Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Get Rid of Clutter For a Quicker Sale

Along with her husband and four young children, Tawra Kellum has moved more than a dozen times. But despite the family's crammed schedules, her household has managed smooth transitions in every case.

"Working ahead is the absolute key to a good home sale and move. The first moment you know you'll be moving, start getting rid of things," says Kellum, an organizational specialist who has authored multiple books on de-cluttering and frugal living (livingonadime.com).

By paring your possessions in advance of a move, Kellum says you'll not only improve your odds of a successful home sale, you'll also save on moving expenses.

Another champion of a methodical approach to preparing for a sale and move is Martha Webb, an expert on home staging who advises real estate agents on helping their clients position a property for sale.

"Nobody wants to buy your chaos when they buy a house," says Webb, who has created a number of DVDs and checklists on making a property saleable (marthawebb.com).

A house crowded with possessions looks smaller than it is, which is one reason it's devalued by home shoppers, according to Webb. Remarkably, even homes with lots of square footage can seem undersized when cramped with clutter.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Consider launching your clutter-busting project with a party.

Stephanie Calahan, who heads a personal coaching and organizational company, says the hard work of getting a house ready for sale is more bearable if it's infused with occasional amusement.

Calahan tells the true story of one former client, an insurance company manager, whose home was cluttered with old papers and documents. 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.

Setting a party date is a good way to end inertia. It gives you a deadline. You know the work must be done by the time your friends come over.

-- Speed up your campaign with creative ideas.

Professional organizers routinely advise those engaged in de-cluttering projects to take a break every few hours. This 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 de-cluttering 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 de-clutter each area and then, with the help of a stopwatch, see if you can "beat the clock."

-- Make music a part of your work.

The use of music during an organizational project can help enliven your spirit and increase the intensity of your work. Compare this with the impact music has during, say, an aerobic dance class.

"Anything that gets rhythm going adds momentum," Calahan says.

Though popular music is most often played in a fitness center or gym, classical music may be the most appropriate for de-cluttering, she says. For her, Mozart is a favorite.

-- Think about doing a clutter-busting blitz if time is short.

If the home you're planning to de-clutter has bursting closets and disorder throughout, there's no way a single person or couple can deal properly with the problem without giving it many days or even several weeks, 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 Professional Organizers (napo.net).

Alternatively, you may be able to recruit a team of friends or relatives to help. 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.

After each de-cluttering session, no matter its size, Kellum urges home sellers to box up their discards and cart them off to a charity of their choice.

"Once your giveaways are out of the house, you're at much less risk of changing your mind and trying to retrieve them," Kellum says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)