27 Dec

Normally I wait to write my year end summary until the new year. But with our year to clear date set this past May, it seems more appropriate to finish the year in a tidy manner and sum up now. 

With a deadline looming, we naturally felt compelled to get things out the door. Whereas the “pandemic years” (2020 and 2021) when we were more housebound were for me about processing my voluminous archives of papers, letters, and memorabilia of all sorts, I was determined that this year would be about getting things out the door. To be sure, a fair amount of scanning took place, too, but it didn’t dominate the schedule. I also postponed most of my creative solutions to preserving memorabilia in favor of more “extreme culling,” which sounds like an Olympic event.  

Highlights, many of which I have shared in previous posts, along with my learnings, include: 

Hiring a professional organizer, who not only took away a load of donations on each of her two visits, but who also supplied us with three successful connections that resulted in outright sales of vintage clothing and ephemera, but also a consignment shop that has consistently sold household décor (such as copper and brass items) and knickknacks. The amount we made on sales somewhat exceeded what we made. 

LEARNING: Use the experts, even if the cost seems high. Sometimes you have to invest to get that extra payoff. 

Learning to create albums in Google Photos. This may sound Mickey Mouse, but by learning to use this tool, I created photo albums that others, such as potential dealers or buyers, could look at and/or that preserved memories for me by category. The albums allowed me to add other information such as size or cost. I have my professional organizer to thank for pushing me to use this valuable tool. 

LEARNINGS: Try new ways of sharing and preserving information to move you toward your downsizing goals. 

Closing out the UHaul Storage unit, emptying the file drawers in the basement, clearing off some shelves. (April.) The first felt like a major coup, as I’d had the unit more than 20 years. Going from 30 full file drawers down to 9 was a smaller triumph, but it represented hours upon hours of sorting, culling, and scanning. And with clearing off shelves, we could see our progress each time we went down into the basement. 

LEARNING: Don’t minimize the markers of progress, such as newly acquired space! 

Culling, organizing, and sending out for digitization my collection of over 4000 slides. I managed to cut the collection in half. So far, I’ve received half back and am awaiting the other half. When I’ve labeled them, I will be able to discard the originals. 

LEARNINGS: Invest in your downsizing when needed. I envy those who have only known digital cameras. This was one expensive hobby even before I took the slides in for digitizing. But I enjoyed revisiting my former travels and family visits. Photos are a key trigger of memories, and I am grateful to have these in a format I can more easily access. 

Offering my additional ephemera to a dealer who had just bought one particular kind. (July.) The dealer who bought my New Yorker covers renumerated me more than fairly for them. When delivering these to him, I also brought with me other items he’d expressed an interest. He took most of what I brought but was only able to offer me a little extra. But I didn’t have to take these items home! 

LEARNINGS: Take advantage of birds-in-hand, and don’t be greedy. The goal is to get things out the door. 

Participating in a city sponsored YART sale that resulted in sales on the day but also before and after.  (August). The impending sale forced me to see what I had and organize it for viewing. Because we took the time to advertise our event through social media/emails and also to continue displaying our art for friends who couldn’t attend on the day, the event became a wave, much to our surprise.

 LEARNINGS: Figure out ways to make your preparation and planning continue to yield results. 

Finally parting with the remainder of the vinyl record collection. (August). Over the past few years, we’d sold records to four other dealers. Finally, we sold all but a handful (those that aren’t on a streaming service) to number five, a friend who had taken over the record store where I’d sold the first batch. There were some gems among these, but I also asked the dealer to take everything, including the 78s and the 45s. Total amount of money made over the years for the entire collection of more than 800 records was just over $400. 

LEARNINGS: Consolidate when you can. As with my books (below), I spent a lot of time documenting the records and looking up possible value. But we spent even more effort going to different dealers. Was that effort worth it for $400? Probably not, although it did allow us to prune down the collection, which was taking up space. Maybe going to two different dealers would have been optimal. 

Donating multiple items to auctions, sales, and swaps sponsored by local organizations whose goals we support. (Ongoing.) This past year we donated knickknacks, artwork, and fine arts photographs to one arts organization; fabric and sewing notions to another arts organization “swap;” garden decorations, household items, and clothes to a local growing center; and photographic equipment (my video camcorder, my slide projector, etc.) to a local high school’s photography department.  Overall, we donated hundreds of items to these three events. I attended two of them and saw that people had taken our donated items. 

LEARNINGS: For items you care about, find opportunities for donating that match your values/interests. 

Donating one of my mother’s paintings to an out-of-town non-profit organization’s auction. (September). The city represented in the painting was our old hometown and one we all loved. Although I had to pay to ship the painting, I felt great satisfaction that the painting had returned home. I also shipped my old Brownie and Girl Scout memorabilia to a Girl Scout museum in the state where I was a scout. 

LEARNINGS: To find the perfect home for the items with highest sentimental value, you may need to be willing to pay for shipping. 

Finding a buyer for some older family, children’s, and signed books. (October). I’d spent time looking up the possible values online through libra.com and abebooks.com. I say “possible” because value is determined by several factors, including edition, condition, and rarity. But despite living in a book town with dozens of colleges and universities, I couldn’t find anyone interested in the collection (about 80 books total, including some newer books signed by well-known or celebrity authors.)  In the end, I discovered a used bookstore in a town we visit regularly in a nearby state, and the owner bought over half. We donated the rest. 

LEARNINGS: Look beyond the obvious. Even though I’d passed it numerous times, I never took this store seriously! The owner didn’t pay me much in the end, but I was glad I’d tried since I’d put in such an effort at documenting and researching the books, partly as a way of honoring their history. In retrospect, I would have done better to spend less time on the project and to have donated all of them to our favorite book donation source. Know when to give up! We left the remaining books in our car, and off they went the next day to our favorite book donation source, More than Words. 

Practicing “extreme culling.” As I discussed in my end review of 2021, I’d made a first pass of everything, organizing and culling where I could. This year, particularly as the year headed to a close, I took it a step further, culling the collection of programs from cultural events to just a handful of folders, likewise with my paper maps and with my travel memorabilia. I have sent most of the remaining letters from friends to their owners or shredded them as requested. My culling extended to regularly donating books and to continually donating items to individuals on our local freecycle type site. 

LEARNINGS: As I’ve said before, cull, cull, and cull again. With each cull, you will forget what you culled last, and you will gain clarity about what matters. Most importantly, your collections and possessions will shrink, and isn’t that the point of this whole enterprise? 

Writing 24 blog posts on downsizing, two per month. I achieved the goal I set in the beginning of the year. “Slow Downsizing” has been running since August 2017, with over 80 posts in all. 

LEARNINGS: I always learn something from the process of writing and having to think about what I’ve done. I have no idea how many readers I have, but I am delighted that at least a few people have reported reading and being inspired by my blog.

I wish you all a VERY HAPPY, PRODUCTIVE 2023! Go, downsizers! And please share your discoveries and victories with us.

[The image is from a poster of Harvard Square I was given in 1971 after I had moved from there. It is a nostalgic look at a bygone area, befitting for someone who is letting go of her past.]

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