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When Going Smaller is Beautiful

When Going Smaller is Beautiful

By Barbara Ballinger - New York TimesAugust 10th 2011

A key to rightsizing is to know what to store, dispose of and toss. Whether you’re moving to smaller quarters to decrease your cost of living or because you simply have transitioned to another life stage and don’t need as much space, you’re in for a tough assignment: Figure out what to do with all your stuff.


Should you keep, sell, give away or donate that 20-year-old couch that needs reupholstering and the 12-piece fancy dinner service you never, ever, use any more? What about Grandma’s favorite crystal chandelier that she gave you? The latter can be a particularly thorny problem – wrapped in the name of guilt since she wanted you to enjoy it and pass it on to the next generation.


In most cases, you should purge before you move since you may not be able to fit everything into your new, smaller quarters. Moreover, it will cost you a lot to move boxes and furnishings or store them in an off-site facility. But the best reason to get rid of stuff methodically is that doing so can be exhilarating. “It’s like taking a load off your shoulders. Almost everyone is resistant at the beginning, but they come around. I’ve never had a client tell me, ‘I didn’t bring enough,’” says Barry Izsak, a certified professional organizer, former president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and owner of Arranging It All in Austin, Texas.


Julie Morgenstern, another professional organizer based in New York City and author of “When Organizing Isn’t Enough – Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life” (Simon & Schuster, Fireside, 2008), offers another advantage to rightsizing, what some call downsizing: “You have less to take care of so you have more freedom to pour your energy into relationships and pursue bigger dreams,” she says.


Yet, doing so isn’t easy, she says, since our identities often are wrapped up in our stuff. Good purging requires effort and time. Consider the following steps, and when you’re done, stay organized, so your new home doesn’t get cluttered and make you start all over again:


Analyze and measure your new space. In the best scenario, you know where you’re moving and have floor plans with dimensions, so you can determine what will fit where and what most go. Professional organizer Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers in New York City and author of “Can’t I Just Shred It all? 101 Quick Tips to File – and Find – Your Important Papers,” recommends having a 25–foot tape measurer, cutting out shapes to scale of your furniture and plotting what goes where first on paper.


Define your theme. This is part of a process Morgenstern developed, which involves envisioning what your life will be like, so you know how you want to live during the next stage. “Inventory your home’s contents room by room and tag everything that is stagnant and shouldn’t move,” she says. “If you have walls of books but never take some off the shelf, they shouldn’t move with you; they’re no longer relevant to your life,” she says.


Engage in Morgenstern’s four-step “shed” process. This involves separating your treasures from everything else in one big swoop, heaving things you can’t live without, embracing your new identity and driving yourself forward to experiment with your new theme, such as taking new classes or volunteering.


Be ruthless about what fits and doesn’t as you shed. Izsak, well-known Austin organizing expert, agrees with the heaving part of Morgenstern’s plan and adds another way to judge an object’s worthiness. “Is it useful, beautiful or loved? If not, sell, donate or give it away,” he says. And if none of those strategies work, consider retaining a small portion – a few pieces of a dinner set or one example from a great collection, he says.


Avoid storing stuff. Avoid stashing stuff in an attic, basement or off-site facility, these experts agree. If you do, it will likely stay there, Izsak says. And if it’s in storage, you’re probably paying hundreds of dollars to keep it there, particularly if it’s a clean, safe facility.


A better tactic is to start building up your identity apart from your stuff, says Morgenstern, who moved from a four-bedroom to one-bedroom apartment and is thrilled with her new quarters as well as her more care-free lifestyle. Her additional advice: Don’t rush to fill up your new space.


If you can’t make these changes yourself, get help. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a professional to guide you, from purging to settling in. Sarah Buckwalter, owner of Organizing Boston and a member of the NAPO, charges $70 an hour; others may charge more – or less. She also brings in other professionals like an estate liquidator to help clients earn cash for possessions they want to discard.


Avoid the five most deadly mistakes. According to organizer Zaslow, the following don’ts will keep you from making a smooth, nonstressful move:


1. Don’t leave the purging process until you’re ready to move. If you do, you’ll end up taking more stuff than you need or panicking and tossing too much too fast. Work far in advance.


2. Don’t be stubborn about doing all on your own. Get good advice from the get-go about what you have that’s valuable but also what’s not, so you don’t become emotionally attached to stuff you should get rid of.


3. Don’t focus too much on giving items a good home instead of getting rid of them. That 20-year-old appliance that’s been sitting unused in your basement because you think someone could use it should be tossed. Quickly.


4. Don’t forget to label boxes on all four sides in case the moving company tosses them here and there and neglects putting them in the right room.


5. Don’t forget to pack everything up systematically so towels all go together for the linen closet.

The Arranging it AllSM team is mentored and trained by a Certified Professional Organizer.

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