This week we will officially close on the sale of our first home. It's kind of a big deal for us. We've been married 32 years, but we were 25 years into this adventure before we "settled down" and bought a home.
The family who is buying our home wrote us a letter introducing us to their family and explaining why they felt our home would be the perfect home for their family. They knew we were considering multiple offers, so the letter was an attempt to get our attention. It worked. The truth is, we would have accepted their offer with or without the letter because it was clearly the best offer, but the letter made letting go easier.
Because of the letter, I began thinking of our home as their home to-be. In their letter, they told us which members of their family would get which rooms, so I began picturing them (even though I have never seen them) in the space, and it made giving up the space a delight instead of a source of sadness. It made me glad to think of a young family growing up there, enjoying the renovations we had done, and adding to the memories that occupy that home.
Having just purchased a new home, I had the buying experience fresh in my mind. I began thinking about the things I would want to know about our old house if I were just moving in, and I used my answers to inspire my behavior as a seller. For me, this was somewhat theraputic. Instead of getting rid of the house, I felt as though I was passing it on. The distinction may seem subtle, but it meant something to me.
What follows is my list of suggestions for how to be a good seller. If you are selling a home or plan to in the near future, I hope you will find them helpful.
Create a Household Binder
The first thing I did was go through my files and collect all the information I believed the new homeowners would want. Then I divided the binder up into sections and inserted everything into page protectors. Here are the things I included:
Leave Instructions/Label Things
Think back to when you purchased your home. Was there anything you had difficulty figuring out? If so, I recommend writing up simple instructions and/or labeling those things that may not be obvious. For instance:
Leave it Clean
Our new home was spotlessly clean when we moved in, and that was something I really appreciated. We wanted to provide the same courtesy for the buyers of our old home, so we hired a professional to make the place shine. You could, of course, do the cleaning yourself, but we were busy with renovations and moving into the new place and decided it was worth the expense to let someone else do the work.
Leave Things the New Owners Can Use
Things to leave behind for the new owners of your old home include:
It is obviously not necessary to go out and buy these things. But if you have them, and you don't need them in your new home, it will be nice for the new owners to have them.
Don't Leave Things They Can't Use
Please be very considerate when deciding what, if anything, to leave behind at your old home. I recommend running things by your realtor to get his or her input. Your realtor will have ample experience with regard to what kinds of things buyers appreciate and what kinds of things they do not. Chances are, if you don't want it, they won't want it, so don't leave things behind simply because you have no use for them. Discard all trash and remove all personal belongings from the property.
The sellers of our new home left us a huge stack of paperwork. At first glance, it seemed like a nice gesture, but when I finally sat down to go through it all, it took me an hour and a half, and I ended up discarding three-fourths of it. Do your buyers a favor, and do the sorting for them.
The sellers also left us a small mountain of paint cans and buckets. There was one color only on all of the walls in the whole house, so I'm not sure what all the rest of the stuff was even for. Since we had plans to repaint the entire interior, it was pretty much useless to us. We kept the paint for the exterior of the house and a couple of other items that were still pertinent to the home, but 95% of the cans got hauled off to the hazardous waste dump site.
Go the Extra Mile
As I pictured our buyers roaming through the house on their first day, aquainting themselves with the layout of the space, it occured to me that it would be fun to help them by sharing a little of the history of the home. Since I knew they had three young children, I decided it might be fun to create a treasure hunt for them.
The first thing I did was brainstorm which areas of the home were most unique or had a story behind them. Once I had decided on the rooms I wanted to highlight, I set to work writing "clues". I wanted my clues to be both informative for the adults and easy enough for a six and nine year old to figure out. I also wanted to include information that would be informative for the new owners - like where the water shut off valve is located and where to go in the event of a tornado.
I wanted to create a real treasure hunt, so I left a little surprise at the location of each clue. In some cases the surprises were treats for the kids (little notebooks, boxes of crayons, stickers). In other cases, they were gifts for the parents (Magic Erasers, disinfectant wipes, cleaner for the granite countertops, batteries, etc.). I tried to choose things that would be useful and appreciated. The final surprise was a basket of fruit with a few chocolates interspered. It makes me smile to picture the children running through the house excitedly searching for the next clue. I hope it makes their first day in their new home memorable.
We often talk about the buyer's experience when it comes to real estate purchases, but seller's are an important part of the process as well. Selling can be stressful and difficult, but it can also be fun. It is not necessary to do most of the things that I have suggested here when you are selling a home, but doing so can bless you as well as the new home owners. For me it was a fun and theraputic way to bid our old house farewell, and hopefully, make the new family's transition a tiny bit smoother.
I love this quote. It reminds me that actions lead to habits, and that I can control what habits I develop by making mindful decisions about how to act and spend my time day in and day out.
In many ways, organization and clutter are habits. Dozens of small decisions throughout the day have a big cumulative impact on the amount of clutter that surrounds us.
In the Western world, everyone deals with clutter all the time. Even for the organized and tidy, the threat of impending clutter is ever present. It's a sort of by-product of our lifestyle and culture. The good news is, we can choose whether to fight off the threat or succumb to it. In other words, our actions can either add to or limit the amount of clutter in our lives.
So the question each of us must ask ourself is "Am I a clutter creator, or a clutter reducer?"
People who live relatively clutter-free lives are able to do so because they have developed habits that prevent things from piling up unnecessarily. Consequently, they practice reducing their clutter on a nearly continual basis.
Let's examine the differences in every day behaviors of clutter creators versus clutter reducers.
Where Does It Go?
It will come as no surprise that clutter reducers follow the famous advice of Benjamin Franklin, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
A major contributor to the creation of clutter is the lack of an assigned space for things. When it is unclear where a thing belongs, that thing typically gets left lying around. Therefore, if you're serious about reducing clutter, you must determine a location for everything in your home. This may require some serious consideration up front, but it pays long term dividends towards living a clutter-reduced lifestyle.
If you don't know where a thing belongs, ask yourself why. Is it because there isn't room for the item in the place where you think it should belong? Or is it because the thing has no real meaning or value to you? Or is it something else? The answer to this question is the first step in resolving the overall issue.
Clutter reducers don't just manage the clutter in their homes; they also tend to make mindful decisions about what gets through the door. Instead of bringing home fliers and other bits of paper they take photos with their phones, thus allowing them to have the information without the clutter. They avoid free samples, SWAG, and other "free" gifts they know they won't use. They think before they buy and ask themselves questions like "Where will I put this if I bring it home with me?"
Clutter creators like stuff. It gives them a little thrill to get something "free", even if they don't actually want or need the item. They operate under the false assumption that you can't organize information that isn't printed out on a piece of paper. They accept every scrap of paper with potentially useful information on it to serve as a visual, physical reminder of something they want to do or to research or to purchase. They are much less likely to consider whether they have the space for an item before they make a purchase, only whether or not they like or want the item in question.
Clutter reducers are in the habit of putting things away. When they walk in the door, they hang up their coat, they tuck their shoes neatly away where they belong, they hang up their bag or place it in its permanent home. If they have made purchases, they put them away - right away. If they are carrying the mail with them, they sort through it and put it in its proper place (trash, recycling, action pile, etc.). When they are finished using a thing, they put the item where it belongs. When they are done eating, they clean up after themselves.
Clutter creators tend to function under the false assumption that things take longer to complete than is actually true. Hanging up their coat seems like more effort than tossing it over the nearest piece of furniture. Kicking their shoes aside haphazardly seems quicker than neatly setting them on a shoe rack. Taking the time to rinse and load a small handful of dishes into the dishwasher isn't worth the effort when there are just going to be more dishes later. When they are tired at the end of the day, it seems more prudent to pile packages, bags, and mail on the nearest surface than to "deal with" everything.
In reality, most of these tasks take mere seconds to complete, and all of them can be accomplished within a few minutes at most. What clutter creators don't realize is that taking those few seconds or minutes will actually leave them feeling better about their space, better about themselves, and better about life in general, thus making it easier to relax and unwind.
Ease of Use
Clutter reducers naturally understand and practice the concept of 'ease of use' and organize their homes accordingly. Simply stated, it's the practice of making the things you use easy to access (and easy to put away). It's a way of setting yourself up for success when it comes to maintaining clutter. It is not hard to implement ease of use strategies in your home; it just takes a little forethought and preparation to set things in motion. Examples of ease of use practices include:
Clutter creators sometimes make things harder than they need to be. They place things in illogical locations where they are difficult to access or even find. They buy elaborate storage systems that look nice but function poorly. In short, they have not learned how to create storage that is easy to use. The good news is, this is a skill, and it can be learned! To start with, read about basic concepts of decluttering here.
Systems for Success
One of the ways that clutter reducers set themselves and their families up for success in the battle against clutter is by creating systems. They may not even realize that this is what they are doing, but these systems are an integral part of their personal clutter control strategy.
A system is simply a way of doing things. Clutter control systems are specific methods designed to solve potential clutter issues. An example is the entry way. These often passed through and typically small spaces are at the front line in the battle against clutter. Those who have systems in place for storing incoming and outgoing gear, are much less likely to have a cluttered entry, and much more likely to have what they need when they walk out the door each day.
Clutter creators usually recognize problem areas, but they don't know how to deal with them. They wonder why the entry is always a mess, but they fail to create a system for avoiding this situation. They puzzle over the lack of space on their kitchen counters but continue to use them as a dumping ground for all sorts of non-kitchen items. If you're struggling to resolve specific clutter issues in your home, read about developing systems for decluttering here.
A Declutter Mindset
Decluttering is part of the clutter reducers mindset. They regularly evaluate the condition of their space and the value of the items that occupy it. They keep a box or bin in the garage (or other convenient but out-of-the-way location) where they place items they intend to donate, and when it's full, they take it to the thrift store.
Clutter reducers have learned that it is more comfortable and enjoyable not to live with things they no longer want, need, or use. Perhaps most important, they have learned to let go of guilt and fear - the two big factors that prevent people from getting rid of items that no longer serve a purpose or add value to their lives.
On the other hand, clutter creators are often driven by guilt or fear to hold onto things they really don't want or need. They worry that they might need an item at some future point or that someone will be offended if they give something away. It's also true that some clutter creators don't really think at all when it comes to stuff. They make no evaluation whatsoever, content (or not) to live with the growing collection of stuff that surrounds them, never giving thought to whether or not individual items have merit and meaning.
Which One Are You?
As you can see, there are clear distinctions in the way that clutter reducers and clutter creators think and act. If you are a clutter creator at heart, and you'd rather be a clutter reducer, simply begin now to implement some of the practices and thought patterns that help clutter reducers manage and contain the potential clutter in their lives. You can do as Aristotle indicated and make excellence (via organization) a habit.
My husband and I have recently undergone a major decluttering effort. We have thrown out, given away, or sold a ton of stuff, and it has been amazingly satisfying. As an organizer, I am well-versed in the typical benefits of decluttering such as increased space and decreased stress, but on a personal level, decluttering has blessed my life in a number of unanticipated ways. These unexpected benefits of decluttering have been my favorite part of the process.
If decluttering is on your to do list, and you're looking for a little extra motivation to get the ball rolling, consider these added perks that come from decluttering.
NOTE: Our decluttering was associated with a move, but you don't have to be moving to enjoy the benefits identified here that can result from a concerted decluttering effort.
Open Up New Possibilities for Your Space
By freeing up space within your home, you open up new opportunities for utilizing your space. Have you always wanted a craft room? Getting rid of unnecessary clutter could free up the space you need to make your dream a reality. Do you need a home office or a space for your kids to do Zoom schooling? Downsizing items that no longer fit your lifestyle and interests can free up the space you need to realize your current needs.
These are biggish examples here, but new possibilities for your space can be realized on a smaller scale as well. For instance, by downsizing books we opened up space on our bookshelves for our scrapbooks. We have lovely scrapbooks that have been sitting on the top shelf of a closet for more than a decade neglected and unappreciated. I'm excited to have them readily available to flip through and share.
Become Reacquainted with Your Stuff
Something I didn't anticipate when I started decluttering was the increased access it would give me to things I either forgot I had or never used because they were shoved so far back in the cupboard it was difficult to get to them. This was especially true in the kitchen. Since getting rid of unused, unneeded items, I have lots more room in my cupboards, and I have enjoyed rediscovering some of my old favorite things.
Discover New Ways to Reuse Old Items
Sometimes you have things you really love, but they no longer work in the way you originally intended. If you really love an item, think about ways to repurpose it - I'm not talking about turning old colanders into planters (although that sort of thing can be fun as well). I'm talking more about finding a new home or a new purpose for an existing item. I've had a blast finding new uses for furniture items, baskets and bins, and even knickknacks.
I'll share an example. Many years ago we had a custom china cabinet built to house our collection of Palestinian pottery and dishware (along with a lot of other stuff). It is massive and very 1990's in it's design. I loved it when it was new and for many years after, but it no longer coordinates with any of our furniture and we have fallen out of love with it., so we decided to sell it.
Selling the china cabinet was a no-brainer, but it left us with a problem - what to do with our beloved collection of pottery and dishware. At first we thought we would buy a replacement piece, but we couldn't find one we liked. Then we discovered that our new bigger bedroom closet allowed us to downsize by one dresser. The dresser we opted not to use in our bedroom is a beautiful piece of furniture that I absolutely love. No way did I want to get rid of it, but it seemed as though it no longer served a purpose - until I decided to use it as a replacement for the china cabinet. It's both unique and functional. It blends well in the space (despite the fact that it's a dresser) and my china, table lines, and other odds and ends fit inside it beautifully.
Rethink Your Priorities, Interests, and Goals
Downsizing affords you the opportunity to reassess what matters to you here and now and let go of things that no longer have value in your life. For example...
As we were leaving the old house, I packed up all my craft supplies. As I was unpacking at the new house, I quickly realized that I was not going to have space for everything without purchasing some furniture pieces and storage solutions to contain it all. After a little thought, I decided that I wasn't willing to pay the price in money or space to store stuff I hadn't used in years. Instead, I opted to think through what I would actually use and get rid of the rest. I ended up getting rid of several boxes of things I had either bought and never used (and couldn't recall my original intent for them) or that were left over from long completed projects. What remains are items that appeal to my current interests and goals.
Develop a Healthier Relationship with Stuff
I'm always telling people that decluttering is liberating and rejuvenating, and I have been reminded on a personal level recently just how much truth there is in that claim. It's exhilarating and satisfying and uplifting to walk into a clutter free space knowing that you are surrounded only by things that have meaning and value in your life today. Some of those things may be mementos, others may be tools, and still others will be toys (or things that entertain you). Whatever their purpose in your life, the joy comes in the fact that they serve a meaningful purpose - even the boring but highly practical items.
Things take up space not only in the physical world, but also in our minds. Unwanted, unnecessary, and unused items weigh us down by taking up space in our homes and weighing on our consciences. Letting go of such things, allows you to enjoy your possessions rather than be burdened by them.
Give It a Try!
Decluttering is worth the effort. The benefits are legion. In addition to the unexpected benefits identified here, decluttering saves you time, money, and space. It reduces stress, increases productivity, improves peace of mind and nurtures a sense of empowerment. I encourage you to give it a try. Then please share how this process has blessed your life. I'm always looking to expand my list of the benefits of decluttering!
I consider myself a purger. As an organizer, it's in my blood. Every couple of months I make a run to the thrift store to drop off donations. As such, I did not expect to have much to do in the way of downsizing when we decided to move homes recently. To my surprise, the opposite has been true. To my delight, I have greatly enjoyed the process.
I know that for some people (indeed many people) downsizing is intimidating and even painful, but I want you to know that is doesn't have to be. Sure, it takes effort, but it's an effort that pays dividends in emotional and psychological benefits.
Why Downsizing Can and Should Be a Delight
I have found that every item that passes through my door bound for some location other than my new home leaves me feeling a little lighter. Not only is it one less thing I have to move (and at this point in the process that prospect has real value to me), it's something I no longer have responsibility for.
Have you thought about your stuff in those terms before? Every item we own is an item we are responsible for. It's an item we have to clean and maintain and house. It's also an item we are one day going to leave to others to deal with. Knowing that I have fewer things for which I am accountable leaves me with a sense of relief.
Another thing I love about downsizing is the opportunities it opens up for creating the home I want. The less junk I have, the more space there is for the things I truly love and value. The easier it is to find things. The confining, crowding effects of clutter are replaced with a sense of tranquility and calm.
Does It Belong
Moving provides an ideal opportunity to downsize. One way or another, whether you're moving yourself or paying someone to do it for you, there will come a point in the process where you will handle every item you own. It could be going into a box or onto a truck, or it might be coming out of the box or off of the truck. If you're doing it all yourself, then you get the bonus of two opportunities to consider each item's fate. Such is the case with our move.
I highly recommend mindful packing/unpacking. Before putting forth the effort to pack an item and transport it to a new location, ask yourself where it fits in your new home and the lifestyle you hope to enjoy there. If an item passes this test only to cause you stress on the other end as to where it belongs, ask yourself if it does belong. Too often we get caught up in the value of an item, either emotionally, financially, or practically. Instead, try thinking about how an item fits into your space and your lifestyle. Things can have intrinsic value without having value to you personally. It's okay to let go of such things. In fact, it's advisable.
The Downsizing Process
Our downsizing process has been multifaceted. When I first started setting things aside to get rid of, I pictured myself having a sale. The time of year and the effort involved (not to mention the time) have caused me to rethink that plan. With one exception, we have given away (or thrown away) every item we have parted with. Here's how the process has unfolded:
Downsizing Is For Everyone
You don't have to be moving to enjoy the benefits of downsizing. You just need a little motivation, a little energy, and a little time. If you've been meaning to downsize, let this be the impetus to get you moving in that direction. I promise you'll be glad you made the effort. Letting go feels good! It's liberating to release things that no longer serve a purpose in your life, and it's rewarding to find them a good home.
One of the things that has surprised me the most about this process is how many items we have held onto that were in some way damaged or unserviceable. Such things are easy to get rid of and are rarely, if ever, missed. Try starting with this items to build your motivation and go from there. You can do it!
No matter the circumstances of your relocation, moving is always disruptive. My husband and I are currently undergoing our 17th move. We did not anticipate moving when this year began, but as we all know, 2020 has been full of surprises. Fortunately for us, this particular surprise has been a happy one, but even blessed events in our lives are often fraught with anxiety. Such is typically the case with moving.
While the chaos and turmoil of moving cannot be avoided, they can be limited. Following are tactics and practices that are working well for us, and which I hope will work well for you, if and when you find yourself relocating.
My husband is an expert planner. He's better than anyone I've ever worked with at "wargaming" situations. He has taught me a great deal about the importance of planning and also the process. Given the number of times we have moved, if there is one thing I can personally attest to, it is that effective planning is an essential part of a successful move.
For this particular move, we are packing and moving ourselves the 3.5 miles from our old home to our new home. We are doing so in phases over the course of a month. We have planned out what we will move and when in order to accommodate the various contractors we have hired to redo flooring, repaint walls, and complete other odd jobs at both homes.
We have carefully thought through the best order in which to do things so that we can get the most done under the circumstances. Because floors and walls are being redone at the new house, the first phase of our efforts has focused on the unfinished or non-living areas of the new house such as the workshop, storage space, and garage.
In addition to creating an overall plan for how to conduct our move, we regularly discuss the plan for the upcoming week as well as the day ahead. We set goals for what we hope to accomplish and adapt accordingly. At times it can feel redundant to discuss the same topics over and over, but doing so keeps us both on the same page, and that is so critical for both our mental health and our relationship.
There is so much to plan when you are moving:
Thinking (and rethinking) through all of these things will make your move seem less overwhelming. If you know what needs to be done and have a plan for accomplishing each task, you can feel in control, and crossing items off your list helps you see that things really are progressing despite the sense of chaos that always accompanies a move.
Speaking of chaos, moving, by its very nature, is chaotic. You simply cannot disassemble your belongs (and in the process your lifestyle and schedule) and reassemble it all in a new location without a significant amount of disorder, confusion, and mess.
My advice is to embrace the chaos. If you can enter the process with this reality firmly fixed in your mind, it is less likely to throw you into a tailspin. From my own experience I can tell you that this notion is easier for some personality types to embrace than others, but it is beneficial to all. Just accept it. Your life is going to be in turmoil for a time. The turmoil will end. You will return to a place of peace and comfort in due time. The more you plan and prepare, the sooner the chaos will subside and normalcy will return. Focus on what you can control and simply say to the rest:
"Hello, Chaos. I've been expecting you. Make yourself at home, and don't mind me. I intend to work around you."
The other day my husband lamented, "How long will it be before there is a room in our home that is not a cluttered mess?"
I took his comment to heart and spent an hour rearranging the chaos as a gift to him (not to mention myself). I realized that I had it within my power to contain the chaos. Instead of leaving boxes and other items strewn about everywhere, I decided to consolidate the packed boxes, the empty boxes, and the packing material in one central room (in this case the living room) which is already 90% packed, leaving the rest of the rooms on the main floor clutter free. The room I selected is a room that we don't spend much time in, so despite the fact that you must traverse through it upon entering our home in order to get to the other, more frequented spaces, it disrupts our lifestyle very little to have everything stacked (neatly) in that room.
After doing so myself, I highly recommend creating a clutter-free zone in your home during a move. Let there be a space that feels comfortable and "normal" where the family can gather in limited stress surroundings. The best candidate is the room (or combination of rooms) where you congregate the most.
It is tempting to create lengthy to do lists, but doing so often leads to frustration and discouragement, both of which undermine productivity and well being.
Keep in mind that things frequently take longer than anticipated, and interruptions are unavoidable. Yesterday, my goal was to finish painting the new garage so that we can begin setting up shelving and organizing the space. I had two unexpected visitors (a long time friend and new neighbor, and our real estate agent who is also a good friend). While I enjoyed visiting with both of them and showing them the progress we have made thus far, these disruptions sapped valuable time from the task at hand and put me behind schedule. In the end, I was able to get the job done - with a whole lot of help from my daughter (Thank you, Jessica!). Had I not had the help, I would not have finished, and I would have been faced with a dilemma - whether to dwell on what I did not accomplish or rejoice in what I was able to get done.
Some tasks are time sensitive and must be accomplished by a certain time. Other tasks have a window in which they can successfully be finished. Many tasks are free floating, meaning there is no deadline associated with their completion. Prioritizing tasks accordingly can help ensure that the time sensitive tasks are finished first. Beyond that, it helps to be a little bit flexible and forgiving of yourself when you fall short of your own expectations. Work hard. Work efficiently. Celebrate your achievements, and reassess your plans each day to reflect the reality of what you have been able to accomplish and what still needs to be done.
I have known many, many people who have lived in a home for more than a year and have still not finished unpacking and setting up house. The reason is that they have not taken the time to move in properly. They have continued to live life at the same accelerated pace which greatly limits the time they have to do the work associated with moving.
Moving is time consuming. It's a huge undertaking. In order to complete a move in a timely manner, it is necessary to set some other things on the back burner for a little while. Limiting your outside responsibilities and appointments in order to finish unpacking your home takes far less time than unpacking your home while continuing to live a hectic life. One reason it takes so long to unpack when you're only doing a little here and there as you have time is that most of us are exhausted at the end of the day, and unpacking takes both mental effort and physical energy.
For us the best method has consistently been to simplify our schedules and focus on the move. By doing so, we have consistently been able to be fully unpacked and settled within a couple of weeks of completing the transition to the new home.
Between the exhaustion and the disarray associated with moving, meal planning can be a real challenge. Waiting to "plan" dinner until the last minute when everyone is tired and hungry often ends with fast food. A little planning will allow you to maintain a healthy diet and prepare quick, easy meals. Try keeping fresh fruits and vegetables on hand to snack on, and stock up on healthy freezer meals and other quick fixes your family enjoys.
It is tempting to stuff things into closets and corners to deal with later when you are tired and overwhelmed, but moving is your opportunity to start with a clean slate. Take advantage of this enviable circumstance to sort through everything and toss those things that no longer serve a meaningful purpose in your life. Take the time to set up organizing systems in every room of your home. Don't just move those boxes of old papers in the basement; sort through them. Work until the job is done before declaring victory.
For tons more information on planning for your move, check out my eBook:
Moving Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Move.
In addition to how-to information, you'll find 10 printable checklists to use before, during, and after the move to stay on top of things.
Moving is messy. It generates loads of dust and trash. Taking a few extra minutes to sweet behind a newly moved piece of furniture or wipe down a dusty surface does wonders for one's outlook.
I also highly recommend cleaning entire spaces as you empty them. This works best if you are moving in stages as we are, but it can also work if you have movers loading all your stuff onto a truck. While they are busy hauling items out of the house, you can focus on cleaning the spaces they have cleared. It's a great feeling to be able to shut the door on a room and declare it "done".
Try to avoid shuffling things around. This only creates more work. Determine where an item or box needs to go, and put it there the first time if at all possible. The fewer times you have to move the same item, the happier you and your back will be.
Take time to relax each day. Ideally it is best if you can do so at the beginning and the end of each day. Even if it's only for a few minutes, taking a little time off to indulge in something that relaxes you will help you manage your stress and maintain a positive attitude.
My husband likes to paraphrase the words of Prussian General Helmuth Von Moltke (1857 to 1871) by saying, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." In the civilian world, this adage could be restated to say that no matter how carefully you plan, something unexpected is bound to happen at some point. This does not alleviate the need to plan (see point number one above), but accepting this fact as truth can help you roll with the punches and adapt when unforeseen problems arise.
Keep in mind that the chaos of moving is temporary. The process of moving, while stressful, can also be fun and exciting. It's a chance to reinvent your space and organize your belongings in new and more functional ways. Instead of focusing on the challenges, concentrate on the end result - a lovely new home where you and your family can thrive.
In recent weeks, my husband and I have searched for and selected a new home, and tomorrow we sign for it! Needless to say, we are very excited! It is wonderful to get to this point in the process, but there were plenty of times during our search when I seriously contemplated giving up and staying put. There aren't many houses for sale at the moment in our area, and there are even fewer that met our wants and needs. We'd see a house on the internet that seemed perfect only to be disappointed when we saw it in person. Of course there were contenders, but knowing which house to select was intimidating. It's a big decision!
To help us in our decision making process my husband developed a grading system. He's good at that sort of thing, and I'm so glad because it works!
Before introducing our home grading system, I feel like it would be useful to explain why we began searching for a new home in the first place. We aren't changing jobs or seeking to be closer to family or anything that would force us to move, and technically our current home meets all of our needs, though not perhaps as well as we would like.
We purchased our current home while living in the Middle East in preparation for a move back to the United States. My husband spent a few days at the end of a business trip searching for a place before returning to Abu Dhabi where we were living. I never saw the home face to face until after we signed for it, and in all honesty, my first reaction was one of (albeit mild) disappointment.
In the intervening 7 1/2 years, we have made numerous upgrades and changes to the home, making it our own, but there are some things about it - the things we like least - that we simply cannot change. It occurred to us that we were not stuck here. If we wanted to move, we could, and so we began our search.
To start with, we made a list of each of the spaces in our current home. Next to each space, we gave our current home a letter grade (A, B+, C-, etc.) depending on how well we feel each particular area of our current home meets our wants and needs. This gave us a baseline with which to compare other homes.
After looking at a potential home, we would go over our list and grade the contender independent of our current home or other homes we had seen. The idea was to make an honest assessment of how any given home measured up on its own to our list. Then we compared the contender to our ratings for our current home. This made it easy to see whether the home we were considering was actually an improvement over our current home. Seeing the pluses and minuses for each home displayed next to our current home and one another made comparison simple and helped us rule out homes that appealed to our aesthetic but didn't actually meet our needs.
We are (almost) empty nesters. Our youngest son is living with us while finishing up a program at a local community college. Despite the fact that our children are grown, we wanted a place where the whole family could gather comfortably on occasion. We wanted a place for our grandchildren to play, and we needed a place where my husband could record his podcast and we could both work from home. I'm sure there were times when our realtor wanted to strangle us! We turned down many a beautiful home because it just wasn't quite right. We were in a position to be able to do so (since we didn't have to move), and we wanted to be sure that we got it right before we upended our lives.
The grading system made a huge difference for us in narrowing down our options, so that after two months and countless houses spanning a 30 mile radius we knew the house we wanted when we saw it. Another benefit of using the grading scale was that it helped us to be unified in our search; by thinking through each space, how it functioned, and how we wanted it to function, we were able to come to a consensus about what we were looking for.
Here is a look at our home grading system. You'll notice that there are things about our current home that we truly love, but many things we do not love. I think you will also see how clear it became for us on paper that the new home would meet our needs and desires much more effectively.
In the interest of simplicity, I have only included the grades for our current home and the home we are purchasing, but we did use this scale to judge most of the homes we considered (some didn't warrant the effort).
As I discussed this blog post with my husband, he pointed out something that I felt was worth mentioning. Most homes have what he refers to as an "X-factor", a single characteristic or space that you fall in love with which makes it possible for you to overlook other aspects of the home that you are less enamored with. In our current home the X-factor is a space we call Narnia. You can read about why in my last blog post, Why a Little Clutter Can Be Good for the Soul.
In our new home it is the all season room - a room with windows on three sides and a lovely tile floor where I intend to do a lot of sitting and reading and writing. What is the X-factor in your home? What does it allow you to overlook?
Unless you're independently wealthy, chances are you cannot afford the perfect house. Compromises must be made. Identifying your wants and needs and carefully rating a potential home as to its ability to meet them will help you choose a home where you can feel content and comfortable. If you're in the market for a new home, I hope you are able to utilize a home rating system to make your decision easier. If you know someone who is shopping for a new home, please share this post with them.
Three of our four grandchildren have been visiting for the past two weeks. They are six months, two and a half, and almost five. Needless to say, it's been lively. When they are here, the house fairly pulses with energy. Now that they are gone, it feels empty and deflated. It also looks a little like a whirlwind came through.
As a young mother of four, I often found myself feeling overwhelmed by the constant struggle to maintain order. As a grandmother, I find myself joyfully embracing the chaos. The fact that there are toys strewn about and things out of place on all three floors of the house and in practically every room is a source of amusement and cheer. It serves as a reminder that little people are about curiously engaging with and exploring their environment. I'm glad to be able to provide a stimulating space that sparks their imagination.
As an organizer my natural tendency is to get rid of things that no longer serve a purpose in my life, but my husband and I intentionally made one significant exception to this rule. We saved many of our children's toys. We made this decision with our future grandchildren in mind. It meant moving and storing stuff that no one was really using for about ten years, but it was so worth the effort and space.
Now that we have grandchildren, the investment is paying off. When the littles come to visit, they have a blast discovering new things to play with. They refer to the bedroom where they sleep and where the toys are kept as their room, and they love it. Every morning when they wake up, they fill their hands with a selection of toys and wander downstairs to greet the day. They are never bored.
When we purchased our home it had a roughly finished space above the garage which could only be accessed by ducking through a small door at the back of our son's walk-in closet. In our minds, it was always destined to be the playroom, so we dubbed it Narnia. Several years ago we remodeled the second floor, turning the closet into a hallway and reading nook and making Narnia a legitimate bedroom. It's certainly non-traditional, but it's also a really fun space.
An interesting side effect of having a playroom full of toys is that I really don't have to childproof my home. The kiddos are so busy playing with the toys, they rarely get sidetracked by things we wouldn't want them to touch. Although occasionally they do stake a claim to a non-toy item, typically using it in some other way than what it was intended for.
On this particular visit, it was a candle holder shaped like a bird cage. My oldest granddaughter quickly surmised that it was the perfect spot for a little bird puppet to dwell and carried it about with her wherever she went in the house for the first several days she was here. Before long, she was using it to hold all her favorite toys, no doubt in a vain attempt to keep them out of her brother's reach.
For me the lesson in all of this is that sometimes there are legitimate exceptions to the rule. Stuff should serve a purpose in your life. If it doesn't it's clutter, and as such it becomes a burden. If, however, it brings you and others joy, it's worth the space and effort involved in its storage and upkeep. The key is understanding why you're holding onto things and being honest with yourself about the role they play in your life. Are you getting a return on your investment, or is your stuff controlling you?
I recognize that not everyone will understand my choice to go against my inner organizer instincts in this instance. I also realize that not everyone will be in a position to save a whole roomful of toys for their future grandchildren. Most people wouldn't even consider doing such a thing. But for us it has worked out wonderfully, and I am glad we lugged the storage containers full of toys around for a number of years and grateful we had the space to store them.
Watching my grandchildren play has helped me appreciate that all the world can be filled with wonder and that joy can be found in the simplest things. I have also been reminded that old things can serve interesting and surprising new purposes. Most of all, though, I have come to understand that even those of us who love and crave order can benefit from a little chaos every now and then.
I just returned from a walk in the brisk fall air. I love fall. It is by far my favorite time of the year. I spend much of the summer anxiously awaiting its arrival, and I mourn its passing as mild, sunny days give way to winter's chill.
The reasons for my fondness of fall are many, but this morning as I observed random leaves floating to the ground, one in particular stood out in my mind: change. I like the change in the weather, the change in activities, the change in focus, and the changes in nature.
All this got me thinking about the concept of change, especially when considered in conjunction with some other aspects of my walk which I will share in this post as well.
We are currently undergoing a major life change. We are moving houses. I'm both excited and overwhelmed by the prospect. That is the thing with change; it can be both uncomfortable and exciting at the same time. For instance, there are many things about my current home that I love and will miss. That said, there are even more things about my new home that I am eager to enjoy. Instead of focusing on what I am giving up, I am trying to appreciate those things that I love about the old house and the enjoyment those things have brought to my life. I will look back on them with a nostalgic fondness and appreciation. I will not pine away for the loss of them. Instead, I will focus on the new experiences and opportunities that my new home affords.
Change can take many forms, but certain types of change are commonly experienced. My walk brought to mind a number of metaphors for change which I would like to share.
In recent months much of the world has experienced a narrowing of the path ahead. COVID-19 has restricted people's ability to work, socialize, and function freely. Many people have keenly felt the limitations imposed by these external constraints. Others have instituted their own personal constraints in an attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones.
At the same time, many people have utilized this time of reduced external opportunities to reflect and build inwardly. There have been so many marvelous examples of people using this time of restriction to expand their lives in meaningful ways by focusing on family, rethinking priorities, tackling projects, and purging the unwanted from their lives.
When the path before us narrows, we can choose to see it as a limitation or an opportunity. In reality, it is both, We can utilize the duality of the circumstance to look back with gratitude and insight regarding the distance we have traveled while simultaneously focusing our efforts moving forward.
Sometimes, the road ahead gets steep. Troubles seem to come in bundles. Life gets a little (or a lot!) hard for awhile. At such times, we can find ourselves asking, "What next?!" as new problems present themselves. It can feel as though we are endlessly climbing.
Just as climbing a steep hill in real life makes us physically stronger, climbing metaphorical hills can make us emotionally and intellectually stronger. The beautiful thing about hills is that they always end in an enhanced perspective. When we get to the top, we can see farther, understand our position better in relation to everything around us, and know better how to plot the course ahead.
It can be tempting when trudging uphill to focus downward on the next step. While this method will keep us moving forward, it does little to make the journey more bearable. Instead, why not pause periodically to catch your breath and look back at the distance you've traveled? Doing so can instill feelings of gratitude, accomplishment, and hope. When you resume, try to look up and enjoy the ever-decreasing distance between yourself and the summit.
Thinking in terms of time management, responsibilities, and other burdens, we sometimes need to lighten our load for the upward trek by laying aside, if only for a time, those things that are extraneous and superficial in order to focus on what matters most. What matters most at any given time will change with our circumstances and needs. Don't be afraid to tell others, "My path is steep right now. I need to lighten my load." Depending on who you tell, they may actively look for ways to help lessen your burden.
They say that what goes up must come down. When we get to the top of life's metaphorical hills, we are typically faced with a steep decline. After the difficult upward trek, it can be tempting to let gravity and our renewed energy pull us downward at an ever-increasing pace. Better to walk carefully and intentionally, enjoying the newly gained perspective.
Following a challenging time, give yourself grace and patience as you slowly add meaningful things back into your life. Resist the urge to invite too much into your life too soon, be it activities, commitments, or stuff.
Occasionally, something really big comes along. It might be an illness or injury. It might be the loss of a job or a loved one. Whatever the case may be, such life changing events tend to demand an inordinate amount of our time, attention, and energy. They force us to yield to their demands and set other aspects of our lives on the top shelf to gather dust for a time.
Such events or circumstances are largely unavoidable, and in many cases, unpredictable. Many of my clients are just emerging from (or still caught up in the midst) of a life-changing situation. Their routines have been derailed, and their personal surroundings have suffered as a result. With all their energy and effort focused on managing the 'big thing' in their life, things like order and organization have yielded. That's normal, but it doesn't have to be permanent.
When circumstances force your to yield to their demands, know that yielding, by it's very nature, is temporary. Whatever the passing obstacle, it will pass, and it will once again be safe for you to continue on your way. Don't berate yourself for "letting things get out of hand". They are just things, and over time you can regain a comfortable level of control.
While it would be nice to always be assured of a straight and shady path (like the one above), that isn't how life works. That's actually a good thing. An unbending path is a boring path void of opportunities to test ourselves and increase our strength.
I purposefully saved this image for the end. This part of the path is located toward the end of my walk. As you can see the path ahead curves. The sign, in fact, indicates multiple curves ahead. There are curves ahead for all of us, and we often can't see what lies around the bend (as is the case here). That's why it's good, when we get the chance, to sit down on a comfortable bench and rest. While we're at it, we might also take a moment or two to toss out any "trash" that is burdening us before stepping back onto the path to see what's around the corner.
Change is inevitable. Change is often difficult and almost always uncomfortable. Change is also necessary and beneficial. When viewed with the proper perspective, change can be an instrument for gratitude as we look back on past experiences and the ways in which they have shaped and blessed us. Change can also be a precursor and instigator of growth in our lives as we adapt to our shifting circumstances and improve ourselves in the process.
It isn't only our circumstances that change. We change over time as well. Our interests, tastes, needs, wants, and preferences change. Often, instead of letting go of things that held meaning or interest to our former self, we cling to them. Our progress on the path ahead, be it hilly, curvy, or wrought with obstacles, will be easier if our burden is lighter. Letting go of the things that no longer represent who you are and what matters to you, leaves you free to welcome the changes ahead.
How has change impacted you? What insights have you gained as you have overcome challenging times?
We're moving, or at least we think we are. We are certainly considering it seriously. At any rate, we're in a moving mindset.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband said to me, "When we move, we're not taking that with us." It happened to be a piece of furniture, and I happened to agree whole-heartedly with him. In fact, my response was, "I was thinking the same thing." And I was. In fact, I have been thinking that about a lot of things, and this has got me pondering: If I wouldn't take it with me when I move, why am I holding onto it?
Sometimes the answer to this question is a perfectly reasonable one. Perhaps the item is useful in the current location, but it won't be needed in the new one. Such would be the case if, for instance, you lived in an area where is snows regularly and you were moving to a southern state. You might opt not to bring the snow blower to your new location.
Often, however, our reasons for holding onto things we wouldn't take with us if we were moving are not so easy to define and may require a little soul searching. I have decided to begin a pre-move purge. Even if we decide not to move, I know I will be glad that I embarked on this endeavor. No matter what one's current life circumstance, a little purging is always good for the soul, not to mention one's space.
Below is my ever-growing list of items I will not be taking with me if and when I move. I've got specific examples, but I've decided to generalize in order to provide information that will be more widely applicable.
STUFF WE'VE OUTGROWN: Clothing is, of course, the first thing that comes to mind, but it is by no means the only category of items that fit this criteria. It is possible to outgrow items not only physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, or simply in terms of preference. As an example, a client of mine recently told me that the music in her CD collection "no longer falls on my ears like it used to." In other words, her tastes have changed. She has outgrown her old music. What have you outgrown? You don't have to wait for a move to get rid of things you no longer love.
PILLOWS: The National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing pillows every one to two years. This is because pillows absorb dust, dead skin cells, body oils, and other icky stuff that attracts dust mites and other microorganisms. While it is possible to extend the life of some pillows by washing them every three to six months, they will not last indefinitely. The following are indications that your pillow needs replacing:
MATTRESSES: Like pillows, mattresses serve as collection sites for all sorts of yucky stuff. There are some things you can do to care for your mattress and extend it's life, but generally speaking mattresses should be replaced every eight to ten years. Moving is a great time to assess the condition of the mattresses in your home and leave behind those that have lived a full life.
DAMAGED STUFF: I have a tendency to use things until they are unusable. My cell phone is a great example. My children regularly chide me about the fact that it is so outdated (I still have an iPhone 7 and my iPad is 8 years old). But it still works, albeit not as well as I would like. Another example is my blender. The lid to the pitcher does not seat properly unless you physically hold it down. It makes using the blender a bit frustrating. To replace the pitcher and lid costs almost as much as a new blender, so I am not taking the old one with me when I move. It isn't worth salvaging.
Most of us have stuff that is broken, stained, frayed, threadbare, or otherwise damaged. We hold onto such things because we once loved them, and we would like for them to be whole again or because we do not want to spend the money to replace them. Whatever our reasoning, holding onto such items only adds clutter to our lives.
OUTDATED ELECTRONICS: We have a bin in our attic full of old electrical chargers and cords. I cannot identify the purpose of 99% of these accessories. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of these cables and cords do not work with any device currently residing in my home. We've lived here for seven years and never needed them, so they will not be coming with us when we move. Do you have any outdated electronics in your home? My page Where to Donate or Recycle Electronics offers a variety of resources for disposing of electronics safely and responsibly.
UNUSED APPLIANCES: I knew it was time to get rid of the quesadilla maker when I went to make quesadillas and intentionally opted to use another method for preparing them. The same was true for my fondue pot. Unused appliances take up a lot of space, so parting with them is a great way to clear the clutter from your kitchen.
UNUSED SURPLUS: I'm a firm believer in being prepared and keeping things on hand that you use regularly. It's wonderful to be able to pull a staple item off the shelf when you run low rather than having to run to the store. That said, most of us hold onto an excess of things we don't use or only use periodically. In the case of food items, this can be doubly wasteful. The space needed to store the items is wasted, and often the items themselves go to waste because they expire and have to be discarded.
I happen to have a weakness for school supplies. Despite the fact that I have resisted the urge to 'stock up' on such items during the late summer sales for the past two years since my youngest child graduated high school, I still have drawers and bins teaming with empty notebooks, unopened bags of pens, and other school essentials. It's time to make a realistic assessment of what we will actually use in a timely manner and edit my cache.
DUPLICATES: We recently bought a brand new squeegee to push the rain off our deck. A few weeks later we discovered that we already owned a squeegee - the exact same squeegee, in fact. One of them is going to find a new home before we move. A couple of years ago, we received a waffle iron as a gift. We already had a waffle iron. Since getting the new one, I have not used the old one. I'm keeping the new one and bidding the old one farewell. As the wife of an army officer, I also have an impressive collection of serving trays which have seen a lot of use over the years. In addition to my own collection, I inherited several from my step mom. These days they don't get nearly as much use as they once did. Time to pare down the collection and pass some on to another user.
Chances are you can think of similar examples among your possessions. If you have two, and one will do, I encourage you to choose your favorite and give the extra one away.
STUFF THAT"S MOSTLY USED: The list of examples that fit into this category is potentially unending. I'll just give you a few to get your mind going: lipstick and other cosmetics, nail polish, partially burned candles, gift wrap scraps, craft supplies, medicines you no longer take, paint or glue that's drying up, lotions and other toiletries you tried but didn't love. You get the idea. Look for stuff that's been opened and partially used that's been sitting around for some time. Ask yourself if you're ever going to use it and get rid of it if the answer is no.
STUFF I"VE BEEN KEEPING FOR THE WRONG REASON: As an organizer I am not completely immune to the subtle, yet alluring, array of excuses that cause us to keep things we don't want or need. My moving game plan is thus: make an honest assessment as to why I am keeping things and part with those things that have been burdening me in one way or another. Examples include things I've kept out of guilt, things I've kept out of laziness, things I've kept out of a sense of sentimentality, and things I've kept just in case. Whether you are moving or not, it is always freeing to let go of things that have been burdening you, so I'm looking forward to this part of the purging process in particular.
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