Something I Thought I Would Never Say…

A couple of months ago my daughter stopped by to borrow a couple of books to take with her on her vacation. She was very specific about what she wanted: a serious nonfiction book, something she could learn from, and a lighter book, a beach read maybe, and preferably something that was funny or light-hearted.

The nonfiction book she had in mind was a book that I had given away, miraculously perhaps, but I do get rid of books from time to time.

I started looking on the bookshelves between the living room and the dining room and pulled down some books I thought might meet her requirements.

Then I went into my bedroom where there are two bookshelves, one that takes up most of one wall. Again, I took down a few books.

My night table has only three books on it, ones that I am supposedly reading, but not really, because I don’t read in bed that much anymore. But there is a pile of about a dozen books on the floor next to my bed, a pile that is my “to read” list, and much too large and cumbersome to sit on the night table. Again I chose some books.

My daughter went through the books asking about the ones I had read and the ones I had planned to read. After much discussion, she wasn’t really happy with any of the choices. We ended up loading a few books onto my Kindle, including the nonfiction book she had come looking for, and she took that with her.

Now I had several piles of books in my living room that needed to go back to their respective shelves. Or did they? As my daughter and I had talked about the books, I realized that many of them that I had planned to read no longer really interested me.

I have written about purging my books shelves before, here and here. But more recently I wrote about emptying my closet completely in order to have repair work done. The empty closet was an inspiration. The idea of starting with an empty space (or an empty bookshelf) and working to put back what I wanted to keep rather than taking out what I wanted to give away was so liberating.

What if I got rid of, donated, all of my books, and just brought back in the ones that really have meaning for me. The lure of completely empty bookshelves (well, empty except for multiple copies of books I’ve written and my mother’s childhood books – I’m already qualifying what I’m willing to get rid of) was compelling.

Empty bookshelves. What an appealing thought. That’s something I thought I would never say. I haven’t gotten rid of any books yet. But the idea intrigues me. I’m not sure how this will play out but I’ll keep you posted.

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 Conversation for the Holidays

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The holiday season presents families who are gathering together an excellent opportunity to have a conversation about family plans and what the future holds for the older generation. Or does it?

You can’t make your parents talk about what may be a difficult subject for them – how and where they are going to spend their later years.

You can’t expect your siblings to fall in line with your plans just because you think it’s the right time.

You can’t get rid of clutter or divide up family items, unless everyone is on board with the idea.

What can you do?

Remember that all-important conversation – the one that’s so difficult to initiate – is about what’s best for your parents. It’s at least as hard for your parents to talk about this as it is for you. You’ll want to begin the conversation slowly, and be considerate of their feelings as you go.

  • Start now. Whatever your parents’ age, it’s time for them to start talking about the eventual disposition of their belongings. Encourage them; let them know you’re ready to have this conversation whenever they are.
  • Listen more than you talk. Let your parents do most of the talking. Make the discussion a dialogue, not a lecture.
  • Ask how you can help. Your parents may have their own ideas about how to get the process started, and how they would like you to help. They may, or may not, want your opinions: they may, or may not, want your physical help.
  • Be prepared with your suggestions. If your parents are at a loss as to how to start, have some concrete suggestions for them. Even if they don’t accept your ideas, hearing about them may help them to formulate their own.
  • Ask questions. As you talk about specific items, discuss your parents’ feelings about them, and ask about any special memories they may evoke. You may be surprised at the details of family history that will emerge.

So what can you bring to the family table this season? Wear a big smile, have an open heart, and bring along a copy of our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Happy Holidays!

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

Where Do You Start?

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Last week, I participated in a downsizing roundtable for seniors and the question everyone asked was, “Where do you start?” From my experience in writing our book Moving On and our blog, here’s what I’ve learned.

Whether you are moving to a smaller place, straightening up because your apartment is going to be painted, or simply have that feeling that your possessions have taken over, the first question – and sometimes the one that stops you in your tracks – is always how do you get started. Here are some suggestions.

Start now. You can think about this, you can lament having to do it, but at some point you simply have to plunge in – even if “starting” simply means beginning to think about what you want to get rid of and talking to people about the best way to do that. The longer you put it off, the more difficult it will become. If you’re older, the sooner you start, the more you’ll be able to be actively involved in the process of sorting through your things. And whether you’re old or young, that means that the changes you’re about to make will be on your terms, not someone else’s.

Take your time. The best way not become overwhelmed with the process of downsizing is to take your time. Schedule regular sessions, maybe just a half hour at a time, adding a few 2- to 3-hour sessions when needed. Doing too much at once may exhaust you and make you postpone starting another session. Keep your sessions short but make them a regular habit.

Start with the easy things. Begin with the areas that have the least emotional impact for you because it will be easier to part with those things. For some, that might be getting rid of old towels (a welcome donation at most animal shelters). For others it might be that pile of unread magazines or the kitchen utensils in that overstuffed kitchen drawer. Start with whatever area works best for you.

Start small. Don’t try to do too much at one time. If it took you 20 or 30 years to accumulate all that clutter, it will take you more than a couple of weeks to sort through it all. And any job that seems overwhelming can be broken down into smaller parts. If going through your clothes is too big a job to contemplate, divide the clothes into smaller groups: office clothes, casual wear, shoes, coats, accessories, and tackle each group separately.

Communicate. Talk over your plans with your family and friends; let them know that you want to get your home in order. Seek out people who have been through the experience of downsizing to find out what they did right—as well as what they did wrong. After the fact, people often have some insight as to what needs to be saved and what can be tossed. And ask for advice from friends and colleagues who are particularly well organized. The more you talk about getting organized and the more you embrace this as your project, the more likely you will be to get it done.

Get help. Nobody has to do this alone. When you are sorting through personal mementos like family photos or going through your income tax files, you’ll want to work alone. But if you need help deciding which clothes to keep and which to give away, you could ask a friend whose taste you admire to give you a helping hand. And anyone can help with carting things away; you could ask a teenage neighbor for help.

Think beyond. What this means is that for some of us, it’s easier to get rid of things when we know that the items will have a life beyond our needs. There are many places, well-known charities, schools, community groups, and businesses, that accept all kinds of household items from used roller skates to nearly new business suits, from college textbooks to sports equipment.

Enjoy the process. You can decide that this process has its upsides, that it’s not all onerous, and to do that you may have to adjust your attitude somewhat. You can also realize that this is an opportunity to be generous. People we interviewed found great joy in giving things away, whether to friends or to those in need. With the right attitude and an awareness of the needs of others, you can make this a positive experience.

Remember that one drawer emptied of its clutter or a couple of shelves in a closet that are organized and easier to use is a great accomplishment. Give yourself permission to feel good about the first small step you take; that will make it easier for you to go on to the next step. And downsizing is a process of many small steps.

So let’s get started.

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

In Praise of Procrastination

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Is there really anything good to say about procrastination?

We’ve written here so often about the need to do it NOW – whatever “it” is – to  start downsizing now, to make a decision about the clutter now, to be more organized now, that perhaps I’m posting this in the wrong place…

But before we dismiss procrastination as something that is to be avoided at all cost, let’s take a look at it from both sides.

We are all very familiar with the downside of procrastinating.

If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.

~ Olin Miller

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

~ W.B. Yeats

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

~ Andy Warhol

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to look at the upside of procrastinating.

A time to rest, to dream instead of do.

~ Sophie Fonanel

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

~ Annie Dillard

Why should I not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining world?

~ Mary Oliver

What can we gain from taking time away from the task at hand, from putting down the always present to-do list? We give ourselves an opportunity to rest, to dream, to look out on the hillside, to mark our days with thought and contemplation.

We can stop always having to do, and just be.

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

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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

A Lesson Plan for Organizing

Looking for some inspiration for organizing my things, I decided to interview a professional organizer. Marcia is a former educator turned professional organizer and (full disclosure) a friend of mine.

Her company name, Home Organizer: section by section, describes precisely how Marcia approaches the task of organizing – breaking down the job into smaller and smaller sections.

Marcia’s first concern is respect for the client. While sorting through things with clients, Marcia wants them to feel valued and validated, feelings that can help them continue on with the task. The clients are encouraged to see meaning in their things, meaning that is perhaps not apparent to others.

By being positive, Marcia helps celebrate the person who chose this stuff in the first place. She keeps her antennae up for the things people want to share with her because, in sharing their stories, they are also sharing who they are and what they see as their place in the world. She wants, above all, to have the clients come out of the experience feeling good about themselves.

Using her many years as teacher to help her formulate a plan, Marcia says her first task is to assess the situation. What is the client’s goal? What is their readiness for achieving that goal? From teaching Marcia understands that a person can’t start on anything they are not ready for, skillwise or emotionally. Readiness is the key to learning. Then she shows how the client’s goal is actually doable – section by section. Marcia asks which room the client wants to start with, then which area of that room, then which part of that area, working down to the smallest section. Sorting through one small section helps the client feel a sense of accomplishment quickly.

Just as she did every day as a teacher, Marcia creates a basic lesson plan. She…

– sets a goal.

– models what the client should do, showing them what she would like them to do.

– works together with the client on the task, then asks the client to do the task while she is present.

– asks the client to perform the task without her.

– gives the client something to do by themselves and has the client reflect on that task with her later.

– plans the next session after assessing the previous one.

Marcia’s working style is to have respect for the person and their belongings and respect for their learning style. She likes to make the process of sorting fun and she does this by listening to the stories clients have to tell. She gets people to show their real selves, who they are, through their stuff.

From Marica I learned that with a lesson plan of our own and working with the smallest section possible, we can all become organized.

Marcia’s parting advice was: Organization is freeing up your time for the things you really want to do. That certainly shines a positive light on what many of us have always felt was an onerous task.

LH

Summer Hours

Summer Hours (L’heure d’été) is a 2008 French film about three adult siblings who must decide what to do with their family’s summer house and the museum-quality art objects they have inherited from their mother.

The film explores the differences in the lives of a family from one generation to the next, the connections the objects have on the siblings and what they think their mother’s connection to them was, and how they choose to deal with both the objects and their feelings.

The mother recognizes her children’s disparate lives and has anticipated the sale of the home and the donation of the art after her death; the children have to deal with the reality of that.

The characters are intelligent and have complex emotions; the family comes together as a unit at the same time as the individual members live very different lives, personally and geographically.

The elder son is the most sentimental and decries the loss of his mother, the house, and the objects that make up his most cherished memories. He would like his life to continue on the way it was, with the siblings sharing the house, after his mother has died. His sister and brother live abroad, the sister in the U.S. and the younger brother in China, and they want to get rid of things as quickly as possible and move on with their lives.

There is the question of what France means to the siblings since two of them live abroad, but the core issue is what each of us deals with every day: What do our family objects mean to us and can we keep the memories they evoke as we disperse the items? Can we honor the owner of the objects without revering the objects? How do “keepers” and “throwers” cooperate so that everyone feels included in the process?

This is a quiet yet intense film on a subject dear to our hearts.

LH

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