Fix Your Broken Window and Other Great Tips for Feeling Less Stressed

There is a social science theory that one broken window on the block can lead to the downfall of a neighborhood. Broken-window policing, the practice of combatting minor offenses in an effort to deter more serious ones, was popular in many cities and former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, for one, was a strong supporter.

Today that practice is somewhat controversial as a police policy but it may have a place in our arsenal against clutter. It can be a new way of looking at small messes in our home. Rather than seeing the mess and feeling overwhelmed by it, we can fix the small things.

As Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, says, even something as small as a stack of unsorted mail can feel defeating. She continues: “Maybe your broken window is dirty laundry, a sink full of dishes, clutter on your counter. Whatever it is, it undermines your goals because it gives you a sense of chaos. The act of fixing broken windows, however, is liberating. The task takes on symbolic weight. It doesn’t just feel like you’re sorting the mail you’ve been meaning to sort—it feels like you’re taking the first step toward doing everything you’ve been meaning to.” So fixing small messes means they’re less likely to become big messes.

Another tip is to be prepared. Yes, the Girl Scout motto comes in handy for adults, too. When you don’t have the time to do a complete job – of any household task including battling clutter – the more you prepare ahead of time, the more you can get done. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, of his command of the troops in World War II, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

A Navy Seal reminds us: “Under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.” Let’s look at our training at home. You have a mail sorter and wastebasket near your front door? Your mail never has to become an unwieldy pile. You’ve posted important phone numbers on your refrigerator? No need for a frantic search when you need one in a hurry. Bought fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s market this weekend? You’re halfway to a healthy meal after a stressful day at work. Systems that are firmly in place often reduce stress.

Remember to appreciate the small things in your life. Do you have a painting you love to look at? Make sure to hang it in a prominent spot away from clutter or other distractions so you can enjoy it. You love to read but find your books are always in a jumble? Make it easier on yourself by straightening up your bookshelf so you can find the titles you want. You love your grandmother’s china but never have an occasion to use it? Hang one plate on the wall so you see it every day. Live with the things you love.

Learn something useful. So much of life today involves paperwork or using technology, or both, which is so disheartening. To combat that feeling, learn to do something useful. You can share your expertise with a friend and ask her to teach you something. Ask your grandmother for tips. Or take a course, if you like. But be useful. Grow vegetables. Knit a hat. Fix your toilet. Bake a cake. Paint the porch. The results of a first try may not be as wonderful as you would like but you’ll feel like you’re contributing to your home. You’ll empower yourself.

And, lastly, help someone else. Lend a hand. Do a good deed for someone in need. As Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

Do you have a favorite stress-buster? We’d love to hear from you.

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 I Learned While Helping at a Moving Sale

house-stuff 2David McGrievey

Last week I helped a friend organize and sell at a two-day moving sale. Her house had been sold and she was emptying it of all the contents, taking some of it with her and giving other things to friends, but selling what she could. Here’s what I learned.

• Do your homework. Researching prices ahead of time really helps. Original packaging enhances an item as does having the manual for small appliances. My friend was selling big items like furniture and it helped to have original receipts to establish provenance, manufacturer’s names, and age of the item.

• Organize and stage. Grouping like items together makes sense for customers who are looking for a particular item or even for those just browsing. But we also staged some areas, putting decorative pillows on chairs and lamps on occasional tables so people could see items in a more living-with-it context. We also grouped outdoor furniture under a backyard umbrella to make an inviting setting.

• Price appropriately for you. Pricing each large item is a must. But grouping smaller ones in a carton and labeling the cartons $1 each or $3 each makes sense. Offering a discount for multiple items also encourages sales. Be willing to negotiate, but it’s your choice to stay firm on prices of things that you feel are priced fairly or on those items you don’t want to haggle over.

• Advertise. My friend listed both large items of furniture and a notice of the moving sale on Craigslist a week or two before the sale. She also put ads for both in the local paper. From Craigslist she got buyers interested in specific items of furniture and was able to sell some of those before the day of the sale. Having both ads in the paper also brought serious buyers as well as people who simply like to amble through yard sales.

• Think about your start time. No matter what time you put on the signs and in the ads, people will show up early!

• It’s good to have friends. All the work involved in a moving sale is too much for one person to handle. Even though my friend did an astonishing amount of work ahead of time, and on the day of the sale, she was so grateful for helping hands.

• Sharing your story is awesome and humbling. The teak backyard table and chairs was sold to a disabled Iraqi war veteran who had a blade for a lower leg. He had moved with his family (wife and three kids) to a town nearby and was furnishing their new house. A woman with a cane bought one of the bikes, vowing that she was going to heal sufficiently to ride a bike again. A man who spoke little English and didn’t know the word for ‘blender’ had his very young daughter translate for him: “We need something like that,” she said. We are all so human.

• Think of others. My friend is incredibly generous person and she gave large items of furniture as well as small decorative pieces and kitchen items to friends and relatives before the start of the sale. She had also arranged with Habitat for Humanity to come pick up everything that didn’t sell at the sale.

Helping out at my friend’s moving sale was a great deal of fun; organizing, staging, pricing, selling, and hanging out with friends made for an enjoyable few days. And something else I learned: It’s a lot more fun and so much easier to get rid of someone else’s 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

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

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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

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

Recycling Tips for Carpet and Rugs

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According to Earth 911, in 2011, only 9 percent of the millions of tons of carpet and rugs that were discarded that year were recycled.

Why are carpets and rugs are one of the least recycled household items? For the homeowner, carpets are heavy and bulky to transport and it’s much easier to simply dump them in the trash. For the recycler, carpet is a challenge to work with because it’s made of different fibers and backing fabrics and each has to be recovered and reused separately.

Recycling

The Mother Nature Network’s site has two articles on the process of recycling carpet:

How to Recycle Carpet 

Recycling Old Carpet: Is it Possible?

Check out the Carpet and Rug Institute’s article Recycle, Recover and Reuse for another look at recycling.

The Carpet Recyclers’ site has a video that shows the recycling process.

And go to the Carpet America Recovery Effort’s (CARE) site for a list of places, by state, that will recycle carpet.

Reusing

You can donate worn but clean pieces of carpet to animal shelters, turn them into cat scratchers, use them for insulation, or save one rectangle to use as a welcome mat.

Check out these sites for some more practical suggestions.

This Old House’s article 10 Uses for Carpet Scraps.

Used Carpet Melbourne: Ten Things You Can Do with Your Old Carpet.

Build-It-Green Coach’s Creative Ways to Reuse Carpet.

Reducing

You can reduce your need for new carpeting by extending the life of the carpet you have. See Creators.com’s advice on how to care for your carpet and how to create a patch for a damaged area.

It’s always good to be green!

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

 

Opportunity or Stumbling Block?

Some people look at getting rid of clutter as an opportunity: a chance, if not to change direction, then at least to clean up their path a bit. Other people see the need to get organized as a stumbling block, something that trips them up at every turn.

Are the people who see decluttering as an opportunity too optimistic? Are their rose-colored glasses a little too rosy? After all, life’s problems will be there whether their drawers are neatly arranged or not. And are the people who focus on the stumbling blocks too pessimistic? Are they using their reluctance to declutter as an excuse to not get moving in other areas of their life?

Perhaps the task of getting rid of clutter presents a combination of both opportunity and stumbling block – just like so many other things in life. And maybe we need to find a middle ground, some realistic and doable place between unbridled optimism and self-defeating pessimism that allows us to move forward with the “stuff” in our lives.

Here are some tips I’ve gleaned from talking to others who have been through the process of decluttering.

Just start. Don’t wait for someone else. Don’t ask for permission. Be your own source of power. And don’t worry about the “right” place to start. Just start.

Set a deadline. It may help you to focus. But as you keep expanding the parameters of the job, remember to reset the goal.

Do a little, often. Don’t wait until you have a free day; use those two hours you have. Don’t wait for a two-hour block; use the twenty minutes you have each day to accomplish one small task.

Celebrate your progress. Don’t wait for what may seem like an elusive end product but find delight and satisfaction in one clean shelf, one accessible drawer, one bag of clothing donated. Take before and after pictures to remind you of how much you have accomplished.

Ask for help if you need it. Don’t despair if the job seems too daunting. Ask family and friends to help in ways small and large.

Whether you see cleaning up your clutter as an opportunity or a stumbling block, you may have tips to share that will help others. What works for you?

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

More Words of Wisdom…

I’ve always collected quotes. Something about the pithiness, the essence of some universal truth captured in just a few words, appeals to me. I like to savor the words that someone else has written and I revisit the quotes from time to time.

The quotes I save are often about nature, food, jobs, books and other topics that I write about but I also treasure quotes about life in general: working, aging, raising children, and all of life’s little ironies.

Since writing about downsizing, I’ve gathered quotes about clutter. My coauthor shared some of her favorites in an earlier post.

Some quotes help us see how frustrating it is to live with clutter.

“When all you see is clutter, all you feel is frustration.” – Richard Flint, motivational speaker

“When you live surrounded by clutter, it’s like dragging the ball and chain of your past around with you everywhere you go.” – Karen Kingston

Other quotes help us see the internal component of clutter.

Legendary personal organizer Barbara Hemphill has a great quote that goes straight to the heart of the matter: “Clutter is postponed decisions.”

And some quotes give us hope.

“Decluttering isn’t just simplifying your life. It’s having a vision, setting new priorities and using those notions to get rid of obstacles.” – Peter Walsh

 “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Do you save your favorite quotes? Or do you have words of wisdom passed along by your parents or grandparents? We would love to hear about them so please share some of them in a comment on this post.

LH