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

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

Collecting: The Things We Love…

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“The things we love tell us what we are.” Thomas Merton

“The Keeper” is a fascinating exhibit at the New Museum in New York City that explores our relationship to things and reflects on “the impulse to save both the most precious and the apparently valueless.”

The exhibit is a series of studies spanning the 20th century that tell the stories of various individuals through the objects they chose to save and make us ponder the motivations behind their collections. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Partners (The Teddy Bear Project) by Ydessa Hendeies, a display of over 3,000 family-album photographs of people posing with teddy bears.

Some of the collections are of the result of a chance encounter. The Houses of Peter Fritz, preserved by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser, is a collection of 387 buildings built by Peter Fritz, an Austrian insurance clerk, that forms a comprehensive inventory of Swiss architectural styles.

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Some collections were saved by artists who were interested in the natural world. Korbinian Aigner, known as “Apfelpfarrer” or apple pastor, was a priest and art teacher in early 20th century Germany who inherited his family farm and began to document the apple and pear varieties on the farm. He continued recording to the end of his life, even documenting the species he cultivated while at Dachau.

Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) was the son of Vermont farmers who grew up in an area that received up to six feet of snow a year. From childhood on Bentley kept a daily log of the weather and made drawings of snowflakes. He photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes. Such focus, such single-mindedness from both these artists.

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And sometimes a collection is just so personal. Howard Fried, a California-based Conceptual artist, displays the wardrobe of his mother Hannelore Baron, who died in 2002. It provokes the viewer to ask: Is this collecting, is it hoarding, is it art?

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In a follow-up article to a review of the exhibit in The New York Times, readers were asked to explain their collections. Perry Casalino of Chicago found an album of photographic postcards of old Chicago in a building that was to be torn down and that started him on an eBay hunt for more, which led to collaboration with other collectors and eventually a database of the scanned images that is used by authors and historic preservation groups.

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Why do we collect?

Psychologists point out many reasons for collecting. Some people collect for investment, some for pure joy, some for the quest, some for the satisfaction of classifying and arranging one small part of the larger world, and some people collect to preserve the past.

When does collecting become hoarding?

According to psychologists, collecting becomes hoarding when it interferes with normal daily life. If it doesn’t, then a collection is to be enjoyed.

Do we bequeath a collection?

According to one collector who is selling a collection, to inherit a collection is a burden because the heirs never had the pleasure of the hunt or the satisfaction of the accumulation.

What to make of it all?

According to the exhibit, a collection often attests to the power of images and objects to heal and comfort, and a desire to honor what survives. In our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, we talk about ‘throwers’ who relish the experience of cleaning out and ‘keepers’ who are compelled to preserve special things as well as memories. The collectors shown here are keepers beyond compare, people who were compelled to save things that heal and comfort and honor the past.

What does your collection say about you?

We would like to hear about what you collect – and what it says about you. What do you love? Leave us a message in the comments space below.

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

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

Five (More) Lessons Learned in Downsizing

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Don’t seal those boxes too soon! Leaving them open as long as possible allows “keepers” the time they need to change their minds, and get rid of more stuff as the job progresses.

When circumstances forced me into a sudden and unexpected move out of my home last spring, and into a major downsizing, I knew it was going to be quite the experience.

I also knew there were going to be new lessons learned to share with our audience, and I was right. My first two blog posts dealing with this “wild ride” took place in the first few weeks afterward. (You can read about them here and here.)

Now, almost a year later, I’m returning to some of the notes I took then. And here are a few of the things that stand out:

  1. Shred ahead!  “Shred documents every January. Better yet, go paperless!” is one of the notes I scrawled in those furiously frantic days when, on top of everything else I needed to do, I filled several large recycling barrels full of shredded financial documents, determined not to move them once again, this time into a storage locker, while I prepared for an international move. January is a good time to do this, since that’s when you will have the end-of-year statements (all that you really need to keep for tax purposes, etc.) readily at hand. But whenever you do it, it just know that the more you do it ahead of time, the less time you’ll have to spend sitting at a shredder when you make your next move. There’s some helpful guidance for proactively getting rid of paper in this post by my coauthor. Many communities now have free document shredding events, especially in the spring. And really, going paperless is a very good idea. (You can usually choose to get some of your financial documents the old-fashioned way, and let the rest just stay online. You know: the ones you’re never gonna read anyway…) It’s good for the earth, it’s good for you, it’s good preparation for your next move.
  2. Don’t seal the boxes too soon! There is a natural urge, especially for the people who are helping you pack for the move, to seal boxes. Sealed boxes signal progress–something EVERYONE wants in the middle of a move–AND they are much easier to move around and stack when they’re sealed. The problem is, sealed boxes make it hard to change your mind, and the ability to change your mind–at least for me, often!– during this process can be important. In my case, the ability to continue to sell/give away/donate tends to increase more and more as the process accelerates…and in terms of the ultimate goal of ending up with less stuff, this is pretty important. So if you’re a “keeper,” don’t let those efficient types helping you rush the process–tell them the boxes have to stay open as long as possible. In the end it will mean fewer boxes to move.
  3. Consider leaving collectibles to the collectors. I remember one anecdote we heard when we were first writing our book. You could call it an anecdote illustrating the Antiques Roadshow mentality. “We’re sittin’ on a fortune here!” I remember hearing repeated by a daughter who was dismayed at not being able to get her parents to get rid of anything because “this might be worth something someday.” When I found myself saying the same thing about some object or other to my son in the middle of packing for my last move, he said, politely, but firmly, “Mom. We’re not collectors. Leave that to the collectors.” And you know what, he was right! Collectors spend a lot of time learning about what “is worth something” and what is not. For the most part, it may make sense to “leave all that to them,” although there are some notable exceptions to this, as discussed in this post by my coauthor. But, especially for little things, and especially in the case of things that may eventually have value, but at the current time do not, at least consider it! In my last move, among the things I had been holding onto for many years that I actually got (a little) money for were, the matchbox collection I had acquired in my 20’s, and a very interesting, shiny gold, heavy metal object whose purpose was completely obscure to me (turns out to have been some kind of resister, perhaps for some kind of spacecraft? Maybe?) The person who bought these two items at one of my yard sales was happy  to have them, and I appreciated the fact that he was going to take care of them from now on. His enthusiasm justified (at least in my mind) having kept them all those years. And if he turns out to have been able to make a lot of money from selling them (which I very much doubt, I don’t think that’s why he bought them), well, anyway, he is welcome to it. He is the one who would have the knowledge and would have been willing to take the time to do so. did not. Even after more than 30 years!
  4. Consider the cost of moving and/or storage versus the cost of replacement. Some furniture is just not worth keeping: the cost of moving and/or storing it probably doesn’t make sense. So for some people, in some situations, it may make sense to take a good hard look at what you’re going to pay for moving and/or storing: and ask yourself if it wouldn’t make more sense to get rid of it now, one way or another (sell? donate? give away?) and just repurchase similar items on the other end. It’s kind of the idea of “rental” vs. ownership of furniture. And in some cases, it makes a lot of sense!
  5. Lighten up. I already knew this, because that is one of the most important–at least implicit–pieces of advice in our book. But I found new practical applications for this advice. For example: who makes the rule about yard sales having to start very early in the day? And is it absolutely necessary to follow this rule? These are two of the questions I asked myself in my last move. (“Who’s having the sale, anyway?” I said to myself.) I do understand that’s how it’s usually done, and perhaps if making the most money possible is important to you, then that’s the way it needs to be done. But if the main purpose is to clear out your house, minimize the number of things you have to move, and also make a little bit of money, then why do you have to be out of bed dragging things out of the house at the crack of dawn when you were probably up very late the night before, figuring out what to sell and how to much to ask? The answer is: you don’t! YOU’RE the one having the sale. YOU can decide when it starts and ends! Really, you can! You don’t have to kill yourself over this. Remember what almost everyone comes to realize is one of the most important “lessons learned” in the downsizing process, somewhere along the way: “It’s all just stuff.”

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

 

 

 

 

Getting Organized, with Wisdom from the Ages

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January is always a good time for fresh beginnings, updated goals, and a more put-together you. Fittingly, the National Association of Professional Organizers has designated January as “Get Organized Month.”

So how can we focus on getting organized, help make our lives run more smoothly, and stay the course until the work is done?

Let’s take a look at some wisdom from the ages.

Get started

All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action. – James Russell Lowell

It’s most likely that Lowell meant “a single lovely action” to be kindness towards others but this quote applies to getting organized, too. No matter how many thoughts we have about being organized, it’s action that counts. Do one thing. Toss one item, give something away, organize one shelf.

Make time

You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it. – Charles Buxton

What a great quote for our busy lives! We can always use the excuse that we don’t have time to organize or downsize – so we have to make it a priority, put it in our schedule.

Don’t procrastinate

“Now is the time. Needs are great, but your possibilities are greater.” – Bill Blackman

Yes, now is the time to get organized. Start small, start with the easy stuff, but do start. The results will be worth it: what great possibilities await.

Stay the course

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

Rather than looking at getting organized as one big project, try seeing it as a series of many small projects. Some of the small decluttering plans may be quick, some may take time; some may be easy, some may be a struggle. But all are worth doing.

Toss the object, keep the memory

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. – Herman Hesse

Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff – the mantra of our book – says it all. You are not letting go of your life, or your memories, you are just getting rid of stuff that clutters your life.

Action is better than perfection

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” – Dr. Robert Schuller

Simply said, done is better than perfect.

Wishing everyone a less cluttered, more organized month.

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