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Moving On. Are you a “keeper” or a “thrower?”

Janet Hulstrand speaks at Après MidiJanet Hulstrand speaks at Après Midi

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home - By Janet Hulstrand & Linda Hetzer

Yesterday at Après Midi, co-author of “Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home” Janet Hulstrand immediately explained that if we were there to get at least five good tips on how to downsize by selling, throwing or giving things away, we would be disappointed. She had no concrete answers for how to convince someone to let go of things they have cherished for one reason or another, except one: take your time to make the decisions.

Janet and her co-author, Linda Hetzer, became experts by going through the trauma of divesting of their parents’ belongings after their deaths and discovering the dynamics of letting go of objects that had sentimental value (keepsakes), or real value (collectibles), or toxic waste values (such as the stuff under the sink that had been there a quarter of a century).

Almost everyone in the room had experienced some sort of downsizing, especially if they had moved to France in the past years. Faithful reader of Parler Paris Nancy Kissock related how she was able to downsize to three suitcases to move to Paris and in the few years she’s been here now in a small apartment has accumulated way more than she’d like. We almost all felt like we were in the same boat as Nancy.

A few months ago, Janet agreed to come stay with me one weekend and help  declutter just one room: my daughter’s bedroom in which Janet was sleeping. She helped me say “so-long” to (almost all) those shopping bags I’d been keeping in a bigger shopping bag for just the right moment when I might need a good shopping bag for what…I knew not. (I’ll bet I’m not the only one out there that can’t bare to toss a perfectly lovely shopping bag, especially from good stores, right? How many do you have!?)

When we opened one of my daughter’s closets, we found a stash of stuffed animals that clearly hadn’t seen the light of day in about 25 years. The memories came flooding back. One was a little white poodle we called “Fifi” who had a music box inside her and when wound up, would play something like “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (although I admit I can’t remember now what song it was) that would put her to sleep in her crib. Oh, Fifi, how could I toss you?

But, then there was Louie. Louie was the pup that she carried endlessly; that had been mended and re-mended dozens of times. That was “Big Louie.” She also had a “Little Louie” who was identical to Big Louie, but one-fifth the size — that she has kept to this day and at the age of 33 still carries with her wherever she travels. (I swear this is true.) Big Louie we decided to keep.

When Janet came to Après Midi, she was carrying a bag she had secretly gotten from my stash and in it was Louie! It was her perfect example of something one might want to keep, while Fifi went to give-away heaven. On the scale of “keeper” vs “thrower,” I’d say I was somewhere in the middle of the scale although my assistant, Patty Sadauskas, chuckled when I said that and blurted out “keeper!”

Archivism at workArchivism at work

That’s because I’m what Janet calls and “archivist” — someone who keeps printed materials. I can’t deny that. Not only do I keep way too many business files for the up-to-ten years one should for tax audit purposes, but have boxes and boxes of old letters, photos and miscellaneous keepsakes I can’t bear to toss. Janet claims people like us rank high on the scale, however, because we’re the keepers of history. I do like that excuse! It makes me feel a whole lot better about being a “keeper.”

Other things can get tossed very readily. When I buy new clothing, my goal is to give away something to make room in the closet for the new items. I have a rule about not purchasing any more hangers, so that if there aren’t any left, something has to go. Janet happens to be one of my favorite hand-me-down recipients, strangely enough! So, while she’s promoting downsizing, isn’t it ironic that she’s accumulating stuff?

My mother was a “thrower.” When she died a few years ago, there was very little with which we had to dispose. It was amazing; her closets were pristine. She and I had similar tastes so I ended up with quite a bit of her clothing and accessories. One item was a houndstooth wool skirt. It sat in the closet for two years before I decided it was time to toss it and put it in the give-away bag that was then given to my housekeeper. Her daughter left with the bag, but later that afternoon, I spotted the skirt sticking out of the green garbage bin on the street and couldn’t bear to see it there, so quickly retrieved it. Yep, you guessed it. It’s back in the closet.

A Rauschenberg PrintA Rauschenberg Print

I’ve had a dozen yard sales over the years in the interest of downsizing between each home move. Once when I was pregnant with Erica I hired these two women to run it for me and told my then husband to look through the things to see if there was anything we shouldn’t dispose of. I don’t think he did his job, or at least not very well, because when we tallied the take, we discovered a signed Robert Rauschenberg print had been sold for $5! (I’d never liked it and put it in the “maybe” pile that he never got to.) Today, that particular print is worth about $700 framed (I found it on Oh well. C’est la vie.

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home” is now an updated E-book and still some copies of the paperback edition (actually out of print) can be purchased on

Janet and Linda also publish a blog under the title “Downsizing the Home: Lessons Learned” providing valuable advice for those of us who are more “keepers” than “throwers.”

For more information, be sure to read the report about yesterday’s event with photos at Après Midi.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - with Big Louie

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group


(with Big Louie)


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