It all started last Christmas. That’s when a retired couple in their early 80s were confronted by their grown children at a family gathering. The offspring insisted it was time for the couple to move before a health crisis befell them.
“Though we’ve loved our colonial for more than four decades, it has no bedroom or bath on the first floor. So we know it’s only a matter of time before one of us falls down the stairs and breaks a hip,” the wife says.
Methodically, the couple went about searching for the right retirement community. That was much easier than clearing through their vast collection of accumulations, which included heirlooms and valued antiques. Indeed, the decluttering process consumed huge amounts of their time and energy.
“Finally, finally, finally we’re ready to put the place up for sale. But our biggest regret was all the months we spent going through our possessions -- including mementos from our many trips to Asia and Africa. We wasted so much time trying to decide what to keep or give away. At our age there isn’t that much time left to waste,” the wife says.
Ironically, the couple’s son -- a thoracic surgeon embarking on an out-of-state move -- spent far less time sorting through the clutter in his own mid-century-modern house. His property sold quickly in July.
Housing specialists notice a striking difference between the mobility patterns of young adults and those of their aging parents.
Alex Cernik, a real estate agent in Arlington, Virginia, says sellers under 40 mobilize for a move much more quickly than do older people.
“The career patterns of younger people are much different than those of older folks. They’re more used to making major job changes that involve relocation. Also, they’re less inclined to cling to their stuff,” Cernik says.
A real estate agent since 2015, he made a recent move himself, from a rented condo to a small house. To accelerate the process, he quickly cleared through his huge collection of clothes, along with numerous books.
“I simply put everything in trash bags and donated it all to Goodwill. I didn’t suffer any inner conflict about what to keep and what to let go,” says Cernik, 37.
He says anyone planning to sell a home should definitely declutter to maximize their profits.
“It’s extremely hard for buyers to appreciate a property that’s loaded with excess belongings, especially if there are stacks and layers of things covering the floors,” according to Cernik.
Martha Webb, a home-selling expert and author of “Dress Your House for Success,” says that in terms of clutter, the younger and the older generations accumulate different types of belongings.
“Young adults live more casually and own more technology ... They also have a lot of activity gear. ... In contrast, older home sellers have more memorabilia and collections they’ve hung on to for years,” Webb says.
But sellers from all generations share one thing in common. They face the laborious issue of decluttering their home to make it appealing to buyers who greatly prefer a place that’s clean and clear. Any sellers who fail to clear their property usually suffer a financial penalty.
“A cluttered house doesn’t sell well because it feels chaotic, and buyers don’t want your chaos,” says Webb, a real estate agent in Minnesota who specializes in luxury home sales.
Are you selling a home in the near future and feel intimidated by the volume of decluttering you must do? If so, these few pointers could prove helpful:
-- Expedite 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.
Stephanie Calahan, a longtime professional organizer, recommends preparing a comprehensive written plan. 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.”
-- Consider 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 (restoringorder.com).
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. This is basically decluttering on steroids,” Norris says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)