6 things I learned from 6 years of blogging

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Six years ago next month we introduced ourselves to the world of blogging with this blog, Downsizing The Home: Lessons Learned.

Our journey began when my coauthor and I shared our personal downsizing stories with each other, stories of helping our fathers empty our childhood homes as they prepared for the next stage of their lives. We were surprised at how powerful the emotions connected to family possessions could be and, at the same time, how easy it was to let go of many things.

We decided we wanted to share the information we had gathered with others who were going though the same process, and the result was our book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. As we promoted the book, our path led to new media and to this blog.

Six things I learned from blogging:

It’s easier said than done.

It’s much easier to write about downsizing and decluttering than it is to actually downsize and declutter. That may come as a surprise to many of the people who read our blog or listen to us speak. Many times at my talks, someone comments about what a neat house I must have. Not so. But I do own up to it and express to everyone what a struggle it is to keep things organized and to make decisions about what we own and what we are willing to let go of.

People are wonderful!

People have so many interesting and inventive ways to rid themselves of clutter and excess and I’ve learned so much from others. I’ve met such wonderful people, many of them as online voices only, who have shared both strategies and advice, as well as many poignant stories, who have shared thoughtful ways to deal with others who see the clutter – and life – differently than we do, people who have inspired me to write about them and share their lives and their work with you. I have been helped enormously by listening to the voices of others.

Think outside the box.

Or, in this case, outside the book. We came to realize that we could stretch ourselves and go beyond our original focus. Our blog has given us the chance to go further and explore deeper than the scope of our book and to include thoughts about recycling and upcycling, views on how to live with less—and happily so, and a vision of how to treasure what we have, without the need to always have more. Writing posts that explore issues beyond the book has expanded my horizons.

Done is better than perfect.

And here’s a shout-out to all the other mantras that help me keep moving: Just do it. Start now. See beyond. And a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I find so helpful, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”

Life often does circle back.

The blog started with our book and ultimately comes back to our book but, oh, the places we have been! In some ways, as a writer, the biggest challenge is to make readers aware that our book exists. But having the opportunity to explore so many aspects of life with our readers, beyond the downsizing process we wrote about originally, has been such a privilege for me.

We are a community.

Yes, we are a community, you and I and everyone else in this Internet family constellation. I love hearing your thoughts and stories, in your own blogs and when you leave a comment on our blog. I’m so pleased when you follow us on Twitter and share our tweets, and when you share our Facebook posts. I love hearing from you. We are all in this together – and you have welcomed me into the group.

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

Simple Practices: Forming New Habits and Taking Conscious Risks

Better Than Before Risk-Reward

 

Earlier this week I attended an author series featuring two best-selling authors whose new books “challenge readers’ daily approach to work and life.” Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and Anne Kreamer, author of Risk/Reward: Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices Are the Best Career Moves You Can Make, take a look at new ways to approach the small moments in work and in life.

There are two kinds of people in the world, or so it’s said, those who divide people into categories and those who don’t, and Rubin and Kreamer definitely divide by category—as a way to better understand ourselves, say the authors.

In Better Than Before Gretchen Rubin’s thesis is that the key to changing our lives is to change our habits. The more we develop habits, the less we have to depend on willpower. “One of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t…have to make decisions.” In the book, Rubin identifies 21 strategies to use to make or break habits that will work for each of the personality types she identifies: Upholder (one who meets inner and outer expectations), Questioner (one who resists outer expectations but meets inner ones), Obliger (one who meets outer expectations but resists inner ones), and Rebel (one who resists inner and outer expectations).

The takeaway: What bad habits do we have – dropping the mail as soon as we come in, not putting things away when we’re finished with them – that we could change by creating good habits? How would this transform our issues with clutter?

Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, which we talked about here.

In Risk/Reward Anne Kreamer says that embracing “conscious, consistent, and modest risk-taking at work can help us become more able to recognize opportunity when it appears, and more likely to seize the chance to make the right change at the right moment.” Much of this seems relevant to managing our homes, too. Kreamer writes about four Risk/Reward personality types: Pioneers, Thinkers, Defenders, and Drifters, and presents a matrix so the reader can identify his or her own innate risk style.

The takeaway: What conscious risk can we take – one that may seem radical at first but is really modest – that will directly alter the way we look at the tasks we perform to keep our homes in order? How will this help us make the right change at the right moment?

Both authors show how a little thought, a little more awareness about what we do each day can lead us to rethink our routines. What works for us, and what doesn’t? If something doesn’t work, can we shed it and replace it with a habit that does work? If a practice works for us, can we enhance it and make it work even better? Are we up to the challenge of taking a risk to change our behavior?

The key takeaway from these authors is to be aware of the small things we do every day and to make those moments more meaningful. As Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” Here’s to forming new habits and taking conscious risks to make our days better.

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Gretchen Rubin signing books at @Macaulay Author Series.

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

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

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

 

Gratitude Upended

Thanksgiving is usually a holiday associated with abundance – copious amounts of food on the table, lots of relatives gathered together, and the spectacle of a parade with larger-than-life balloons.

It is also the holiday most associated with gratitude. We are almost compelled to be thankful – for food and family, of course, but also for the freedoms we have and for the abundance of our material possessions.

This year gratitude was upended for me by a ferocious hurricane. I’m thankful that my family and friends survived and came through the storm with most of their possessions intact, but the storm made me realize that abundance has a different meaning for me this year. I’m thankful not so much for what I have but for what I have to give away.

As I saw pictures of the devastation in the newspaper – I couldn’t watch them onscreen, TV or computer, because I had no power – I could see how much people had lost and realized that rather than downsize because we no longer need so much stuff, we can downsize because others need it so much more than we do.

So this year I’ve been thinking about gratitude in a different way. I’m thankful for the many opportunities given to me to donate bags of food and clothing… to a Y, at a farmers’ market, to a temple, to a church, and to a colleague who had organized a clothing drive at the office. And I’m especially grateful to all the people who created drop-off sites, who organized clothing drives, and who transported the collected items to the areas hardest hit by the storm.

It shouldn’t take a natural disaster to make us thankful for what we have and grateful for our ability to give to others, but it often does. We should be grateful every day. As Russell Simmons tweeted, “Gratefulness is a practice…” and most of us need to practice.

In the spirit of thanksgiving, I wish everyone a holiday filled – not with abundance – but with just enough to meet our needs, and the insight to realize that having just what we need is, indeed, abundance.

≈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

Organizing for Your Heirs

Recently I came across two essays that dealt with organizing for the end of one’s life, one a Sunday Dialogue in the New York Times and the other a post by a person who blogs about organizing.

In the Times article, “Discussing Dying with Loved Ones,” the writer, Janis Abrahms Spring, a clinical psychologist and author of Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent, says “When aging parents spell out their end-of-life wishes to their children, this is an act of supreme kindness.”

But as we know, adult children need to do this for themselves and their children as well. One reader responded: “The responsibility… of adult offspring is to consider their own end-of-life preferences in order to begin the conversation with the next generation in a more timely manner.”

We addressed this issue a few months ago in two posts that I wrote, one – One Life, Four Papers – about the four papers we should all have: a will, a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will, and the other – Getting Your House in Order – about the need for a comprehensive list of important information: bank accounts and passwords, insurance policies, and credit cards, as well as a list of the people who need to be notified of your death.

As Marcie, creator of the blog Organized by Marcie, says, “preparing for the inevitable end of life is one of the most important things you can do.” She suggests that in addition to a healthy care proxy and advance directive, one create a list of items that have special meaning to you and explain why you feel they are important to you. What a lovely present that is for your loved ones.

As Marcie says, preparing these documents is not fun, but it is important. And, as we know, your family will thank you for it. As one New York Times reader said after receiving a copy of her mother’s living will and health care proxy: “It was a bit of a shock, but I now appreciate how fortunate we [she and her brother] were to have a mother with such foresight and practicality.”

To organize now about the end of your life is practical, realistic, and sensible – and a bit scary. It is truly a gift to your loved ones. As we said in an earlier post, organize your life now and later on will be easier for you and your family.

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.