I have three rules I ask my clients to agree to when I start an organizing or downsizing project with them.
Rule #1: I only work with the owner of the decision when it comes to deciding what is kept vs. not kept (sold, donated, tossed).
Rule #2: The owner of the decision cannot be overruled unless they explicitly delegate their decision to someone else.
Rule #3: If you were given items from family or friends, whether you wanted them or not, you and only you are the owner of the decision.
Most of us know when a gift is given. Usually it’s done with the receiver in mind.
Sometimes things are given (or kept) because the giver and receiver don’t know what else to do; They don’t want it but they can’t just toss it.
When the giver does this it’s called re-gifting.
When the receiver keeps it, but doesn’t really want it, it’s called…stuck.
“I can’t just give away my grandma’s china to anyone! I would feel terrible. Maybe my daughter or granddaughter will take it off my hands.”
Problem solved. I don’t have to feel guilty…you can!
Love Grandma but not her stuff
But what good is a gift given – or kept – out of guilt? How does that honor grandma’s memory?
Things are just things until we impose an external value onto them.
Even an item that’s worth something does not make it valuable to the owner unless they feel connected to it in some way – emotionally, aesthetically, practically.
“I loved Grandma and remember her using this china. I would like to have it because it reminds me of her.”
But what if you loved Grandma but her china is simply not your style? It doesn’t fit the way you live because every piece has to be hand-washed or you don’t have room for it in your tiny home?
Keep in mind there is likely someone somewhere who will enjoy it for what it is, even without the sentimental attachment.
Three decision-making questions
As the owner of the decision, you get to decide. Here’s an easy way to make a guilt-free decision.
Grab the box of china, take another good look at it and ask yourself these three questions:
Question #1. “Would I buy this for myself if I saw it in a store or thrift shop?” If no, you probably don’t want it but still feel attached in some way. Go to question #2.
Question #2. “Are there any individual pieces I can use that I like?”
The soup tureen repurposed as a vase. A single teacup and saucer to enjoy a morning cup of tea?
Keeping one or two pieces from the set will make it easier to give away the rest. Alternately, you could take a picture of it and preserve the memory that way.
Don’t worry about breaking up the set unless it is super valuable and chances are it isn’t. If you want to check the value, you can look up the pattern on Replacements Ltd.
Question #3. Is there some place or someone nearby who would take it? If you are working with a professional organizer, they will be super helpful here.
Consider thrift shops, antique stores, school auctions, a church rummage sale or swap meet. There are also traditional charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet. You could also post it online – check out Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle.
Still not sure, do a Google search, “donate china set near me” (Keep in mind some places may still be closed due to the current Covid health emergency, so call first. )
While this generally takes longer you get the satisfaction of giving it directly to someone who wants it. Just don’t look for the “perfect” solution. Perfection is a convenient ploy for procrastinators.
Once you’ve decided, let it go as soon as you can. You’ll feel so much freer for having done so and trust me, Grandma won’t mind.
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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Planning to move this Summer? Don’t pack a box until you read this.
Moving is the perfect opportunity to assess whether or not you need to downsize your home’s contents so that you don’t end up spending the time and money to move, insure and unpack items you don’t really want. There are so many great reasons to downsize. Here are some of my favorites:
You’ll sell your old home faster. An uncluttered home is massively appealing to home buyers. Nowadays, real estate agents won’t even consider listing your home until it’s cleared of all your personal belongings.
It’s safer. The less clutter on surfaces, stairs, floors or near electric or gas appliances, the better. So even if you’re not moving this alone is one great reason to downsize.
You’re the one in charge! You get to decide what stays and what goes and if you give yourself enough time, you won’t be making those decisions under pressure.
You can preserve memories. It’s easier to find the irreplaceable things in your life when you can easily find them.
Less stress. You will feel the peace of mind that comes from living an uncluttered life, surrounded by the people and things you enjoy the most
Save money. The less you move, the less it costs.
What to take, what to sell, what to donate
Not sure what you’ll take with you? That’s okay, you probably have a lot you don’t want now. Start to downsize well before you move and you get to decide what goes — nobody pressuring you! Best of all, you won’t make hasty decisions in the days leading up to your move that you may regret later.
If you have items you plan to sell such as good quality furniture, jewelry, luxury brand clothing or valuable artwork, you will first need to determine whether these items are in demand. Check out both local estate sellers and consignment services as well as online estate services that can consign or buy your items outright. One easy way to do this is to send them a few photos. It’s free and you’ll know pretty quickly what they may be worth. One word of caution, don’t expect the value to equal what you paid for an item or what you “think” it’s worth. If the item has value, they too will want to make a profit so they will never buy it for what it’s worth from an insurance standpoint.
Want to keep it simple and easy? In the San Francisco Bay Area there are services such as Remoovit.com that will literally take everything you don’t want and haul it away for one flat fee. Anything they can sell, they will and you will get fifty percent of the final sale price. Whatever can not be sold, will be donated or recycled. Remoovit once sold a rusty old “banana seat” bicycle belonging to one of my clients for $1,200. She got half of that which paid for the hauling of everything else! You pay by the truck load (or fraction thereof). It’s a one-stop service for those who need their homes to be emptied quickly but don’t want to simply give away items that may have market value.
Where do I start?
Not sure where to start? Begin with whatever area of your home you’ve been wanting to tackle but just haven’t had a good enough reason. Now you do. You’re moving and you want to surround yourself with the things that you love and use most. This doesn’t mean everything else goes in the trash. On the contrary, it’s likely you have usable items that somebody else wants (any may even pay for!) including family, friends, neighbors and members of your community.
Set aside one area of your home where you will sort and label as you go. A dining room is a good place for this as it’s less likely you will be entertaining at home in the weeks leading up to your move. Otherwise, pick an area that you occupy less frequently such as a guest room. Here are some other helpful tools you will need:
A folding table or work surface for sorting (if not in your dining room).
Supply of large, plastic yard bags for donating soft goods such as clothing, purses, accessories, good quality linens, outerwear. Keep in mind most charities will not accept bed pillows, bedding, or old linens. Old towels may be donated to local animal shelters.
Small moving or packing boxes, preferably ones with handles. Use these to donate home decor, small household items, kitchen tools and other hard-edged items.
Blue or green painter’s tape to label furniture, framed art work, lamps and other large items you no longer want.
A couple of black “sharpie” markers to use with the painter’s tape to label boxes, bags and unwanted items.
A glass or bottle of water (you’ll want to stay hydrated as you work!)
If you are lucky to have family nearby, especially strong children or grandchildren, ask them to load items in your car you wish to transport yourself or ask them to take them for you. Otherwise, you can count on the help of the charities that will pick up your items by truck.
Make a list of your preferred charities that accept household goods. Be sure they are available before you move. Many charities book 2-3 weeks in advance.
Don’t forget your local church bazaar, senior center and friends of the library. There may also be a veteran’s group in your area that will pick up your donated goods. Animal shelters and your local veterinarian are always in need of clean, old towels. Women’s shelters can use your unused, unopened toiletries. (Think of all those unopened hotel shampoos and body lotions you’ve collected over the years.) Local hospice stores, or other charities that operate re-sell or “thrift” stores are a great way to donate. Not sure where to donate clothing? Ask your local consignment store. They are usually a wealth of information. Lastly you will be grateful for the help of charities that do truck pick up. Not sure which ones serve your area? Do a Google search, “charities that do truck pick up near me.“
Helpful Tips for Downsizing
Start early. Don’t wait until a week before you move. Give yourself at least a month or more so you don’t have to make decisions under pressure.
Focus on one room at a time. This way you will see progress and stay motivated.
Don’t buy more! Now is not the time time to go clothes shopping or re-stock your pantry. Use up what you have.
Segregate your paper. Don’t attempt to “go through” your files until you’ve downsized your other household goods. Instead, contain all your paper files in banker boxes and use the days leading up to the move to determine what you need to keep.
Use painters tape (not sticky notes – they fall off) to label items for donation
Save your back. Use charities that offer truck pick up to take your boxed and bagged items as well as your donated furniture
When to ask for help
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the whole process and know you can’t do this alone or are worried you would be overwhelmed by the memories and emotions often associated with large-scale downsizing
If you are working full time or traveling a lot and know you could use some help to make the process go faster
If you are far away from family or friends and need help with the physical work of sorting and transporting items for you
If you have physical limitations or just don’t have the endurance to deal with it yourself. This is especially true if you are clearing out large storage areas such as basements, garages and storage sheds.
You spent a lot of money on that sofa 5 years ago but it doesn’t work in your new home.
You loved it when you bought that suit but it doesn’t fit your personality anymore.
Your best friend talked you into buying that clock last year but it’s just not you.
Your husband gave you a gift because he thought it was meaningful but it’s simply not your taste.
Sound familiar? What do you do?
First, forget how much you spent on it or how much it may have cost. That money is gone.
Second, it won’t serve you tucked away in some back cabinet or closet especially when you need that space for other items.
Once you’ve realized the cost of holding on to it exceeds the cost of letting it go, you have two options.
Keeping it is an option if you want to delay your decision even longer but that’s the very definition of clutter.
“Gifting” it to someone else is also an option but be careful that you are not simply transferring your clutter to someone else. In this case I consider “gifting” the same as donating.
The next thing you should do is decide on a dollar amount that would make it worth your time to sell it because selling an item takes a lot longer than donating. And donating takes time too.
Would you take the time to sell it if you made $10? $50? $100? More?
Let’s say for example you have an artsy, hand-painted table you bought fifteen years ago when you were living as a single person somewhere else. Now you are married and working full-time. It’s still in good shape but it no longer fits your more streamlined, contemporary style (or your spouse hates it). Now there’s no place to put it so it’s just taking up space in your garage.
You paid almost a thousand dollars for it so you can’t imagine donating it. Your kids don’t want it and you don’t have the time to refinish it.
You’ve already taken the time to find out similar used tables sell for about $200-$300.
If you decide to sell it you will need to be prepared to spend at least a couple more hours selling it. You can do this on sites like Craigslist, Amazon or Ebay, including the time to reply to emails, be available to meet with prospective buyers and sell it in person, assuming you don’t plan on shipping it.
If you’re lucky it will sell for the price you want. If not, it’s still taking up valuable real-estate in your garage, not to mention space in your brain.
You can also donate it to a charitable organization such as Goodwill. Alternately you can donate it to a specific local charity or non-profit organization you are connected with for a fund-raising auction. Again, this will take time, more time depending upon which type of donation you choose. You can also consign but keep in mind consignment shops have the last word on whether or not they will take an item. You could end up going from store to store and still not get anyone to take it. Be sure you know and understand a consignment store’s policy before you go there.
Most people tend to overvalue the worth of their possessions. Not everyone will have a seemingly worthless vase that really is a priceless collector’s item like the ones on TV’s Antiques Roadshow.
When deciding whether or not to donate or sell, you’ll want to obtain the true estimate value of an item or items to help you decide.
Donation is not the same as disposing. When you donate an item it does continue to have worth, both tangible (the tax benefit, re-sale value) and intangible (the ‘feel good’ effect). Incidentally, the IRS allows for up to $500 of non-cash donations to be claimed on your taxes without having to provide proof of value for each individual item.
Does this mean you should donate the table? Not necessarily but it does depend on other factors: