Downsizing has been on my mind lately. My husband and I recently downsized extensively as part of a move, I'm working with a couple of clients right now on major downsizing projects, and this past week I helped my mom downsize as she moved to a significantly smaller space. On top of that, my daughter and her family are currently downsizing to a much smaller home as part of a temporary relocation. As a result, I've put a lot of thought into the process of downsizing, how it differs from simple decluttering, and how the two processes are related.
While it is impossible to downsize without decluttering, and decluttering certainly reduces the amount of stuff in a space (i.e. downsizing), in my mind there is a discernible, though perhaps subtle, distinction between the two processes.
Meriam Webster defines the word declutter as follows: (verb) to remove clutter from a room, an area, etc.
You will not be surprised to learn that, as an organizer, I have a fondness for decluttering. Indeed, for me it is a mindset, a way of life. I keep a bag, box, or bin for collecting items I wish to get rid of perched in a designated spot in my garage, and I regularly make trips to the thrift store to make donations. It wasn't, however, until this last move that I felt like I could say I had legitimately downsized my belongings. So what's the difference?
The definition of downsize is: (verb) to reduce in size. How is this different from decluttering? The distinction, in my mind, between downsizing and decluttering centers on two factors:
Let's start with scope, or extent. One can declutter, or reduce the clutter, of a surface, a drawer, a closet, a room, or an entire house. On the other hand, downsizing refers to the comprehensive reduction of one's possessions. Thus, the scope is broad and all-inclusive. When you legitimately downsize, it is with the intent of living a simpler life, one that reduces your overall footprint and requires less space.
Since decluttering simply involves the reduction of clutter, it can be performed on a small scale - such as thinning out a collection or getting rid of items that are no longer functional. If we wanted to get technical, getting rid of just one unwanted or unneeded item could be considered decluttering.
Downsizing, on the other hand, requires a tangible change in the amount of stuff you own. When you downsize, you minimize all of your belongings typically with the intent of reducing the size of your living space.
Because the scope and scale of downsizing are much broader than is generally the case with decluttering, the process can be a bit overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Since I've had to really think this through lately, I've come up with some suggestions for how to approach the downsizing process.
Define and Embrace Your Lifestyle
Often downsizing is motivated by a lifestyle change. It may be one that you have sought out, as was the case for us, or it may be one that is thrust upon you. Whatever the case, the first thing to do when you are faced with downsizing is to examine your situation. For example:
Thinking about potential changes to your lifestyle that may come about as a result of downsizing will help you come to terms with the process and even look forward to living with less. Instead of feeling like a burden, you can start to embrace downsizing as a means of reducing the burden of unwanted, unneeded, unused stuff.
Start with the Easy Stuff
When faced with a major undertaking such as downsizing, I recommend starting with the simple stuff and working up to more challenging tasks. What is the simple stuff? In this case, I am referring to those things that are the least stressful to part with - things that have no sentimental or inherent value. Here are a few examples:
Let Your Space Be Your Guide
If you are downsizing but staying in the same place, consider how you would like your space to look and feel. If you are downsizing to a smaller space, examine the new space carefully. Take photos and measurements.
Only keep those things that will fit the constraints of your space, whether literal, physical constraints, or intentional, functional constraints you have choosen to apply. Only keep the clothes that will fit comfortably within your closet and/or dresser. Only keep the books that will fit on the shelves you have for which you have space...and so forth.
Think of your space as an exclusive club - only the best of the best are allowed admission. Choose your favorites, and part with the things that are just so-so. Choose your favorite furniture, your favorite decor items, your favorite wall-hangings/photos/artwork, your favorite kitchen utensils, your favorite clothes. Imagine a space where all the things that surround you are things that you love. This quote from William Morris has always inspired me in this regard:
Search for Versatile Solutions
As you sort through your possessions for those worthy of keeping, look for items that can serve more than one function. Furniture pieces are a great example. Do you have an item that offers both seating and storage? Or a work surface as well as storage?
If your space is decreasing, it is important to choose items that are correctly proportioned. A queen size bed is obviously a better option for a small bedroom than a king size bed. Choose furniture with slim lines such as narrow side tables, a sleek sofa, a petite table, etc. Avoid overstuffed, bulky furniture. Consider how you will use the space as well. Do you need a separate desk, or can you function comfortably with a folding or portable desk? Or could your dining room table double as a work space?
Living with Less
If your downsizing efforts are brought about by necessity, and not by choice, you may be feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or depressed. It's normal to feel that way in such circumstances. Just know that, while changes is almost always challenging, it also brings opportunities for growth and opens the door for new experiences. Look for the positives that will result from this change of lifestyle. There will be many.
As an organizer, I've been told many times and in a variety of ways, "I just don't have the organizing gene." It is true that organization comes naturally to some people, and for others it is more of a struggle. That said, organization is a skill, or set of skills, and as such, it can be learned...and taught.
If you are raising children, organization skills are some of the best skills you can instill in them. Teaching organization skills to children will benefit them in a variety of ways. Children with organization skills are able to:
Instill Good Habits
Teaching organization skills to children begins with instilling good habits. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The more approaches that are utilized, the more likely children are to understand, master, and adopt the skills you're trying to teach. Try implementing the following:
These are just a few examples of things you can do to help instill good habits in your children, and the best part is that all of these skills benefit you as well!
Set Them Up for Success
There are a number of things that parents and caregivers can do to help children learn organization skills with greater ease. Consider the following:
Motivation is both a catalyst and an inducement. It is also a self-sustaining phenomenon. Motivation prompts us to act. When we act, we experience success, and success fuels our motivation to continue to act. Motivation can be external (think catalyst/inducement) or internal (desire for success). As a parent or caregiver, there are numerous things you can do to provide motivation to encourage children to do the things that will instill good habits.
Be an Example
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to instill good habits in children is to set an example of the behaviors you want them to adopt. In the case of developing organization skills, you can do this by creating and maintaining an organized space. It all starts with having a place for things, knowing where things are, and putting things away consistently. It's also important to practice what you preach, so to speak. Follow the advice you give and the guideline you establish. Let them see the benefits of adopting these behaviors by observing you.
Young children often find tremendous satisfaction and delight in creating works of art. Indeed, many children are prolific artists. Storing and displaying all their creations can present a bit of a challenge for parents.
For one thing (if we're being totally honest), not everything they draw, paint, or color is worthy of exibition. In addition, most of the art they produce is on cheap paper that tends to yellow, wrinkle, and curl over time. Then there is the children's own insistance that their work be kept and preserved which requires both display and storage space.
With a little planning it is possible to develop a system for curating children's artwork that will satisfy everyone's needs and desires.
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I recommend designating a specific space in your home for displaying your child's artwork and then rotating pieces over time as new ones are created. This will help prevent pieces on display from degrading over time and keep the exhibit fresh and interesting.
In addition to that old favorite the refrigerator, possible candidates for display space include a hallway, kids' playroom, family room, stairway or entry. Personally, I like to choose a space that visitors are sure to see.
A simple Google search will yield hundreds of examples of ways to display children's artwork. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Consider framing special pieces for added impact and appeal. I love float frames for this purpose as they tend to really catch the eye and make whatever is framed in them stand out against the background. Since kids' artwork is often produced on oversized paper, I recommend 11" x 14" frames at a minimum. With a float frame, it's okay if the piece is smaller than the frame - better to have extra space than to have to trim a piece down to fit the frame.
If you don't want to spend the money on frames, you can create your own using a variety of mediums. For oversized or oddly shaped pieces, you can use scrap wood to create a custom frame like the one shown here that we made to show off our son's rather large drawing of a buffalo which is currently on display in our playroom.
A whimsical and unique way to "frame" children's artwork is by creating outlines on a wall using strips of trim, paint, or Washi tape as shown below. A fun bonus of this approach is the ability to easily switch out works of art with little effort.
I love this vibrant display wall from artful-kids.com. The use of colored chalkboard paint allows you to create individualized designs around the edges of your frames, adding an even greater one-of-a-kind vibe to your gallery. Perhaps the thing I love most about it, though, is the imperfect nature of the blocks of color. There is no attempt here to create sharp, crisp edges. To me, this adds to the charm and playfulness of the display.
Speaking of chalkboard paint, here's another idea from artful-kids.com. In this case, the entire wall has been painted with black chalkboard paint, and individual frames drawn on with chalk. The nice thing about this is that you can switch out pieces by erasing the old frame and drawing in a new one specifically designed to fit and showcase the artwork it surrounds.
Washi tape comes in a seemingly endless array of colors and patterns, making it an extremely versatile medium, as demonstrated here by Jennae of greenyourdecor.com. It won't damage your walls, and it's easy to remove and redo, allowing you to change things up to accomodate new creations over time.
For those of us who aren't entirely confident in our ability to freehand things, a simple solution is to hang picture frames minus their glass inserts and backing. Paint them a lively color as demonstrated here by Heather from thecaterpillaryears.com. You can paint them all one unifying color as shown or choose an assortment of bright hues for a sort of rainbow effect. You could also select colors to coordinate with the room's decor.
The benefit of hanging artwork is that it is super easy to switch out pieces. The drawback is that the edges of the artwork have a tendancy to curl up over time. A great way to prevent curling edges is to slide the artwork into a clear plastic sleeve before hanging it. There are lots of fun ways to hang kids' artwork. Here are a few of my favorites:
Get yourself some colorful mini clothespins and some natural jute twine (which comes in a variety of colors), and string up a simple "clothesline" like this one by Haeley from designimprovised.com.
For a sturdier solution, hang magnetic strips mounted to boards. This example comes from Laura at Never Listless. Finish it off with some fun, colorful circle magnets and you're all set!
Keeping with the magnetic theme, why not try this idea by Melissa from Inspiration Organization. Frame a piece of sheet metal to create a versatile display board.
If sheet metal makes you nervous, you might try a similar concept using cork. This example from John and Sherry at Young House Love utilized cork tiles.
This modified version of a cork display board by Samantha at Simply Organized is great for displaying each child's latest and greatest individually.
Our youngest son's fourth grade art teacher was obsessed with sculpture. Here in my home office, there are no less than five of his creations on display. He is 20 now, but I still love them (especially the elephant).
In a previous home, I had one of his creations on display in the living room. It was resting on a set of built-in shelving which also housed many of our treasures from the Middle East. At a dinner party we were hosting, the wife of my husband's boss was admiring the contents of the shelves. After singling out a handful of pieces, she pointed to our son's sculpture and asked, "Where did that come from?" When I told her my fourth grader made it, she said, "Really? I thought it was some sort of ancient relief sculpture!"
Long Term Preservation
When it's time to retire a piece of artwork, there are a variety of options for curating items long term. The simplest and most obvious is to create a filing system or binder for preserving extra special pieces. When the filing system starts to get crowded, sort through it and thin it out with the input of the artist.
Awkwardly shaped or sized pieces or items that won't withstand the test of time (think macaroni sculpture), can be photographed or scanned as a means of preserving them. In addition to a photo of the item, be sure to take a photo of the artist with their artwork.
Photos and scans can be used to create an artwork portfolio. This can be achieved either by printing the photos and inserting them into an album or by creating a photo book online. Provide journaling (yours or the child's) that tells about the piece - when and why it was created, what it is, and how it was produced. For more on this topic, see my post When a Photo Is Sufficient.
Too busy to scan all your kids artwork? Don't have the necessary technology to preserve their artwork digitally? No worries. Artkive will send you a box. You fill it with 25 of your child's best works of art and mail it back to them. They will turn it into a custom gallery quality mosaic print complete with smooth white matting and white wooden frame (overall size is 26" x 26"). You also have the option to choose a photo book instead (or in addition).
Children's artwork makes a fun gift, either in its original form or repurposed from a photograph or scan. The following individuals would most likely be pleased to receive an artistic gift from your child:
Speaking of gifts, if your child likes to draw on newsprint, consider using one or more of their creations as gift wrap.
And speaking of sharing, scanned artwork can be saved to a file or disc and shared. Save it to an SD card and insert it in an electronic photo frame to enjoy an ever-changing display of your child's creativity.
Preserving kids' artwork in this format allows you to manipulate it in various ways. Use it to create calanders, magnets, coasters, mouse pads, notecards, mugs, t-shirts, decorative pillows, face masks, and more.
Children can be sensitive about their creations, expecting parents to hold onto every scrap of paper they ever scribbled on. By taking on the role of curator, you demonstrate to your child that you appreciate their work and care about preserving it. You also help them to understand that there are different ways to preserve and enjoy their creations, that not all creations are created equal, and that learning to be discerning allows them to create a portfolio they can feel proud of.
Do you have boxes of old memorabia, awards, kids' artwork, souvenirs, and other odds and ends that you haven't looked at in years? What causes you hold onto these things? One distinct possibility is a sense of obligation. You may be thinking something like:
Or some similar form of self-imposed censure or guilt...
The thing is, if the items were truly important to you, they wouldn't be boxed up in the attic or basement or closet. They would be on display or in use because that is what we do with the things that we love.
Chances are, you've forgotten about many of the things that lay buried in the bottoms of boxes and stashed in the darkest recesses of your home's storage spaces. While you may enjoy a brief moment of reminiscence upon being reunited with these items, you are not likely to miss them should they cease to inhabit a place in your plane of existence. Still, getting rid of the guilt that keeps you from getting rid of the things you feel duty bound to keep is often harder than getting rid of the items themselves.
The good news is there is a way to preserve the memories and relationships and history associated with things without keeping the actual objects. The solution is photographs combined with scrapbooking or journaling. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but taking the time to add a little information to accompany your photos will only add to the value of the image.
Implementing the Photographic Method of Decluttering
Some things are better suited to the photographic method of decluttering than others. You aren't likely, for instance, to feel the need to photograph kitchen utensils or other tools that you no longer use in order to preserve a memory of them. Indeed, you are also not likely to feel duty bound to keep such items.
The kinds of things that can be well-preserved with a photograph are the kinds of things we hold onto for sentimental reasons - they remind us of someone or something that we value. Let's look at a few examples and how to use photographs and journaling to let things go.
Kids tend to be prolific artists. While some of their work is truly memorable and worthy of preservation in its original form, the sheer volume makes it difficult to justify keeping all your child's artwork. Instead of storing boxes of underappreciated art, photograph or scan your kid's creations. You can then use the photos to create other things like calendars, stationery, notecards, coffee mugs, coasters, and more.
Consider taking a photo of your child with his or her creation, or if they are making it at home, photograph them in the process of creating. You can also take a video of them working on their masterpiece and ask them to describe it to you.
A cheap and simple way to recognize or thank someone within an organization is to give them a certificate. The important thing to keep in mind when sorting through piles of certificates is that the real value is in the gesture, not the piece of paper itself. Some certificates are worth keeping, others can be disposed of down the road. Only you can determine which is which as it is a personal decision.
One nice thing about certificates is that they fit nicely into page protectors which can then be inserted into scrapbooks. Whether you decide to photograph a certificate or keep the original, I recommend writing down the circumstances under which it was received. While the who, what, and when may be included on the certificate, a brief explanation of the larger context can add meaning, particularly for children and grandchildren when the time comes for them to sort through your things.
Trophies and Awards
My husband served for more than 28 years in the United States Army. In the military awards are often given at the end of each assignment and are often accompanied with a gift (usually a wall hanging of some sort). For part of my husband's military career, he worked extensively with foreign militaries who also felt the need to provide him with gifts, often just for visiting their unit or for some other brief interaction.
For many years, we kept the vast majority of these items in boxes. When we bought our first home near the end of his career, we decided to create what my husband calls an "I love me wall" to display all the things he had accumulated over the years. We chose a stairwell and used it to create a collage wall (walls, really). Then we moved, and there was no such space in our new home, so we decided it was time to be discerning about what we kept.
Certificates were removed from their frames and placed in page protectors as described in the previous section. Some items were tossed out. Others were photographed, and a select few made it onto a new display wall in the basement.
Of the items we opted to photograph, the following information was included:
Similar efforts could be made to preserve children's sports trophies and other common awards. Take a photo of the child with their trophy (preferably in their uniform, and ideally with their coach). Then write down the key information.: the name of the league they played in, the time frame, the coach's name, their win-loss record, what position the child played, his or her stats for the season, and any other relevant information that you or your child might like to recall at some later date.
Souvenirs can take many forms from a pamphlet or ticket stub to a cheap trinket to an expensive artifact. We often hang onto all of them, no matter their value. Paper souvenirs can easily be placed in a scrapbook along with photos of the event or vacation with which they are associated. Other bulkier items require some consideration. Often in the midst of a vacation, a cheap knick knack may catch our attention. Once home, these inexpensive remembrances frequently end up in a box of "keepsakes'. That's fine if you have endless space to store stuff you rarely (if ever) look at. If not, consider photographing the less-than-display-worthy items and then getting rid of the objects themselves.
Once again, it is recommended that you record any relevant information about the event or vacation to accompany the photograph. Where is it from? When were you there? What was it about the object that initially appealed to you?
I've just listed a few of the general kinds of items you might consider photographing as a means of decluttering. Now that you have a feel for this approach, consider applying the photographic method of decluttering as a means of downsizing any memorabilia or other knick knacks you may have stashed away in boxes somewhere. It's simple. Take a picture and toss the item. Be sure to document the item's significance in writing. Then reclaim the storage space those items have been hoarding. You may find that you actually get more enjoyment out of looking at the photos than you ever did having the items stashed away in boxes out of sight.
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.