It’s time to sell your home, or your parents home. Only problem? It contains 30, 40 or more years worth of stuff. Your real estate agent says, “I can’t list this house until you declutter!”
The good news is that if you live in an area that’s in high demand, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll probably sell your home for a lot more than you or your parents paid for it.
Of course, recent interest rate hikes mean a smaller pool of buyers. If this means delaying the sale of your home, this could actually be a good thing. If the house is filled with 30, 40 or more years of stuff, you’re going to need time to get the job done. You can start planning for the “big downsize” and perhaps by the time you’re ready, interest rates will have flattened or lowered.
There’s a formula about time and money that’s significant here.
If you just have time, you have options.
If you have both money and some time, you have more options.
More time means you can chip away at the process of decluttering your home. It could take weeks, months or even years depending upon how much stuff you have and your habit (or lack thereof) of decluttering over time. With a plan, however, it can be done.
If it all feels too overwhelming, you can always hire an organizing coach to help you come up with a plan you can execute alone or with help. You can also hire a solo professional organizer to work with you over time. Just don’t expect one organizer to get your home decluttered in a week if you haven’t done anything in years!
Money and a little time
If you have less time to spare but expect a good return on the investment you made in your home, there is a relatively quick way you can get rid of years of clutter. This is a good option if you are pressed to get your home on the market soon. Keep in mind, this is the more costly option. Think of it as the price you pay for keeping years and years worth of stuff you didn’t need, never used, never purged or kept “just in case.”
This solution involves hiring a professional organizing company that offers a team-based or crew-based approach to getting your home decluttered. When you go this route you are multiplying the hands-on help and expertise you could get from one professional organizer.
Think of this as the pre-remodel phase of getting your home readied for sale. I call it the “pre-model.” How long does it take? It depends on how large and how cluttered your home is AND how quickly you can make decisions and how much energy you have.
What organizers can and can’t do
What organizers can’t do is tell you what to keep. This is not their job. That is your decision. You still have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. That being said, most good organizers make this process easier by pre-sorting and supporting or even humoring you to help you make decisions along the way.
If you’re in mid-life, you may have enough energy to make decisions, with the help of a great team, for several hours. Seniors and those with cognitive conditions can take longer or only have enough energy to make decisions for a shorter time. A qualified professional organizing company will take this into account when planning your project.
When you hire a company that can thoroughly and efficiently get your home downsized, this doesn’t mean you can go off to Tahiti while they work. It means that the organizers will take care of most if not all of the physical and logistical demands of getting your home downsized and decluttered.
This could include everything from arranging for haulers, scheduling charity pick ups. selling your unwanted items, purchasing supplies, ordering dumpsters, arranging for document shredding and re-organizing all your retained items until the movers come. It also means sorting and containing everything you don’t want or need from donated items to trash.
What will help you?
Keep only what you enjoy, what you use or would seriously miss if it disappeared. Your new home may be half the size or your current home. Remember you are doing this for a reason. No object is more important than you are.
Most people would rather have a root canal than organize their paper. I have yet to find anyone who likes to organize their paper clutter.
Bills, documents, notes on old legal pads, mysterious receipts, birthday cards from people you do and don’t remember, even something pleasurable such as photos of your family can feel like an insurmountable chore to organize.
Plowing through piles or bins of paper is different from other types of organizing. It requires a whole different set of decisions and brain skills and unlike organizing 3-dimensional objects such as your clothes or dishes, paper is often fraught with all kinds of meaning – most typically fear and anxiety and to a lesser degree, sentiment and confusion.
Paper doesn’t have the same qualities that other objects have in our lives. It’s not pretty or shiny or useful, except in its blank (note pads) or decorative (wrapping paper) form. Organizing paper won’t make it more possible for you to entertain, unless it’s covering your dining room table.
Face it, for most people, organizing paper is boring.
Complicating the process is age. The older we get, the harder it is to focus on the task of organizing paper. It takes all kinds of executive functioning skills that get harder as we age. It’s more than just a matter of know what to keep and what to toss.
The moment we look at our paper piles, our brains become Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. “I can’t think about it now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
Paper organizing requires careful review. You can look at a piece of clothing and know it’s a piece of clothing. With paper you have to study it. Is it a bill? A statement? An insurance policy? Is it something important? Do I need to act on it? Will I need it later?
With paper, you are already exhausted by the time you figure out what it is.
It’s no wonder that even in the age of going “paperless” we still have so much paper.
During my career as a professional organizer, move manager and now organizer coach, I have encountered virtually every type of paper and document that exists. I have also written extensively on the process of organizing your paper. But it doesn’t matter how well its sorted into tidy little piles. If you don’t or can’t make a decision about it, it probably won’t get put away.
Here’s the good news about paper organizing.
In most cases, if you never organize your paper, nothing really bad will happen. The sky won’t fall. You won’t go to jail. Your children won’t be hurt. You won’t get sick, at least not from the paper. Will it cost you? Maybe, if you forget to pay a bill, or don’t do your taxes or forget your daughter’s birthday (God forbid!). Even if you forget to pay your electricity bill, don’t worry, you’ll get another reminder, and another.
Would it be inconvenient or possibly stressful to forget to pay your electricity bill? Yes, but it’s not life threatening unless you are on life support and if so, organizing your paper is not going to be top of mind.
The worst part about paper clutter is that it’s often a reflection of our state of mind The more clutter, the more we realize we’re feeling confused, overwhelmed or neglectful. This creates more anxiety and confusion and the cycle repeats.
It’s better to have a system for managing your mail, paying your bills, filing important documents or knowing what you should shred to protect your identity. These are all habits and elements of life that make us feel calmer, lighter and in control of our lives. But if you don’t already have these habits, and are not inclined to learn them now, you can still feel less stressed about your paper clutter.
Here are some ways you can manage your guilt or alleviate your anxiety about your paper piles.
You know all those saved letters and greeting cards you’ve kept over the years? You’re not likely to ever look at them unless you’re moving or downsizing your home and probably not even then. If you never look at them again, it’s not a problem. Your adult children will have to at some point but that’s another story.
If you overlook a bill, you’ll get another. Don’t sweat it.
You don’t have to support every charity that keeps mailing you solicitations for donations. This is true especially if you have a limited income. Seniors are their favorite customers since they count on you forgetting that you donated last month or last year. When you get them in the mail, toss them.
If you feel strongly about supporting your favorite charity allocate no more than 1% of your total income and divide that up between your five favorite charities. Let’s say you earn $75,000 a year. 75,000 x 1% = 750. 750/5=150. Donate no more than $150 to your favorite charities.
If you didn’t order something from that catalog when you got it, you probably won’t. Recycle it.
Keep your family photos. Even if you never look at them. They don’t take up that much space.
If you have more than a grocery bags worth of documents to be shredded, take them to be shredded. It’s not worth your time to do it yourself.
Stop ripping up envelopes with your name and address – unless doing so gives you satisfaction. Your name and address are public information. An identity thief can’t hurt you with just your name and address.
If you see your complete social security number on anything, shred it!
Keep a bin near where you open your mail. That way all the junk can get tossed right away.
Empty your mailbox daily. A stuffed mailbox is a sign that something is wrong in your home.
The IRS will never call you. Open anything that comes from them.
Stop saving investment statements. They are obsolete from the moment you get them.
If you can easily find it in your email or online, you don’t need to keep the paper copy.
If you have more than 1 or 2 boxes of unsorted paper that you have not looked at in more than six months, you probably won’t.
There is an 80 percent chance that anything you file you will never look at again.
If you want to find something really important, chances are you can request a copy, unless of course it’s a love letter or your 6th grade report card.
Don’t spend your retirement years going through your files unless you really want to.
If you have paper on nearly every surface in your home, including floors, near your stove or on your bed, then it’s time to call in a professional, for your safety.
If you have any reason to believe you’ve been a victim of fraud or if you suspect someone has access to your credit information without your consent, contact all three credit reporting agencies immediately and submit a fraud alert.
Have an organizing question or need help getting organized to move or want to schedule a coaching session? Schedule a free, no obligation phone chat with me using this link. https://calendly.com/letsmakeroom/30min
To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022. Do any of these resonate with you?
Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event
Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit. Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit. That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself “do I want/need/love this item?”
Aim for progress not perfection
Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.
The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain
In a consumer culture, shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy. It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful.Only keep it if you use it!
Consider your time, privacy and convenience
It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood. It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill. But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once. If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”
Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store
Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc. Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two. Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?
Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it
There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.
Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!
If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”
We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.
Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful
When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art, do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.
Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes
I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go. The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked. I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying, “I wanted that!”
When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer
About six months ago, we were getting ready to remodel our basement. I had to move my collection of record albums to another storage area and as I did so, I thought, “why am I still keeping these?”
I didn’t bother to wait for the answer. Instead, I put them away for safekeeping and walked away.
About two months later, with the remodel complete, I moved the albums back into the storage cabinet and thought, “why am I still keeping these?” This time, it occurred to me that if I took pictures of all the album covers I could check to see if they were available for streaming online, something I would have suggested to my clients.
It took about 30 minutes to snap a picture of all 115 albums, a mix of mostly rock, folk, R&B and some classical. Then I walked away.
A month ago, I went to put away our outdoor chair cushions for the winter. As I did, I saw the record albums in the cabinet meant for the cushions. We really need the whole space for the cushions, I thought, so I took the records, divided them between four, double-bagged grocery bags, and left them in the basement on the floor.
“When I get rid of these, it will be easy to carry them away.” Then I walked away.
About a week ago, I went downstairs and spotted the four bags.
So I started asking myself the kinds of questions I ask my clients:
Do I love these? – I love the music and yes, some of the albums themselves.
Would you miss them if they disappeared? – Not necessarily, as long as I could get the music again.
Would you buy the albums again if you saw them? – Definitely not.
So what do you want to do?
I immediately went to my phone and created a post to sell the albums on a popular website. Then I created a shareable link that included the photos of all the album covers I had taken two months ago. Within minutes interested buyers responded with offers.
Being able to share the photos right away really helped since buyers could scan the collection before making an offer.
Proud of myself for finally moving forward I told my husband, “Guess what? I posted my albums for sale.” He replied, “are you keeping any?”
Suddenly a swell of emotion came over me. How did I not think of this?
As an organizer, I always ask my clients who have collections they want to sell, which, if any, do they want to keep? Somehow in my eagerness to get the job done, I forgot to ask myself the same question.
Since no one had actually bought the collection yet, I thought, “I’ll set aside the ones worth it to me to frame and hang,” but as I did so I realized I didn’t want to hang any of them. One by one I quickly went through the four bags of albums. That’s when the memories started flooding back.
Dancing with my friends to Blondie’s Parallel Lines in college. Singing to Joni Mitchell’s Blue in my bedroom as a teenager. Recalling the first time I felt the power of Janis Joplin’s gravelly voice on Pearl. Pining for an old sweetheart while listening to Billie Holiday. Remembering the very first record I ever played on my parent’s portable record player, Getz/Gilberto. I knew the words to The Girl from Ipanema when I was six.
I put all the albums back in the bags and took the best offer.
The buyer arrived that day – a 30 something guy who worked as an environmental scientist but had a love of albums and a small hobby-business selling them. I sat with him while he went through each of them to check their condition. As he did, I heard myself talking like the typical late middle-aged music fan I am, reminiscing about seeing Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden and how I really wasn’t a huge fan of The Beatle’s Abbey Road but the cover was so iconic.
These albums were the soundtrack of my life. And that’s when it hit me. “I’m not just selling my albums. I’m giving up part of myself.”
It wasn’t just the albums I was saying goodbye to. It was me, Liz – the way I spelled it then – the white, middle class, introspective, New York City kid who felt the sounds of Marvin Gaye and Aretha in her bloodstream. The one who played Fleetwood Mac and Rickie Lee Jones, over and over again in her dorm room or rocked to the sounds of the The Pretenders, The Kinks and Cream in her first apartment.
She was me, the student who stopped one day on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, a freshman at Boston University, and paid the astronomical sum of $10 to a street vendor to buy the album It’s A Beautiful Day with it’s iconic cover of the young mountain girl, her hat and dress pushed by the wind.
“Prophetic,” I thought. The band was from San Francisco, the place I would find myself moving to almost ten years later.
Back in my basement, I watched as each vinyl record passed through the buyers hands as he inspected them. After we agreed on a price, he asked me, quite generously, if there was anything I wanted to keep? Should I have said, “Yes! I want it all back. The years and the time?” I didn’t.
Instead, I picked up the last record he’d looked at, It’s A Beautiful Day. He hadn’t heard of it until I started hum-singing the band’s most famous track, “White Bird” the song about a bird trapped in a golden cage, on a winter’s day, in the rain. Then, of course, I had to tell him the story of how I bought it.
Editor’s Note: Cara Lanz is a freelance writer, digital marketer, and self-proclaimed word nerd. She is also a god-send to me. This month she is my guest blogger. When she isn’t creating digital content for clients across the country, she is blogging on MidwesternHomeLife, her own lifestyle website. She loves to share simple and (sometimes) healthy recipes, debt-free tips, and inspiration for creating a happy home in the heartland. You can find Cara at https://midwesternhomelife.com/.
I knew I needed to declutter my dishes when it came down to a math problem I just couldn’t solve. I had two people in the house and a dinnerware cabinet brimming with — among other things — 21 dinner plates, 12 salad plates, 17 saucers, and 20 soup bowls.
Now, in my defense, they were all matching– well, as matching as Fiestaware can be — and neatly organized. No haphazard piles or plastic containers shoved in there. So, on its face, it didn’t really appear as though I needed to declutter my dishes.
But the math just didn’t work. Plus, I had other cabinets bursting at the seams with things I wanted to move into my dinnerware cabinet.
How would I go about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of?
Enter Lis McKinley, owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM. As an organizational expert, she’s helped hundreds of others figure this very thing out.
But, I wondered: Would she finally be the one to pry my superfluous Fiestaware from my gripped fingers, or would I be the one and only person she has not been able to help? I really had no idea which way this was going to go.
So we set up a Zoom meeting.
My Virtual Organizing Call with Lis
When I first got on a call with Lis, I noticed two things right away. She’s warm and welcoming and made every crazy organizational dilemma I had seem like it was totally normal, and she’s heard it a million times. She’s also extremely decisive in that teacher kind of way that just made me want to do what she said because I knew she knew what she was talking about.
She laid out our plan for exactly what we were going to do during our time together. She even had a clever acronym for her process: S.P.A.C.E. She gently took the time to explain what each of the steps meant and made sure I understood them.
For the next hour, we:
Here’s what that looked like.
To get started, I pulled all my dishes out of the cabinet and put them into like piles. Bowls with bowls, plates with plates. Not only did this help me to see with clarity exactly what I was dealing with, but it also gave me an empty cabinet, aka, a clean slate, to start all over again.
The goal of purging was to make decisions about which items I wanted to keep, based on four criteria: Do I love them, want them, need them, or use them? We had really thoughtful conversations and she asked me things like, “If you saw that in a store, would you buy it again?” We also discussed how often we entertain, how many adults and kids, and which dishes we need to accommodate them. Then we pared down from there. It all made perfect sense.
We also sifted through things that I knew just weren’t going to go back into the cupboard. These super fussy 2-part martini chiller/chilled appetizer glasses, for example. Also, some heirloom dishes that are pretty enough, but I’m just not using them.
During the assign process, I had to find a home for everything. To figure that out, I had to think about where I would most likely look for things if I needed to use them. So a good amount of my dinnerware was assigned back to the cupboard.
Those fussy 2-part glasses — and other things I’ll never use again — went straight into the “Donate” box. The heirloom dishes went into my “Ask Mom If She Wants Them Back” box. But that wasn’t the end of it. Lis made me pick a date when I would drop off the “Donate” items and send a pic to my mom of the items that were potentially going to boomerang back to her. So, now I was accountable. But, it was all on a timeline that I chose.
Now it was time to put things back. Contain my pared-down dishes into the cupboard. But it wasn’t just, “Okay now put everything back.” Lis asked me to think about each item I was putting back and where it would be best to put it. We had discussions about things like, “Well, we really use these bowls more than those bowls,” and “I can’t reach those plates very well when the dishwasher is open.” So it was super strategic, and I could tell it was going to set me up for long-term success.
Also, Lis knew one of my goals was to get rid of so much stuff in this cupboard that I could free up my entire top shelf, drop it down to a level I could actually reach, and transport items I use all the time from another hard-to-reach cupboard. So while Lis sat in the Zoom room, I hauled over a bar stool, climbed up on my counter, and dropped down that top shelf. Just like that, that cupboard became 33.33% more useful to me!
During the equalize phase — this was the tidying up at the end of it all — I easily put things back where they belonged. Lis explained that the process of assigning and containing is what makes it possible to equalize, because I had already established a home for everything.
I had a pile of plates and bowls that were going to be put away into my pantry for when I needed them for a large party. I had certain dishes I only use for my food blog that needed to go where those things live. At last, everything was where it should be.
My Dishes, Decluttered
By the end of our hour and a half together, my cupboard was whittled down to a svelte 10 dinner plates, 10 salad plates, and 10 soup bowls. Zero saucers. Lots of room for everything we need, in the places that make the most sense. AND a completely empty shelf ready to take on the overflow when I use the S.P.A.C.E. method to clear out my next cupboard.
It’s called the reverse hanger technique. Here’s how it works:
Turn all your hanging clothing around so each hanger faces towards the back of your closet. As you wear items, return them to face the front of the closet. Now mark your calendar for 6 months from the date you did this. On that day, notice which clothing items are still facing towards the back. These are the ones you haven’t worn!
I recently did this after emptying all my hanging clothes from my closet so my husband could paint it. As I put things back, I noticed right away a few things I didn’t want so they went right into the donation bag. The rest were hung on my favorite space-saving hangers with the hook turned towards me. The last few days I have been putting items back with the hooks turned away from me. I know there will be items that may not get turned around but this gives me confirmation and then I can decide in six months whether it still makes sense to keep them.
Still energized to do more?
Create a simple plan such as: Sell what I can sell. Give special items to special people I know. Donate the rest.
Sell high-quality, designer brand clothes online through sites like the RealReal.com or your local consignment shop. Since the pandemic, many have launched online buying and selling sites.
Donate usable quality clothing to a local thrift shop such as American Cancer Society Discovery Shops or Goodwill. Call to check before you go as some have limited hours during the pandemic.
Never donate anything that is torn or stained. This is costly for charities to get rid of. These items should be tossed or recycled if possible. Check out the website Earth911.com for fabric recyclers in your area.
Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
Certified Professional Organizer
Owner, LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC
It’s time. You’ve set aside the day, taken off work, brought in the garbage bags and the packing boxes. No more excuses. It’s you versus the clutter. This time you intend to win because you’ve decided to put your house up for sale.
“Your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much G-D stuff, you wouldn’t need a house!?”
But what happens when your stuff is too connected to memories? Carlin joked no one wants that stuff either but guess what they do!
When I say stuff, I don’t only mean furniture and household items. I mean the sentimental stuff you’ve buried in your closet or shoved into the back of an attic or basement. Stuff like your son’s grade school artwork, even though he’s in college now. Grandpa’s set of World War II history books. The two crocheted baby blankets grandma made for your kids.
“Keep them for the grandkids!” You protest and back into the closet it goes. Except you have way too much in your closet already. So instead you pay hundreds of dollars a month to store stuff you can’t bear to part with at the local public storage.
That’s when it hits you. It’s not only your house you have to downsize, but your storage unit too.
Exasperated, you slump down in your arm chair and wonder, “how am I going to do this?” and pour yourself another glass of wine.
As Baby Boomers get older – and by the way, I’m one of them — they start thinking about their health and the desire to simplify their lives.
75% of people who want to downsize their lives say they can’t. The reason? They have too much stuff, according to research conducted by Kansas University.
The number one reason baby boomers can’t declutter is they are often sentimentally attached to what they own. There are just too many painful decisions that have to be made about what to keep or go. “No thanks,” they utter, “I’d rather have a root canal.”
The good news is you don’t have to throw the baby-doll out with the bathwater. Instead, you can actually feel good about letting go. Less regret, guilt or incurring the wrath of your family.
It is important to remember that not everything you are sentimental about has to go. Instead, the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).
Curating is about deciding what is going to be part of your permanent collection and what isn’t and where it can go. It also includes saying goodbye, with gratitude, to the things that have served out their purpose and forgiving yourself for doing the best you can to dispose of them responsibly.
Part of this process always involves making decisions about the items we most commonly get attached to: Books, clothing, photographs, sentimental cards and letters, memories – both ours and our kids.
When it’s time to curate these items, I find it useful to think about them in three ways:
Say goodbye with gratitude
Keep for my new life
Give to others
Say goodbye with gratitude
This collection contains items that are damaged beyond repair or are not worth your time or money to repair.
You can appreciate what they were in their original form and know that their time has come to an end. Anything that still makes you sad to let go of, you can take a picture of. That way you will still have the memory of the item.
Keep for my new life
This collection contains your favorites. Items you love so much you would use or display again. The ones that you would remember and miss if they disappeared. Better yet, they are the ones that fit into your new, simplified lifestyle. These are the best of the best!
Give to others (or giving items new life elsewhere)
This collection contains both high quality and useable quality items you don’t want. They could be of a high enough quality you could sell or consign them, or special enough that you would prefer to give them to a particular person or organization. In other words your decision to let them go is contingent on them getting to the right recipient or organization. This collection also includes useable quality items that could be donated to charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet
If they are not sellable but the recipient is important to you, do an online search by type in your area. For example “Senior center thrift shop near me.” There’s a wonderful place in San Francisco called SCRAP that accepts donations of all types of craft and teaching materials (though they are closed temporarily due to Covid-19). Here are a few other examples of unique places to donate your higher quality items. (Due to Covid-19 some of these will be temporarily closed. Check before going.)
Senior center thrift shop
Church, school or charity auction
Thrift shop for a charity you support such as cancer research
Local animal shelter
Children’s thrift shop for low income moms
There are also online websites such as Nextdoor.com where you can post your unwanted items. Be careful not to post your personal information. Instead ask people to direct message you if they want your item.
Use “Say goodbye with gratitude,” “Keep for my new life” and “Give to others” with other types of sentimental items you have. Here are few tips for downsizing other sentimental household items:
Books (If you are downsizing and you have an excess and need space)
First decide on the greatest number of bookshelves you will keep so you will know how much you need to downsize.
Keep books you still refer to or hold special memories or can’t find online.
Donate duplicate books, books you’ve never read, are not likely to read or don’t hold interest for you. Also donate books from a previous chapter of your life. Someone is bound to appreciate them. Take them to your local library or college. Most Goodwill stores will also accept books for donation but not text books.
Recycle any that have mold. Mold travels and will contaminate other books.
Sentimental Cards and Letters (If you have more than will fit into a banker box or small suitcase)
These are often the hardest to let go. Keep the ones that express a personal sentiment to you, not a generic greeting. You can also photograph these and let the physical card go.
Toys and Childhood Memorabilia (Yours or your adult children)
This is the stuff you’ve tossed in a “keep” box but never looked at except when you’ve moved. It could be anything from rocks you collected, to tickets stubs, to small medals you received as a kid to souvenirs from family trips.
They best represent the “memories” of your childhood. It’s likely none of it is valuable, unless it’s in its original packaging and in pristine condition. If you’re not sure, you can always check sites like Etsy or Ebay.
First sort those into two piles – usable quality and higher quality. As you come across anything that that you don’t want but are afraid of forgetting, take a picture of it! That way you will always have the memory.
If the items are small, you can display them in a large fishbowl, brandy snifter or inside a shadow box. I’ve seen these for just about out every imaginable collectible: medals, matchboxes, toy cars, record albums, sports memorabilia even old postcards.
Check out some “memorabilia storage” ideas on Pinterest or Etsy If you’re not up to this, ask someone in your family who has a talent for crafts or art to do it for you. What a perfect birthday or Christmas present!
If you wouldn’t pay to have the items repurposed into something new, chances are you don’t love it enough to keep it. You can always take a picture of it if you’re scared of losing the memory. If it’s a small quantity of items you are keeping, give them a home in a small treasure box. I always think of a the little cigar box the character Scout kept under her bed from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Giving away sentimental items to the right place or person is what makes it possible for you to let them go
Don’t use your kids as a reason to keep stuff that you don’t have room for in your new home. If possible, ask them to come and get it by a certain date. If they live far away or don’t care, let them know your plan to donate whatever is usable. Keep your favorites, the ones you consider “heirlooms” and limit them to no more than will fit into a small bin or box. Your kids won’t miss the rest and neither will you.
A final note about trash, landfill and forgiveness
It’s likely you will have to throw out more than you intended. Recycle as much as you can but accept the limitations of what is and is not recyclable in your community.
When you bought it 30 or 40 years ago, you weren’t thinking about whether it was recyclable. You needed it and it served its purpose. Again, dispose of it with gratitude. If it has to go to landfill, forgive yourself. Know that you have learned to be a more responsible citizen and consumer. Now you can enjoy and maintain your simple and spacious new life with the things you love the most.
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After living in the same home for 35 years, you’ve decided to sell your house to move into a smaller home that better fits your plans for the future.
Now the bad news.
After living in the same home for 35 years, you’ve decided to sell your house to move into a smaller home but now you have to decide what you want to take with you to your new home and then figure out what to do with everything else.
Here’s the ugly truth. You’ll have to get past the overwhelm if you want to make this happen. Action in the form of decisions is the best antidote. However, if you need help, consider hiring a professional organizer or move manager, especially if you are a senior or not as strong as you used to be. Breaking your back or leg should not be a part of your moving plan.
Start by looking around. Every room in your home has surfaces, drawers, closets and cabinets containing – dare I say filled with – a lifetime of objects and memories – enjoyed, received, purchased, stored, used, never used, never discarded.
You suddenly think, what am I going to do with all this stuff? You wonder if anyone wants your ten year old sleeper sofa, the one you bought so your grandkids could sleep over but now those kids are in high school or college and they’ve moved to new cities.
You think about the china and the silver that you haven’t used in years and that your kids have outright told you, “thanks Mom but no thanks, I have no place to put it and and even if I did, we’d never use it. I can’t even put it in the dishwasher!”
You’re not alone. It’s a dilemma faced by millions of people retiring or nearing retirement, every year.
So what do you do?
Start by getting clear about why you are moving.
Perhaps, you’re going to be closer to your grandkids. Or, you’re leaving the suburbs, and selling the house that’s outgrown you to return to downtown so you can walk to the stores you love and be closer to things you enjoy.
Maybe you’re moving into a condo or a smaller one-story home so you don’t have to deal with three flights of stairs anymore.
Maybe you’re moving back to your hometown where the air is cleaner and life is simpler.
Whatever the reason, get a crystal clear picture of what your future could look like and how you’ll know you got there.
Picture yourself playing with your grandkids, sharing coffee with a friend or taking a walk down that old familiar road with your dog.
You’ll need to have this picture fixed in your mind. Why? Because getting downsized and organized to move, and then planning and executing the move can at times be a mind-numbing, physically taxing and even tedious process. Add to that the time it takes to get unpacked, settled and adjusted to your new home, neighborhood or community. It’s hard adjusting to your new life… even when it’s the one you chose to have!
Once you’ve prepared yourself mentally, it’s time to start making some big decisions. If you’ve already found a new home, that will make downsizing and planning for your move predictable since you’ll know ahead of time how much space you have to move into.
But let’s say you want to start downsizing now, even though you don’t know where you’re moving. You just know you want less in your life and to be free of the burden of all the stuff!
First, start with what you know. Decide and mark (with bright green or blue painter’s tape) the items in your house that you know, for certain, you are taking with you. Make the labels as visible as possible. Go through room by room and “read the room” like you read a book, from left to right. Mark each furniture item that takes up floor space from the left side of the door or entry way until you reach the right side of the door or entry way. Ignore the household items, just do furniture, large lamps and hung art work for now.
If you have an extremely cluttered room such as a garage or office or an old bedroom that has become a “dumping ground” for undecided items, don’t tackle these first. That’s like expecting to press a 500lb weight when you haven’t worked out in years. You’ll hurt yourself!
Build your decision-making muscles slowly. Instead, start with a reasonably uncluttered area and make decisions about items contained in these rooms first.
Sort usable items you don’t want and could be donated, from trash. Use white, tall kitchen plastic bags for soft items you no longer want like clothing, purses, and belts and “banker” or file storage size boxes for heavier or fragile items. If possible, use boxes with cut out handles. It makes it easier to transport donated items to your car or to another part of your home for staging. Never use large boxes for donations. (Leave those for the movers).
Use tall paper lawn bags (available at most hardware stores) for recycling paper and heavyweight plastic bags for trash and non-usable or broken items. Get the trash out as soon as the bags are full to make space for your next task. Seeing empty space is a great motivator!
Old blankets and linens can be donated to a local animal shelter. Used bed pillows are generally not donate-able and should be trashed unless your city (few do) offers a fabric recycling program.
Moving is probably the only time when you will finally look at the paper you have been saving.
Don’t even think about tackling paper until you’ve first downsized your household items. If you do have a large quantity of paper – several file cabinets worth — consider the fact that 80% of what most people keep they never look at again.
If possible peruse your cabinets by file, not by document. If you’re concerned you may accidentally toss something confidential, err on the side of placing the entire file in a file-storage sized box marked “shred.” Set all your “shred” boxes aside and either arrange for them to be picked up by a local shredding company or you can search “free shredding events near me” online. Insurance agents and banks often sponsor free, public shredding events, for promotional purposes.
Time will determine just how and where your unwanted items get disbursed. In other words, the longer lead time you have, the more thoughtful you can be about where your discarded items end up.
If you’ve lived in your home for more than ten years, expect to pay for hauling or trash removal. Take advantage of your local waste management company’s free bulky item pick-up service if available but keep in mind you may still have to pay someone to help you get large and heavy items such as old appliances, mattresses and un-donateable furniture to your curb for pick up.
Save your back! Take advantage of whatever charities in your area offer truck pick-up but keep in mind you may have to book up to several weeks in advance and what is taken is always at the driver’s discretion. Check out DonationTown.org to schedule a truck pick up in your area.
Most household items will be accepted but furniture is more difficult to donate unless it’s collectible or in demand (e.g., mid-century modern) in good condition and less than 5 years old. If you have time, you can try posting items on free web-based sites such as Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle.org, LetGo etc. Check to see if there is a “free stuff” group on your favorite social media site, if you use one, such as Facebook or Instagram.
There are also services like MaxSold which is an online auction site that will provide local help to get almost all your household items sold at below-market prices and picked up in a day or two.
The biggest advantage of selling or donating your large furniture is you don’t have to pay to have these items moved. Add to that, they are being purchased, presumably, by someone who wants them. The disadvantage is that you will have to be okay with prospective buyers coming to your home but you can either be there or agree to have representatives manage the sale for you.
Once your house is emptied of all sold and donated items as well as debris, your move will be much simpler. Contact one or two reputable movers in your area to get onsite estimates for packing, moving and insuring your move.
If possible, take advantage of their packing services, at least for your high value and fragile items, especially if you are moving out of state or more than 50 miles away. It’s well worth the added expense since it’s less likely things will arrive damaged if packed professionally. In the event that something does break, the liability rests with the movers, not you, and therefore you can file a claim with your mover’s insurance company or your own homeowners insurance if they cover your move.
After your items are moved, you can now turn the house over to your real estate agent to reap the most value from your home’s sale and begin living out the the vision you imagined! Chances are, it will be even better than you expected.
Recently I learned about something called the Intention-Action Gap. The intention-action gap is a term used by people, mainly behavioral experts, who study the reasons why we do or don’t do things that are good for us.
In simple terms, the intention-action gap refers to the difference between what people say they would like / plan to do and what they actually do. For example, people say they want to get organized, or lose weight, or get more exercise or eat healthier but they don’t.
Behavioral experts explain this “gap” between our intentions and our actions in several ways but recently I came across an article written by Ozoda Muminova, a London-based researcher, business and organizational consultant who helped me understand this disconnect between what we want and what we actually do in a delightful and amusing way.
Basically she said that as humans there are certain barriers to changing our behaviors. Things like, habit, unknown impact, feeling isolated and overcoming difficulty. Her answer, in short: make it fun, make it social, make it personal and make it immediately rewarding.
Ozoda created this simple model to explain how to meet every barrier to change, with an enabler of change:
5 steps for turning good intentions into good behaviours. Used by permission of The Good Insight/Ozoda Muminova
I got to thinking about this in the context of why so many of us, myself included, really want to achieve a certain goal like losing weight, exercising more and even getting organized, but can’t follow through. You may start but within a moment you find yourself procrastinating or putting it off again.
Inspired by these ideas of challenging each barrier with a positive enabler, consider this simple 5 step approach to changing old habits that get in the way of your happiness.
For every barrier you have to your goal, whether it be losing weight, exercising more, getting more organized or something else, do what you can to make it fun, make it relevant to you personally, make it possible to see change immediately so you’ll keep going, make it social, that is, look for evidence that others are doing it too and make it rewarding!
Let’s say you want to organize your closet. Here’s an example of how you could apply this simple plan to get it done!
1. Make it fun
Play your favorite upbeat music or ask your best (most fun) friend to help you. Put on your most colorful and silly clothes to get you inspired or set up sturdy bins and practice your awesome basketball dunk or free throw for those items you are sending to donation. The point is, if you make it fun and easy you are more likely to get it done.
2. Make it personally relevant
Be clear about why you are getting organized, in other words ask yourself, what’s in it for me? Will you enjoy being able to see your newly organized closet? Will it make it easier for you to find what you need when you need it? Will it make you feel good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished? If you can equate the task to something meaningful to you – my discarded stuff could help others, getting dressed in the morning will be easy and fun, I will feel good about showing off my home to my friends – you are more likely to get it done.
3. Look for immediate change
Next consider a plan for how to see change immediately. I recommend breaking the task into smaller pieces . Instead of attacking the entire closet, start with just the top shelf or one side before tackling the rest. Psychologically, we are motivated to continue once we see small changes. If you are tackling a larger space, clear off a surface – the floor or a table – as you are more likely to continue when you see clear space versus something you can’t see such as a drawer. Remember you can only climb a flight of stairs, one or maybe two, steps at a time. The point is you’ll still get there.
4. Make it social
If you are unable to enlist the help of your family or friends (or if you don’t want to), consider that you are not alone in your desire to get organized. The popularity of people like Marie Kondo and The Container Store are evidence of the trend in organizing. Why not set up a challenge with an online friend or find a virtual room for other like-minded people to share your progress with on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or FlyLady.net. You could also arrange to have an “accountability” partner. This is someone you know who you can report your progress to with no judgement. I often do this for my clients.
5. Make it rewarding
Finishing an organizing project is its own reward. I know the satisfaction I feel when I complete a large organizing project for a client and sometimes I want to celebrate my accomplishment with my crew. We may go out for dinner or to a local tap room for a beer or I may just go home and take a luxurious hot, bubble bath.
The intention-action gap explains why we can’t overcome our resistance to change or existing habits. Understanding the 5 barriers to change and replacing them with these 5 “enablers” of change can turn bad habits into new behaviors that lead to a happier and more satisfied life.
I believe getting organized is about making room in your life for what you enjoy the most. So now that you’re done, go do something just for you or do it with others so you can celebrate your success together!
The Woolsey Fire burns a home in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
I live in Northern California, where the Kincade Fire is raging across parts of beautiful Sonoma county, just 80 miles north of me. It has been burning out of control for more than a week.
So much of what I do as a professional organizer is about helping people make room in their lives and their homes for what truly matters most to them.There is no more vivid way to drive home this notion then when you suddenly lose everything in a wildfire.
This is what happened to my friend Patricia Judge, exactly a year ago, during the Woolsey Fire in Southern California.
This month, I invited Patricia to share her story. There is plenty being written about “emergency preparedness” right now but by sharing Patricia’s story, I hope you will take a moment to consider what she learned – and continues to feel – from her first hand experience.
After you read it I hope you will take at least one action today to protect your memories, your assets and your life should you ever need to leave your home in a hurry due to a natural or man-made disaster.
“Knock! Knock! Knock! Mandatory Evacuation!The fire is on its way!Leave now!”
This is what I heard at my door while I was sleeping early in the morning last November. It was the sheriff.
“How much time do I have?” I asked the Sheriff.
“Get dressed and get out of here now.” he told me.“The fire is on its way!”
I knew there was a fire, but it seemed so far away from me, and I realized at that moment I was not prepared.
As I put on my pants and shoes, grabbed some jewelry from my dresser, I couldn’t believe what was happening.As the Sheriff knocked on my neighbors doors to leave I don’t think any of my neighbors actually thought the fire was on its way either.
My neighborhood was gone in 30 to 45 minutes.Actually, my neighbor didn’t make it out because the road was no longer accessible.He did not die, but he did lose everything he was putting into his trailer as the Sheriff was telling us to leave.I recall the trailer’s chassis was still there in the rubble when I eventually returned to see what was once our neighborhood.
I had lived in Southern California where there had been fires and admit to having a flippant attitude about them.
I always thought the chances of our house being burned down was low.What I discovered was it can and it did happen.
What I learned from losing my home in the Woolsey Fire was this.
What does that mean?Know what you want to take in advance even before a fire.
In the moment it is happening you will not be thinking straight.Write it down and know where it all is so you can put it in your car.
Don’t get caught in a false sense of safety.Anyone can lose their home in an instant.
If you own your home, make sure you are adequately insured. Make sure your agent has copy of your policy. It’s one less thing you have to remember to grab.
If you rent, get renters insurance!It is not that expensive and insure your home for more than you think you will need.
I was surprised to realize that even with my “minimal” lifestyle, how much it cost to replace, what I had lost.
I lost pretty much everything and even a year later I am replacing things I lost and realizing that this expense will go on for years to come.
Make an “Emergency Binder”that has all the paperwork you will want if you have to evacuate and keep it accessible.
Back up your computer’s documents onto hard drives or the cloud at least every month.
Keep the hard drives with your “Emergency binder.”
If you have photos you want to rescue make sure you can carry them are and easy for you to access.
Clothing – know what you want to take.
It was a total afterthought and I realized I lost so many shoes, purses, and clothing that were very valuable and some irreplaceable. Replacing them is expensive.
Art/keepsakes – take what you cherish the most.
I spent my life collecting my art and although I can still see and feel each piece it is no longer with me.
I no longer own the Kaftan my close friend Ilene made for me.That is actually one of the pieces I really regret losing, although, even as I write this I can feel it and her love embracing me.
On the day of the Woolsey fire, I went to my sister’s house which seemed far away from the fire. When her home was being evacuated she kept saying, “I feel silly taking my sweaters.”I told her, “You are standing here with someone who has lost everything.Take any and everything you want.We have two cars and can load them up to the brim.The only thing you will have done is waste your time.Wasting your time is a gift!
Some final thoughts:
If you are told an evacuation order is coming your way, pack your cars while you still can.
If you are given a “mandatory evacuation,” leave as early as possible.
Before fire season even hits, pull anything flammable away from the exterior walls of your house. Some of my neighbors’ homes burned because the debris and dry plants they had outside their home caught on fire.
Fires move quickly, more quickly than you realize. It took less than an hour from the time I left my house to lose all my cherished things.