HILLSBORO, N.D. — Jeannine Bryant is a professional and author who helps clients and readers slim down their possessions, but you won't hear her talk about "downsizing."

Instead, she helps families and senior citizens achieve "rightsizing," a term she defines as "that perfect place between too much and too little." While her work means she often assists clients before they move into a smaller apartment or assisted living facility, she says her job isn't to make people get rid of the stuff they love.

"I help people identify the best things so that they can let go of all the other stuff that doesn't matter so much," she says.

That's an important distinction considering that a senior citizen moving out of a longtime home will often have to give up 50-75 percent of their possessions before they get to their new place, she says. Now, she's sharing some of the things she's learned — and offering some tough, but fair, love and encouragement — in a new book, "Keep the Memories, Not the Stuff."

Bryant started to realize just how difficult that process can be while growing up on a farm in North Dakota before she graduated from Hillsboro High School in 2000. Her grandparents died in 1992 and 1994, and her parents, then in their 40s, spent months emptying out two farmsteads full of stuff.

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Bryant's own mother died in 2005, and her father moved out of the farmhouse into town — and at the age of 24, she had to sort through her late mother's possessions, trying to figure out what to do with everything and what she wanted to keep.

After high school, she attended Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and then pursued a master's degree in English and Great Plains studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do for a career, so she started working in the student affairs office at a local university but quickly realized it wasn't her passion.

That's when she heard about a job opening at a company that helped seniors who were downsizing or moving — and thought back on her own family experiences trying to do it alone. She says she figured the field could be the "perfect blend" of her skills, as well as her love of seniors and passion for organizing.

"I thought, 'There's a real need out there for this,'" she says.

An example of a room of "stuff" that Jeannine Bryant and her team at Changing Spaces SRS helped people sort through during a life transition in 2018. Special to The Forum
An example of a room of "stuff" that Jeannine Bryant and her team at Changing Spaces SRS helped people sort through during a life transition in 2018. Special to The Forum

She started with the company, Changing Space SRS in Lincoln, Neb., in 2008, and became a co-owner in 2010 and the sole owner in 2014 when the original owners retired.

Along the way, she's become the author of two books, most recently "Keep the Memories, Not the Stuff," available to purchase online through her website or Amazon, and she also shares more advice on her website, https://easyrightsizing.com/.

Bryant says having too much stuff is something that affects just about everyone in America, driven by easy access to cheap products thanks to online shopping and mass production. It also means that families can find themselves saddled with callbacks to past trends and interests, such as a large number of collectible plates that none of the children want.

That's why she says rightsizing is a good project for adults of all ages to take on — not just seniors who are moving out of their home or families clearing out an apartment after a loved one has died.

Cover for "Keep the Memories, Not the Stuff," a new book by Hillsboro, N.D., native and rightsizing expert Jeannine Bryant. Special to The Forum
Cover for "Keep the Memories, Not the Stuff," a new book by Hillsboro, N.D., native and rightsizing expert Jeannine Bryant. Special to The Forum

What rightsizing even means varies, she says, and will change depending on how many things a person has to begin with, as well as their generational preference for keeping things or living more minimally, and what is important to them.

In her latest book, Bryant says there are five categories that everything falls into when rightsizing: what to keep; what to give away to family or friends; what to sell; what to donate to charity; and what to throw away or recycle.

But the task of sorting through a lifetime's worth of stuff is big enough, so she advises readers to just focus on the first two, at least to start: what to keep, and what to give away. Everything else, she writes, can become a distraction, and they'll be easy to finish once it's already been decided what to keep for yourself or family.

Rather than obsessing over a possible sales price of that antique sewing machine, Bryant says people need to keep their eyes on the "big picture."

"You need to decide, 'What am I keeping and what items do I want to give to my family members,' and then once you really internalize that and your choices, quite frankly, nothing else matters," she says.

It's that "perspective shift" that she helps her clients make, and Bryant says it can feel like "tough love" working with people to realize some uncomfortable truths. That includes a big one: "Your stuff doesn't owe you anything." Just because a collectible cost $50 to buy doesn't mean it's worth $50, she says.

Another full room that Jeannine Bryant and her team at Changing Spaces SRS helped clients sort through. Special to The Forum
Another full room that Jeannine Bryant and her team at Changing Spaces SRS helped clients sort through. Special to The Forum

Instead, she wants people to focus on the value or usefulness in terms beyond the dollar value. And that's why her latest book offers another piece of tough-but-true advice: Your kids probably don't want your stuff.

Bryant explains that people can feel pressured to keep something, even if they don't personally want it. She advises readers to think about what they actually want, regardless of any else's opinion — and stop trying to make relatives happy.

Still, she says it's possible to help a grandkid or child see value in specific family heirlooms or keepsakes. Bryant recommends attaching a story or experience to prized possessions, such as pointing out the single item that came from the "old country" with an ancestor, to explain why it's important to you — and why it might become a cherished item for them someday.

Similarly, sharing experiences can bond kids to their parents' stuff, like rolling pins if baking is a family hobby, woodworking tools for craftier people or that classic car that you cruised in together.

"What is really being kept here is the experience, which created a memory in your loved ones' mind," she writes. "The object itself is merely representative of that experience."

Ultimately, Bryant reminds readers that it's all about the relationships to begin with — and that's why we should aim to make our legacy about more than possessions.

"Give the kids your story not your stuff," she explains in the book.