Five (More) Lessons Learned in Downsizing

DownsizingOpenBo

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.

 

 

 

 

A New Year, A New Approach

pencil and paper
http://www.freeimageslive.co.uk/free_stock_image/pencil-notebook-jpg

It’s a new year and we still have too much stuff. Here’s a plan of action, or a thought experiment, for those of us who are “keepers” of our stuff, we who talk about, deliberate, and brood over our possessions before we decide if we should keep, toss, or donate them.

Sometimes we don’t know why we keep something or why we haven’t been able to make the decision to get rid of it. The following is a technique we can use to see what our possessions mean to us and how they fit into our lives.

This is a writing exercise so if you would like to join in, grab a pencil and paper.

Choose one item in your home that means a lot to you, perhaps a very important item or perhaps one that you’ve had for a long time. Then think about that item in three different, but related, ways.

First, describe the item in detail. Be specific about its attributes: the creamy background color and lovely pink flowers on your dinner plates, the interesting shape of a vase, the sparkling gems in a brooch, the vivid paint strokes in a favorite painting.

Next, explain why this item has meaning for you. Did the chest of drawers belong to your grandparents and was it passed down to you by your parents? Was the gold necklace a gift to yourself, a purchase you made with your very first paycheck? Is the painting something you brought home from a memorable vacation? Was the china something you and your about-to-be husband chose, the first household decision you made together?

Lastly, choose someone, a family member, a good friend, to inherit the item and explain why you chose that person. You can leave the china to your son and daughter-in-law because they are the ones who now host the family gatherings. You can decide to give the painting to your best friend from college who accompanied you on that vacation trip. After some thought, you can choose to sell the gold necklace, a style long out of fashion, and give the money to your grandchild to help finance a semester abroad. You can choose to donate the vase to your local historical society because it was made at a now-defunct pottery that used to be in the area. You can decide to have the chest of drawers appraised first before you designate a recipient, and perhaps the appraisal will help you decide to sell the furniture and use the money for a different purpose.

Now read over what you’ve written and see what it tells you. You have articulated why the item appeals to you, its beauty, or perhaps its usefulness. You have explained your emotional attachment to the piece, what event it memorializes or which people are connected to your feelings about the piece. And, lastly, you have designated a caretaker for your item, someone who will appreciate it and care for it the way you did. Or, and perhaps more importantly, you have chosen to give the item away (the painting to your college roommate so she can enjoy it now), donate it (the vase to the historical museum), or sell it (the gold necklace) and put the money to better use.

Does this exercise help you see one item in a new way? I hope so. Will you go through this process for all of your stuff? Probably not, since it’s too time consuming.

But using this new approach in the new year will help us face that fact that we have too much stuff and that some of our stuff can find new homes with family and friends, some of it can be sold, and some of it can be donated – and some of it can even be trashed.

So here’s to a happier new year, a year when we unclutter our homes, a year when we purchase more thoughtfully, a year when we live with less stuff and more joy. A year when we “Keep the memories, get rid of the 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

Downsizing the Family Home: Can We Talk?

MO gold seal

“The holiday season presents families with an excellent opportunity to have “the conversation.” The one no one really wants to have, but everyone needs to have sooner or later. The conversation that starts with: “What are we going do with all this stuff?!…” Read more here:

 

Back to School, Back to Downsizing: Selling and Donating Books

Getting Rid of Books

Bye, bye, eight more boxes of books! Thanks for all the great reading!

 

It’s back to school time, and for me for the past few years, that has meant buying and selling used books.

Late August and early September are prime times for selling books, especially textbooks, as everyone goes back to school (including to college). As before, I’m using Amazon to get rid of the textbooks my sons no longer need. We have also been buying many of the textbooks they’ve needed in high school and college through Amazon used books, as well.

The system is quite well-organized, user-friendly, and easy to set up. Anyone who is used to using the Internet can do it quite easily, but here are a few of the most important things to know:

  •  Sellers are expected to ship their orders promptly once received. So be sure not to list books for sale, and then go off on vacation. You have to be ready to ship within a few days when the orders roll in.
  • Check competing offers. If the book you want to sell has more than 100 copies being offered for a penny, yours is not that likely to sell, unless it is in pristine condition and you still want to sell it for a penny. It may make more sense to just give the book away, to a school or library. Or maybe (if you’re really lucky) you could sell it in a yard sale for 50 cents or a dollar.
  • You have the best chance of selling a book if you “match lowest offer,” especially if your book is in better condition than most of the others ones listed.
  • Consider the weight factor. Selling a very light book for a penny can work out fine, because the way the cost is structured you will still be able to make a decent profit on the book. (This is because you may get more of shipping allowance from Amazon than you need to pay for shipping at the media rate). But for heavier books, you may end up actually losing a little money on some sales, if you haven’t priced the books high enough. (This sounds more complicated than it is. If you have as many books as I do, you’ll quickly see how it works, and when it doesn’t.) I’ve had to send one or two books where I lost a little bit on the deal (never more than a dollar). But I’ve more than made up for that in the money I’ve earned from all the other books I’ve sold–for an amount that would be hard to get for used books anywhere else.

This year, in addition to selling my son’s textbooks from last year, I’m also continuing the process of “proactive downsizing” of my own huge book collection. Although I have no immediate plans for a move, I know that my days in the place I am currently living are probably numbered. As I have previously discussed here, many of the reasons I wanted to keep books I had already read on my shelves no longer exist. So, although I know I will always have plenty of books with me wherever I go, I really do want to minimize the number I take with me in my next move, whenever that is. I’d much rather do it now than under duress and in the midst of all the chaos of moving. As I give away books I know I’d really rather keep (but at this point in my life shouldn’t), I remember that question my mother was always asking me as a child, in the early days of my book-buying ways: “Why don’t you just get it at the library?” (Finally, though sadly she’s not around anymore to hear my answer, the answer is: “You’re right, Mom!”)

Here are a few more tips for good ways to thin your book collection:

  • After my brother died, my sister and I shared the task of emptying out the storage locker where he had stored hundreds, perhaps even thousands of his books. We ended up selling most of them at Half Price Books. If you live in one of the 16 states where Half-Price books operates, that can be a great way to get cash for your books. The system they have organized is efficient, and feels pretty fair too. You bring the books in and wait while they evaluate them. Then they pay you–cash, on the spot! (Note: my sister and I cannot swear this to be true, but we do think that maybe you get a proportionately higher cash amount when you bring in just a couple of stacks of books, rather than a truckload, as we did once. 🙂 And that would kind of make sense, wouldn’t it?)
  • If you’re not moving right away, but you want to start getting rid of some of your books, you might want to consider building a Little Free Library, a way of sharing used books with others. The concept is simple: you place books you don’t want anymore in your Little Free Library: others take them out, and leave books they don’t want anymore for you. Some Little Free Libraries are very simple, and some are wildly creative. That’s up to you! But all of them function sort of like placing your books outside on the stoop or sidewalk for the taking–with the added benefit of offering the books protection from the elements while they’re waiting to be read again.
  • Libraries and schools are excellent places to give away the books you don’t want anymore and can’t, or prefer not to sell. And think beyond the obvious: churches, preschools, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters. Most of these places have libraries, reading rooms, or at least some open bookshelves–and most of them welcome donations. Prisons are also an excellent place to donate books. You can find out how to go about doing so here.
  • This post, by my coauthor, has some great tips for other places that welcome used books, many of them places that share books with people who can really use them.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to give away ALL your books. I certainly didn’t. Before loading the eight boxes of books I just hauled off to my local library’s used bookstore, I plucked out a few I decided I just wasn’t quite ready to part with yet. I may be ready to let them go when I really do move. For now, they’re not taking up very much space, and seeing them makes me smile.

Books I Kept

 

And there are still plenty of books left in my home. I think there always will be. 🙂

Still Got Books 1still got books 3

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

Keeping America Beautiful

Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 10.32.12 AM

Happy 4th of July!

As we celebrate the founding of our country with picnics, parades, and fireworks, let’s also give some thought to the future of our country, specifically the land we live on.

If you are moving, trying to declutter your home, or emptying a home after the owners have left, you have many decisions to make. If deciding on how to dispose of each and very item in the house is just too much, there is help out there. Here’s a look at some companies that will lend a hand.

Junk removal companies ensure that, for a fee, what you don’t want or can’t use any longer is recycled, donated, or disposed of responsibly.

The list of items they pick up and dispose of includes clothing, linens, old furniture, mattresses, appliances, electronics, sports equipment, tires, construction debris, yard waste, and can also include garage, attic, and basement cleanup.

The following two nationwide junk removal companies have received great feedback on the job they do.

 1-800-Got-Junk?

http://www.1800gotjunk.com/

Since 1989, they have saved over 1.5 billion pounds of junk from being dumped in landfills. Their credo: We believe that together we can make a difference for future generations by focusing on responsible environmental practices today. We are committed to improving our environmental performance by measuring the amount of junk collected and reporting where it goes.

College Hunks Hauling Junk

http://www.collegehunkshaulingjunk.com/

“Hunks” stands for honest, uniformed, nice, knowledgeable, students. Their mission is to move the world, one community, one home, one family at a time. They will sort, load, haul, recycle, donate and dispose of every last item that needs to go.

To find local organizations that do the same or similar work, search online under ‘junk removal services.’ There are also free services for special items, such as scrap metal.

Keep America beautiful; recycle your waste.

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

Getting Help After a Death

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 9.29.33 AM

http://yogiisofbit.blogspot.com

It happens to each of us, sadly, at some point. We have to sort through and dispose of an entire household after losing a loved one.

Where do we start? What’s the best way of dealing with the stuff? Who can we ask to help?

We looked to several fellow bloggers for advice as well as to our own experiences and those of the people we interviewed in our book Moving On. Here’s the best of what we found.

Take your time.

Lisa Montanaro in her post Organizing After the Loss of a Loved One, emphasizes taking one’s time. “After the death of a loved one, some people are tempted to sift through belongings and make decisions quickly. If this feels natural to you, fine (consider checking with a grief counselor before moving too quickly through the process). But most people need more time after a loss to organize a loved one’s possessions.” Some people need only a few months; others take years to sort through everything.

Keep a few special things.

Erin Dolan in her post Uncluttering After the Loss of a Loved One says that uncluttering – getting rid of the clutter and keeping what you value – is a way to keep the best of your loved one with you. She says, “Find the handful of things that you value most and that best honor your memories of [your loved one]…the pieces that make your heart sing.”

Save what’s meaningful to you.

As Jeri Dansky says in her post Not Clutter: The Odd Sentimental Items, “Memorabilia is very personal. Go ahead and save meaningless-to-anyone-else sentimental items – but it does help to be selective and save only the most precious. And don’t worry about getting rid of things that you think should be meaningful, but aren’t.”

Get help.

Tina Segal, founder of The Estate Settlers, has set up an information network and a service to assist an estate executor that helps families during the emotional and trying times following a death in the family. Her company focuses its efforts on the financial side of the estate as well as the “stuff” that’s left behind: the furniture, the cars, the jewelry, as well as the house itself.

The death of a loved one is a trying time in one’s life. Go at your own pace and deal with the items in your own way. And ask for help when you need it. As Lisa Montanaro says, “Give yourself permission to grieve first, heal, and then to organize.”

And her best advice: “Be kind to yourself.”

And one more thing…

Get your own house in order.

Getting your own papers and favorite items in order for your heirs is the best gift you can give them. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, make sure you have the four important papers updated and kept in a safe place. And make sure to create a list of all the important stuff in your life as a guide for after you’re gone.

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

Five Good Reasons to Begin Downsizing Now

1. You’ll start finding all those things you never thought you would. 

There is no need to elaborate on this point. Everyone knows it’s true!

2. You’ll have so much more space to live and work in.

Again, an obvious point.

3. You’ll save so much money when you have to make your next move!

Moving costs a lot of money: and the more you have to move, the more it costs.

Every time I haul a big, heavy bag of discarded old bills, catalogs, magazines and other things to the recycling bin I feel so good knowing that the pounds I am lifting and heaving now are pounds I won’t have to pay to haul to the next place I live.

4. You’ll feel so much better about yourself.

This is not so obvious. But those who have successfully uncluttered their lives all seem to say the same thing. There is a wonderful feeling of freedom in getting rid of “all that stuff.”

5. If you don’t do it, someone else will do it for you.

Okay, that does it. I’m getting back to downsizing, now!  🙂

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