Sunday, March 30, 2008

Declutterization - Part One

Over and over I am asked what is the best thing to do to sell a home. I'm on my way to just such an appointment this afternoon, and the answer will be what it always is - get rid of "stuff."

Early on in my career I showed a house owned by an older couple who were down-sizing. Their home was filled with a lifetime of memories and just plain stuff. It wasn't just all over, but was boxed and on shelves, the workshop organized with every tool imaginable, and the house what my clients wanted. They expressed the opinion that the older couple would never move.

"Of course they will," I insisted. "Everything will go - you can even write it into the contract that by walk-through it will be gone."

"No," they said, and we looked at other homes and bought something else.

To my knowledge, they were right. The home of the older couple never did sell! The family took it off the market and it sits to this day, filled with stuff, I imagine.

My mother's house was the same. She knew she had to move and the moving date was scheduled for July, so in January she started filling boxes with a younger woman who came to help her once a week. They worked full days, sorting and throwing out, enjoying memories and filling boxes that eventually came to be stacked in the living room and walked around for months. Moving day came. We took out all the boxes - and the house was still filled with stuff. Every closet was still packed, the attic was still full - and now we had the boxes, too!

Over the summer she and my son, Alex, spent long days in the attic again sorting and boxing and letting go, supposedly. They would nod off in the heat, waking to work some more. We brought those boxes to our house, too. And the broken spinning wheel, the doll's house, the books and photos of someone's relatives.

I went back myself and got the clothes out. Yes, I saved her suede jacket that I remember from my childhood. All the muffin tins, loaf pans and cookie cutters came too. Besides the clothes, I had trouble throwing things out, too. My long-suffering husband sighed and built shelves in the basement and the garage.

"Your family never throws anything out!" he grumbled.

Over the years my mother lived with us she would go through a box a week, handing things to him with the exhortation of "Find a good place for this, would you, please?" If he got it past me, it went in the garbage. Of course one Christmas my mother asked for her cookie press and we assumed he had thrown it out, so we surreptitiously went out and bought a new one. After she passed on, we found the old one - and another two!

My birthmother's family gave me the opportunity to bring all her things to my house when she passed on, too. This was 1993, and I was still living in Skaneateles in a small cottage. Her belongings from her two bedroom apartment (and multiple storage units) in Binghamton overwhelmed our home for months. Alex and I walked around boxes ourselves, not having met Bob-the-shelfbuilder yet. For years afterwards I had mini panic attacks whenever I entered a dollar store.

So now you can guess the state of our house. My son seems not to have inherited the family penchant for stuff. He still has a closet here but it's half-filled. His tiny Manhattan apartment can't hold any. But despite many, many garage sales and e-bay sales after my mother passed away two years ago we are still overrun by stuff.

I had clients two years ago who told me quite seriously that they have decided not to accumulate stuff. They were just starting out, and they said they watched their parents take load after load to the dump in their 60s of things they had kept and moived with for over 40 years. They were determined not to do that, so in their own cross-country move they would weed out what was important and what not. I remember thinking how smart they are! (Of course two years later they tell me they didn't do it and thank goodness they bought a large house for all their stuff!)

Point is - we have stuff, you probably have stuff - and now what do we do about it?