Downsizing lessons from two women who have “Been there, done that”

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Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Typically our guest bloggers here on Your Organizing Business fall into one of two categories: (1) professional organizers / productivity consultants who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues; or (2) experts in marketing or another aspect of business. Today’s guest brings the perspective of adults who have helped their parents through the process of downsizing.


Since our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home first came out, professional organizers, senior move managers, and others have told us that it has been extremely helpful with some of their most “difficult” clients (that is, the ones for whom getting rid of things is really hard to do).

Written not by professional organizers, but by two women who grew up in families of “keepers,” our book has great sympathy for people who have difficulty letting go of things, but also great tips for ways to break the impasse: to “keep the memories while getting rid of the stuff.” (And without breaking anyone’s heart!)

We think you’ll find our updated, expanded e-book a really helpful resource that you can use yourself, or recommend to your clients.

Here’s an excerpt that deals with how to achieve the main goal of clearing space and decluttering, without throwing away things that shouldn’t be thrown away in the process. These tips came to us through our conversations with estate sales operators and others closely involved in the process of emptying homes in which items had accumulated for a long time, a situation that presents additional dilemmas in the process of organizing.

Throwing things away (other than obvious trash, such as spoiled food in the refrigerator and burned-out light bulbs) should not be your first step. The first step is to sort, and as you’re sorting, consult with each other about what to do with it all.

If you will be holding an estate sale or auction at your house, ask a couple of professionals to come in and evaluate the estate before you start throwing items out or hauling them away. Part of their professional expertise is in knowing what kinds of “worthless” items can actually be worth a little, or a lot. It is surprising, to say the least, to learn what kinds of items can actually be big sellers at estate sales. For example:

      • (Certain) old cereal boxes
      • Old (even used and worn) rag rugs
      • Old linens
      • Empty perfume bottles
      • Vintage clothing (including clothing from the 1980s and 90s)
      • Postcards (even ones that are written on)

Also we have been told by many people that money, important papers, and other treasures are often found hidden within stacks of papers, inside seemingly “empty” envelopes, in the pages of books, in the pockets of clothing, and in other unlikely spots.

Finally, many things tossed willy-nilly into the Dumpster—from old Christmas cards and maps to sewing machine manuals and sales receipts—could be of interest to your local historical society.

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Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand are the authors of the newly updated e-book Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. They also blog at Downsizing the Home: Lessons Learned.

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  1. Moreen Torpy Moreen Torpy on May 8, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    The authors are bang on with their advice to look into everything to be sure nothing of value is hiding there. When I cleared my Mom’s apartment, I found many hundreds of dollars stashed in the most unusual places.

    Valuable advice to have an evaluator in before holding the estate sale. Who knows better than they that some of those seemingly worthless items are actually valuable.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 10, 2014 at 10:05 am

      Appreciate the feedback from a downsizing expert!

  2. Avatar Kathy Stinson on May 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    This sounds like a useful resource. How does one purchase the e-book version? When I clicked on the link I was taken to Amazon and only the paper book option.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 10, 2014 at 10:04 am

      Amazon offers a Kindle edition (if you don’t have or want to buy a Kindle, you can download a free app to your computer, tablet, or smartphone), but it’s also available for Kobo or Nook.

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