I like to think I practice what I call “responsible downsizing,” a term that usually refers to the practice of downsizing a company and its personnel, not a house.
For me “responsible downsizing” means being mindful of where our things are going as they leave the house and trying to find the most suitable place for each category. One of the great advantages of slow downsizing, as I’ve often pointed out, is that you can take the time to locate the right kind of place for your possessions and not just relegate everything either to Goodwill or the dumpster.
There are several ways to responsibly downsize, all of which I’ve talked about in previous posts:
Selling. It’s always satisfying to find a buyer who wants what you have to offer. Although we concentrated on donations in our downsizing efforts, we’ve sold items to individuals for their own use and to vendors for resale, with an emphasis on vintage clothes and jewelry, furniture and décor items, antiques and collectibles, artwork/fine art photographs, old prints, typewriters, books, and vinyl records.
Two routes we didn’t take this time were the yard/garage sale and the auction house. The yard sale didn’t feel like a good use of our time for the amount of money we would make, but John’s relatives had some success with more than one yard sale for his late sister’s estate. The exception was our participation in our town’s annual “YART Sale,” as this town-sponsored event gave us the press we needed to be succesful in selling out own art and family member’s original art at very reasonable prices. We didn’t go the auction route because we’d had negative experiences in the past with family estates, and in the end, we’d found homes for the anything we had of any value.
Repurposing. The collages I made from various paper souvenirs are an example of repurposing. Another one I considered but did not do was to make a quilt from old t-shirts that represented various parts of my life. There are many ways to repurpose items that are no longer usable in their current state. Here’s a nice post on this topic: Creative Ways To Repurpose Old Or Unwanted Items (housedigest.com). But repurposing isn’t all about harnessing your creativity. We also repurposed worn, but clean towels by donating these to a veterninarian to provide cushioning for their small animals.
Recycling. The vast majority of our paper files went into the shredder or directly into the recycling bins. We donated old and unsaleable clothing and linens to a donation center that claimed they did this. Be forewarned that landfills are glutted with old textiles, so if you donate old clothes that aren’t saleable or wearable, they may end up there.
Donating. As my readers will know, I was always on the lookout for worthy places to donate items that the big guys like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters might not be interested in or that I felt might languish in their stores or warehouses. Many arts and community organizations hold sales and auctions for their own benefit and welcome a variety of items. I donated fabric to a fabric swap at the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society; décor items, original art, and photographs to Concord Arts Association’s annual auction; kitchenware, linens, and ornamental garden objects to the Somerville Growing Center’s annual benefit sale. I also donated all my garden supplies to that organization.
Of course, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or a host of other organizations that accept donation of goods for resale, and each of these organizations indeed received plenty of things from us, especially clothing, kitchenware, linens and suitcases. Part of me wanted to spread the goods around, and another part wanted to go local, to give back to the area we were leaving but which had given us so much.
A Google search and some phone calls will help to uncover the organizations that will be happy to accept your items. For example, we also donated old eyeglasses (try LensCrafters, Lions Club International), cell phones (try bigskyrecycling. Com, which will also provide a postage paid label), old electronics, including random cables (Staples.com), and office supplies (try any number of small non-profit organizations). A friend recently found homes for unused medical supplies and gently used medical support devices (in her case, a Hoya lift and two commodes). We gave our bicycles to an organization that refurbished them for low- income people.
For art supplies, check out this article for ideas. Where to Donate Your Old Craft Supplies: Top 7 Places - Cabin Lane. Personally, I donated my supplies to Make and Mend as I lived close by, and they were willing to pick up. Make and Mend took all my sewing supplies as well as usuable pieces of fabric and sewing patterns. They resell these at low cost to other artists. Also try Boys and Girls Clubs, domestic violence and homeless shelters, senior centers, and local art teachers. John and I both gave a mound of photographic equipment and supplies to a teacher who taught darkroom photography at a local high school.
Furniture that you can’t sell can be a tough one to donate these days, especially if you can’t move the pieces yourself. Our local Restore (Habitat for Humanity) would do pickup for a fee. Fortunately, the buyers of our home were happy to take most of the pieces we had left for staging and didn’t want.
We did our share of leaving items at the curbside the day before trash pickup. These included such things as fans, small items of furniture, and a variety of odds and ends. We also allowed a neighbor to pick over items we’d put in our garage, including various metal items and pieces of furniture. I gave away some particularly nice items, such as a hi-fi system, to people who had been particularly helpful to us.
In the end, we did contact a trash removal place that promised to donate what they could. The two guys who showed up were in and out of our garage and basement in 45 minutes because by that time we just didn’t have that much left after resorting to all the various methods described above.
I don’t know where we’d rate on the responsible downsizing meter, if such a gadget existed, but we did feel we shared the wealth with a large number of individuals and organizations and kept contributions to the landfill to a minimum, at least in the short-term.
Image: Annie Lennox, from her exhibit, "And Now I Let You Go," at Mass MoCA, 2019.