Paper you can toss (or shred) today without fear

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Even if you do everything on your smart phone, paper is still a fact of life, as is identity theft. Knowing what paper is safe to toss is not only a good habit, it will help minimize your chances of being a victim of identity fraud and make it easier for you to know just what to keep (e.g., for tax purposes) for when you want to get organized.

TIP: If you don’t have a shredder, use a black marker to hide any confidential information on documents that contain an account number, medical record number or social security number before you toss. Items that may include this information are noted below with the word shred.

TIP: Be sure you keep and regularly empty a recycling bin in the area where you do your paperwork.

 *These are general recommendations for household paper. If you own a business or have extenuating circumstances, such as you owe back-taxes, consult with your tax preparer or consult an attorney about your specific situation.

 What to toss…

Pages you’ve printed off the Internet that don’t contain anything about you personally

Online account information you can easily find on the Internet

Brochures, flyers or marketing material for events or products that don’t interest you anymore

Outer envelopes of mail you’ve received, even if it has your address.

Paid bills after one year if you are not claiming them on your taxes (shred).

Business cards for people or companies you would never do business with or meet for coffee.

Loan documents when your loan has been sold or paid off (shred).

Closed bank account statements and checks (shred).

Greeting cards from people you don’t like or remember (Recycle)

Your child’s scribbles and instead curate and take photos of your favorite artwork and rotate their latest creation as part of your “collection.”

Investment statements, excepting your year-end statement and any records of trades (shred).

Bank statements after one year unless they contain expenses you’ve claimed on your taxes (shred).

Prescription receipts unless you claim them on your taxes (shred).

Credit card statements after one year unless they contain expenses you claim on your taxes (shred).

ATM and store receipts more than 30 days old.

Paycheck stubs more after one year. Keep your W2 and tax return instead (shred).

Copyright: Lis McKinley, 2017

 

Lis McKinley, M.A., is the owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM based in Oakland, California. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and Move Manager specializing in helping homeowners and other residential clients get organized to move, remodel or simply enjoy their homes more with less of what they don’t need.

5 Great Reasons to Downsize Your Home

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Moving is expensive (and stressful)

The American Moving and Storage Association states that the average cost of an interstate household move is about $4,300 (distance of 1,225 miles) and the average cost of an intrastate move is about $2,300 (4 movers at $200 per hour). Both average moving costs are for 7,400 pounds. If you live in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York or Washington DC, the costs are even higher. Since movers typically charge based on volume or weight, it follows that the less you have the less it will cost.  This is just one great reason to downsize your home.  Here are four more great reasons to downsize your home, moving or not:

  1. You can create new memories. If you are holding onto stuff because you are afraid you won’t remember it, it may be time to curate what you own so you can make room for new experiences. Try photographing the things you want to remember but can’t or don’t want to take with you. Have them made into something special such as a memory quilt or photo album. If it’s your work you want to remember, perhaps others want to remember it too. Look into making a legacy donation or creating a special archive in your name.
  2. You won’t burden your kids. The saddest and most difficult task most children face is the death of their parents. Imagine how much more painful it would be if, on top of their grief, they also have to face the daunting task of emptying your home. Make it easier for them and start downsizing now. Let them remember and know you from what was important to you, not from the stuff that wasn’t.
  3. You’ll realize what’s really important.  When you make room for what really matters in your life, you discover what’s important and what isn’t. Do you really need 50 plastic food storage containers? Do you really wear 500 pairs of shoes? Do you really use that collection of rusted auto parts? Someone can use them but you don’t have to.
  4. You get to start fresh. If relocating to a smaller home means downsizing the stuff in your existing home, try to imagine your life in your new home. Perhaps you’ll finally have the lifestyle you’ve been dreaming about. Gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve made great choices about your health and wellbeing. Instead of being burdened by your stuff, you’re having fun enjoying your life!

 

3 hogs taking up space in your home (and they’re not your family)

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Are you moving, getting ready for a remodel or simply want more room in your home with less clutter? Here are three common space hogs and what you can do about them.

  1. Other people’s stuff. Did you agree to store things for your kids, relatives or friends for a few months but now those months have become years? Tell your kids or your Aunt Sadie you are moving or remodeling (even if you aren’t) and kindly ask them to arrange to get their items since you will need the space yourself. Set a firm deadline – a month is reasonable in most cases – and ask for their permission to sell or donate them — at your discretion — by a certain date if they don’t respond by that date.  That way you’ve done your due-diligence.

  2. Boxes from your last move (and likely the one before) that never got unpacked. Remember those boxes? I’m guessing you don’t but apparently they were so important that you bothered to move them at all. Chances are they contain one of the following:  Old papers, memorabilia, holiday supplies, stuff belonging to your parents (or kids)  that you just couldn’t face, or all those items that you don’t use but couldn’t throw away at the time.

    If you are moving, are you really going to pay to have those boxes moved again?!

    Here’s what to do about them starting with old papers: Unless you ran a small business, and they contain your tax records for the past seven years, get rid of them. Arrange to have a local shredding company pick them up  or take them there yourself but don’t waste your time shredding them. Memorabilia: We keep memories for just this moment. No one else cares about these memories except you. If you want to leave a legacy for your children, don’t make it those boxes that have gathered dust in your garage or attic. Holiday supplies: Unless you used them last year, donate them to a charity that accepts art supplies. Stuff that belonged to your parents (or kids) that you coudn’t face: Refer to #1 above.

  3. Magazines and old mail.  There are certain magazines I love to read but once I’ve read them, they get recycled. Except in rare cases such as vintage out-of-print magazines, most collectors and charities don’t take old magazines.  If you want to get rid of them, gather them up in small book boxes (so you can lift them) and carry them to your home’s recycling area. Most municipal recyclers won’t charge for paper recycling.  As for old mail, you have three options: 1) pay to have it all shred. Depending upon how much you have, this could be costly but it will be the most timesaving approach and insure your identity will be safe.  2) Have a sorting party. Invite two or more people to help you sort your piles into keep, shred or toss. Keep includes “vital records” such as original birth and death certificates or personal memories that can’t easily be replaced. Shred includes any document, opened or not, from a banking or financial institution if it’s not obvious junk mail. Don’t waste time opening them if you’re not sure. Toss is everything else. 3) Hire a professional organizer or productivity specialist that specializes in residential or home office organizing. They can advise you about what to keep and help you sort and dispose of your unwanted paper safely.

What to do with your stuff when later becomes now

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When it comes to the stuff in our homes, I believe a  continuum exists between two points  –  keep everything and save nothing. Most people fall somewhere in between.  Yes, there are extremes at both ends – those with a tendency to acquire an excessive amount and those with an equally extreme tendency to rid themselves of anything of value, sentimental or otherwise. But for most people, myself included, we all have sentimental attachments.

The other day I was wandering through my home and thinking about what I absolutely had to keep if I ever had to make the choice. As a professional organizer, it’s an exercise I practice regularly as a way to empathize with my clients.

It turned out the things I really felt strongly about were the items I have the most sentimental attachment to.  None of it was furniture, thankfully.  Mostly letters from my parents and close friends that could never be replaced. Photographs (the paper kind) from my childhood and “keepsakes” that I don’t need but that don’t take up much space either. I also have some written work that would be difficult to replace unless I took the time to scan it and for me, that’s not worth my time.

My husband has a box of important stuff related to his daughter, my step-daughter. And of course, I have a small  “treasure box” of memorabilia from our life together.

The only time I know I would go through this stuff is if I were moving or downsizing. Otherwise it stays hidden, for the most part.   But what does it mean not to have these things? Would it feel like my life had ended? What happens when you keep things with the intention of looking at them later and then find later is now?

Even if it comes unexpectedly, now should be when you get to re-read the letters, sort through the photos, recall the memories and maybe even tell the stories.  But now is often competing with time itself. The house has to be sold. The move has to happen. The remodel is about to start.  Sometimes, sadly, the owner of these things is no longer around for the task.

As an organizer, this is the most poignant part of my work; When I realize the meaning of that photo, award or stuffed animal toy only exists because of the person who imparted that meaning.  When it belongs to someone else, you can impart your own meaning, but then you are left with the same dilemma: Keep it or let it go?

I find it’s useful to consider the truth of these questions when later suddenly becomes now.

  • Would my life really be over if I let these things go or would I just feel that way?
  • Is everything meaningful or could I pick out just the things that are most important to me?
  • By keeping everything, am I placing a significant burden on my family to deal with later?
  • Am I keeping everything as an excuse to avoid creating new memories?
  • If this or that item should disappear would I miss it or attempt to replace it if I could?
  • Would taking a picture of it allow me to let it go if I had to?
  • Is there anyone who I know for certain who would want it (be careful with this one since you don’t want to obligate someone to take something they really don’t want).
  • Do I really love it or am I keeping it to satisfy someone else’s (perceived) need – such as when you keep it not because you like it but because it was a gift from someone you care about.

Life is like walking through a wonderful art museum. You get to admire and spend a little time with the art work that resonates the most with you. You may even be able to take pictures or buy postcards. But at the end of the day, you don’t get to keep what you saw. You do however get to remember how you felt.

The little red moving truck that could (and did)

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My client, Olivia, and I were standing in the family room of her mother’s home knee deep in moving boxes and overstuffed yard bags, packing items she had decided to get rid of when I came across a small plastic grocery bag.

Olivia (not her real name) and I had been working together for several sessions and by now we’d become well acquainted with one another. I have been exceedingly lucky and grateful to have worked with many wonderful people since launching LET’S MAKE ROOM,  Olivia is one of them.

She found me through a local consignment store where she had gone to sell some items belonging to her mother who had recently died after a long illness. Olivia had spent the last seven years seeing to her mother’s care at the home she shared with her with a single-minded devotion that spoke to the kind of person I was just beginning to know.

A woman of enormous grace and compassion, Olivia had given every ounce of her being to the care of her mother so that by the time she was ultimately relieved of this responsibility, she had little left, mentally or physically, to tackle the next phase she had set out to accomplish – making a home for herself in the home that had once been her mother’s.

She told the owner of the local consignment shop about her plight, about the overwhelming work ahead of her and that was how she first learned of me.

At our first meeting, Olivia stated her objectives: Empty the house of items she felt others would enjoy more than she wanted to keep them as quickly as possible to make room for the life she needed to continue on her own.

We agreed on a plan. I would work with her to help choose what items would go, pack everything up and arrange to have it all picked up by a local estate liquidation service.  The job involved the sorting, packing and organizing of well over 100 boxes and bags of items once belonging to her mother as well as other household items. I arranged for the service, a company called Remoovit, to pick up everything including furniture Olivia no longer wanted. We were just a few days away from having the estate liquidator’s 25′ truck arrive and we were nearing the end of the process when I found a small white grocery bag tucked into a box of toys in her family room closet.

I opened the bag and poured the contents on to the large folding table we were using as a workstation. We both stopped and looked at the still unrecognizable items, about a dozen brightly colored pieces of wood.  Then I realized there was something else inside the bag. I pulled it out.  “It’s a puzzle!”

Our attention immediately shifted to these colorful shapes on the table and together, just like two children, we excitedly began arranging the pieces. It took a minute or two and then there it was: An adorable red truck with big black wheels slightly overloaded with an array of items in different colors. We burst into loud shrieks of laughter as the irony hit us simultaneously.  It was the future. At least the immediate future. What had once been a child’s toy, most likely hers or her mother’s, saved and long hidden from view, had now become real. “I’m going to have it framed,” she said.

As an organizer who has seen far too many unrealized projects become clutter, I felt obligated to press her on this decision – “It it worth your time and money?”

“Absolutely,” she replied.

A few days passed. The estate liquidator’s truck came and went, filled with the boxes we had packed on their way to new and as yet unknown owners.  I moved on to other projects and other clients until one day about a week later I got a call from Olivia.

“Can you come over? I have something for you.”

I arrived at her house curious about what she had for me. Perhaps she had neglected to include an item she wanted sold or donated? I walked into her living room and she handed me a package wrapped in brown paper. I unwrapped it and there, behind glass, beautifully framed and mounted, with the words “LET’S MAKE ROOM’ engraved on a little metal plaque below, was the little red pickup truck.

“I made it for you,” Olivia said with a wide grin. I looked up at her. My eyes widened and then of course, began to tear up. “Thank you,” was all I could say. It was the best endorsement of my work I’ve ever received.

It hangs in my home office. When I look at it, I think of Olivia and the gift she gave me just by working with her: the realization of and how much I love what I do.

Do you want more business cards or more business?

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It’s one of the first things we do as business owners. Create our business cards: 10 billion of them according to the Statistics Brain Research Institute. We’re so excited to have them; we give them out to as many people as possible. We’re not only giving them away, We’re collecting them too.  Which is why about 88% of them are thrown away.

That leaves a mere 1.2 billion of other people’s business cards that end up somewhere other than our recycle bins. Have you checked your desk drawer lately?

Practically every client I meet has a stack (or several stacks) of business cards stashed in their home or office. “When was the last time you looked at them?” I ask. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe never?”

So why do we keep so many business cards if we don’t ever do anything with them? It’s the same reason why we hold on to lots of stuff, not just business cards. We fear losing it because we might use it or need it…some day. Or we just don’t get around to going through them.

So there they sit, in decision-limbo. Hundreds, even thousands of cards, taking up valuable storage space and most importantly leaving potential business revenue on the table, or in this case in the drawer.

Think about it. If you don’t do anything with that business card, isn’t it just clutter?

Still not convinced? Consider this: The next time you need to hire anyone for anything, where would you go to get a recommendation? I’m guessing it’s not to that stack of dusty cards you’ve kept buried all these years.

There are only three circumstances I would recommend holding on to a business card:

  • When you have hired them or expect to in the immediate future
  • When you want them to hire you, (or at least refer you) in which case you should have a plan for capturing them in your customer database or for marketing purposes
  • When you want to take your first exchange with them to the next step, such as asking them out for coffee or on a date. Seriously!

So here’s my unforgettable tip for what to do with all business cards. For each card you have or have collected, ask yourself:

Do I plan to hire them?

Do I want them to hire (or refer) me?

Do I want to get to know them better?

 If you answer no, then let them go.

Just wait until they can’t see you do it. They’ll never know.

Your home’s “Most Wanted” space-thieves

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Clutter wants your home. It steals space from the most important living areas of your home or office so you are forced to find other “homes” for the things you truly value, need and use more frequently.

I think of clutter as a thief, stealing space so that you are unable to use it for whatever you had intended.  Here are some typical “space-thieves” and a few ideas for what you can do to deter them from stealing space in your home.

Food Storage Containers
Cardboard Boxes
Bags (paper and reusable)
Books
Magazines
Clothing
Linens, blankets and towels
Paper, paper and more paper
Cleaning agents and supplies
Holiday decor
Cords, cables and old electronics
Your adult children’s stuff from when they were kids

  1. Food storage containers
    Only keep containers with lids.  Keep no more than 5 for each size. If they smell or are broken, toss them​. The largest sets of food storage containers I see contain about 40 pieces. If you have more than that, you probably have too many.
  2. Cardboard boxes & shopping bags
    Toss (recycle) boxes that don’t have lids, and only keep the lidded kind, eg., banker boxes, for storing paper records (or if you are planning to move or remodel within the next 6 months). Don’t keep boxes for storing items other than paper records. Use bins that can do a better job of protecting what’s inside them from the elements. As for shopping bags, if you live in a state that requires using reusable bags, pick out your favorites but only keep the durable ones. No more than 10-15 grocery size. Keep them nested together and store a supply of them in your car or by your front door for when you go shopping. For paper shopping bags, keep only as much as will fit in one bag of equal size. Eg., About 10 paper shopping bags (doubled or not) will fit into a single paper grocery bag. The same for smaller “gift” or “lunch-size” bags. Don’t keep any without handles. Recycle them.
  3. Books & magazines
    Refer to my blog: How to let go of books with less tears. As for magazines, keep only those you are likely to refer to again such as collectible “special” issues or those you need for work or for reference.  Toss any “newsstand” type magazines that are older than three months, especially if you haven’t read them.
  4. Clothing
    Donate what you don’t love, have never used or worn (unless it has a sentimental attachment). Don’t keep anything that hasn’t fit you in a year, chances are by the time it does, it won’t be your style anyway. Toss or recycle anything that is ripped or stained. If you wouldn’t buy it, why would someone else?
  5. Linens, blankets and towels
    Toss (or recycle) anything that’s torn, stained or worn or has moth or beetle holes. Check out this link for tips on protecting your woolen items. Keep a maximum of 2 sets of sheets for warm and cold seasons. Consider donating unwanted linens or blankets to a homeless or women’s shelter. Unwanted towels are always appreciated by a local animal shelter or humane society.
  6. Paper, paper and more paper
    I have written extensively about this in previous blogs, but in short, toss anything that doesn’t pertain to you personally, doesn’t require you to do anything, is unlikely you will ever look at again AND you haven’t seen in ten or more years.
  7. Cleaning agents & supplies
    If you don’t clean (or have someone to clean for you) all the cleaning supplies in the world will never get your home clean. Also, if your surfaces are covered, no amount of cleaning agents will help until you get the stuff out of the way. Toss cleaning supply containers if they are almost empty, toxic items should be safely disposed of according to your county’s regulations. Don’t keep any items that are designed for surfaces that don’t exist in your home. For example, don’t keep a cleaner for blinds if your windows no longer have them.  Eliminate redundant products. Also, don’t keep a cleaning tool that has too many parts or is cumbersome to use. It will only discourage you from cleaning.
  8. Holiday decor
    Decking the halls even once a year can be very time consuming. If you haven’t used your “easter” decorations in over a year, or you no longer celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at home, get rid of the green hats and plastic shamrocks.  Toss broken, never used or cheap-looking supplies. Don’t keep wrapping paper remnants. If you inadvertently bought an item that you don’t like, don’t keep it for next year. Toss, recycle or donate it now!
  9. Cords, cables and old electronics
    For cords and cables, put a label on them as soon as you get them. Otherwise, keep only those you can match to an existing device. Look for electronic recyclers or free recycling events in your area for items you no longer use. Keep cables and cords separate from other electronic devices such as headsets or earbuds.
  10. Your adult children’s stuff from when they were kids​
    Give them one year from the day they’ve moved out to go through them unless you need to move yourself. Remind them at 3 month, one month and one week intervals that you want them to have what’s important to them. Trust me they want a lot less than you think and you will be far more sentimental about their stuff than they will be but they still should have an opportunity to decide what they wish to retain.  If they are far away, take photos or make a list and ask them to decide by a certain date.

Protect your home from the space thief

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Is the stuff in your home stealing your space? If so, you are living with a space-thief.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the average cost per square foot of space is upwards of $250. That means if you have a clutter, your space thief is doing a thriving business!

Everyone has some degree of attachment to their possessions; An old desk belonging to your great grandmother; A collection of figurines, each one representing a different travel experience you took with with your mother, now gone; Photo albums of your childhood, your ancestors and now your own children and grandchildren.

I am not suggesting, whatsoever, that you let go of the things that give meaning to your life. But consider this: What if those meaningful items are stored in your basement, garage or attic, amidst the debris of old moldy boxes, sporting gear you haven’t used since 1987, and a shelf full of rusted, empty paint cans?

If you’ve maxed out your storage in the living areas of your home with stuff you don’t even care about, you are living with a thief, a space-thief. The space-thief is stealing your space, by replacing it with clutter, you don’t want or need. 

It’s time to take back your home from the space-thief!

I’ve come to appreciate the term “curate” instead of declutter. It implies something less negative, less demeaning about the things we keep.

The word curate, comes from the latin word cur meaning “care.” A Curate, according to it’s original meaning, was a member of the clergy who took care of the parish. Later, the term curator came to mean one who was charged with the care of something, such as an exhibit, museum or collection.

Approach every clutter issue as an opportunity to be a curator for your own home or office.  In organizing terms, think of your home as you might think of a museum or art gallery. The value of your home’s contents isn’t defined solely by its market value.  There is also value when you can use and enjoy what you own.

A museum or gallery has storage areas to preserve, protect or restore items, typically not open to the public, but it’s the galleries, exhibitions and public spaces that are enjoyed and worth seeing. If your home is more of a storage area than a place to enjoy, you’ve been robbed – by the space-thief.

Here are some ways you can approach your home as a curator and protect yourself from the space-thief in your home:

  1. Sort and categorize items according to type or theme and then decide which are the ones that best fit the theme, spark joy or hold meaning for you now. I once had a client who loved vintage kitchen tools. She had a great collection of vintage egg beaters. Instead of having them stored in a box, she eliminated the duplicates, let go of those not worth repairing and then kept her favorites. The result was a whimsical display that made her vintage kitchen not just functional but a fun place to cook!
  2. Consider a “bequest” of things you no longer value yourself to others you know (or don’t) for the joy of giving. Offer unwanted items to a specific individual by a specific date. Don’t just put it in a “gift” bin. If they pass or don’t meet your deadline, you can opt to donate it to someone else or to charity. Just don’t let it stay too long once you’ve decided to let it go. Doing so, is like giving it away to the clutter-thief.
  3. Choose which items you want to share with your family, friends or simply enjoy yourself and determine the best home and way to display them. If it’s worth keeping, it’s worth using, sharing or enjoying. If it’s surplus – then decide where you will store your “surplus” but know that keeping too much surplus, just in case, is also the same as giving it to a space-thief.
  4. Beware of counterfeit items you thought had value to you, because you’ve kept them, and realize they are actually just stealing space from your home (or office). An old client had kept a valuable desk belonging to her ex-husband. She never liked it and now she was forced to see it every day, which only brought up unpleasant memories. Even when something has market value, if it is stealing space and joy from you, it is not worth keeping. She sold it and used the money to buy herself a desk she could truly call her own.
  5. Take time or get help to contain, display and safeguard your contents for their safety and protection as well as for your own. If your valuables are buried in a pile of clutter on the floor, not only are they at risk of damage but one false step and you could be out of commission yourself.

 

How to let go of books with less tears

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You would think that with the range of digital devices available from tablets to e-readers to smart phones, most of us would have less books. On the contrary a significant majority of Americans, about 65%, still opt for a print book over other platforms, according to a 2016 Pew Research Study.

So why is it so hard to part with them?  Like photographs, books hold memories of important events or people in our lives or ideas we once had. To let go of a book is akin to letting go of a piece of ourselves.

Add to this, people generally don’t let go of their books unless forced to by circumstance, such as when they need to sell their home to move to a smaller home.  The anxiety that comes along with moving can further exacerbate the stress of having to decide what to keep and what to let go of and this is especially true of books.

So what do you do if faced with the hard reality of having to part with your beloved book collection? Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make the loss a little less painful. Consider these questions:

  1. Is it a classic or commonly available elsewhere either in a bookstore or online? One of the great advantages of the digital age is that many libraries now offer you a way to borrow digital copies of books through an app called Overdrive.  All you need is a library card and some type of digital device such as a computer, e-reader, tablet or smart phone. Once signed up, it takes just a matter of seconds to download your favorite book. If you are not especially tech savvy, you still will probably be able to find the book again at a used book store or at the library.
  2. Are you really going to read it?  You’ve had that novel on your shelf for ten years with every intention of reading it but have never gotten around to it. Consider letting it go.
  3. Is there someone you know who would like it? Gift specific books to specific people. As soon as you decide to let go of a book, assign it to someone you know or donate it to an organization, group or charity such as Books for SoldiersBooks Through Bars or your local library. You can also donate books to hospitals, the Salvation Army, Goodwill or a local thrift store. Always check with the charity before you donate and if the books are damaged, consider recycling them as an alternative.
  4. Do you have duplicates? Perhaps you have both the hard copy and paperback editions. Choose which one you prefer and donate the other.
  5. Is it a collectible? Some books such as first editions, antique books or signed books may have secondary value to another collector.  If you are not sure whether or not your collectible book has value, you can do a little research online but avoid doing online appraisals. Take your book to an experienced bookseller you trust. Note that you will have to pay for face to face appraisals for high value books.  You can also check out the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America for a list of member stores near you.

Letting go of meaningful possessions is difficult, especially when combined with the stress of having to move or downsize. Doing good for someone else is one antidote for the loss of control many, especially seniors feel, when moving. Knowing that something in your home now has a new home, can help ease the pain of downsizing.

If you or a member of your family needs reassurance or help packing, distributing, donating or selling your books, contact a professional organizer or senior move manager in your area. You still may shed some tears, but you’ll know you also did good.

 

11 Common Organizing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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  1. Starting with paper. Unless your only clutter problem is paper, don’t use paper as your starting point. You want to be able to see results quickly, to stay motivated and paper organizing takes more time with less visible results.
  2. Believing that the perfect container (or shelf, or storage system) will solve your organizing problem. Going out and buying furniture, containers or other organizing products should happen near the end of the organizing process, after you’ve purged what you no longer love, use or need. Otherwise you can end up with the wrong solution or more clutter masking as bins, boxes and containers.
  3. Using your vacation time to declutter. Decluttering is hard work. Why would you spend your hard earned vacation time to work again? Instead, set aside a time where you would normally take care of household tasks, a weekend morning for example or during the week if your schedule permits.
  4. Stopping to decide the “perfect” recipient for an unwanted item. When it comes to organizing, perfection is definitely the enemy of progress. If you decide you don’t want something just put it aside in a “giveaway” or “donate” pile and keep going. If you don’t have someone specific in mind for that “gift” then either keep it for yourself or donate it.
  5. Keeping things just because someone important to you gave it to you as a gift. Guilt is not an organizing system. If you don’t love it, would never use it or wouldn’t buy it for yourself, don’t keep it. Keeping an item that takes up valuable space in your home simply because it came as a gift, does not honor the relationship you have.
  6. Diving in without preparing first.  Have a plan.  Set a time limit – organizing can be tiring and dehydrating – and gather your supplies before you begin.  I suggest starting small. You can make great progress and feel accomplished in as little as 10 minutes.
  7. Confusing organizing with decluttering. Decluttering happens when you have more stuff than you have space. It’s a real estate issue. Decluttering is one step in the organizing process. Before tossing anything, it helps first to group like items together to help you decide on how much you need. Knowing what you have and how much space it takes up will help you decide how to contain it and where it should “live” in your home.
  8. Keeping something just because it’s “useful” or because you may use it some day Almost anything is usable: Empty toilet paper rolls, plastic shopping bags, old jars or containers without lids are all “useful” but that doesn’t mean you are obligated to use them.
  9. Being unwilling to let it go because it cost you so much when you bought it. Unless you know it has current market value, in which case you can decide whether or not to sell it, then keeping it will never get you that money back. Decide if it’s worth your time to learn it’s real value. Otherwise give it new life somewhere else.
  10. Making your stuff more important than the people in your life, yourself included.  Almost everything is replaceable except the people you love or who love you. If your stuff is pushing you or your loved ones further away, perhaps it’s time to consider the help of professionals. Most of all, if what it takes to keep you safe, secure and healthy means your family must separate you from your things,  keep in mind what their intentions are and find a way to forgive them.
  11. Not knowing what to consider to help you make decisions. Clutter is the result of deferred decisions.  Consider asking yourself any of these questions when you feel stuck in indecision.
  • Do I love it or does it bring me joy?
  • Is it something I use, or plan to use in the next 12 months?
  • If it disappeared, would I miss it?
  • If I saw it in a store would I buy it?
  • Does it evoke positive memories or negative emotions.?
  • Is it mine to decide about?
  • Have I made this item more important than me or my family?​​
Photo courtesy of East Bay Times