“End Tables. I Have Just Two Words, End Tables.”

At a meeting of community business leaders I attended a few weeks ago, we were asked to share our business cards. I looked in my bag and saw that I had only two cards with me. (No, not very professional of me to not even think about checking to see if I had cards with me before I left. Really?)

I took out the two cards I had and then, after a brief pause, also shared some of our book’s business cards. (Yes, our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home has its very own business card).

The book’s card is a bit busy on the front with a photo of the book cover and information on how to access the book and the blog. The back is more serene, with a black-and-white rendering of our logo, the house, with our mantra “Keeping the memories, getting rid of the stuff…” below it.

I think it was the back of the card that started the discussion.

The conversation that ensued sounded a bit like our own discussion of “keepers and throwers.” “Throwers” relish clearing out and will empty a house quickly; “keepers” want to preserve special things as well as memories, and will linger over the process.

People are usually more nuanced than those labels imply and both “keepers” and “throwers” have issues that need to be dealt with. What followed with our small group was an interesting discussion of the what and the how of emptying our parents’ homes.

Tim looked at our business card and said, “End tables. All I have to say is two words: end tables.” He is a “keeper” with a lot of sentimentality to deal with, along with a strong dose “but someone could use this.” He had carefully emptied his parents’ home but had difficulty parting with the last few things. He had divvied up the family items, sold furniture, and donated many household items. He had two beautiful end tables with an inlaid wood design. His kids didn’t want them. And we all agreed that Millennials don’t want much of what we have and they certainly don’t want furniture that belonged to their grandparents. Tim couldn’t sell the end tables and wasn’t ready yet to donate them because he thought they were too beautiful to part with. Why didn’t someone else see them the way he saw them, their beauty, their value, he asked in a voice tinged somewhat with regret.

Phil is a more pure form of “thrower.” He said he had emptied his parents’ home, giving some items to nieces and nephews who were just starting out and getting rid of the rest. You could almost see him washing his hands of the job. He had been thorough and the job was done.

Jamie seemed poised between a “keeper” and a “thrower.” She embodies what we say in our book: “People who balance these attributes have come to the realization that the most valuable thing in a house is the life that has been lived there.” She had emptied her childhood home when her parents moved to a retirement condo, then emptied the condo when her parents passed away. She donated most of the stuff, sold a few things, and preserved her family treasures in archival containers. She was able to identify what was important to her and she kept those items for herself, and for the next generation.

Matt kept quiet during our discussion. Whatever his story is, he chose to keep it private and we respected that.

Amy was somewhat wide-eyed during our talk. She is a little younger and hasn’t started yet to dismantle a home. My hope is that she absorbed the many hints and tips, along the laments, about the process of downsizing and will store them away for a time when she will need them.

Luca was visiting from Italy and seemed a bit baffled by Americans talking so much about their parents’ possessions. His puzzled look seemed to say that this consuming-so-much then wondering-what-to-do-with-it is a distinctly American dilemma.

At our business meeting, the meet-and-greet part at the beginning became a dialogue about downsizing – about “Keeping the memories, getting rid of the stuff…” – because I forgot to bring my business cards with me. It was fortuitous, a chance to share our stories with complete strangers, a wonderful opportunity.

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: Keepers and Throwers, Unite!

0607150805 (1)In writing our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Home, one of the things we discovered is that the world seems to be divided into what we call “keepers” and what we call “throwers.”

When talking about downsizing, keepers often get a bum rap for obvious reasons. They tend to slow down the process, and in the stress and/or hurry of a move, their sentimentality, their concern for the environment, their desire not to waste-whatever it is that motivates their “keeping” ways–are often not at all appreciated.

But, as we have pointed out, for a downsizing-the-home project to be optimally successful, the attributes of both of these “opposite” types of people are needed. Throwers are good at clearing out and moving on; keepers are good at making sure that in the process special things and special memories are not lost. These two kinds of people–and almost always there are some of each in every family, or every downsizing situation–need to work together with respect, understanding, and most of all patience in order for the job to get done, and done in such a way that the future will not be full of regret for how it was done.

Keepers need extra time in this process: then they need to take a deep breath and give away, donate, or otherwise dispose at least some of the things that really, honestly, deep down, they’d much rather keep: they just have to!

Throwers need to slow down a bit, then take a deep breath and summon up the patience and understanding for keepers’ ways that is needed in order for the keepers   to go ahead and do what they have to do–without having their hearts broken.

When this kind of balance can be achieved, ugly fights, lingering feelings of resentment, and unproductive bouts of undermining each other’s work can be avoided.

Hopefully when all is said and done, the keepers will be willing to admit that getting rid of some of the things they dreaded getting rid of isn’t as bad as they thought it would be, especially when they’ve been given the time to find ways to “keep the memories.”

And hopefully when all is said and done, the throwers will be willing to admit that after all, the keepers did have some good reasons to slow the process down a bit–and that maybe they even come away from the process with some precious memories to savor that they might not have, had the keepers not been there to remind them.

Here’s hoping that as you go about downsizing your home, you and yours will find that harmonious middle ground that will allow you to respect each other’s ways in a difficult process. And to save precious memories–and last, but certainly not least–to get rid of much of the “stuff.”

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

 

 

 

Collecting: The Things We Love…

teddy-bears

“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.

houses

 

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.

apples

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snowflakes

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?

moms-clothes

 

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.

chicago

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

Are you a “Keeper” or a “Thrower” When Downsizing?

secretary_illo
David McGrievey

When she retired in early 2010 journalist Ellen Goodman wrote: “There is a trick to a graceful exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over – and to let go.”

There is a time to let go of a family home, too, and often it’s not as graceful an exit as some family members may have hoped for. It entails multiple steps which include, in broad terms, first, coming to an agreement that it’s time to let go of the home; next, creating a timetable that works for everyone involved; and lastly, actually getting rid of lots of stuff.

Getting rid of our stuff is a difficult task for everyone, but especially for people who appreciate the memories that are intertwined with the possessions.

When we were interviewing people for our book Moving On, we found, as we say in the book, that there are “basically two kinds of people when it comes to cleaning out a house. There are ‘the throwers,’ who relish the experience of clearing out and moving on, and who will empty a house quickly and efficiently. And there are ‘the keepers,’ who will be compelled to preserve special things as well as memories, and who will linger over the process.” And often the “throwers” are married to the “keepers” and vice versa, so working together harmoniously is the goal.

What’s it like to be a “keeper” or a “thrower” in the midst of downsizing?

“Throwers” are people “who relish the experience of clearing out and moving on, and who will empty a house quickly and efficiently.”

On the upside, “throwers” get the job done. They are people who can let go of things easily and seem to have the ability to separate the object from the memory. “Throwers” may not feel the emotional component of downsizing or they may be less inclined to delve into those feelings. They do not get bogged down in emotions or memories.

On the downside, by working quickly, “throwers” may miss out on both good things and interesting experiences. On the practical side, they may miss hidden money or valuables. A recent post by Goodwill tells the story of an employee who found $2,600 inside a bag of donated clothing. Donated, perhaps, too quickly by a “thrower.” On the emotional side, “throwers” may miss reading poignant entries from a grandparent’s diary or perusing a parent’s yearbook or discovering their own baby clothes.

“Keepers” are people who are “compelled to preserve special things as well as memories, and who will linger over the process.”

On the upside, “keepers” are the ones who preserve both memories and objects. Recently a display at my local library showed memorabilia that was well over 100 years old – a photograph of the building (the street was so different!) and the interior (the librarian’s desk was the same!) and a ledger listing patrons’ names and the books they were taking out – all saved by a “keeper” of a librarian so we could enjoy the history of the library decades later. “Keepers” donate items to libraries, historical societies, and genealogical societies, as well as pass along to their own family the stories and the mementoes that make each family unique.

On the downside, “keepers” take too long to get the job done. (Is it ever really done, they often wonder.) As they savor each item, they are likely to get mired in the emotions, sometimes to the point of even agonizing over the decision to keep, toss, or donate. They are prone to being sentimental, which as J. D. Salinger says, is “giving a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.”

Is it better to be a “keeper” or a “thrower” when it comes to downsizing?

We need both “keepers” and “throwers” to get the job done. As we say in our book, it takes a combination of these attributes to successfully downsize a family home. Sometimes that combination comes from various family members; it helps to be tolerant of attitudes different than your own, especially the attitudes of your spouse or your siblings, and to strive to find a balance between those who want to throw out everything and those who need to mull over the many decisions involved.

Successful downsizing, as we say in the book, is coming “to the realization that the most valuable thing in the house is the life that has been lived there.” That is a graceful exit.

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

5 Things I Can Live Without…

In last week’s post about the impetus National Get Organized Month gives us to start getting rid of things, I challenged myself to a decluttering purge. The challenge was to declutter fast – not my usual style – and get rid of 5 things quickly.

Did I meet the challenge? Well, let’s see what I managed to get rid of.

Old towels

No matter how many new towels I buy, I can’t seem to get rid of the old, frayed ones. Sometimes when I pull the old ones out of the linen closet, my husband insists on taking them to use when he’s washing the car. To me, that’s not really getting rid of them. Fortunately, we have a textile recycling booth at our local farmers’ market where we can bring old towels, stained t-shirts, and stretched out underwear to be recycled so they will not end up in a landfill.

Magazines

I have stopped most of my magazine subscriptions, trying to read the ones that interest me online. However, we still get The New Yorker and have piles of old issues. I used to read each copy thoroughly and then give the issues to my mother who enjoyed them as well. Now with a life that’s a little more complicated, I no longer read The New Yorker regularly, if at all. My husband is kind enough to point out articles that will interest me and I try to read those. Will I eventually read more of them? I’m not so sure. We got rid of a pile of magazines – unread! That was tough for me.

Old textbooks

Several college textbooks that my kids had not resold were lying around and I contacted Better World Books. They emailed me a label – they pay for postage – and I mailed the books to them. How easy was that!

 Old eyeglasses

With sensitive eyes I can seldom wear a previous pair of glasses even if the prescription has not changed. So why did I have at least 15 pairs of glasses in a drawer in my dresser? Did I really think I would recycle an old frame? Unlikely. I had fun trying on old styles. Remember the huge frames that took up half your face? I still had a couple of those. The old eyeglasses and glass cases went off to an organization that gives them to those in need.

Rusted can opener

Okay, I didn’t clean out an entire kitchen drawer but I did manage to get rid of at least one old can opener.

Did I meet the challenge? To be honest, I did not get rid of all the items in this list in one day, but I did get rid of them. For my husband and me, who deliberate about everything, about every item that passes through our hands, this certainly was a challenge.

And now am I ready to get rid of 10 things, 15, even 20? I’ll see what I can do…

How about you? What 10 things can you get rid of? Share the items you got rid of and your strategy in a comment to this post. We would love to learn new ways to deal with clutter.

≈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 Wader or a Jumper?

January is National Get Organized (GO) Month, a perfect time to think not only about getting organized but also about how we approach the job of getting organizing.

When faced with any task in life, some people jump right in the deep end while others dip their toes in tentatively before beginning to wade into the shallow end. The different approaches can be ascribed to innate personality, of course, but they can also be partly due to the task at hand. Can we rise to the challenge of doing something that perhaps we would really rather not be doing, regardless of our own personal style of working?

In our book we described the different personalities of people who approach the task of getting rid of clutter as “the throwers” who relish clearing out and who will empty a house quickly and efficiently and “the keepers” who want to preserve special things as well as memories, and who will linger over the process. What’s needed is a combination of these traits and, most likely, many of us possess a bit of both attributes.

Wherever you place yourself on the keeper-thrower spectrum, you can get organized using strategies that have worked for you in the past or you can try something new. The next question still remains: Where do you start?

Here are some suggestions.

Start with the easiest things

Whenever I give a talk about the book, I always suggest starting by getting rid of the easiest stuff first because, let’s face it, getting rid of clutter is hard. So start with the things that have the least emotional attachment for you. Is that the gadgets in the overstuffed kitchen drawer or the pile of old (and possibly unread) magazines?

Start small

In a previous post, I wrote about Marcia, a personal organizer, who advocates starting as small as possible, working from one small section to the next small section. She says that you can feel such a sense of accomplishment by completing just one small area.

Schedule regular decluttering sessions

The blog Organized Home suggests scheduling a regular time to get rid of clutter: even just 15 minutes a day. (To get the job done, some of us would need to schedule a number of 2-hour sessions before we could go on a maintenance schedule of 15 minutes a day.)

Declutter fast

Have a random purge. I have read about personal organizers who challenge their clients to get rid of things fast. What 5 things or 10 things can you pick up right now and get rid of?

Fast is not my style, I’m more of a deliberator, a wader, but I’m up for the challenge.

In next week’s post, a list of things I got rid of…I’m feeling the pressure already!

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

A Cluttered Mind…

My Dyslexia by Philip Schultz is the moving story of the author’s struggle to read as he wrestled with a mind that was cluttered with words and letters that were heartbreakingly indecipherable to him. Inspiring and beautifully written, as one might expect from a writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2008, the book reveals Schultz’s deep-rooted feelings of being a “dummy” and how he recognized years later, when his son was diagnosed with dyslexia, that he had the same symptoms.

Reading the book led to me think about how everyone’s mind is cluttered in some way and that our lives are less ordered than we would like them to be. I say that not from a point of despair but rather in the hope that we can be more tolerant of the different ways each of us approaches the clutter in our lives.

Some of us have clutter because we are indecisive; we have difficulty making decisions about our stuff.

Some of us keep things because they serve as our memory; if we get rid of them we’re concerned that we will forget our stories.

Some of us serve as the repository for our family’s stuff; we keep the items in honor of our family history – and because no one else wants them.

Some of us never learned to create order in our lives; we find it difficult to let go of old things as we bring in new ones.

Philip Schultz showed such fortitude and courage in conquering the clutter in his mind. Many readers have asked him why he became a writer, especially a poet. He writes,

“There’s no little irony in the fact that the very things I couldn’t do have helped provide me with a profession and means of knowing myself; that I chose to master the very thing that once hindered and mastered me; to own what once owned me.”

So let us show some fortitude in our quest to conquer clutter, to make order in our lives. Let’s own what once owned us.

LH

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