Paring Down, Tidying Up – Some Tips

“Listen to this” I said to Cliff as I began reading the page on sorting papers: “Rule of Thumb – Discard Everything. ” As I continued reading the chapter on sorting papers in Marie Kondo’s New York Times best seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I saw my husband’s eyes bug out, his jaw go rigid. I imagined his next move would be grabbing the book from my bare hands. (He didn’t.) Even though papers accumulate in our house like snowdrifts, he was having none of it.

It’s hard to dispute the dictum of a Japanese cleaning consultant like Kondo who claims that none of her clients have lapsed – and who has a three-month waiting list. She insists that if you organize your house properly, you’ll never have to do it again.

At the heart of her message is this: Keep something only if it sparks JOY in your life. And related to this: Give it away, if you think it will inspire joy in others.

So, I have divested myself of possessions I’ve held onto for decades.

Ribbons and sewing notions have gone to a church friend, Donna, seamstress extraordinaire, who has connections to talented women needing supplies.

RibbonGiveaway

Like my friend Carolyn, I have passed on items of fine dining. My wedding crystal went to my hair stylist and super hostess Jackie. Originally, I intended to donate my crystal (from The Susquehanna Glass Factory in Columbia, Pennsylvania) to The Community Hospice Thrift Shop. But before I ever got to the donation center, Jackie took a look, fell in love, and the crystal sherbets and glasses became hers.

Crystal

By far the hardest thing to divest myself of is MY BOOOOOKS! They are part of my self-hood, my identity for the decades of my long teaching career. I am not the only book lover who wrestles with such impulses. Summer Brennan writes about the heartache of such a task here. Like her, I feel torn by the lure of Kondo’s promise of the magic of recycling and my impulse to embrace William Dean Howell‘s advice, “Oh, nothing furnishes a house like books.”

I’ve given dozens of books to Angel Aid, a charity for women and children. But I feel just as good when they land in the hands of young scholars, like Matthew, who can appreciate the nerdy translation of my Chaucer texts from Middle to Modern English, pre-digital translate days.

ChaucerTranslation

­­­­Matthew took my Milton text too, and two Survey of English Lit texts. He exclaimed, “I appreciate this. I can’t thank you enough,” followed by a smiley face and book emoticon.

ChaucerMilton

I feel a certain lightheartedness at getting rid of stuff, especially if I can pass them on to people who appreciate their worth.

Grandma Longenecker can relate to such a feeling. She told me so in a letter from Rheems, Pennsylvnia in April 1975.

GrandmaRidStuffLetter

“They are busy at the shop, selling a lot of new equipment, I turned the shop over to Ray and house to Ruth, so I’m rid of that stuff.”

In other words, Grandma divested herself of two properties by deeding them over to my father and aunt. I’m guessing that she was immensely relieved of responsibilities for either property.

She continued to live in her lovely Victorian home until the day she died.

1989RuthieHouse

Coming next: A rollicking review of Marie Kondo’s book and a glimpse of the shop Grandma deeded to my dad. Neat versus messy? You decide.

Your tips for paring down and tidying up are welcome here.   🙂

 

My purple hat - Out the door!
My purple “Downton Abbey” hat – Out the door!

 

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71 thoughts on “Paring Down, Tidying Up – Some Tips

  1. Interesting! I’ll have to check out a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the public library. I too am a bookaholic who prefers the feel of hardbound over softbound. As I downsize I’m learning to be more selective; my new mantra is “Read first, Buy second.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The library is my go-to for titles now. I’m divesting, not investing – at least for the time being. Like you, books on my Kindle go unread, preferring as you do the touch and feel of hardbound books and turning real instead of digital, pages.

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  2. I have no tips. My house is filled with clutter. One of these days goes through my head all the time. 🙂 My mom had to pare down, but it was done in stages–several moves over her married life, then a big, old house when I was a teen to a large apartment, then an apartment that was a bit smaller, and now one that is even smaller. She still has a closet full of paintings though, as she reminds all of us.
    I love your grandmother’s old Victorian house–especially that porch!

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    1. At your stage of life, I was filling up my tanks too, so to speak. It seems as though you have time to purge little by little. We started with piles of paper first, less emotionally charged than one’s blessed books.

      Maybe you could do a reveal of more of your mom’s paintings sometime. I can’t imagine getting rid of those.

      Yes, Grandma’s Victorian verandah felt like an extra room in the house, especially in summertime. It still has a magnetic pull to me since we sold Mother’s house.

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  3. I love the intimate, conversational tone in your writing, Marian. You often make me chuckle. I went through a similar process, moving 4 times in the last 20 years. Books stayed with me until the last move. Now I am down to four bookcases and can take the ones that I don’t cherish to Gift and Thrift. My own mantra in the pare down was “useful, beautiful or be gone.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You already practiced Kondo’s mantra long before she emerged into pop culture. Good for you! I notice your anticipating trends before they become totally mainstream as with the Jubilacion theme.

      Getting books into appreciative hands has been an unexpected joy of this experience. Half of the books in the bookshelves in my study are gone, but when I round up all the books in other rooms – well, more purging to be done. Thank you for being a compadre on this bumpy ride, Shirley.

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  4. What a journey you are on. It’s long, hard, arduous, but in the end, well worth it. I love how you connect with the time your grandma did the same. And how wonderful is it to pass on special things that mean a lot to us, to now be enjoyed by another?
    All that said, I still cry over the books I gave away – most to local libraries for their annual library sale.

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  5. I hope the person who got that fabulous hat, appreciates it. I sold the hat I had made for my daughter´s wedding before we left. For me getting rid of my collection of books was the hardest as well. Every now and then I reach for a book and it´s not there. I gave my very special ones to my daughter who I know is looking after them well. But the hospital thrift shop did well. My husband says I funded a new MRI machine with all the books and things I donated.

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    1. How wonderful to realize something tangible from your donations, like funding a new MRI machine. We can take nothing with us, so our books can have a second life when we pass them on. So I tell myself! Thanks, Darlene.

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    1. Thank you for drawing parallels to a cluttered schedule. As the purging is going on, we must take care of house buying/selling details. I don’t want to give up writing completely either, but I may need to cut back a bit posting here. In short, I do understand your plight, Arlene. Thank you!

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  6. Oh Marian, this post resonates with me! As I’ve shared before, we have started the process of sifting and sorting and are doing it in phases. I love Kondo’s suggestion about keeping an item only if it brings you joy and give it away to bring joy to others. In the end, it’s just “stuff” and I relish the feeling of being free from it! Love the photos, especially your mother’s beautiful Victorian home. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We sold Mother’s home, but we still have Grandma’s, the gray house you see here. One day that will be gone too, but one of my grand-nephews has expressed interest. I would love to keep one homestead in the family. We’ll see.

      You have accomplished so much this year – physical adjustments, writing memoir & blogging, and paring down. I fear I may need to put my memoir drafts aside for a short while, so I can speed things along with the move.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Marian, this post is inspiring me to go home today and purge. I too have those crystal sherbert glasses, along with so many others that haven’t been used in years. They’ve just moved from house to house. Books are hard to let go of, but as long as I continue to bring in more, I must donate those. One thing that I won’t part with are old letters and cards from friends and family. The handwritten word is so rare these days, I figure that’s a good excuse. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. About the crystal: my daughter and daughter-in-law each have a crystal service, so I couldn’t pass these on to them. My daughter Crista said the “mod” fifties look is coming back. I’ll have to take her word for it as I don’t follow such trends.

      Yes, I will not part with letters. They are flat, don’t take up much space in my case, and are freighted with info from the mid-20th century. Your excuse sounds like a good reason to me! 🙂

      Thanks for the good wishes, Jill.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Marie Kondo is stalking me. Yours is the third mention of her and her book that I’ve heard in as many weeks. I can’t wait to read your review next week. Thanks. And kudos to you, sounds like the divesting is going well. I’m glad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The book was published in 2015, so we’re not coming too late to the party. In some ways, this book reminds me of the radical approach to mothering Amy Chua published in her controversial book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, reflecting her (to some) harsh methods of child-rearing. Remember that? It made huge waves in the Wall Street Journal and after in the mainstream.

      Thanks for cheering me on, Janet. We have “miles to go” before we sleep!

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  9. O my goodness – tips? You’ve got to be joking! But giving away things to those to whom it will bring joy is sound advice. I’ve given away things that I regretted some while afterwards but could not linger on regret. Given, gone and a true wish that the other loved it as much as I did. So wonderful that the children appreciated the old books. Good luck Marian, you’re doing great. But it’s a real conflict to be torn between the lure of giving away and making space. I’ve just remembered – in Feb/March I was looking for some beautiful silk or chantung (sp?) material that I thought I could have something made up for my son’s wedding in March. Of course I couldn’t find it and wondered what I had done with it – my housekeeper reminded me I’d given it to her …

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    1. Did you hear me chuckle about your gift to your housekeeper? I believe I’ve done something similar, but not with fabric. Is your housekeeper a seamstress too?

      Thanks for the anecdote and your partnership on this winding path, Susan.

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  10. My hubby & I have been clearing out the garage under the house over the last few weeks. So far we have sent 6 bins of old paper records from hubby’s 50 years work to recycling, several bins of old useless things to the tip, my dad’s woodworking magazines to the local Men’s Shed, along with a couple of pedestal fans, & 3 boxes of National Geographic magazines plus sundries to the local charity shop.
    We still have a way to go yet, recycling timber, shedding more accumulated junk, & sorting out what we do need to keep.
    I have already sent off some of my books to the charity shop, but with over a thousand still in my bookshelves, I really need to do a cull. However it is difficult to let go the books that my mother loved & those that I’ve had since I was a young mother.
    I do feel lighter from what we have already done, and I think it is a great idea to rid oneself of those things that are superfluous to one’s needs. I can only do that if they go to someone who will value them. What I do hate to see is useful items being sent to the tip to be crushed & buried.
    We are almost all too attached to things, and it is a good idea to divest ourselves of those things that serve no further purpose in our lives. I will be interested to see your review of Kondo’s book. I too have been hearing quite a bit about it lately – even here in Australia! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your specific details here tell me that you and your husband mean business. Thank you for introducing me to a new definition for the word “tip” which I take to mean the recycling center. Brava to you in this divesting process, Linda.

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    1. . . . and make their way into your books, Susan. You can’t read a description of a Victorian house without feeling a wave of nostalgia. Unless, of course, It’s haunted – or a crime scene. Ha!

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  11. I am getting good and much better at divesting…my motto is if I haven’t used it in the last year then I don’t need it..which works well except for my rocking horse collection and the glasses my mum and dad bought me but most has gone to family and friends and the second hand shops. Clothes every so often I turn all the hangers the wrong way and when i wear something and it is cleaned /washed the hanger goes the right way and it works I can see at a glance that which I don’t wear….so everything( well nearly) is loved and used. So good luck and hopefully at least you will be left with what you really want and love… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will be left with what I really want and love – but I suspect more than just that. Thank you for reminding me and other readers about the hanger-turn trick. I must do that too, a very efficient visual of what’s really going on in one’s wardrobe. Thanks, Carol.

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  12. I am currently reading Kondo’s fascinating, stimulating book….here and there…in blogs and articles Kondo was quoted beckoning me to purchase her small book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know you like tidiness. It’s often reflected in postings I notice of your beautiful garden and landscapes. Thanks for commenting here. We go back a long way, don’t we, Miriam!

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  13. I LOVE doing a clean out of stuff I don’t use. But for now time is an issue. So I’m down to putting 2 things I know longer use in a give away bag to take to our local ASPCA store when it is full. it helps feed the animals and keeps me chucking stuff.

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  14. Your post touches on a issue many of us are dealing with, Marian. I was particularly struck by the fact that you moved your wedding crystal along. That shows your commitment.

    There are opportunities in paring down. When we remodeled my office over this past winter, I used the required moving of every single thing as an opportunity. And in the process discovered deeply held interests I’ll be pursuing. I blogged about it here: http://carolbodensteiner.com/cleaning-out-letting-go-starting-fresh/

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    1. I just clicked on your post and left a comment. Every line resonated. I was not surprised by your developing an art interest. Perhaps you mentioned it in March. And I agree – writing and drawing/painting are both creative outlets. Thanks, Carol.

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  15. Oh, Marian, you have struck a chord! Not only for me but for the many others who have commented. Our book problem (I should say Glenn’s–he had many more books than I had) was partially solved by harvest books.com who came with their van and boxes! Some weeks later we received a small check, only a fraction of what was spent over the years in used book stores and Cokesbury, our Methodist bookseller.
    I have finally gotten rid of my “annotated” literary tomes I used in teaching, even A. Grace Wenger’s English literature text (Harcourt Brace) which I somehow acquired after she left LMS to be a college professor. But I still have G. B. Harrison’s Complete Works of Shakespeare! It’s a bit ragged in the binding but it’s pages are all still there! I used it to look up a quote when I found among Glenn’s papers a draft of a college essay he wrote on “Gray’s Elegy …” He began the essay with a quote from Henry VI, Part II.
    Sometimes, I wish I still had those anthologies, especially when reminded of a poem I once taught but only in vague memories, not even enough to Google it. Eavan Boland was scheduled to speak in Philadelphia recently–I remember teaching one of her poems, I think it was about her mother, but not well enough to find it on Google.
    Thanks,
    Verna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, my goodness, Verna. The Harcourt Brace text I used at LMS is still sitting on my bookshelf – Adventures in English Literature. And you had a similar one for American Lit. I didn’t know yours came from A. Grace Wenger, a double whammy for letting go. These tomes are so fraught with our memories and time investment. I should probably let it go though. Still . . . !

      I’ve hung on to most of my Shakespeare texts – some of them tiny, little paperbacks of the separate plays. I love how Glenn used Thomas Gray with Shakespeare in a paper. Google Advanced search has helped me with fragmented thoughts and lines. When I have the real books in hand, and I can turn to the pages – but no more. Two good sources for poetry: http://www.poemhunter.com and http://www.poetryfoundation.org

      So good to hear from you!

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  16. The founding pastor of our church shared his immense heartache (he’s in my house church) over having to say goodbye to most of his theological books and pass them on. He is growing ever more blind–macular degeneration. He has accepted it with such a beautiful spirit, yet it has been hard, I know. He passed on some to younger pastors and recent seminary grads. Yet some of the tomes are no longer “current” theology. I think literature texts stand the test of time, eh? Our offices at MennoMedia will likely move and downsize in office space sometime in the next year so I’m anticipating that move, thinking of the glorious shelves in the office; I don’t want to take them all home, where I have no room or desire to box them in a basement. Thanks for nudging me on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome about the nudge along with other commenters who are singing the same song. Cliff had dozens of theology texts most of which have been going to younger members of his Sunday School class. (There’s a box sitting by our front door now.)

      He even gave away his Greek lexicon, which I thought was a bold move. Here’s to paring down and tidying up, Melodie. More power to you!

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  17. Books are my huge weakness as well! I have boxes of them stored away somewhere in my parents’ storage space, in saving for the time when I have a house of my own (when I still might not find enough bookshelf space to put them all.) Other than books, as long as everything is contained within the place I’ve assigned for it, I feel okay. When things start overflowing, I know it’s time to get rid of stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome, Luci. It’s nice to see your smile here. I admire you for having boundaries and assigned space. You might want to sort through those books when you need a break from writing and find a few titles to pass along.

      Thanks for adding your spice to the conversation.

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  18. Marian — I love it. Simply love it! I’m smiling with glee at your statement, “I feel a certain lightheartedness at getting rid of stuff, especially if I can pass them on to people who appreciate their worth.” That’s the ticket!

    As a dyed-in-the-wool minimalist, my self-imposed rule for acquisition is this:

    If I’m going to acquire something, I’m going to donate two-somethings. In other words, I better REALLY(!) need it or love it!

    Further, I sleep on it at least one night (usually longer) because sometimes the feeling is fleeting and passes in the light of day 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are SO sensible, especially the sleeping on it to avoid rash decisions. And I like the one-in-two-out policy, which I’m afraid I don’t follow.

      I have you to thank, Laurie, for igniting the urge to purge. Over a year ago, I told you about my intention to throw away aging lesson plans, files. When I made my announcement, you alerted me to the fact you would check up on me 3-4 months to see if I actually followed through, and you did. Thanks for making me accountable.

      And notice the ripple effect. Wow, oh wow!

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  19. I feel for you, Marian, as we are curently going through the same trauma. Getting rid of long-loved books hurts, but a few have already made it to charity shops in the hope they will give other people the same joy they gave us. I am right behind you. 👍

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  20. And the key word is “Joy,” Marian. When we moved from the big house to one half the size, we kept what gave us Joy, gave away or donated what did not, and with glad hearts gave to friends and family those things that gave them Joy. Only a few things gave us pause and second thoughts at the time, but truthfully, now we don’t even remember what those things were!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You were clearly ahead of the curve, Marylin, and the current craze over the dictum “Keep only what sparks joy.” I am finding joy in giving away, especially if the reaction is like Matthew’s – an unexpected blessing.

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  21. With my current wardrobe cull I’m trying to be ruthless. Anything I haven’t worn in the last year has to go. Even then, when I go back I find things to add to the pile. Part of me thinks I should just get rid of it all and start again.

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  22. I have not regretted donating eight boxes of China and crystal the our local Hospice Thrift store. Minimizing allowes me the freedom of expression and creativity for new ideas and the unencumbered ability to rearrange space inexpensively.

    Thanks for sharing your purple hat for one of my special “occasions,”😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Minimizing shows forward thinking and allows freedom from getting mired in the past as you explain so well.

      I guess we’d both like to know the story of the purple hat in its next life – ha! Thanks, Carolyn.

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  23. I belive in what you are saying, at least in my head I do , but in my heart I can’t do it . We have been living in our new house , that initially is still a half house , for over a year now and the loft room it’s full of boxes of books, clothes , Jewely and unmentionables . My husband says ‘These boxes really can’t stay Cherry they have to go’ . The electrician went up to check a few wires and came down like he’d had an electric shock .
    You see I know what I should do …it’s doing it . I can’t give YOU advice YOU need to give me some . 😃😃😃
    Love the house Grandma lived in ❤️
    Cherryx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You never fail to amuse me, even on something serious like unpacking boxes – ha!

      And you’re cheering me up too. I thought I had my stack of books pared down, but then I found some in other parts of the house (4 here, 6 there), and now my bookshelves are loading up again, and I haven’t even boxed any up yet.

      Here’s to electric shocks in a good way, Cherry.

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  24. Isn’t it fun the things we find that we never parted with, didn’t remember we had, yet, are in a dilemma if you should give away, lol.
    I liked the bit about, declutter and you’ll never have to do it again. I’m not inclined to agree, as a person who’s moved so many times, thinking I’ve cleared out a lot of things, only to find there was more to part with every move. Hopefully you’ve done a better job than me of cleaning house. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, yes, a huge move from England to Sweden in your case – right?

      I’m sure your camera gave you some degree of balance and comfort. Still, moving requires strength and steady nerves, even less than 10 miles down the road. Thanks, Fiona.

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        1. Ah, yes, I think you told readers you were going to be a little scarce for a while posting and commenting because of the move this year. I guess what sticks in my mind is your move to Sweden years ago because it was such a long distance. Thanks for the clarification!

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  25. You remain an inspiration. I love what you’re giving away to people who want the gift. Ah, the books. We have a wonderful yearly library book sale/event in Ithaca, so I have a place to take them, but each feels precious. I passed along most cookbooks and nutrition books (from the days I was a nutritionist) since it’s easiest to find the latest information on line now. I have a problem with my philosophy/psychology/mythology collection. I’m beginning to pass along grief books–a good sign. I have a problem giving away books in which Vic made notes in the margins, unless I’m giving them to someone who loved him.

    My tip? Go through what interests you, even if it’s not a rational order. Before taking a trip to NC to see my son, I went through a bag of my mom’s photos, recently found in her daughter-in-law’s basement. I found a few great photos of my son to share (after I scanned them) and also brought him a stuffed animal I made when I was pregnant with him. I created a pattern, machine and hand stitched, included a lion’s mane and a hand embroidered little face. My son lovingly gave the animal which he remembers well a bath and a brushing. It’s 45 years old. It doesn’t look like new. It made us happy. I’m also preparing to digitalize Vic’s slides. I’ve procrastinated, but decided to start with what I’m writing about at the moment. India! The slides will bring rich sensory detail to my memories and, I hope, show me this project isn’t as overwhelming as I fear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heartstrings attach us to our precious books, so obvious in each description, yours and mine. If Cliff or my mother or aunt has given me a book, it goes on the “reserve” pile. We are fortunate to make some of memorabilia digital, but still . . .

      I notice that you are using both your rational mind and intuition as you make decisions how to proceed with books, artifacts, and slides. Ah, I expect some of these slides will appear on a blog post, again in rich sensory detail, your expertise.

      The stuffed animal description – my heart skipped a beat with that one!

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    1. Yes, Rebecca, you too admit to hoarding books. I keep wondering why books have such a huge hold on us. Perhaps because we have good memories reading them. But you also mention those you haven’t read but can’t stand to part with. Just a wild guess, but maybe they represent the escape from the ordinary that’s just within arm’s reach.

      Thanks for your good wishes. I suspect Sage is also a book lover. 🙂

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  26. Thanks for sharing some of your task of downsizing.
    I sent the last box of books off this week! They were some of my dad’s books from his ministry that I inherited when he retired from the ministry and even more when he died. I actually feel good about where I gave my books. That helps a lot! CRI, Christian Resources International, received about eight or ten big boxes of my books! Thank goodness they have a headquarters near Detroit.
    I have so many precious keepsakes! My daughters have decided what they want, some day. My granddaughters will pick which Bone China cups and saucers they want. Who knew this would be so hard?
    We have so many antique items. What to do with them? It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this tremendous task of downsizing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course, I can relate. On several shelves of our bookcase Cliff had Bible reference books from his years as a divinity student. He has “sparked joy” in many of his young church friends with the donations, which I will write about in July.

      I have donated my crystal to a friend but am keeping my china set + lots of teacups. My daughter and daughter-in-law are not too keen, but maybe my only grand-daughter Jenna will want some of my tea cups and saucers. You have such a large freindschaft, so I think you have the harder job.

      No, you are not alone, and I agree, it is a “tremendous task.” Thanks for stopping by again, Anita.

      Liked by 1 person

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