• An Important Lesson

    “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 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. Read more about how “keepers” and “throwers” work together to downsize and declutter.
  • Press for our Book

    “…a downsizing bible” Oregon Home
    "...some items have special sentimental meaning... Huffington Post
    "clearing out the clutter...a wonderful gift to your family..."USA Today
    "sharing tips for getting the job done..."PBS’s Next Avenue
    "Downsizing: What to do with all that stuff?" Forbes
    “…discussions [help] avert misunderstandings…” The New York Times
    “…creative ways…of maintaining peace while dividing the family heirlooms” BloombergBusinessweek
    “practical suggestions for sorting through a lifetime of items…” The Washington Times
    “…about memories, feelings and people…” Chicago Tribune
    “tips on preserving relations and memories while sorting clutter...” The Salt Lake Tribune
    "lessons from two who have 'been there, done that'..."Your Organizing Business
    “…a useful resource...” Senior Living Institute
    “…help is on the way…” Illinois Public Media
    …the only book mentioned in the Comprehensive Checklist for Downsizing a Home Organize and Downsize

  • On Our Bookshelf

    Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand
    Buried in Treasures by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost, and Gail Steketee
    Caring for Your Family Treasures by Jane S. Long and Richard W. Long
    Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
    Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin
    Sell, Keep, or Toss? How to Downsize a Home... by Harry L. Rinker
    Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate? by Marlene S. Strum

  • Our Favorite Blogs

  • Advertisements

Living by Design, Not by Default

When I read the introduction to Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, a book about best business practices, I immediately thought that what the author was writing about could also apply to downsizing and decluttering.

And then in the first chapter McKeown does, in fact, make the analogy: Just as our closets get cluttered with clothes we never wear, so do our lives get cluttered with well-intended commitments and activities.

Yes, this is an author from whom I want to learn more.

McKeown goes on to show how an Essentialist, his word for someone who practices essentialism or living by design, not by default, would approach that closet.

  1. Explore and evaluate. “Do I love this? Do I look great in it?”
  2. To deal with the ‘maybe’ pile, he suggests asking: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?”
  3. To keep your closet tidy, you need a regular routine for organizing it.

His approach sounds so similar to what we’ve suggested over the years as best practices for downsizing and decluttering.

McKeown begins each chapter of his book with a quote and many of these relate to decluttering, too.

It is the ability to choose which makes us human. ≈ Madeleine L’Engle

The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten. We cannot forget that we can make choices, that we must make choices.

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything. ≈ John Maxwell

Very few things in our lives are exceptionally valuable. That’s a hard lesson to learn when you are downsizing the family home and want to save every precious-to-you item left by your parents.

Without great solitude no serious work is possible. ≈ Pablo Picasso

Take your time. “Take a breath, look around, think,” says the CEO of a marketing company. Good advice for downsizing, too.

No is a complete sentence. ≈ Anne Lamott

The freedom of setting boundaries is so important, with our possessions as well as our commitments. We can identify what doesn’t work for us, but we also have to eliminate it. McKeown reminds us that the Latin root for the word decisioncis or cid—literally means ‘to cut’ or ‘to kill.’

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. ≈ Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Have a plan.

Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. ≈ Doug Firebaugh

Mark your progress. Start small and get big results. What I say in my talks is: Work for 20 minutes a day three times a week. Set a timer. Do what you can in 20 minutes: empty one drawer, one bookshelf, sort through one category of clothing, shoes or scarves, for instance.

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. ≈ W.H. Auden

Having a routine, the right routine, one that “enshrines what is essential, making execution almost effortless,” is a powerful tool. It’s what McKeown calls “the genius of routine.”

Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply. ≈ Thick Nhat Hanh

Staying in the present moment, not thinking about what happened before or what may happen in the future, helps us keep our focus. What’s important now?

Greg McKeown concludes the book by saying, “As these ideas become emotionally true, they take on the power to change you.” We can become a different, better version of ourselves.

We can certainly endorse working towards a better version of ourselves, of our closets, and of our lives.

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.


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?

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?

stuff illo

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

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 7.54.19 AM

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.


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.


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.


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