through your clothes, for instance, you could ask a friend whose taste you admire, to help you decide what looks good on you and you’ll want to keep from what doesn’t quite fit or is out of date and you can give away.

If you’re sorting through books, you can ask for help from a friend who is a book lover but who is a little less sentimental than you are. Someone who can say of the fiction, “Are you really going to reread this?” or of the nonfiction, “If you need this information, you can always look it up.”

The task of sorting through papers, financial and medical, may be too private to share with a friend but it would be helpful to read about or discuss with friends the length of time you need to keep certain papers and what kinds of filing systems other people use. The goal of paper sorting is to keep only what you have to and to file it in such a way that you can retrieve it when you need it. A friend who’s organized may help you come up with filing categories that work for you.

Having a calendar of events, or someone who can keep you abreast of such events, can help. Before your town’s annual free shredding day, you can get your papers together. In preparation for your town’s tag sale, you can go through your clothes closet. If your local thrift shop has an annual spring event, you can get your giveaway items together to drop them off.

Time also helps. With enough time, you can decide whether an item is something you really want to keep or something you can give away. With time to think about it, I was able to let go of a favorite vase of my mother’s. And sometimes the wisdom of others, even people of different times and different places, can help give you perspective. See posts about that here and here.

At the very least, but also in some ways the very most, a person you’re comfortable spending organizing time with is there for you, not for your stuff and not for decluttering, but for you. Just keeping you company and allowing you space to work and offering moral support is an act of friendship, an almost sacred act. We would all be wise to accept and welcome such support.

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 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.

Creative Downsizing: Selling a Collection for a Cause

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Sara Somers, wearing her (signed!) Frank Thomas jersey, with Dennis Eckersley.

Sara Somers is a retired psychotherapist from Oakland, California. Three years ago, after  vacationing in Paris, she began the process of moving her home base there. She is currently back in California, preparing for the next stage of her international move. When I read about a unique approach she had come up with for dealing with her collection of baseball memorabilia, I wanted to know more, and thought her story might inspire others who are contemplating downsizing, or who are already in the process. Sara kindly consented to answer my questions via e-mail: our exchange follows.   (Questions by Janet Hulstrand)

Thanks for doing this, Sara! First of all, why have you been downsizing?

I started downsizing seriously when I was packing up my apartment in Paris to move back to California for four months. It was a shock when I saw all the STUFF I had accumulated over the period of just two and a half years. Instead of loving all my purchases, I was hating the growing pile: it started to resemble some kind of monster, and I hated the time it was taking me to deal with it. It actually paralyzed me for a few days.

Once I got back to California, I saw the exact same problem in the hidden areas of my house. Everything had been put into storage: those storage areas were bursting at the seams with things I didn’t even remember that I had.

I seem to be the only person surprised at this knowledge. I think my friends are all saying “It’s about time she acknowledged this.”

When did you begin your baseball memorabilia collection? And how big is (was) it?

I have been a true baseball fan since 1987. I lost what memorabilia I had in the Big Oakland Firestorm of 1991. Some part of me thinks that when you lose everything, the need to replace it all with twice the amount takes over. Since 1991, I have collected mostly Oakland Athletics things. However, as I learned more about baseball and its history, my collection expanded to include the baseball greats. I went several times to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and to a few baseball shows. These are places where memorabilia is bought, sold, and traded. I didn’t really think about what I was doing. Learning the history was a great source of joy, and I somehow convinced myself that having something tangible would make it that much more real and memorable. I think that a large part of the collecting was a way of being different than my other baseball friends. Having something to talk about, to show people, and to brag about. I love talking baseball, and I love that I know so much more than the average person.

I would guess that the bobbleheads, signed baseballs, bats, jerseys, bases, programs, etc., take up about half of what I am selling. The other half is made up of T-shirts, many of them signed, and also jackets, stuffed animals, and books, lots of books!

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What gave you the idea to sell the collection, and donate the proceeds to organizations you want to support? Has it been hard to part with the items in the collection? Will you keep one or two items for yourself?

When I got to California in early January and my jet lag wore off, I began to experience the depression about the new era of politics that most of my friends had been feeling since November 9. It was a deep depression that caused me to feel extremely helpless and powerless. Since I write a blog, I decided to write about my state of being, and I came to the same conclusion that most of my friends had gotten to weeks before: the only antidote to the depression is action.

I had no idea what I could do, as I am scheduled for surgery in two weeks. Then, while meditating, the inspiration hit me: I could sell my baseball collection and all that goes with it. I’m sure that since I’ve  also been downsizing, somewhere in my unconscious, the two things intersected, but prior to this moment, I was not thinking about selling the baseball things. I hadn’t yet gotten to the place of wondering what to keep and what to throw out.

I decided to pick two organizations to support that I knew were going to lose federal funding if the wind keeps blowing the way it has been. One of the organizations I chose to support is Planned Parenthood: this organization is a gift to every girl, boy, and family if they take advantage of what is available. The lives of many of our loved ones would be in great danger if Planned Parenthood disappeared, and without a doubt would make life miserable for many women.The immigration issue is also close to my heart, as my father’s family immigrated here from Russia. Living in Paris, I also periodically see those who have escaped Syria, and hear heartbreaking stories.

It hasn’t been too hard to let go of things. And it’s fun watching people find things that bring them happiness, especially when everything is so cheap. I decided today that I will keep a 1989 Oakland A’s World Series bat signed by Tony LaRussa, who was the manager of the A’s then. The A’s beat the Giants in four games in what has now become known as the Earthquake Series. An earthquake hit the Bay Area in the middle of the World Series!

I will also keep the cover of a Sports Illustrated magazine showing Dallas Braden jumping after he pitched a perfect game (there are only 21 of those in baseball history). It is signed by Braden and his catcher.

What kind of response have you had from friends, and strangers, to this project? Has anyone wanted to buy the memorabilia but not donate to the organizations you are choosing to support? If so, how did you handle that?

Within days of announcing on Facebook that I was going to do this, I realized I had to have a separate page just for the memorabilia. People’s responses have been extremely warm, cheering me on. To my knowledge, I have had only one ugly post on the page. The fighter in me wanted to defend my actions, and the causes I’m supporting, but I decided that’s a battle no one can win, so I just deleted the post. How simple!

A lot of the younger men that have wanted to purchase objects have asked for a “deal” if they buy a lot. I did my research on eBay and I am selling things very cheaply. I explain that I am not in the profit-making business, I am just raising money and that is why everything is so cheap. So far, that has been accepted. And by the way, I have raised almost $1100 in just over a week!

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What do you hate most, and what do you love most, about downsizing?

What I hate most is the time it takes to move things around—and that is what I have been doing until now—just moving everything around. When I was moving to Paris, it took me several months to make my home in Oakland clean and simple, but I was just moving everything  into storage. I couldn’t throw things out. Now two and a half years have passed, and it is easy to ask myself “Did you miss this? Did you even remember that you had it?” It is still hard. I HATE throwing something perfectly good and useable out. So I am having a garage sale, and what doesn’t sell will go to charity. All of this takes time. Time that I hope to use in a completely different way when I finish all this!

What I love about downsizing is looking forward to simplicity. A friend sent me Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy. I have read the first part, and the first instruction was to visualize my ideal space. It’s not so different from what I have had. I like the warmth of a home with well-loved things that  bring me joy scattered here and there. What hopefully will be different after I’m done with all this is that there will be enough space to really enjoy each thing and not be overwhelmed by the amount. And there won’t be anything in storage!

I also look forward to the fact that cleaning the house will take a lot less time and will be that much easier.

What I neither hate nor love, but find very hard to do, is to not pause over things as I rediscover them. The author of the book says absolutely do not do that, don’t spend half the day looking at photographs of the past. I can understand that. My inclination is to reminisce, and then each thing is that much harder to throw out. And then the time is gone, and I can’t get it back.

Do you have any tips or advice for those just beginning the process of downsizing, or those who are perhaps dreading it?

I am probably the last person in the world to give advice about this. However, I am sure of two things that are true for me:
1—Have someone else there to keep you focused, and to be harsh. They aren’t attached to any of your stuff, and will help you make good decisions.
2—Get some instruction, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I had been at the downsizing for about three weeks when I received the book Spark Joy from my friend. This is not a minimalist book: the word is never mentioned. Ms. Kondo gives very clear instructions and asks terrific questions, and I feel a renewed spark of energy to continue at what for me is a massive job. And, as with all things instructive: Take what you need and leave the rest!

I will let you know how it all progresses. My goal is to get rid of 50% of what’s in the house!

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

Decluttering: A Soupçon of Insight, a Splash of Awareness, and a Morsel of Understanding

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Getting rid of the clutter, becoming more organized, and having less stuff is as much about life as it is about our living rooms. Here’s some more wisdom from the ages from a variety of people, some famous, some not.

Having less stuff helps … with everything.

“Decluttering goes beyond possessions—you make peace with your past, take control of your present, set course for your future.” – Francine Jay

Getting organized is contagious.

Julie Morgenstern tweeted: “The act of creating space in any one area fuels your ability to clear out space across many realms.”

Just start.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

There is no “right” moment.

“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.” – John Henry Newman

No need for panic. You can always make a different decision.

“It is wise to keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.” – Roger Babson

Getting rid of the clutter is an ongoing process.

“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.” – Marie Curie

Of course, there’s our mantra: Keep the memories, toss the object.

“Here’s what it comes down to, really: There is now so much stuff in my head. Memories and lessons learned have taken the place of possessions.” – Anna Quindlen

And one last bit of insight.

“Whatever advice you give, be brief.” – Horace

Wishing you a less cluttered and more organized year ahead.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Getting Organized in January

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It’s a natural time to want to get organized, isn’t it?

January, the month right after you got all that new stuff that needs to be organized, the month right before many of us have to start buckling down on organizing for preparing taxes. The month when it’s often, in many parts of the world, a good time to stay home, where you are safe, warm and dry. But where you also can’t help but notice the need to organize. 😦

January is such a naturally good time for organizing that NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers, has designated it as #GetOrganized Month.

I thought it would be fun, in honor of Get Organized Month, to feature links to a few posts by professional organizers I particularly admire.

But then something interesting happened this morning when I opened up my computer and saw a new post by a friend who has recently started a blog. The title of her latest post is “Stuff.” Naturally, I had to read that one!

In it, she talks about how she came to the realization that she’s got too much stuff; how it came to be that way; and what she plans to do about in the future. (She also shares a wonderful video clip of George Carlin talking about “Stuff.”)

So, although Sara is not a professional organizer, I thought sharing her post would be a good place to start. You can read her post about “Stuff” here.)

Next I decided to visit the website of Alison Lush, a professional organizer who lives in Montreal. I enjoy following Alison on Twitter, and she often makes insightful and appreciative remarks about the posts on our Facebook page. So I figured that her blog would have a good post to share, and I was right! Here’s a post she wrote last year, about her family’s “new normal.” I think this is a nice companion piece to Sara’s, since it is written several years after the decision to somehow get in control of “all that stuff” was made, and it gives a good sense of how good it can feel to have made those changes.

Another favorite professional organizer of mine is Nettie Owens. Nettie lives in Havre de Grace, Maryland. I really like her philosophy and approach to organizing, so much so that I interviewed her for this blog.  Recently I asked Nettie to share some of her favorite posts with me, so I could in turn share them with our readers. Here’s one, appropriately posted in January (last year).

Next  on my list was a visit to the Marcie Lovett’s blog. We recently shared this post by Marcie, a professional organizer based in Olney, Maryland, in which she shares her favorite tip about “how to begin” decluttering, on our Facebook page. (No, I am NOT going to tell you what the tip is: just visit her blog! It’s easy. 🙂 )

I have often also enjoyed and appreciated  posts by “Erin the Organizer,”  a Chicago-based professional organizer.  Here’s a nice one she did this month, with suggestions for good projects to tackle in January.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning from these experts! Wishing you all a productive, happy January, and all the best in your organizing efforts!

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

The Wisdom of Gratitude

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It’s getting to be that time of the year where we are supposed to count our blessings, but expressing gratitude year round, each and every day, has many benefits say experts on the subject.

“For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult…[but] acting grateful can actually make you grateful,” says Arthur C. Brooks in a New York Times article. That may be true, and acting grateful may help people, but it’s still difficult for many of us to incorporate the expression of gratitude into our lives.

Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, explains that gratitude has two key components. “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received,” and secondly, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

In John Tierney’s article on gratitude at a family Thanksgiving, he notes an experiment at Northeastern University that showed that students who had been helped were more likely to volunteer to help someone else—even a complete stranger. He quotes Sonia Lyubomirsky of the University of California, who advises, “Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture.” So it’s good to remember that helping others and saying thank you will help us be more grateful.

And gratitude is good for us. An article in Psychology Today states that “Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.”

For hands-on help in cultivating gratitude, you can check out “A Practical Guide To Gratitude” at Unstuck. It acknowledges that when “it’s hard to see positive forces when obstacles are blaring,” that is just the time to be grateful, to appreciate what’s not stuck about our lives.

Having read all these articles in a short time makes me feel more ready to express my gratitude. Here’s my thank-you list.

  • With all the cleaning out and decluttering we’ve been doing, I’m thankful for the stuff I have to give away, both to those struck by disaster and to those who are simply in need.
  • I’m grateful for my friends. To my best women friends, my group of women, my extended family of friends, the women I work with and the women I volunteer with, thank you to all of you who have helped me and supported me through this most trying year.
  • I’m thankful for my family, to my husband for being here, always, and to my kids for their love and care and concern.

What are you thankful for this year? How will you incorporate gratitude into your life?

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

6 things I learned from 6 years of blogging

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Six years ago next month we introduced ourselves to the world of blogging with this blog, Downsizing The Home: Lessons Learned.

Our journey began when my coauthor and I shared our personal downsizing stories with each other, stories of helping our fathers empty our childhood homes as they prepared for the next stage of their lives. We were surprised at how powerful the emotions connected to family possessions could be and, at the same time, how easy it was to let go of many things.

We decided we wanted to share the information we had gathered with others who were going though the same process, and the result was our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. As we promoted the book, our path led to new media and to this blog.

Six things I learned from blogging:

It’s easier said than done.

It’s much easier to write about downsizing and decluttering than it is to actually downsize and declutter. That may come as a surprise to many of the people who read our blog or listen to us speak. Many times at my talks, someone comments about what a neat house I must have. Not so. But I do own up to it and express to everyone what a struggle it is to keep things organized and to make decisions about what we own and what we are willing to let go of.

People are wonderful!

People have so many interesting and inventive ways to rid themselves of clutter and excess and I’ve learned so much from others. I’ve met such wonderful people, many of them as online voices only, who have shared both strategies and advice, as well as many poignant stories, who have shared thoughtful ways to deal with others who see the clutter – and life – differently than we do, people who have inspired me to write about them and share their lives and their work with you. I have been helped enormously by listening to the voices of others.

Think outside the box.

Or, in this case, outside the book. We came to realize that we could stretch ourselves and go beyond our original focus. Our blog has given us the chance to go further and explore deeper than the scope of our book and to include thoughts about recycling and upcycling, views on how to live with less—and happily so, and a vision of how to treasure what we have, without the need to always have more. Writing posts that explore issues beyond the book has expanded my horizons.

Done is better than perfect.

And here’s a shout-out to all the other mantras that help me keep moving: Just do it. Start now. See beyond. And a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I find so helpful, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”

Life often does circle back.

The blog started with our book and ultimately comes back to our book but, oh, the places we have been! In some ways, as a writer, the biggest challenge is to make readers aware that our book exists. But having the opportunity to explore so many aspects of life with our readers, beyond the downsizing process we wrote about originally, has been such a privilege for me.

We are a community.

Yes, we are a community, you and I and everyone else in this Internet family constellation. I love hearing your thoughts and stories, in your own blogs and when you leave a comment on our blog. I’m so pleased when you follow us on Twitter and share our tweets, and when you share our Facebook posts. I love hearing from you. We are all in this together – and you have welcomed me into the group.

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