The slacker's guide to decluttering your home before a sale or move
By sorting through your belongings before you move, you’ll save time and money. Here’s how to streamline your stuff without losing your mind.
Admit it. Your open house is right around the corner and you’re tempted to just throw all of your belongings into boxes and sort them out after you move. That’s the easiest way to handle it, right?
Wrong. By decluttering before you pack a single box, you’ll not only save time, you’ll save money because you won’t be paying someone else to move or store those items.
“With most homes, you could get rid of 30% of its contents and never miss it for a second,” says Debra Gould, aka The Staging Diva. One family Gould worked with got rid of 6,000 pounds of clutter that they didn’t have to pay to move.
But how do you streamline your stuff without losing your mind? MSN Real Estate consulted a handful of the nation’s top organizers and clutter busters, as well as home stager Gould, to give our readers a guide to overcoming clutter inertia and shedding excess baggage before a move.
Have a plan, Stan
One thing that most of our professional declutterers suggest is to plot out a strategy.
Don’t try to tackle the entire place in one whirlwind weekend. Laura Leist, owner of Seattle-based Eliminate Chaos and president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, suggests sitting down and blocking out time to do it in two- or three-hour increments a couple of months before you put your house on the market.
Bing: Search & decide
“Scratch out all the dates on a calendar,” she says. That way, you don’t get panicked at the last minute before an open house.
Julie Morgenstern, author of “When Organizing Isn’t Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life,” takes this planning a step further. You should first pick a theme or vision for your future, she says. What feeling are you seeking in your home and your life? Freedom? Serenity? Fun?
“This is an opportunity to create a new chapter in your life,” she adds.
Keep this in mind when you sort through your things and ask if each item supports this feeling. Doing this, she says, makes the shedding process easier, especially if you are on the fence about getting rid of something.
Next, select some “points of entry” to put on your decluttering calendar. If the thought of focusing on an entire room makes you want to curl up in a fetal position on the couch, try tackling a series of small projects, such as one family member’s clothes, your bathroom toiletries, books or magazines, DVDS and CDs, your linen closet or that cluttered drawer of kitchen gadgets.
Morgenstern recommends starting with any area that has items that are stagnant, (i.e. not moving) or that is bursting at the seams — because clearing those will give you greater momentum for the rest of your decluttering.
“Start with the things that will give you the biggest payoffs,” Morgenstern says. “It will give you motivation to pack away less” in the rest of your house.
Choose six or eight areas to start, and by all means avoid emotionally fraught baggage such as memorabilia at first — or your efforts will quickly lose steam.
Trash or treasure?
You want to treat the decluttering before a move like you’re packing for a long trip, but instead of taking a swimsuit, shorts and T-shirts, you’re bringing only the most valuable belongings: things that are extremely meaningful or practical. (And of course, you want to remove anything that takes up too much space or detracts from the showing of your house.)
Reformed pack rat Erin Rooney Doland, who blogs about organization and who authored the forthcoming book “Unclutter Your Life in One Week,” says you must ask yourself these questions about your belongings as you sort through them:
- Do I have something like this that fills the same purpose?
- If this is a duplicate, which one is in the best condition, is of the best quality and will last the longest?
- Does this item need repairs?
- Does this item save me money or fulfill some essential need?
- Why does this object live in my house and is this the best place for it?
(Some experts suggest if you are storing a “collection” of some sort out of sight, it might not be worth holding on to.)
- Has the expiration date on this item passed?
- Does it help me live the kind of life I want to lead?
When you’re ready to start in an area, gather your supplies: trash bags, a shredder and bags or boxes for donations. Don’t make the mistake of going to the store first and getting fancy little shelving units, chic baskets and organization systems until after you’ve shed the clutter.
“You won’t know how much you have to store or the quantity of stuff you will have left,” Leist says.
Set up a staging area or work surface to pile all of the things to be sorted. Identify bags for trash, donations (these should be decided in advance) and recycling and another bin for things that must be returned, given to a relative or repaired. Set a timer and go.
“Immediately put into a pile anything you don’t love, don’t use or haven’t worn in a year,” Gould says. That includes furniture that you’re not crazy about as well. “Ask yourself ‘Do I want to be looking at this stuff again in my new house?’”
Pieces of advice not mentioned. First, plan on doing this one room at a time. Start and complete one room completely before starting another. It makes a huge task manageable, and really simplifies things and saves a ton of time. Plus, it keeps you from inadvertently shuffling crap from one room to another. Second, the best bit of advice I have ever had when it comes to packing, if it is not seasonal, and you haven't used it in 3 months, you don't need it. Get rid of it.
We used 1-800-got-junk before staging our house to list to sell. They were god-sent. They hauled away all our unwanted stuff we knew we wouldn't move to the new house. This gave us the room we needed to present the house to sell. It sold in six days! Getting rid of stuff, making the house look bigger, and staging was key.
Before buying anything new in the first place ask yourself, do I really want this enough to dust it week after week after week.