Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Pandemic Decluttering Tips

Despite the pandemic, a single mother in her 30s had to put her house on the market due to divorce. But surprisingly, she discovered many emotional positives from the decluttering process leading up to her recent move to a much smaller bungalow in the same neighborhood.

“The selling process required her to clear through a tremendous number of excess belongings,” says Korinne Belock, a professional organizer who advised the woman.

Given all the stress associated with COVID-19, it could seem counterintuitive for homeowners to benefit psychologically from purging years’ worth of accumulations in order to sell. But Belock, who founded the organizing firm Urban Simplicity 10 year ago, says the pandemic period is an especially good time for owners to streamline their material lives.

“By cutting back on their excess stuff, they gain a strong sense of control, which has a calming effect,” she says.

Unfortunately, a household decluttering project can feel overwhelming to owners attempting to do it quickly, especially during this highly emotional period, says Marla Stone, a former psychotherapist turned professional organizer.

“During this pandemic, there’s a war inside many people between over-collecting and purging,” says Stone, author of “The Clutter Remedy: A Guide to Getting Organized for Those Who Love Their Stuff.”

To ease a decluttering project, Stone recommends that sellers who can afford to hire a professional organizer do so. One source she cites for local referrals is through the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (napo.net).

“We help simplify the process,” says Stone, a long-time organizer who’s assisted many sellers.

Here are a few pointers for those embarking on a decluttering program:

-- Recognize that many Americans struggle with clutter.

Most U.S. households battle an inflow of more items than they can handle, particularly with the rise in online shopping, says Nancy McKinney, who launched her professional organizing company more than two decades ago.

Part of the problem, she says, is that the country has become a bargain-hunter’s paradise, especially with the explosion of online shopping. Also, there are many more “influencers” on social media, who encourage more purchases.

The crush of superfluous belongings, including stacks of papers and books, can lead to a crisis when it comes time to sell a home. Most listing agents say clients with too much junk on display often have to sell at a discount.

“From a financial standpoint, it’s far better to go through all your stuff before the house is put up for sale rather than waiting until a few weeks before you have to move,” McKinney says.

-- Execute your crash clearing program carefully.

Those who need to declutter on a short deadline -- whether for a home sale or another purpose -- should be especially meticulous in mapping strategy before they begin, according to McKinney.

As a starting point, she suggests home-sellers visit their next residence (if that’s already known) to take photos and room measurements.

“This will help you estimate how much space you’ll have at the new place and which furnishings and other belongings will fit in,” she says.

She recommends you tackle just one room at a time until the job is finished and be sure to give yourself breaks along the way to avert burnout.

-- Look to local recycling programs for castoffs.

With landfills around the nation overflowing, an increasing number of nonprofit groups are emerging that allow people to donate their surplus items to those in need who live in their community.

Depending on local restrictions, you can give away so much hassle-free through the internet: clothes, books, linens, sporting equipment, toys, tools or furniture. Many home sellers are surprised at the demand for their spare items.

“The advantage of community recycling is that your extra things get carted off quickly, often more quickly than if you had a charity pick them up,” McKinney says. It’s also faster than staging a yard sale or a garage sale.

One way to get in touch with a community recycling group in your area is through The Freecycle Network, (freecycle.org), a nonprofit that began in Arizona in 2003. Its goal is to promote waste reduction “one gift at a time.”

Nicole Welsh, who just entered the professional organizing field last year, says she’s quickly learned that it’s far easier to let go of superfluous possessions if they’re given away to someone in need.

“With this pandemic, there are so many who have lost jobs and are suffering financially and would welcome your donations,” Welsh says.

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