For more than five years, a Minnesota couple in their 60s hoped to sell the architect-designed house they’d owned for more than two decades. Their fervent wish was to downsize to an active retirement community where friends already own units. But a single issue held them back: Their house was so crammed with accumulated possessions it wasn’t worthy of showings.
Fred Meyer, a veteran real estate broker, doesn’t know the couple in this true story. But he says any house crowded with clutter must be purged, or its sellers will be compelled to let it go for a sacrificial price.
“Unless you’re an architect or a designer, you can’t imagine the true scope and scale of a property that’s encumbered with excess furniture, books and other possessions. Buyers always devalue a house filled to the rafters,” says Meyer, an experienced property appraiser.
In the end, the Minnesota couple couldn’t summon the will to clear through the hundreds of possessions that crammed their closets, kitchen cabinets, bookcases and two-car garage. Nor could they part with their many pieces of furniture, including bulky recliners. So they decided to gift the house to an adult daughter on an “as is” basis rather than put it up for sale.
Of course, not everyone has the wherewithal to give a house away to a family member. Most homeowners must liquidate their real estate to generate sufficient funds to acquire their next home. They need coping strategies that allow them to sell their property for as much as possible.
Rather than make the tough decisions involved in sorting through their possessions in advance of a sale, some homeowners attempt to expedite the process by simply renting one or more storage units to indefinitely contain loads of unsorted items.
But not all would-be home sellers can afford the fees associated with rental units, which can add up quickly. Yet at the same time, they can’t face the daunting challenge of decluttering -- so they succumb to inaction.
A company called Storageunits.com, which helps consumers identify the best available storage units, recently surveyed 1,200 households that use storage units. Among the findings: 44% of those surveyed would move to a smaller property if they had less stuff.
Are you a homeowner of any age who wishes to sell and move? If so, here are a few pointers that could prove of value:
-- Ponder a party to gain momentum for your clutter-busting project.
Stephanie Calahan, a longtime professional organizer, says the decluttering process can be more tolerable if the agony is combined with occasional amusement.
“Some people feel so overwhelmed by the task that it keeps them from acting. But by adding fun, you can often break that paralysis and create an incentive to get the work done before your house goes on the market,” she says.
Calahan tells of one former client, an insurance company manager, whose many boxes of unsorted personal papers included countless old paid bills, medical statements and nearly every greeting card she’d ever received. After several weeks of tedious sorting, she announced a celebratory party to reward herself.
“Eight of my client’s friends came over for what we call a shredding party. She asked each friend to bring along a paper shredder. She served wine and brunch and then everyone helped shred her excess papers. It was so much fun that later all her friends had their own shredding parties,” Calahan recalls.
-- Speed your campaign with creative ideas.
Professional organizers routinely advise those involved in decluttering to take a break every few hours. That helps prevent the beleaguered feeling that comes from trying to take on an entire room all at once or, worse, the whole house.
Calahan recommends preparing a comprehensive written plan that spells out a step-by-step approach. Or you could start with a single part of one room, using a flashlight to define how large an area you’ll tackle at a given time.
“In the midst of a big decluttering project, the flashlight allows you to focus mentally on a single area,” she says.
Once your units of work have been defined, Calahan suggests you allocate a fixed amount of time to declutter each area and then, with the help of a stopwatch, see if you can “beat the clock.”
“Of course, what’s fun for one person may not be for another. Beat-the-clock might not work for you, but another game you invent could do the trick, so be creative,” Calahan says.
-- Contemplate a clutter-busting blitz if time is short.
If the home you’re planning to sell has bursting closets and disorder throughout, there’s no way a single person or couple can deal properly with the problem without devoting many days or even several weeks to the task, says Vicki Norris, a professional organizer who lectures nationally on the subject, and operator of the business Restoring Order.
But, as Norris says, one solution is to add extra hands to the task and then to conduct an all-out blitz. Many organizing firms can mobilize a team on short notice. You can find one in your area through the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (napo.net).
Alternatively, you may be able to recruit a team of friends or relatives to help create order from chaos in your property.
Whether you hire organizers or seek out volunteers, Norris says you should bring in no more than four to five people and designate a leader.
Obviously, if you’re energetic and have lots of time, you can handle the whole project yourself.
“The only difference with a blitz is that you blast through the house faster,” Norris says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)