Webinar Transcript: Downsizing to Travel

by | Feb 21, 2021

Two woman packing a suitcase after downsizing to travel
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Last updated on January 21st, 2024

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Finding Freedom: Downsizing for Travel 

by Carolyn Ray, JourneyWoman Publisher 

In January, we held our first “Downsizing for Travel” webinar to help women take the first step to prepare for the future by reducing possessions. Our key message is “Don’t wait!”  Carolyn was joined by Karen Shinn from Downsizing Diva, who provided practical tips to help us get TravelReady.  This was the first in a series of virtual events; we have scheduled our first follow-up session for March 11. Stay tuned for more! 

To read “Downsizing for Travel” with more tips and interviews. with JourneyWoman who have done it, click here.

Welcome and introductions 

Carolyn: Hi everybody. For those of you I haven’t met, I’m Carolyn Ray from JourneyWoman. And I’m joined today by Karen Shin, the Downsizing Diva, who is wearing her purple boa and is ready to answer all of your questions about downsizing.

We’re going to start with a little Q&A between Karen and myself about downsizing. And then what we’d like to do is take your questions and hopefully help you get started on what might be a new path and a new journey in this time.

This is being recorded, so I just want to remind you not to share anything too confidential.

What we usually do with these sessions afterward is put them on our website and also on YouTube so that others can watch them, because we do have a capacity of 100 on these calls.

And I just wanted to mention briefly … this is part of what we’re calling our Travel Ready campaign, which is all about helping you get ready for travel in the future. And we may not be able to travel right now, but there are lots of things that we can do to get ready. A few weeks ago we did a session on travel insurance and financial planning.

This one actually kind of came out of the blue when I posted a photograph of me moving to a 600 square foot apartment a few weeks ago. And we thought, well wouldn’t it be interesting to talk more about this? So I reached out to Karen and also a number of other JourneyWomen who had downsized recently for their advice.

And here we are today, talking about this. So it may become kind of a recurring theme for us, as we explore getting ready for travel.
So let me introduce Karen. She is the Downsizing Diva which is Canada’s number one senior and specialized movement company. She has helped people pack, organize and coordinate move since 2001, with her partner Gail Shields.

And they specialize mostly in helping seniors and older people and have won many awards from the industry. And also, as you’ll find today, she’s got a great sense of humour and lots of cute little things you’ll want to take notes about; it’s been fun speaking to her over the last few weeks.

This is really about living simply. And one of the things that we’ve learned in the pandemic is that we have an opportunity to simplify the way we live and kind of reassess our lifestyle and our possessions.


Carolyn’s Story: Downsizing in Four Weeks

And in my case, I lived in various houses for about 25 years. My last house was a three bedroom house, just north of Toronto. And I was kind of the accumulator and storer of all things in my family. So from my brother’s stuff in the basement to my family heirlooms, to furniture. Every inch of my house, I think was full of stuff and most of it was not mine.

I went to Kenya in August of 2018 on a pretty amazing trip and when I came back from that, I looked around and I said, “Wow this is really over the top. I don’t need all these things. I do not need to have so much stuff”. And I decided to sell my house, I decided to get rid of my car and when my house sold, I had about six weeks to get out. And that’s when the fun began. So I auctioned off everything in my house. I gave a lot of things away to different charities. I asked friends and family to come in and take whatever they wanted. Prom dresses went to a prom dress charity, shoes, clothing, books. It was basically a whirlwind of activity at my house.

And I did it in four weeks, which is a pretty extreme way to have to do this kind of thing. But when you have a deadline, that really helps. So anyways, that’s a bit of how I got going.

Philosophy on Downsizing: Top Questions

Karen, let’s start a bit by talking about your philosophy on downsizing. I mean not everybody wants to do it the way I did it, which is kind of stressful, to be honest with you.

Karen: Carolyn, people say to us, “What is the best time to start downsizing?” And of course we always say to them, “The best time to start is today”. So after this little session, I challenge you to head out. And even if you do a shelf, a drawer. Something that’s small, contained and you can step back and say that’ll make a difference.

The next question people ask is, “What is the hardest thing to downsize?” And to that we always – we seem to think it – over the years it weighs out. And it’s usually paper. Paper work, books that sort of thing. Anything that – but particularly files of paper and stuff, like university notes and kids artwork and paper, financial papers. And all of your gas bills and utility bills from forever and upwards. That’s the hardest thing to let go of.

So somebody the other day threw sort of a snag and said to me, “Well if paper is the hardest thing to let go of, what do you think the easiest thing to let go of would be?” And I was quite clever and I thought this was quite insightful. The easiest thing to let go of is somebody else’s stuff. Because we have a real challenge letting go of our own. We’ve got the emotion tied up in it, we’ve got memories, we’ve got guilt, we’ve got a lot of stuff tied up in something. We spent too much for it, we never should have bought it. We wasted our money, we can’t throw it away. There’s anchors on so much of our stuff.

Carolyn: Yeah, we’re actually just doing a little poll right now. And it looks like the most difficult thing for people to let go of is family heirlooms.

Karen: And we are – as a boomer, we’re discovering that the only people who are really concerned with … and this is a general statement, family heirlooms are the boomers. For the most part, their children don’t care. I often say in presentations when we used to do live presentations in the old days. If you repeat after me and just say, “My family probably doesn’t want my stuff” and so many people have a big smirk on their face when they think they’re downsizing. Because they say, well my kids want the dining room suite, the bedroom suite, this … they don’t.

Carolyn: We don’t!

Karen: They don’t. And that must have been hard for you too, Carolyn, because you think other people want your treasures and they don’t.

Carolyn: Well I still have things in storage that nobody wants, even still, so it’s true. And I actually – it’s one of my regrets. I kind of held onto a couple things thinking, oh somebody will want these at some point and they just didn’t have time. And now I wish I had just done it all. Because it is a bit painful, like pulling off a Band-Aid. But on the other hand it’s done and I never have to think about it again.

The Emotional Side of Downsizing

Let’s talk more about this emotional barrier. How do you get over the guilt and the emotion? What’s your suggestion for people to kind of let go of that a little bit?

Karen: I loved your example of ripping off the bandage. Because truly, people will hold onto things because it could come in handy someday. Chances are, if you haven’t used it for a while, it’s not likely going to.

And if you’re holding onto the fondue pot from the 70’s that’s avocado green, harvest gold, or tomato spice red. And it’s in the top shelf of your cupboard, because where else would you put it because you haven’t used it for a while? But somebody might be wanting to have a fondue. And the old aluminium pots with the steno that is long dried up.

We hold onto things because of the memories and when you let them go, half the time, the memories stay with you anyway. Most of the time. We’ve often said to people you can take pictures, because often if you just look at a picture, you think of that was really great, I loved that piece. It doesn’t fit in my new home, whatever. Or that was a great outfit, I liked it, but it will never fit me again. But we can get all torn up in the, it costs money and I shouldn’t let go of it.

That’s the easiest one to just try not to go down that rabbit hole, because you’re never going to justify it. If you’ve bought it and you made a mistake, bite the bullet and let it go. Because you’re not doing anybody any favours if you’re not going to want it, use it or need it. Those are the three criteria that we use. So don’t do the guilt. Everybody else can throw guilt, don’t guilt yourself.

The Language of Downsizing

Carolyn: Yeah. Now what about the language we’re using around purging and letting go and kind of these words we use, which I think actually make you feel more guilty in some ways. We’re almost like, we’re doing it to ourselves in a way, when we talk about downsizing.

Karen: I think you’re right. I think they … and when we call our company Downsizing Divas, people said oh they – at that time they – we just got through all of the downsizing corporately. Downsizing wasn’t a good word. If you were being downsized, you were out. But we said oh no, no that’s not quite what we intended. So we stuck with it and had some fun with it, which is why one of our key operative words has to be fun.

But the words you use are powerful. And the word purging is kind of awful. We like words like releasing. I’m releasing it, I’m giving safe passage, is one of my favourite expressions. Safe passage just means you are looking for someone who will treasure it as much as you have.

And we all know that if we’ve got a collection of something and we know someone who is a collector and if they want some of our collection, we’re thrilled to give it to them. Because we know they’re as excited about it as we may have been at one time.

So those are words we’ve come up with, when we work with our clients, many of whom are older adults. We use, because it’s so guilt-ridden. We say if you know where something’s going, so you have – if you’re moving it to your new place, if you know your daughter wants it or your niece or somebody in the family, or the lady across the street. If you know where it’s going and you can be in control of where it’s destined to end up, we call that me.

So when we’re going through the house, just point out the me. Me, me, me, me, me. We know that those are things we don’t have to worry about, as the person helping you with your downsizing.

The other thing used to cause great grief and aggravation and that was, well what the heck’s going to happen to it if I don’t need it? I thought at first, when I got into the business, almost, well almost 20 years ago, that we’d be more concerned about picking the number of teacups and saucers that our clients would want to take to their new homes. The reality was they didn’t want to take the cups and saucers, but they were feeling guilt over leaving things behind. So we came up with the me thing, gets rid of the items that you will be responsible for.

The other word is magic, they’re just going to disappear. The magic can be donate, it can be dispose, it can be recycle, it can be sell. But magic covers everything. And when our clients say to us, “I know what’s happening with the me, the magic I’ll leave up to you”. And that’s why we often – we have our new little slogan and it’s ‘Let the diva magic begin’.

Carolyn: Oh that’s great.

Karen: A whole new meaning. But if you think of things in a positive – no, if you can give them to family shelters, if you know that the winter coat that you – kept you warm, but it – I had one a couple years ago, and it was black.. And every time I looked at people on the street, everybody was wearing a black winter coat. And I just thought I need – so I got a purple one. It was much nicer. But my black coat was probably the warmest coat I ever owned. And when I gave it to a shelter, I just felt all warm and toastie too. So when you can give things to people, that makes it a little less guilt-ridden.

Determining the Value of Teacups and Other Items

Carolyn: I agree. And I just want to go back to the teacups, because I still have my grandmother’s 100 teacups and I feel terribly guilty about giving them away. Because I can distinctly remember having tea with her and what a lovely experience that was. And it kind of helps me hang onto those memories a little bit.

But I think it brings up another question, which is, if you have things like this and you finally can get over that emotional hurdle of, OK I’m going to get rid of them, I’m ready to sell them, how do you figure out what the value of these things is? Because I spend a lot of time going to a lot of antique markets for example, trying to figure out OK what is this thing I have maybe worth? What would you suggest?

And also, how do you talk about value when you’re counselling? I feel like I’m a candidate or at least I’ve been through it. But I wish I had somebody kind of coaching me through this, because I thought oh it’s got so much value, but I really had no idea what it was worth, other than to me.

Karen: Things have really two values, one or one of two, or both sometimes. And that is heart value, its sentimental, it’s come from the family. Might not be worth money, but it has a lot of sentimental value. It could be the table cloth that was always on the table for thanksgiving.

In my case, I have a little vase my mom had. And it was the first gift she gave to her mother. I think she paid a dollar for it. It has no markings, it’s not worth anything, but it’s got sentimental value. The other is dollar value. And dollar value of course you can take to anybody and they’ll all look at the bottom, they’ll say Tiffany Burkes or whatever. It’s sterling, it’s silver plate, it’s whatever. So someone will – the value is pretty universal.

Add to that though, the challenges that we’re facing now, which is we’ve got – we like to call it the joyless avalanche. Because Marie Condo said don’t keep it unless it sparks joy. And there’s a lot of things in our house that don’t spark joy. And I always say, well your seven years of income tax forms are sparking no joy, but you got to keep them.

But the other things, I mean if you’re letting go, and we now, for the first time ever, have two generations letting go of things. So if you picture it as a mountain, up at the top we’ve got the boomers parents who are letting go. They’re coming down to the boomers and the boomers, maybe like you Carolyn and others, are saying whoa hold it. There’s too much here, I don’t need it.

But the boomers are helping their parents clear their houses and they’re saying I don’t want to leave this mess for my kids. So that’s the double generation at the top letting it go. And it’s going to the boomers’ children and grandchildren. Neither of whom seem to want to collect stuff, general statement. But they want to collect experiences. They’re the ones you’ll meet travelling, the millennials and the Y2K’s. They’re going, “I’m out. I’m travelling. I’ve got a couple thousand dollars extra, I’m going on an adventure trip and I’m climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I am not buying Royal Doultons to match the ones that I’ve got. So …

Carolyn: The collection of little cats, which is what I had.

Karen: Oh and there’s a huge disconnect. Plus the fact, they’re living in smaller spaces, they don’t have room for things that really historically, the prized possessions were dining room suites. My dining room suite, everybody will want that. We said to one lady, she said, “My grandson will want it”. I said, “Oh where’s he moving to?” “Oh he’s moving to a little condo downtown”, I think it was 450 square feet. I said to her, “He can have a bed or your dining room table. I think and he’s taking the bed” “Well he could sleep on the table”, she said. I don’t think so.

Carolyn: I’d love to hear from people, if you have any items that you’re wondering about that you would like to get rid of. And I’ll give a few of my examples that I actually still have them, because I didn’t get to that point.

I have sheet music from my great-grandparents. It’s beautiful, they’re works of art and I have them all bound together in books and covered in plastic. And I am sure they are worth something, so I’ve kept them. Because I can imagine my great grandparents playing piano with them and. What would be a place where you could get rid of something like that and still feel OK about it, rather than just throwing it in the fire? Any thoughts on creative solutions there?

Karen: The first place that I’d go is to the conservatory of music. The Royal Ontario Conservatory, or a teaching school. I noticed somebody mentioned about doing your research on e-bay, which is brilliant. We’re fortunate these days, because we do have the internet. And it’s quite amazing what you can find, just even with a picture or a hallmark or something on the bottom of something. Google the word on it.

But often people have historical photographs and there’s a local historian or a local historical society. It’s always a good place to start. You have memorabilia from an association or a lodge or some fraternity or sorority, you want to start by going back to the original place and maybe the membership would be interested in something. Sometimes they have disbanded and there isn’t anyone. So that’s always the risk.

But the internet is an amazing resource. I’ve always said that – one place said look and suggest for books. If you have old books and you think they might be worth something, is ABE Books, A-B-E Books.com. Used to be out of Victoria I think. International now like everything else is. But you can plug in the title of your book and the author and even the year that it was published and you can get really zooming in on the value of something, which helps.

I at one point had a collection of children’s books, very long story, I’ll make it very short. And I Googled it on ABE Books, I looked it up. Found that there was a whole group of people who collected these books. I was ready to donate them to the Toronto Public Library, they didn’t want them of course. And I was offered $1000, they were children’s books. I was offered $1000 for the books. And I sold them to a book dealer for $3600 US. Which, for those who live in Canada, at the time it was $5200 Canadian. So it was a huge return on my $5 investment. It took time, but ABE Books was a great resource because I could write to the dealers and said I have this book, are you interested in another one? Sometimes they were, but I did get two people interested. So there’s lots of resources that way.

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Digitizing Paper

Carolyn: And the other – you talked about paper at the beginning and there’s – Donna is asking, commenting on how to, you can scan things and digitize things, I mean that’s – I need to do that too by the way, I have bins of photographs from my father, it’s still in my storage. And I guess the answer is, rather than hanging onto them, is to digitize as well.

Karen: The interesting part is people will digitize them, they’ll put them on CD’s and they’ll have them all on the computer. But they can’t let go of the real hard copy. They hold onto them as well. So in some cases, it will duplicate what you’ve got. It’s a brilliant idea, but people are still not sure where it’s going when it’s digitized. And it’s not the same as flipping through them. For some people, yeah.

Garage sale

How to Downsize

Carolyn: We’re in a strange time here where we may want to get rid of things and there are a number of ways to do that, which we can talk about. But also, I guess with Covid and restrictions and all of that, how has that changed that dynamic, from your perspective Karen, of what do we – what can be done in this time? Vis-à-vis planning for the future?

Karen: We look at – one of the things I think everyone’s familiar with is the expression, depression mentality. These are people who grew up with or were affected by the great depression. These are the people who repaired everything, they didn’t buy anything new, unless it was absolutely broken and beyond repair. So we had a whole culture of generations, not just the ones that grew up in the depression, but as you said, those who were affected by it.

I live on the 31st floor and I look out at the city and I think, I often think that we’re going – we are creating now a Covid mentality. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like exactly. Although I do think that there is a real emphasis on doing with less, simplifying, reducing. And I think part of it is because we’ve been stuck in our houses.

And Carolyn, you and I have the same size condo. 600 square feet doesn’t give you a lot of room to move about in. and so you keep tidying and tidying and decluttering. There’s not much left here and I said during the first wave we went through; put the items that you want to donate in the trunk of your car. Even if you’re driving, and you’re not doing much driving anyway. But when you’re driving around, then when things open up, which they kind of did for the space of about a month, you’ll be the first in line to the donation centres. You just pull up your car, unload and you’re done.

What we’re finding now though is the donation centres, because they’ve been closed so long and they had that in – sort of a lot of things coming in right after the first wave we went through Covid, they are still having things dribbling in but nobody’s allowed to shop. So they’re not able to release the things to people who want to buy them, so they’ve really closed down a lot of the options that we have. So the advice I have is to put it in the car and wait.

The Expense of Storage Units

Carolyn: Could storage be a transitional way to do this, if you had a storage unit, just to get it -? I always feel better when something’s out of the house and I can’t see it. So I wonder if that’s a step. I know it’s an extra step, but –

Karen: It’s an extra step with a cost to it. But storage, we’re reluctant to say that storage lockers have no use, because they do. As long as it’s a fine length of time you’re putting things in a storage unit. But by the time you look at even $400 a month is, after four months, that’s $5000.

Carolyn: Oh it’s expensive. Very.

Online Auctions

Carolyn: Yeah. So let’s talk about some other ways you can get rid of things. And I guess this would be kind of planning for the future, more than anything. I mentioned briefly auctions. So I was recommended a company called Maxxel that came in and auctioned all of my belongings.

They – I had – I don’t know if this makes any – I had 160 lots. I had an incredible amount of stuff and they put together paintings and tried to make little combinations of things that are appealing. So Christmas decorations, Halloween decorations, lawn furniture. I had a whole thing of athletic equipment and water skis from 1980 and paddles from when I was 12 years old at camp. And all these things that got bundled together into different lots.

Online auctions are still happening now, from what I understand, is that correct?

Karen: That’s right. They’ve got protocol in place that they can do pickups. The pickups are different, they can’t wander through your house and come pick things up. Everything’s done as a street pickup, curbside pickup. It takes more to coordinate it, it costs a bit more to do. But you’re giving safe passage to your items and a lot of them disappear. You’re not left with much to have to deal with.

Carolyn: Yeah and just to be clear, what the pickup is. So the way it works is at least it worked for me, was Maxxel came in. they took two days and they went through and they auctioned everything and then they have to take pictures and put it on the website. And then out there is an auction and people bid on your things. So it’s kind of an interesting emotional process watching your belongings go for $2 or $4 on a website. I have to admit, I stepped in and bought some of my things back. I couldn’t stand to let them go for $2. I was horrified. So I have those things in storage right now.

Anyways, and then a few days later, people come and that’s the pickup you’re referring to. And they come and they pick up their things. And one of – and so there’s people coming through your house, at least normally, in a normal world. Coming through your house and they pick up their lots of things and they leave.

The fear I had, which did come through was that some people would not show up. Because sometimes when you’re auctioning things off, say you auction off a bunch of furniture for $20 and it’s a rainy day, maybe the person decides he’s not going to come and get it. So I wanted to have a backup plan. Because I didn’t have any time to spare. If people didn’t show up to get my junk, then I was really in trouble. So I had everything staged so that, OK if they don’t do the pickup, then I have to move to donations or friends and family. I had this whole chain of events that I organised, as we went through that.

So does that accurate for the auction process at a high level Karen, would you add anything to that?

Karen: Primarily the beauty of an online auction is number one, it appeals to a larger number of people than would come through your house on a normal auction. And we can’t do normal in-house content sales anymore anyway. The other beauty of something like this is that all of the items are paid for when the auction closes. They’re all done by credit card. So it’s not – there’s no exchange of money, there’s no question you’re not going to get paid for items. So in the case of your sofa that might have sold for $20, even if they didn’t pick it up, you got the $20 or the percentage. Because they do charge a percentage of course to do it.

Selling Things Online

Carolyn: Yeah, that was not my – I wanted it gone though. So yeah, so then I had to have a plan B to get rid of things. I also tried online, doing things on my own. I tried Facebook, I tried Kijiji and I had to spend a little time researching Kijiji to understand what would sell well on there.

So – and also there’s a lot of – I don’t know if you folks have used Kijiji, but a lot of back and forth that doesn’t go anywhere and people are trying to negotiate with you. And I wasn’t really interested in negotiating. I wanted somebody to come, to pay my price or close to my price and come and get it.

So what I – what sold very well for me on Kijiji was bedroom sets. So I sold my daughter’s bedroom set almost for what I paid for it. I sold a massage table that I had bought her, that I had this dream that I would – she’s an athlete and I thought oh I’ll help her and give her massages after soccer games. Never once used it. And what else worked on there? I think patio equipment maybe, but it’s kind of finding the right place for the right things. I didn’t think of Kijiji as a place for antiques or anything. It had to be very specific.

Oh I think I sold a kitchen tray, one of those IKEA racks. I think I sold one of those, but –

Karen: It’s really – I noticed some of the comments. One of them is putting things in storage, makes you tend to forget it. And we always tell the story of a mom who sent her two kids off to university. They both went and graduated and she was very clear, do not bring the stuff back that we gave you in second year for your dorms. They went into a house. Year one was a dorm, year two they combined for a house. Don’t bring any of it back, we don’t want any of it back. So of course they brought it back. And they drove up the driveway with this UHAUL truck and she says, “It’s not staying in this house, it’s not coming in. we’re putting it in storage”. So they hustled it over to storage. Four keys, the mom, the dad and the two children or kids, each had a key, they put it in storage. Of course it went on mom’s credit card. So mom’s paying it, moms paying it and this out of sight, out of mind someone mentioned.

And finally one day after a few months, she thought this is crazy, I really wonder what’s in there. Because it was all old furniture that we gave them to begin with. So she high tails on over to the storage unit, opens it up with her key and the only thing that is sitting in the middle of the storage locker is a bag of peat moss. It’s her bag of peat moss, that’s what she put in. and she said, “When I look at paying…” I think she was paying $240 a month. She says, “It was very expensive peat moss. I took it home, spread it on the garden and that was the end of the storage locker” because you do. You get a little bill every month and you hardly even notice it, that one line item on your visa card, because you get used to it.

And yet if you look at – and even if you think it’s only $100. Well $100 a month is $1200 a year.

Carolyn: It adds up.

Karen: We had a guy whose parents had lived out in Vancouver, out west. And they died. He hated his parents. Had all this stuff shipped to Toronto, which is where we are and put in storage. It was in storage for 10 years. The cost of the storage exceeded $100,000 and he decided it might be time to get rid of it, so we fortunately had a warehouse and got rid of it. But I think we ended up making for him $20,000 and he was mad he didn’t see it all back. I said I don’t recall us ever telling you to keep it. He wasn’t happy.

Carolyn: Yeah. So some of the other ways, so garage sales. So I have done garage sales in my life and never found them actually fulfilling in any way for all the work that you put into them.

Garage Sales

But on the day that I had my MaxSold pickup, I decided oh I’m going to have all this traffic, so it would be a really good time to have a garage sale. So I had, I did that. I have to say I got rid of a few things. But what’s your – I don’t think garage sales are particularly helpful and we may not even want to do them in the future, but –

Karen: Well garage sales are interesting, because they’re a great way to meet your neighbours. Because that’s who’s at them. You don’t sell much and the hardest thing for me at a garage sale is to watch people nickel and diming over your own stuff. We are the worst people to sell our stuff. If you’ve got to have an objective person, they’ll get more money for it than you will.

Because you’ll be taken in by a sob story or the converse to that is somebody will come in and you’re asking for a quarter for something and they say, “I’ll give you a dime” and you cross your arms over chest and you go, “I’m not letting it go for a dime” and you take the darn thing back in the house. Who’s winning on this?

Garage sales to me are fun to meet your neighbours and fun to do on a – if you have a neighbourhood street sale, it’s entertaining and it’s community spirit building.

Carolyn: It’s a social activity then.

Karen: It’s planning them that’s a bitch.

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Charitable Organizations

Carolyn: And the other place is charitable organisations, which of course I personally think this is the best way to go. I mean we have Habitat for Humanity here, we have Goodwill, we have a number of places that shelters … that can really use things. So any recommendations or thoughts around non-profit organisations? There’s the Furniture Bank as well, that’s another one that I used, which gives you a tax receipt.

Karen: They – not for profit groups are fabulous. I often think, look for the smaller ones in your community. The big ones get donations and everybody knows of them. But if you hear of a small church or synagogue that’s supporting somebody and they’re looking for things, or something smaller.

We have a little charity group or a little, it’s an agency. They have 42 beds and it’s a women’s shelter and it’s doing great work. And it’s just, I’d never heard of it until somebody mentioned it in a working group. But my gosh they’re excited when you deliver things and it – that’s the warm fuzzy part that you get, when you can do safe passage and give something to someone.

When the homeless – it was very cold last winter and we were delivering coats to the homeless and there’s something about walking into a place and them saying, “Oh just put it over there with the rest of the stuff” that makes you think they’re not really, they don’t need it and they’re not probably going to use it. So I –

Carolyn: Yeah. I’d love to put together – I can see some great ideas coming through in this chat. I would love to put together a list of non-profit organisations. If any of you have ideas about places that we could – I’d be happy to post this on our site as a resource for people, if you’re looking to get rid of things. But seeing some great ideas come through, that’s amazing.

Karen: And that’s part of the research to find … because every community has agencies that are looking for stuff.

Spin the Downsizing Wheel

Carolyn: So I just put in the link, Karen has a Downsizing wheel. And if you go to that link, it’s kind of fun thing to try just to … if you need a place to start. Do you want to explain the wheel, Karen?

Karen: Sure, I’d love to. It’s called the – we call it, it’s www.downsizingdivawheel.com. We’ve had so many people who say, “I don’t know where to start. I do not know where to start”. That and, “I’m overwhelmed” are the two words that always come together with the word downsizing. So we thought oh wouldn’t it be fun if we made this wheel that spun around and it told people where they could start?

So this has got, I don’t know how many little spokes to it. And it keeps changing, because there’s stuff behind the stuff you see. But you spin it at the top and it just says the Diva says it’s time to downsize whatever. A friend of mine tried it and she got make up. She doesn’t wear makeup, so she felt very smug and she says, “Well I’ve done my work for the day”. She had no make up to let go of. Some of it’s socks or belts or books or paper work or coupons, there’s a whole bunch of things.

We know people are not necessarily going to spin and do exactly what it says, they’re going to spin again. Because there’s something that will come up that you’ll think I could do that one. And then you puddle off and do it. At the bottom of the wheel is the thing that says – I forget what it says. It says something about contact us or get something.

We have a handout that does tell you some of these places that you can donate things, where to get rid of your stuff. If you’re in this area, it’ll help. If you’re not, it’ll give you ideas.

And then we provide eight weeks of downsizing tips for you that come into your email each week and then we talk about paper, we talk about photographs, we talk about books, we talk about your – is your garage, clearing out your garage. All of those things, s it’s once every eight days actually. You can unsubscribe at any time. But it gives you little checklists pretty much in these things. So it’s something to think about.

But the wheel was created as a bit of a game. So it’s – it just makes the process fun, because we tell people we work with care, compassion and comedy. And this is a nod to the comedy part.

Mistakes Made When Downsizing

Carolyn: Yeah. Karen, what mistakes do you think people make when they’re downsizing in -?

Carolyn: Oh, OK. I was curious, what mistakes do you think people make when they’re downsizing, other than all the ones I’ve made, which is doing it all at once and –

Karen: The biggest mistake I think is not starting soon enough.

Carolyn: I agree.

Karen: You know, if you could – it’s like bit by bit, you know if you look and you just do a drawer, a shelf or cupboard or something. It makes a difference and once you do one, you start to think well that cupboard is pretty good, I could do another one. But leaving it to the last minute is always a challenge, because it’s such a big project. It’s emotional, so do it bit by bit.

The other thing is waiting until you get people to help. That’s often not possible. So sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do it yourself. But you don’t want to … if you’ve decided you’re clearing a closet for instance, with clothing in it, we always suggest you use clear plastic bags to donate things, so you know what’s in them, rather than garbage bags. Because the black or dark green bags that you can’t see through, we call garbage bags and that’s all we put in them. We do not put donations in garbage bags, because we don’t want to deliver garbage to a donation site.

But if you put the clothes in a bag and you’ve got a full bag, my best advice is to take it and deliver it to that donation centre as soon as you can. With Covid it’s more of a challenge, but you want to get it out. Because then it’s – a clear bag is very tempting and you put it there and it’s by the door and it’s got that sweater in it that you really weren’t quite sure you wanted to let go of. And before you know it, three quarters of the stuff is out, back in your closet and you thought oh I’ve had second thoughts. Even if you drive it around in your car, by the time you lift it out to put it to Value Village or Salvation Army or wherever, you go maybe I didn’t mean to donate that.

Whereas if it’s gone it’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind is this – is as much applicable to the storage locker as it is to when you do a donation.

How to Get Rid of Artwork

Carolyn: Great. There are a couple questions I just want to respond to. There’s a question around art work and any suggestions on how to get rid of paintings?

Karen: It depends. If it’s by a known painter, you might want to have it appraised. And that can be done, contact your – auction houses will likely do that for you. There will be a cost, but they will come in and do an appraisal.

It will depend on whether you want a ballpark appraisal, which is just, this would be worth between $2500 and $3000. Or if you want someone to do the research and tell you who the artist was, where they lived, when they painted it and do more research for you. The cost of course will increase as the amount of information is required with research. So that’s one thing.

I guess the biggest mistake, and I’m going back to your question about mistakes people make. People don’t know what their stuff is worth. And I think that that is huge. You mentioned Carolyn, you did research. We always say to people, “What you think is worth money, may not be” dining room suites, bedroom suites, all that stuff. Doulton’s stamp collections, that sort of thing. What you don’t think is worth something could be.

Getting Rid of Epherma

And one of my favourite words, because I love the way it sounds, is the word ephemera. Ephemera is really just items that were created for a purpose that had a very short time frame. In the ephemera category you would have things like postcards, calendars, cereal boxes. There had a specific purpose and that wasn’t a long term use. But people who’ve collected cereal boxes from the 30’s or calendars form every year from whenever, or greeting cards. Some of them have become quite collectable now. So if you look and think oh those old greeting cards, maybe they are just old greeting cards.

But if you have a paper show or you can go online and look up at ephemera or paper collectables, you may find that whatever you’re looking at, has more of a value than you think it does.

The other thing when you’re doing selling, the focus … we talked a bit about storage lockers. But if you keep in mind the biggest value, if you’re selling your house, you are going to make the most money by far with your house. You’re not going to come close with the stuff that’s in it, likely. So be careful that you don’t focus on the wrong thing.

Don’t focus on getting the value for your dining room suite and your bedroom suite, when you should have new storm – have a new storm door put on. Because that’s going to increase the value of your house by a couple of thousand dollars, as opposed to your going to make another $200 with the sofa. So keep priorities in mind, know that your value if you’re selling your house is in your house, not the stuff in it. But there are ways to certainly maximise some of the return on that if the items you have are collectable.

Traditional Wood Furniture

If you have traditional furniture, there’s not as big a market for it, they are calling it brown furniture now. If you have tique, anything that is mid-century modern is the buzz words now, that’s pretty collectable. We can probably get a line up out the door for that, but your traditional furniture that’s British or pine even Canadian for those who live here, but has not got the value.

Antiques didn’t hold the value, the Doulton’s and those collections haven’t really held the value that people had hoped they would and they’re often quite surprised that the insurance value for a Royal Doulton is far higher than something you’re going to get if you sell it.

Developing Good Habits

Carolyn: Interesting. So some of – part of this too is developing good habits around owning possessions. And so we have a rule, my daughter and I, where if we buy a piece of clothing, we have to give two pieces of clothing away, or shoes or coats or that kind of thing.

What kind of habits can we put in place so that we don’t accumulate? We’re trying to get – at least I’m trying to not accumulate things, but I do, even though I try not to. But then I force myself to give up something else, in order to have this. Any thoughts on habits that we can create, to have a healthier relationship with possessions?

Karen: I think that’s a good one. One in, one out is always good. One in, two out is better. But at least one in, one out. But sometimes we just do, if it’s one thing out. If you take a month, often people will take February because it’s a shortest month. And you do one item out on the first, two items on the second, three on the third. It gets a bit more challenging at the end. Or do it backwards, 28 on the first and go backwards. Even if you set – have a challenge with your friends.

You and your daughter can hold each other accountable. But a group of friends can also say, “What can we do? Let’s get – let’s have a book swap”. Everybody is reading books, I mean so maybe it’s time for a book swap and everybody passes one along to the next person and with the arrangement at the end of it that you give it to somebody else when you’re done.

Carolyn: Yeah. I noticed somebody put a comment about laundry rooms in condos in places like that, where you can take books and share them, which is what I did in my last apartment too. I think I cleaned out about 100 books. So the books are my problem, is I just – to me, books are – I just love them. And when I read a good book, I really don’t want to give it away.

Karen: I’m looking at Anne-Roberts sent me, said expensive artwork can be donated to public art galleries like The Art Gallery of Ontario. That’s true. And sometimes if you’re in a smaller community and you have items that might be of historical interest and you have a local historical society or a museum, they’re often quite happy to have things that represent life in that community. So before you tarp out box loads of things, do a little homework. And again, it makes you feel good to pass it along. It’s not always – again the big museums that need the things –

We had a lady who wanted to donate a medal from her uncle, to the National War Museum in Ottawa. And she checked it out and it would be on display once every three years or something, it would come out. And she contacted – she was working with us and we have a colleague who works for – he’s an archivist and he said, “Oh my, if we could get that…” it happened to come from the regiment that he was the archivist in, what are the chances? And he said, “We built a display around it”. So she ended up giving it to him, it was all there with the ‘donated by’. Her uncle had been a member of that regiment. It is on a permanent display and it is the showcase of their exhibit.

Carolyn: Yeah, lovely. I actually, I did that with Evelyn Hannon’s red boots, for those of you who knew Evelyn. And I’d arranged a donation to the Bata Shoe Museum for her boots and so someday they’ll be on exhibit. Someday we can go there and see them, but you’re right, sometimes this is just about being creative and kind of thinking out of the box about things we can do that are a little bit different.

Karen: But you have to have time, you can’t do it the last minute.

Carolyn: Yes, yes. Does anyone in the audience have questions or specific items they’d like advice on? You’re welcome to speak if you’d like, or put it in the chat, whatever you’re comfortable with.

Getting Rid of Paper

Karen: Here somebody’s saying, “Could you get – could you say a little more about getting rid of paper?” I think the most important thing when you get rid of paper is to shred it. Because identities are easy to come by and they’re not looking for Jane Fonda, they’re looking for somebody who is unknown, like Karen Shin. So your identity is in your paperwork, so make sure that that’s shredded. You’ll have to keep tax things for seven years, at least in Canada. But you don’t have to keep all your bills. You don’t have to keep all of your credit card slips. There’s a lot you can get online.

And paper is one of those things, we say paper – the acronym for paper is, paper always prompts emotional response. I can get rid of pieces of paper that look to me like garbage, but if you’re looking for that phone number and you know you’ve written it in red on a piece of green paper and it’s at the top right corner, you know what you’re looking for. To me it’s just a phone number. So keep …

What to keep?

Carolyn: Yeah. There’s a question here which is, “What did you keep?” I kept a lamp, a chair, a dresser, a small table, I think that was … and a light maybe. Yeah that’s it. And I got rid of 90% of my clothes. And of course now during Covid we hardly, I mean you could wear the same thing every day practically, just change my earrings every day, but that’s about it.

Karen: I think it – and it’s interesting I think, because one thing I learned and id been doing this. When I moved the first time, I’d been doing it for about seven years. And I had – I knew the floor plan would not take this gigantic buffet that I had. So I packed everything in the gigantic buffet in boxes, I was ready to go, because I knew the buffet was not coming with me. When I got to my new place, I had five boxes that were labelled ‘buffet’ and no buffet.

And I – Gail who is my business partner said, “I’ll come and help you unpack” she says, “Where are these five boxes going because they all say buffet and you don’t have one” and I thought, I had never thought that that would be a problem. So I think sometimes you keep the wrong things. The buffet won’t fit, so the things in it don’t fit.

And I think that that’s what you have to come to grips with. And you don’t keep … you don’t need to have duplicates and triplicates of everything. And I think a lot of things we keep in the kitchen we don’t need. But we hold onto them because we do.

Thank you and Closing

Carolyn: Yeah for sure. There’s some great suggestions in here. I’m going to put this all together for us so that we can share this afterwards. And we’ll send out a link to your wheel.

We’re coming down to the last minutes of this session. But I do want to mention that those of you who supported our pay what you can model for this, we are making donations to Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter in Toronto. And so thank you very much for helping us support them. Every event that we’re doing, that’s what I’m doing is when we have a speaker or book club or anything at all, we’re just trying to give back as much as can. So really appreciate your help and support in doing that. I think it’s important that we try to give back right now.

And then I’ve also put it in the chat, just a little survey if you have feedback on this event or would like to suggest other topics that you’re interested in. we could probably do a whole other session again on downsizing …

Or even I think something I’m interested in is how do you then live in a small space? Because that’s the experience I’m going through right now where I’m trying to figure out how to live in a 600 square foot apartment and what do you, how do you do that? How do you make interesting purchase decisions to maximise space with a lot of storage and things like that? So we welcome your support there.

And I want to thank Karen very much for her expertise today and helping us answer some of those questions. And all of you, because you’re all experts. And if you have a story that you’d like to share, I would love to hear it. So – because I think all of you could be role models for others as we try to live a much simpler life in the future.

So thank you all for coming and again, please do give some feedback. And thank you Karen and we’ll post everything on our site that … so you can all access it.

Karen: And here’s to travelling soon.

Carolyn: Yes. Big thumbs up for that. That’s what we’re getting ready for.

Karen: That’s perfect.

Carolyn: OK, thank you everybody. Have a good afternoon or evening, depending on where you are. Bye.

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.


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