Downsizing Stories, as Coach and Coached

Illustration by Quentin Monge

One reviewer of our book on Amazon said that with Moving On, you get the authors “coaching you, supporting you, and cheering you on with their very practical advice.”

The past couple of weeks I have felt both somewhat of a coach and very much one who is coached.

We have been sorting through our files, mostly business financial papers because we closed our company at the end of 2017. The impetus to get it done now was a free shredding event in our neighborhood.

As we emptied files we ended up with four bankers’ boxes of papers to be shredded. With that amount of stuff, “in our neighborhood” took on a different meaning. To get several blocks away with such heavy boxes became daunting so my husband called a shredding company to request a private pick up, for a fee.

Since we were getting papers picked up, I decided to go through more files, mostly of book stuff. I have a file, sometimes paper, sometimes electronic, sometimes both, for each book I have written, sometimes one for each book I’ve edited, and many files for books I’m thinking of writing. I culled much of that.

Then I started on personal files, which I edited down rather than getting rid of completely. For the file on my father’s funeral, I read through some of the papers I had used to write his obit and reread some very thoughtful and supportive condolence notes. By the end of the file, I was in tears but I got through it by invoking our mantra, “Keep the memories, toss the object…”

A friend’s mother died a few weeks ago at the age of 102½ (I seem to have quite a few friends with longevity in their genes), and my friend has to empty her mother’s apartment of many years. She had been to a couple of my downsizing talks and even wrote a lovely comment – with 5 stars – on our book’s Amazon page.

Now she was ready to implement the suggestions in Moving On so we talked about how important it is for those emptying a home, and certainly for her, to honor her mother’s life – as an Olympic gymnast, as a wife and mother, and as one who gave back all her life – while at the same time getting rid of a lifetime of stuff. I felt I could be a bit of a coach for her because I had been through that process when my father moved from his home of 50 years.

Another friend, a doctor, is getting ready to retire and wants to downsize. Her kids have been out of the house for years and she now wants to make her home more functional for herself and her husband. She came to me to ask for guidance and then said, “I’ll just buy the book.” So our book will be a coach for her – and she can always ask me questions along the way.

That same reviewer of our book on Amazon also said, “I knew I found my roadmap when I read this book.” (We are so grateful to that reviewer for such kind words about us and our book.)

I have used our book as a roadmap and have been coached and cheered on by my friends and family this past few weeks, just as I have coached and supported and cheered on my friends who are downsizing. It’s been a time of women supporting women.

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

Too Many Papers and How Surprisingly Little Time It Took to Sort Through Them

It began when my husband needed some information from my Social Security card. I started to look for the card in desk part of my secretary and couldn’t find it. An hour or so later, after clearing out outdated bank statements, deposit slips, and the like, I had a cleaned-out, clutter-free secretary, or the desk part anyway. Some of the items were trash and some had to be shredded but all unnecessary stuff was gone.

I love that secretary, a smaller version made for my father of the one his father had had, and I acquired it after my grandmother died. It is immortalized in an illustration on page 50 of the paperback edition of our book Moving On and shown above. But I tend to abuse the desk, actually the entire secretary, by stuffing it with too many papers. The photo of the open desk, below, is not beautiful, but to me it is because it shows how clean and organized it now is.

As much as I don’t like paper clutter, I like going through papers even less so I have lots of piles that need attending to. According to professional organizers, clutter tends to gather in certain parts of our homes and for me there are three places that paper clings to: the secretary, the top of my dresser, and on my desk next to the computer.

The clutter-free secretary spurred me on. I was so inspired by my efforts – I keep opening the desk and admiring how clean and orderly it is – that I was able to tackle the other two areas of paper clutter.

The top of my dresser in the bedroom is a place that gets cluttered with shopping receipts and packing slips from online orders, jewelry I have worn and haven’t put away, and things I want to look at before I get rid of them. Less than two hours after I started, I have a cleaned-out, clutter-free dresser top where you can now see the smooth wood.

Onto the third area of clutter, the space on my desk next to my computer. This is the worst one. I know many experts say to start with the toughest problem but I had to work myself up to confronting this pile.

Next to my computer is where I keep papers about the projects I am working on. Research in paper form (that somehow isn’t online), articles from the New York Times (since I still get the paper delivered to my door every morning), notes to myself (lots of notes) about current projects and future ones, and business cards of people I want to follow up with (although I do have a folder for those).

I usually sort through this pile at the end of a project, a book or an article I have written or one that I have edited. But, for whatever reason, perhaps some laziness, definitely some procrastination, I have put off the periodic clean ups and the pile seemed insurmountable.

For that reason and because of the nature of the items, sorting through this pile required much more thought and decision-making than it did for the other piles and it took me several sessions over a period of a few days to sort through everything. I keep a file, or more than one sometimes, on each of my projects and I created new files for the newer ones so everything had a place to go.

This will be the most difficult area for me to keep clean. So far the secretary and the dresser top look so clean and neat that I haven’t dared to put anything there. And the items that tended to accumulate were everyday papers that could easily be dealt with. But the area next to my computer is an active workspace and so it will continue to accumulate papers. I just have to be more vigilant about sorting through them on a regular basis, small sorting sessions rather than one so large I consistently avoided it.

I have to set a goal of sorting through my papers periodically (and frequently) and then follow through by actually cleaning out the stuff I don’t need. Every so often, ask me how I’m doing!

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

When Is Storage a Good Choice?

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

Before you even think about storage…

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

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

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

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

Smart questions to ask…

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

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

When storage is a good option…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you should NOT put into storage…

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

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

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

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

 

“The Object Lesson”

-The object lesson_1

A friend invited me to see “The Object Lesson” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a play about clutter, because as she said, of all her friends, she knew I would be the one interested in a play about the subject of clutter.

We walked into a theater space stacked to the ceiling with boxes and filled with a large card catalog, transforming the space “into an epic storage facility of gargantuan proportion.” The audience is encouraged to rummage through boxes and open drawers to take a look at the stuff that will become part of this performance piece by physical theater artist Geoff Sobelle, who wrote and stars in the play. Motivated by a move, and the necessity to sort through his belongings, the author faces his stuff, objects tied to memories, or feelings, or specific times in his life, and comes away with a new perspective.

The play asks us: “Do you have what you need? Do you need what you have? Imagine every ‘thing’ that ever passed through your hands—a massive, meaningful, meaningless pile of junk that describes in debris your tiny human history.”

Ben Brantley, in his review of the play in the New York Times, says it reminded him of his parents’ attic. “In their later years, my parents used to tease each other with the threat that whoever lived longer would be forced to deal with (ominous organ chords) the Attic. It was a fearsome prospect, for within the cramped upper level of their otherwise manageable house lurked the flotsam and jetsam of at least four generations of their family’s lives.” How true if that for many of us?

Seeing someone else’s stuff in such massive quantities compels us to think about our own possessions: what we keep and what we toss, what we live with and what we store, what we sell and what we donate, what we fix up and what we buy new.

The best line in the play: “There is a fine line between vintage and crap.” Much food for thought here.

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

Reaching Beyond The Clutter

marcia_clutter free

We are so pleased to have Marcia Muskat (marciany@me.com), a personal organizer and founder and owner of ‘section by section,’ a home organizing business, as our guest blogger this week. Marcia shares with us lessons she’s learned from working with older people.

As a personal organizer who has worked mainly with older people, I have found that seniors have a particularly hard time separating themselves from their belongings. But cleaning out does not have to mean losing what they value most. And while satisfaction with life, especially in our golden years, is very much about looking back with pride, it is also about living well now. Seniors I have worked with, who have embraced the process of separating the essentials from the expendables, find that they can accomplish more with less.

Excessive accumulations that threaten health, safety and quality of life add an extra urgency to my role as a personal organizer. Case in point is a client of mine. A reporter for a big city newspaper, she tackled challenges in domains usually reserved, in her day, for driven men with strong resumes. Today, a young 80-something, she easily navigates the stairs in her fifth-floor walk-up apartment (kudos to her muscle memory) while carrying groceries in a sturdy knapsack. An ardent literary and art fan, she makes her way downtown to the renowned Strand Book Store or uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But at home, she has lost her bearings.

She has outlived family and friends, neighbors and doctors. She sits captive in her only available chair among a dusty, toxic avalanche of professional news clippings, art books, brochures and the like.  And while she will be the first to tell you that she would love to live in a comfortable, safe and productive home, she agonizes over even more loss, especially the things that are so critical to her personal identity and integrity: the loss of her papers and books. Each bit of memorabilia feels like a piece of herself.

But my client, always a high achiever, is not to be underestimated. The more she trusts that our organizing process protects her valuables, the more she is able to part with what’s not important, and the more apartment space she gets back to do more of the things she has wanted to do. With her newly cleaned off desktop and more walkable floor space, she can now entertain her dreams of critiquing a local art exhibit, adopting a cat and staying relevant to her life today.

The Paper Chase: Decluttering

paper cartoonhttp://www.digitalbloggers.com

Having too much paper is a common complaint. It’s something that we all have too much of.

I have a pile of papers next to my computer that needs to be sorted and I decided it would be helpful to take a look at this paper in a somewhat different way: by hierarchy, subject matter, and filing system.

We all impose a hierarchy on paper, often without realizing it. When we buy groceries with cash, the receipt goes in the trash. When we use a credit card, we save the receipt until the end of the month to reconcile it with the credit card statement. When we sort mail, the junk mail goes in the trash but the bills get top priority. How can I create a hierarchy for the items in my pile of papers?

It may sound like a no-brainer that we need to divide our paper by subject matter to make the pile more approachable and the sorting more doable. Yes, it’s easier to sort through and prioritize the papers, if we separate them by subject: health, financial, credit cards, insurance. How many categories and subcategories do I need?

Filing systems are good. But everyone’s brain, their memory, the intuitive way we understand things, works differently. A system that works for a professional organizer might not be right for me, my system might not work for you, your system might not work for your sister. How do I create a system that works for me (so I’ll be more likely to actually use it)?

Here are a few articles that offer help for paper clutter.

Curb Paper Clutter at Home This article has a very helpful way of going about curbing the buildup of paper clutter in your home, depending on whether you are a “filer” or a “piler.”

How To: 4 Steps to Less Paper Clutter Here organizing expert Carol Keller shares her four-step plan for having less paper: analyze, sort and purge, classify and label, create a regular decluttering routine.

10 Best Tips for Organizing Paper Clutter This article has some good suggestions for how to approach the problem proactively by choosing to go paperless for bills, and getting yourself off the junk mail lists.

What Documents to Keep, What You Can Toss This is a helpful list of what household papers to keep and for how long and, most importantly, when you can toss them.

The takeaway:

* Get rid of as much paper as possible (don’t bring it into your home at all, toss before you enter, go paperless).

* Create a system for keeping the papers that works for you.

* Declutter regularly.

* Revisit your system, as needed.

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

Today is “Clean Out Your Computer Day”

computer

 

Originally started by the Institute for Business Technology in California, Clean Out Your Computer Day is observed on the second Monday in February and for this year that’s today, February 10, 2014.

Studies have shown that slow computers and virtual clutter have a negative impact on our work, so this day was created as a way to help us remember to clean up our computer.

For those of you with PCs, you can open up the computer – or ask someone with experience to open it – to clean out the dust. For all of us, we can go beyond the dust and cobwebs, to clean out and organize our files.

Always back up your files before starting to work on your computer.

Here are some suggestions from the experts for cleaning and decluttering.

– Yahoo offers 10 tips for cleaning out the physical parts and the software.

– Iolo Technologies has useful PC clean out tips.

– GigaOm offers tips for the operating system and the files.

– Microsoft has help for speeding up your computer.

Need some help with organizing your virtual files? It’s useful to think of categories when organizing. As we discuss in our e-book, with our real stuff, our physical items, we use the mantra “keep, toss, or donate” but with our virtual files we can amend the mantra to “keep, toss, or archive.”

Of course, you’ll want to keep everything that you are currently working on. But toss out, send to trash, anything that’s old, out of date, or of no interest to you. Start a folder labeled “archive” for papers or files you want to keep but do not need to see every day.

Create as many or as few folders within those categories as you need. Some people work best with a few large topics while others prefer many smaller folders. Use a system that works for you and your computer will be a more user-friendly and organized place to work.

And today is the day to do that.

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

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