Posts in "Downsizing"

Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books

The following is a guest post from Robyn Devine of She Makes Hats, originally posted to Becoming Minimalist:

It is unmistakably comforting to curl up in a thick chair with a tattered copy of a book you love, listening to the rain while you let yourself get carried away by the words on the page. I know – I used to hoard books. Don’t let the title “minimalist” scare you off – I have a love of books that dates back to my years toddling around with Dr. Seuss, a love that was handed down from my mother.

Until just a few years ago, books were stacked everywhere in my home. My two huge book cases were double-stacked with volumes ranging from children’s fiction to college text books, and piles had formed next to couches and the bed, not to mention on any available surface. I could not imagine my life without these friends surrounding me – the very thought of letting go of just one was enough to send me hurling at my shelves, attempting to wrap my arms around every book I owned in protection.

Today, I am the proud owner of approximately 20 books – six of which are craft books. To move from one extreme to the other took some serious work, and was not an overnight process. It started with the realization that I was not so much attached to the stories and words themselves, but the physical books sitting on the shelves. Once I had that realization, I began to let go of some of my books, and moved slowly towards a more minimalist reading collection.

The best way for any book-collector to tackle their bookshelves is by looking at one book at a time. When we look at the whole expanse of our book collection, it can be hard to imagine ever letting a single book go, but in reality there are volumes hiding on those shelves that we truly don’t need or want. Taking time to pull a book down off the shelf and truly look at it as an individual item will help you decide for that book alone if staying on your shelves is the best option.

Here are a few suggestions to help even the biggest bibliophile relieve your sagging shelves of stress:

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1. Write It Down. Sometimes, it’s the way a book made us feel, our connection to the story or a character that keeps us from letting go of the book itself. Take some time to write down those feelings, those connections. Maybe you’ll keep these notes on your computer or in a notebook, or maybe you’ll begin a blog for them. Once you get those emotions and thoughts out, it can be easier to pass the book on to someone else who you think would love the story as much as you did.

Tiny Action: Grab a notebook and start writing down your thoughts about each book as you take it off your shelves. If you can’t think of anything to say, you probably won’t miss the book if it weren’t there anymore.

2. Divide. Get ruthless with your “yet to read” pile. My rule of thumb is simple: If it hasn’t been read in six months, it probably won’t ever be read. I went so far as to test this theory myself as I found books on my shelves I hadn’t yet read, but couldn’t yet bear to let go. I dedicated a shelf to “need to read” books, and noted the date. Any books that started out on that shelf on that date but were still there six months later I purged – I had discovered I truly had no desire to read them!

Tiny Action: Let go of any book you haven’t read yet that has been on your shelves for more than six months. Afraid you’ll want to read it someday? Make a note of it in your notebook – title, author, ISBN number even – so you can find it at the library if you truly want to read it later.

3. One of the best ways to make use of your book collection is to share it with others! As you look at books, anytime you find yourself thinking “So and so would LOVE this book!” write that name down on a sticky note, stick it on the front cover, and set the book aside. After you’ve got 20 or so books in a pile, begin handing them out – drive to friends’ houses and drop them off, or put them in the mail (book rate shipping is SUPER cheap).

Tiny Action: Pick five books off your shelves that you’d love to share with someone else, and then send them off to their new homes. Today.

4. Set aside one shelf of your book case as your “desert island” shelf. Most book lovers have books they know they will never let go of, no matter what. I call these “desert island” books – they are the books I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island, that I could read over and over again for the rest of my life. As you come across these books in your collection, add them to your shelf. Not only is it comforting to see those books being saved as you pare down others, you now have a physical boundary – you can have no more “desert island” books than will fit in this one space, so you are forced to think analytically about your collection.

Tiny Action: Clear off one shelf to keep as your “desert island” shelf. It can only hold one row of books – no double stacks or piles!

5. Organize your non-fiction books by topic. I found when I began to organize my non-fiction books by topic, I had overlaps in some subjects. For me, the largest overlaps came in religious studies (my major in college). As I saw where I’d doubled up on topic, it was easier to let go of a few books.

Tiny Action: Organize your books by topic and author. Begin to pare down where you see overlaps.

6. Look for multiple copies, and get rid of them. You may laugh, thinking you would NEVER buy a multiple of a book, but trust me when I say I’ve found multiple copies of books on the shelves of almost every sentimental bibliophile I’ve met. Once you have more than a shelf or two of books (not a book CASE or two, a SHELF or two!), the chances of your remembering what books you own dwindles. Even if you love the book, there is never a need to own more than one copy of it!

Tiny Action: Every time you notice a multiple of a book, immediately give one copy away.

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While going through this process, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Take breaks. When I first began paring down my books, I would get dizzy after 15 minutes!
  • Take five minutes to step away anytime you begin to feel overwhelmed – this is a new experience for your body, and it takes some getting used to!
  • Stay hydrated. I found I would get drained and tired as I went through my books – keeping a glass of water next to me helped keep me alert and focused.
  • Set a timer. Sort through your books for no more than 30 minutes the first go-round or you will find yourself getting frustrated and overwhelmed.
  • Honor your emotions. Your sentimental attachment to your books is not something to feel ashamed of or sad about. Acknowledging your emotions as you sort through your books can be the first step in helping you move past that attachment and towards a more minimalist reading habit.
  • And above all, remember this: you did not acquire those books overnight, so you will not release your attachment to them quickly either. By spending a few minutes a week and by letting go of a few books at a time, you will find your feelings shifting towards the stories and the moment rather than the books themselves.

Is Your Marriage Strong Enough for a Yard Sale?

garage saleWhen we were getting ready to move, I asked my husband if we should have a yard sale. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Our marriage isn’t strong enough for a yard sale.” We looked at each other, laughed, and put everything in the donate pile.

It’s spring, and every weekend yard sale signs appear on corners, owners hoping for windfalls from parting with household bric-a-brac. Since everyone has stuff they don’t need, yard sales seem like a good way to make some money in your spare time. Before you begin planning your next yard sale, calculate your hourly rate, as this blogger did. You may want to reconsider.

“I made a whopping $600 in five hours! That is $120 per hour! But how much did I really earn per hour? To get ready for the yard sale, I spent 15 minutes a day for one month, or 7 hours. This means I spent a total of 12 hours to make $600, so I actually earned $50 per hour. I spent 4 hours the night before the sale bringing things up from the basement, sorting everything by category and pricing things, which increased my time investment to 16 hours, so my earnings dropped to $37. I spent 2 hours setting up in the morning, which increased my hours to 18 and decreased my hourly rate to $33. I spent 1 hour getting poster board and stakes, 2 hours making up signs, 1 hour driving around the neighborhood to post them and another hour after the sale to take the signs down — a total of 4 more hours, or 22 hours in total. My earning is now $27 per hour. Of course, I didn’t actually do all of this by myself; my spouse helped. That doubles the hours, so my hourly earning is now $13.50. Although I decreased prices sharply near the end, there was still lots that didn’t sell, so we put everything left in boxes and dropped the off at a nearby thrift store. While there, however, I saw some neat things that were selling for a real bargain, so I bought them, and ending up bringing more stuff I don’t need into my home.”

nikkianddanny.blogspot.com

The solution? Ditch the yard sale idea. Take everything to the thrift store. Be sure to take your driver’s license…but leave your wallet at home. Long live your marriage!

When Things Can’t be Mended

One of the most difficult aspects of packing is handling items that are already damaged or that have been previously repaired. These items are especially vulnerable to repeat damage. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, these items break. Some clients are especially fragile, too. Like items that have been previously repaired, the stress of moving pushes them to the breaking point.

tea cupSome time ago, we worked with a couple moving to an active adult community. They asked for help getting their home ready for listing. At our initial meeting, the wife cried. I assumed it was from embarrassment at the home’s condition (which was exceptionally cluttered) or from anxiety that we would force her to throw things away. As we later learned, the real reason was more complex.

The couple had two grown sons, both of whom lived far away. A third son had died of a drug overdose many years ago and had been found in his bedroom by the father. After his son’s death, the father developed an alcohol problem, with which he had been struggling ever since. As we sorted, we came upon many items that had belonged to the deceased son. It was very difficult for both parents. The husband’s drinking increased during the sorting process, and we observed mounting tension between husband and wife. One day, we arrived at nine in the morning to find the husband already drunk and being taken to rehab. It was not the first time, his wife informed us. She doubted it would be the last.

“What can we do?” my staff asked. Continue reading

What Kind of Car Are You?

Cars are more than transportation; they are metaphors for a thousand life lessons. Similarly, car brands denote meaning way beyond the attributes of the make and model.  So if you were to pick the car brand that most represents who you are as a person, what would it be? Me, I think I’m a Honda Accord or a Subaru Forrestor. Perhaps I don’t see myself correctly; I might be an Audi. I am too much of a risk-taker to be a Volvo, and  too practical to be a Porsche or a BMW.

people in cars

I’ve often used the images people have of certain brands to convey concepts of value to clients. I might describe certain movers as a Kia (basic, dependable no-frills moving) or a Lexus (high quality, cuts-no-corners moving). People seem to get this approach. I use this tactic when discussing Moving Solutions charges, as well. “We’ve never tried to be the Kia of Senior Move Managers. We’re not the Lexus either. We’re more of a Honda or a Toyota.” I figure Lexus seems extravagant, too luxurious (and our charges are lower than many of our colleagues). I don’t want to suggest that we’re the lowest cost option either, because we’re not. If people want the Kia of Senior Move Managers, they will need to look elsewhere.

Cars lend themselves to other analogies as well. When discussing staging or preparing a home for sale, I ask, “What was the first thing you did when you decided to sell your car? You cleaned it inside and out. What about decals on the windows, cushions for your back, holders for your coffee cup, doo-dads hanging from your rear view mirror? You got rid of them. You did this because you knew that potential buyers were interested in the car, not in how you used the car. And when you removed those items in order to sell your car, you didn’t take it personally. It was business. Preparing your home for sale is the same thing. It’s not personal; it’s a business decision. After all, you’re not selling a used house. You’re selling a luxury, pre-owned domicile.” The car analogy here makes sense, it’s simple, people get it.

Recently, we’ve gone to the car metaphor again, with introduction of the Moving Solutions “Apartment Tune Up.” Your car gets a tune up every 5,000 miles to make sure it’s in good shape — what about your home or apartment? People accept that keeping a vehicle in good working order requires maintenance. A home or apartment is no different, and  it’s not just your mechanical system; it’s your kitchen system, closet system, filing system and circulation system too. These are the “systems” you use as you live in your home. Over time, things change, so your home systems need to be checked, tweaked, revised. Hence, the apartment tune-up.

I’m not sure what our next car metaphor will be. Right now, I am looking forward to the fall issue of Car and Driver. I need to read about road tests and new models to see if I will change my personal or corporate car brand. Perhaps I will evolve into a luxury hybrid. It sounds so right for an aging baby boomer.

Stop Warehousing Your Kids’ Stuff

stuffKobe Bryant’s mother is trying to auction off old high school stuff he left in her house, and Bryant is trying to stop her. Bryant contends that the things belong to him; his mom says he left them there and said he didn’t want them. She wants to use the $450,000 advance from the auction house to buy a new home. Is this argument really about money? Surely Bryant has enough money to purchase multiple homes for his mother. Whichever side of the controversy you stand on, it points out a common problem. Depending on your age, chances are you are either warehousing stuff that belongs to your grown children, or you’ve left stuff in your parents’ home. 

What kinds of things get left? Based on the thousands of people we’ve helped downsize and move, it varies, but there are common themes. Sports paraphernalia are a big category, especially trophies and equipment.  So are school things: old papers, projects and textbooks. Old clothing, hobbies, musical instruments and childhood toys are kept too. Wedding dresses are especially common, even when the marriage has ended. As one client put it, “My daughter has been divorced twice. She got rid of both the husbands and I am left with both wedding dresses.”

Truth be told, our household was no different. One son left camping equipment, Pinewood Derby cars and other residue of his years in scouting. My daughter left every spelling test she had ever taken, and my youngest left t-shirts and sports trophies, including Continue reading

My Not So Big Home

Several years ago, my husband and I moved from our three-story, six-bedroom home to a one-story Mission bungalow. It’s charming. It’s in a location we love. It’s half the upkeep and half the cost of our former home. I saw our new house as perfect. My husband saw it only as “less.” Then I stumbled upon architect Sarah Susanka’s book, The Not So Big House, and it has made all the difference. Our new home isn’t less; in fact, it’s more. It’s a “not so big” house.

California Bungalow

The idea behind The Not So Big House is that homes should emphasize how we actually live in them, and not focus on square footage. In a Not So Big House, every space in the home is used every day, so a Not So Big house does not have formal rooms that are rarely used. What we really crave, says Susanka, is intimacy, not open space. She uses the example of a window seat or an alcove with a window and reading chair. We are naturally drawn to these cozy spaces, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their size and intimacy. “Bigger is not necessarily better,” says Susanska. “Home has almost nothing to do with square footage.”

Susanka’s second book, Creating the Not So Big House, describes things you can do to make your home feel larger, especially the impact of light and lighting. Many are surprisingly low cost.

Focusing on homes that reflect how we actually live in them lead Susanka to a third book, Not So Big Living, which encourages people to start living their passions, to start looking at “What have I always wanted to do,” and then do it. Susanka encourages people to declutter, both their houses and their lives, so they can slow down and “show up” more.

The Not So Big movement is reflected in many aspects of today’s society: the move toward smaller cars and small portions, the increased focus on simplifying, recycling and reducing waste; in short — sustainability.

Not so big thinking not only fits my new home; it also fits what I do professionally.   As a Senior Move Manager, I help older adults declutter and move into not so big spaces. For most people, appreciating not so big living takes time, but it’s a perspective worth having. I often think of a client who was moving from a villa in a retirement community to a two-bedroom apartment in the main building. The villa had a large linen closet in the master bath, and the new apartment did not. “Right now, that missing linen closet seems like a big problem,” my client said, “but I have many friends who live in the same size apartment I am moving to, and none of them complains about not having a linen closet.”

Individuals considering senior living options often focus on what they are giving up: the space, the garden, the extra rooms. Yet individuals who have already moved into senior communities seldom complain about missing these features from their prior home. They’re busy being in the present.

To learn more about not so big living, go to notsobig.com

The Rightsized Wreath

The origin of the wreath comes from the pre-Christian era when people gathered wreaths of evergreen during cold winter months as a sign of hope in the coming spring and renewed light. The concept of recycling is to turn used materials (waste) into new products – in a sense, a rebirth. So it makes sense to marry these two concepts as a celebration of hope and sustainability.

Below are my favorite examples of wreaths made from recycled or everyday household items. To make something so special out of things that are so ordinary is truly glorious. Which is your favorite?

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from old tools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from wine corks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from paper towel rolls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from old sweaters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from neck ties

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from old photos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from book pages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made from paint brushes

 

Medicine Cabinet Antiquity Challenge

“Mrs. Smith, these frozen chicken breasts are from 2006. That’s pretty old.
Do you want us to throw them out?”

“No, I sauté them with a little butter, salt and pepper and they taste just fine.”
“But they must be bad for you.”
“I’m 92, they can’t be that bad.”

I think about this conversation each time I explore our chest freezer and find items that resemble fossils. For most of us, it’s not just our freezers that have expired items, our pantries do too. So do our refrigerators, bathrooms and medicine cabinets.  For example, I recently found a jar of Henry and David Apple and Vidalia Onion relish. I remember tasting it in the store. It was delicious. Of course, the expiration date on the jar says 2007. While I am somewhat adventurous, that is too old even for me.

Most spices have a shelf life of up to 5 years. Some containers are marked with expiration dates, and most spice companies have guidelines on their websites as to how long the spice is good. Remember the little tin cans from McCormicks? If you have any, throw them out. With the exception of black pepper, McCormicks hasn’t made spices in tin cans since the 1990s. So what’s the harm of using expired spices? They probably won’t make you sick, but they won’t have much flavor either, or the flavor may have changed, so adding more may actually ruin your food. Some people believe that putting spices in your garden protect flowers from bugs and deer, so if putting them in the trash doesn’t sit well with you, you can always use them as a gardening aid.

I learned the perils of expired cosmetics the hard way. I was attending a wedding and decided to wear makeup, which I don’t often do. I guess “often” is not the right word, since years can go by between my makeup applications. At any rate, I applied the makeup, thought I looked pretty good, and then my eyes began killing me. “Wow, I really must be getting dry eye,” I thought, and made an appointment with my ophthalmologist. I explained what happened. “Your eyes are fine,” she said. “How old are the cosmetics?” Hummm. I wore eye makeup daily in my prior career before starting Moving Solutions, and I left in 1994…of course, the makeup wasn’t necessarily new when I left…so, say 15-18 years old, I told the doctor. “You can’t wear 15 year old cosmetics,” she said. “They develop bacteria.” Well, duh…I guess I should have known that. I went online and most sites recommend that once you open that blush, bronzer, concealer, eye shadow, eyeliner, foundation, lip liner, lipstick, mascara or other cosmetics product, you should only keep it for about three months. Even when products don’t become harmful, they can change smell, color and texture.  So into the trash went my decade-old cosmetics. I have a much smaller, new supply now, which I still wear infrequently.

Continuing on my expiration mission, I went to our medicine cabinet. Out went the Pepto Bismol, the bottom of which had solidified. Out went 6 bottles of nose spray, most over 3 years old, and dozens of unidentifiable cold pills that had been removed from their packages. These were joined by jars of left over antibiotics (with 2 or 3 capsules left because I had started to feel better). I assembled our collection of antibiotic ointments, and got rid of any that were more than 2 years old. I found 9 containers of sun block, most over 3 years old, and added them to the trash. I discovered 5 large unopened boxes of Q-tips. I expect that these have a long shelf-life, so we probably have a lifetime supply. Out went 3 jars of decade-old Vaseline, 11 partially used chapsticks, a dozen nail polishes (most solidified), 4 ancient body lotions, 3 huge extra firm hold hair sprays (do I even remember using hair spray?), 4 huge round hairbrushes (way too large for the short hair I’ve had short for over a decade), two curling irons, perfumes  (definitely can’t remember the last time I wore perfume), 4 tubes of muscle rub (now there is something I do use regularly) that were completely used up, and a heating pad whose cover had a disgusting growth on it. I found three hair dryers—good thing — I was thinking I needed to buy a new one, 9 unopened dental flosses (do they expire too??) and 6 brand new toothbrushes, so I parted with my old one (wonder how long I have been using that), so now there are just 5 new ones.

The ironic thing is, I would not have guessed that we had that much. It occupied a relatively small space; I am not even sure how it all fit. But my new medicine cabinet is a thing of beauty. Everything is organized in small white plastic baskets and three tiered shelves so there is clear visibility, and I know where everything is. When my husband asked where we now keep antibiotic ointment, I proudly told him, “in the white basket, third shelf down, in a small box holding 4 tubes of ointments”. He was impressed, and so was I. Being uncluttered, being in control, feels good.

So perhaps you are saying to yourself, “No way do I have that much stuff hanging around in my pantry or medicine closet.” Go ahead, empty your pantry and medicine cabinets and see. I challenge you.

In Defense of Plan B

In popular language, ‘Plan B’ is used to mean a reserved, secondary plan, in case a first plan (typically ‘Plan A’) fails. In short, Plan B is second best. I think Plan B gets a bad rap; there is a lot to be said for Plan B.

Take the client whose house sells more quickly than expected, and who needs to live in temporary housing for several weeks or months until the new apartment is available. The client groans at the thought of moving twice — Plan B — until I remind her that having your home sell for a price you want, not going through weeks of living in a home while keeping it “market ready,” and not having the anxiety of waiting and wondering if the house will sell… is actually a good problem to have. The ironic thing is that when these clients finally move into their permanent home, having spent weeks or months with things in storage, they invariably decide they did just fine with a lot less around them, and when things come out of storage, most end up parting with things they had previously thought “essential.”

Conventional wisdom is that it is best to sort through and dispose of everything not going with you before you move. But take the husband who announces, “I’ve been caregiving for my wife 24/7 for five years, and I am used up.” He is being clear that he is maxed out, so the solution for him is Plan B — a “new home” or “stays here” move plan that minimizes his pre-move involvement.  After the move, when his wife is being cared for by others, he can return to the house, better equipped physically and emotionally to make plans for items not taken.

Or take the couple, both very frail, who qualify – just barely – for independent living. It’s clear to everyone involved that they will soon need much more support, and that it might be easier for them to move once—directly into assisted living. Except the move to independent living is the move they are willing to make at this time, so Plan B, which will ultimately require another move, is the plan that gets them out of their three-story house.

As Senior Move Managers, it’s common for us to visit homes that have piles of paper in every room: mail, insurance forms, receipts, paid and unpaid bills, lists and notes, investment records, coupons…you name it. Rather than move piles that should be shredded or disposed of, it makes sense to urge the client to sort through the papers, right? Wrong. If the client could stand sorting through and organizing papers, she wouldn’t have piles of paper everywhere. Instead of asking her to do what is clearly a struggle for her, let’s develop Plan B — a move plan that enables her to be successful with things she doesn’t mind doing. The Senior Move Manager packs all her papers into boxes so later, when the stress of moving is over, she’ll be better positioned to tackle tasks that are a challenge.

The proverb “Perfect is the enemy of good,” attributed to Voltaire, is one of my favorite sayings. It reminds me of the Pareto principle, or 80-20 rule— that it commonly takes 20% of the time to complete 80% of the task, while the last 20% takes 80% of the effort. It’s not that achieving perfection is impossible, it’s that the increased effort often results in diminishing returns as further activity becomes increasingly inefficient. This principle speaks to the client who “must” recycle and dispose of everything properly, as well as to the Senior Move Manager who is adamant that every carton be unpacked and put away.

So Plan B is my plan of choice. Not because it is lesser or easier. Plan B is where wisdom meets reality and comes up with a solution.