Whether selling or staying put, most homeowners could benefit from a little decluttering.
Decluttering makes moving easier for everyone—and less costly, too. It is also helpful for those who want to live simpler in their current residence. In fact, having less clutter and being more intentional about what homeowners bring into their space is a positive for mental health and financial health.
Many saw the wisdom of doing so during the pandemic when they were stuck at home, looked around, and wondered: Why do I have all this stuff that I never use?
Now, in the dead of winter when many again are indoors for long stretches can be a good time to encourage clients to begin. Advise them to think of it as an adventure they pursue gradually rather than feel pressure to tackle all at once.
Truly effective—and lasting—decluttering represents a multistep process that varies according to each person’s situation. Those who’ve inherited a roomful of “brown” furniture from the 1950s and ‘60s, stacks of books, photo albums, crystal, and more may feel overwhelmed if they don’t want or can’t fit these furnishings in their home or apartment or find consignment shops interested in selling pieces, often because they have so much that’s similar from others hoping to unload possessions.
The following toolbox is offered up as a resource so that anyone can get started on their decluttering journey.
Share What Experts Advise
Marie Kondo became a world-touted expert on the benefits of decluttering with her first book, "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up." It extolled the virtues of owning fewer belongings to have more space to display things that spark joy. Kondo went on to write more books, including one for children(link is external), and developed two Netflix series: "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" and "Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo." She also opened an online store, KonMari, and started a certified-consultant training business(link is external).
If the Marie Kondo method doesn't quite spark joy, there are alternatives. The “Swedish Death Cleaning,” which involves getting rid of anything not needed to relieve others of the task to discard a loved one's possessions after they’ve died. Margareta Magnusson, author of "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives More Pleasant," says the practice offers an underlying message of caring for our heirs.
For those who want more than decluttering and are interested in a minimalist lifestyle, resources(link is external) abound as well.
Cheer On the Downsizers
Decluttering, even if moving isn't on the immediate radar, is a great idea for many reasons. First, you never know when a move might be necessary. An intentional approach to decluttering well before moving ever becomes a questions takes a lot of stress out of the moving process. Doing so can save time in packing up later, slash moving costs and help reduce the amount of new living space someone might require. Even before it's time to move, there's the listing process to think about. Decluttered settings help present a better visual, which helps maximize sales, says Christopher Matos-Rogers, associate broker, Coldwell Banker Realty in Atlanta.
While many find it tempting to put off the difficult decisions about what to keep and what to toss until after they move, gently explain the wisdom of being realistic about what can fit in their new home, says Barry Izsak, an Austin, Texas-based move/relocation expert and founder of PackingMovingUnpacking, an online service(link is external) that helps those moving find movers in their area. “This is especially important for those moving long distances.," he says. "Remind these clients about their new climate. They might be able to ditch most of their winter clothing and that snow blower, too,” he says.
Know When to Suggest Professional Help
Homeowners who can’t handle the task on their own should consider hiring a certified member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) or the National Association of Specialty and Senior Move Managers (NASMM) or even someone with years of experience, says Izsak. As a former president of NAPO, Izsak says the national hourly rate professionals typically charged hovers between $50 and $100, depending in part on their locale.
Rhea Becker—who, as the Clutter Queen(link is external), offers organizing services for homes and offices in Boston—says many of her clients appreciate how professionals speed up the process by keeping them focused on maximizing profits and avoiding digressions over each object’s history. “With a professional, you have the best chance to cut the time and get some money on the table since they know what will sell,” she says.
Group Items Into Categories
Whether your clients decide to bring in a professional, it helps to categorize each item in a given area into one of five groupings: keep, store, sell, donate or toss. Izsak says the litmus test he uses and shares with clients is to save an object only if it fits one of these three criteria: It’s useful, beautiful, or loved. Becker suggests homeowners snap photos of favorite items that are difficult to part with to give them a visual memory they can retain rather than keeping the item itself. Here’s specific help you can offer them for each pile:
Midcentury modern furniture and contemporary art both appeal widely to buyers of all ages, especially if they’re good quality and in decent condition. Create a list of estate sales specialists and consignment shops in your area that are known for fair dealing. However, be aware that many services that do the work of selling take a big cut, often half the sales price. If your clients are inclined to try to sell items themselves, suggest they try eBay for the best prices. However, if they’re not willing to go through the trouble of shipping sold items, encourage them to post goods on hyperlocal online sites, such as neighborhood Facebook groups or Craigslist.
Remember the adage, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” Suggest to older clients that they first ask their children to claim beloved items from their childhood. Becker says it’s important to set a time limit for those who are interested to pick up what they want. Donations is another area where you can be a hero by compiling a list of trustworthy sources in your neighborhood for your clients. Take note of what charities will accept and when, and even which ones will pick up donations, saving your clients time and hassle. Some charities have gotten choosier about what they accept. For instance, many won’t take mattresses, box springs, pillow cases, or sheets. Real estate salesperson Christopher Flores with Keller Williams Larchmont in Los Angeles suggests a local halfway house that helps troubled young adults stabilize their lives as a great destination for used goods. “That way they provide furniture and clothing they don’t need to those who may have nothing,” he says. Remind sellers that they may be able to secure a tax donation from the IRS if they contribute to a qualified tax-exempt organization(link is external). Because of recent changes in the tax code, it’s best for clients to keep detailed notes of what they donate and to consult their tax adviser for the exact percentages they will be able to write off.
Clients may save themselves some work by calling a local trash-hauling company or 1-800-GOT-JUNK(link is external),(link is external) which operates nationwide. Have information on pricing and what haulers won't take on hand. Homeowners can also consult HomeAdvisor’s list of trash-hauling service providers by ZIP code. Also, it’s important to be aware of laws governing trash. Some municipalities allow homeowners to leave stuff by the curb with a sign that reads, “please take me,” while others levy fines for such activity. A more organized version of this idea comes in the form of local Freecycle(link is external) chapters, part of a grassroots nonprofit where local people post stuff for free pickup in their own towns to help keep usable goods out of landfills.
It may be tempting to store certain household items off-site, and one in three Americans do, according to StorageCafe(link is external). There are numerous reasons why. Aside from apartments getting smaller, people are unwilling to part with stuff permanently. The pandemic required a bit of a shuffle as well, requiring work-from-home space that didn't exist previously. Some families moved in with one another and needed a place for the extra stuff.
Picking self-storage requires homework. Advise clients to consider units that are locked, insured, climate-controlled, and offer access whenever they want. Prices can vary widely. Also remind clients that self-storage isn’t a great long-term solution, as months can extend into years and beyond. “Often storage is a matter of postponing the inevitable. It’s better to get rid of whatever you don’t need,” Izsak says. “If you know you’re storing something for a granddaughter who will use it in a year that makes sense. Otherwise, get rid of it now!”