Smart Moves

How to 'Edit' Your Possessions for a Better Sale

A couple in their mid-60s were excited to sell their house and move to a condo they'd carefully chosen. But these empty-nesters also realized the necessity and the enormity of sorting through the things stored in the place where they'd lived for more than two decades and raised five children. So as part of a deliberately orchestrated plan to meet the moving challenge, they hired Virginia Barkley.

Barkley is one of a new breed of "organizational strategists" who help clients navigate major life transitions. During a four-month period, she and her crew of assistants streamlined the contents of the couple's 6,500-square-foot property, creating an online inventory of all their possessions and helping them decide which items to retain, give to their grown children, donate to charity or send to recycling.

Barkley, a professional speaker and author of "ClutterBusting for Busy Women," says many people who've lived in a home for an extended period feel overwhelmed at the thought of paring down their possessions.

Barkley says the key to a successful home streamlining project is to plan ahead and maintain a positive attitude.

"You have to set a drop-dead deadline for yourself. And every single day, you have to remind yourself of your vision for the future," she says.

Here are a few tips for would-be home sellers:

-- Realize that de-cluttering is an essential element to a successful sale.

Eric Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies," says would-be sellers who fail to downsize their possessions are at risk for substantial penalties.

"Buyers are tremendously resistant to purchasing any house that's loaded with too much stuff because they can't imagine themselves living there," Tyson says.

Many people are still living in their home while it's on the market. Even so, Tyson says it's critically important that they pack away all but the necessities until the property is sold.

Still unconvinced that it's worth the bother to purge? In that case, Tyson recommends you call in a moving company for an estimate on the cost of hauling all your unsorted belongings to your new location.

"The cost to transport all your stuff should be enough to motivate you through the purging process," he says.

-- Obtain the equipment you'll need for the job.

Martha Webb, a home-staging expert and author of "Dress Your House for Success," says an efficient de-cluttering program starts with the right gear.

To temporarily store items you intend to take to your next property, you won't need to buy fancy storage containers. In most cases, cardboard boxes will suffice. But look for boxes of uniform size, like the "bankers boxes" sold at office supply stores, which will stack neatly.

Once you've packed your boxes, place them in a temporary storage unit. Alternatively, if you don't wish to pay for the rented storage unit, you could stash the boxes in your garage.

"Buyers are more accepting of a garage filled with well-organized boxes than they would be if the boxes were kept in some other part of the house," Webb says.

-- Don't try to tackle more than one room at a time.

Webb says you'll go crazy if you go back and forth from room to room, trying to battle clutter on several fronts simultaneously. Instead, she counsels you to take on just one space at a time, starting with your master bedroom and clearing out closets in this room first.

"Having ample storage, including large closets, is a huge issue for contemporary buyers. That means you'll want to remove as much as possible from these spaces," she says.

-- Use diplomacy when clearing out your kids' bedrooms.

Young children feel an understandable sense of alarm at the notion that many of their toys will be packed up and put away until your move is complete. As Webb says, they need reassurance that their prized toys will be available to them once your family's move is complete.

How can you calm your children's fears? Webb suggests you transform the process into a game.

"Tell the children they can choose a few special toys and books to keep in their rooms until the move occurs. Mention that they can use these items, along with the ones you're putting in boxes, for a 'toy party" in the new house," she says.

-- Give extra attention to your kitchen.

Webb says most home shoppers won't routinely look inside dressers or wardrobes. But many will open your kitchen cabinets.

"The last thing you want is for buyers to see a kitchen so crammed with items that they'll think it lacks sufficient space for their own dishes and food," she says.

After you've removed all the superfluous items from your kitchen storage areas, clean out the cabinets and replace only those pieces you absolutely need for everyday use. The rest, like extra cupcake pans or holiday casserole dishes, should be sold, given away or sent to storage.

-- Pack away items that could hurt your sale.

Many homeowners keep items in their property that could handicap their sale unless removed prior to showings.

For instance, Webb recommends you remove all prescription medications from the medicine cabinets in your bathrooms. Leaving them there not only invites theft (especially of prescription painkillers), but also raises buyer questions about the people living in the property.

"Remember, that it's nobody's business what medications you take," Webb says.

She also suggests you remove from your bookshelves any titles that seem to convey a strong opinion on any topic, such as a political book.

"The odds are good that some people will see that controversial book and disagree with its author or contents. They might even judge you harshly for owning the book and, fair or not, that could translate into problems for your sale," Webb says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at

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