Back To Basics

Practical and (Mostly) Painless Tips on Ways To Pare Down Your Possessions

You don’t have to know where you are moving or when in order to tackle one of the toughest parts of changing homes… eliminating the excess in your life. You can save pain and strain by downsizing. You’ll have fewer things to pack and move and an uncluttered home that is more attractive to buyers.

‘Tis A Gift to be Simple, ‘Tis a Gift to be Free

Most of us have too much stuff: everything from clothes to collectibles, hobby materials, things we’re storing for our children, and things we’ve been meaning to fix. If a move is in your future, start dealing with these surpluses now. Here’s how.

Start simply. Tackle some of those dusty boxes in the basement or attic or the closet in the guest bedroom. Give yourself 15 minutes per box (take a timer, so you don’t get lost on memory lane), and create four piles:

  • things to keep and use,
  • things to give to family members or others,
  • things to sell, and
  • things to throw away.

Assign colors to the various categories (e.g., red = stays, green = goes, gold = sell, black = toss) and stick on matching labels.

  • Get rid of things that you haven’t used in more than a year: clothes that don’t fit or are out of style, camping equipment, excess kitchen gear, spare parts and gadgets from the garage and shop, baby stuff.
  • Toss things that are broken or unsafe: old holiday lights, that waffle maker with the frayed cord, the wobbly playpen.
  • Distribute keepsakes. Give your children their report cards, drawings, and other things you’ve been saving for them. See if those to whom you intend to leave artwork and furniture can accommodate it in their homes now.

Memories and Keepsakes, Yours and Theirs

Does that mean that you should chuck everything that isn’t purely practical? Not at all. But keep only things that are truly essential. If the hippo paperweight your daughter made in third grade makes a place feel like home to you, then hold on to it. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash, as they say, and vice versa.

This also applies to things you want to pass on to others. While you may expect that family members will admire your china or clock collection, what they may truly treasure is that battered red sled, piles of old comic books, or the family cookie jar. So check before you toss out things that may have sentimental value. Set a deadline by which things have to be taken away, though, or they may never leave.

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to record who will receive which heirlooms. (If you don’t have preferences, do what some have done. At the next family gathering have people draw straws and take turns choosing items that are important to them.) Label objects with the names of who will inherit them, make a comprehensive written list of these bequests, and include it in your will or living trust.

This is also a good time to capture the history connected with keepsakes. On separate sheets of paper, identify who is pictured in family photos and what the occasions are. Carefully tape the identifications to the backs of the images. Tie tags on objects (“Lena Olson Swenson’s washboard,” “the cradle my grandfather made”).

Having a hard time letting go of something? Consider taking a photo of it to preserve the memory. When time allows, write down its story.

A Place for Everything

There are lots of options for things that you decide not to keep. You can give them away, you can sell them yourself, or you can contract with others to sell them for you.

Charitable organizations are excellent destinations for goods that have service left in them. Call ahead of time to find out which items they accept and whether they have pick-up services. Get a receipt for tax purposes.

Donate photos and other memorabilia to city and state historical societies and college and corporate archives. Take books and board games to hospitals, youth centers, and family shelters. Recycle magazines and newspapers. Take old motor oil, paint, and other hazardous materials to the local waste disposal center.

Sell items yourself via garage sales, classified ads, flea markets, swap meets, or online auctions such as eBay if you have the time, energy, and know-how. Or turn to others for those services. There are a wide variety, estate sale experts to consignment shops that sell items in their stores or on the Internet. Look in your local phone directory under ESTATES, CONSIGNMENT SERVICES, and THRIFT SHOPS.

Remember: You’re not just moving to a new location, you’re moving to a new stage of life. The less you take with you, the less you’ll have to worry about and take care of. And the more time and energy you’ll have for other interests and activities.