Your Guide to Getting Your Home Organized for the Marketplace and Peace of Mind
With the popularity of Marie Kondo’s bestselling book about the art of decluttering your home and her Netflix televisions show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” it seems that ‘decluttering’ might just be a passing trend. But decluttering is much more than a fad. There are legitimate benefits to removing unused and unwanted items from your home, especially if you are thinking of selling anytime soon. To explain how you can declutter your home and start reaping the rewards, we’d like to introduce you to an expert on the subject. Gina Siegel, owner of Caring Transitions Cincinnati East, has helped more than a hundred clients with the process.
The current housing market has launched a flurry of activity inside homes. Families are feverishly preparing to get their home on the market as soon as possible and are finding more than they bargained for in closets, cabinets, drawers, garages, basements and perhaps storage spaces they forgot they even had! Whether you are decluttering your current home, or downsizing from your home of 40+ years, overwhelm can easily halt the process in its place and could affect how quickly you cross the goal line. My hope is that I can provide some helpful hints and simple solutions to overcome a few of the frequent obstacles that can stall efforts.
Before you begin, think about why you are doing this. If you ever get discouraged or feel like you want to quit at any point during the decluttering process, just remember the whys. They will help keep you motivated.
Decluttered, organized homes sell faster and for a higher price
An organized home free of clutter gives buyers the impression that the home has been well-maintained and has abundant storage and closet space.
Parting with items you know you cannot use in your new home will save time and money from having to pack, store, move, and unpack those items later.
Even if you aren’t planning to sell your home anytime soon, you can still take advantage of these benefits:
If you’ve been living with overstuffed drawers, closets, and other storage spaces for many years, you probably don’t realize how much time you waste looking for things. It also takes longer to clean your home if there is excess clutter in and around your house.
Ease the burden of the loved ones you leave behind
If you are finding it hard to sort through the personal belongings you have accumulated for many years, just imagine what that experience would be like for your spouse or children. If you’ve read my bio, you know that I inherited three, large storage bins which my mother had “saved” for over 30 years (even the storage facility didn’t know for sure). It was a heartbreaking, exhausting, and expensive experience for our family and one which I encourage you to consider thoughtfully.
Good for your health (both mental and physical)
Living among clutter causes stress and anxiety for many people. It distracts our attention, it overwhelms our minds with excessive stimuli, creates feelings of guilt, and is a constant visually reminder of unfinished work that needs to be done. Clutter also attracts allergens which can lead to all sorts of health issues. We’ve had clients who felt “healthier” after having downsized, even if they didn’t fully understand why.
When you donate your unused items, you are helping those in need. It’s scientifically proven that the act of giving decreased blood pressure and reduces stress be decreasing cortisol levels while increasing oxytocin levels in your brain.
Ready to get started? First, set the mood. Light a candle; put on some music to motivate you (or calm your nerves); and then start in one room armed with trash bags (black), donation bags (clear), post-it notes of different colors which discern where each item will go (stays with you, goes to other family members, donate, or temporary storage), and pen and paper to jot down notes or questions which will arise along the way. Keep in mind that although your intentions are noble, family may not want the items you want them to have, no matter how special they are to you. It’s important to respect others’ decisions and only save items for family if they agree that they’d like to have them. This last part may prove to be an emotional task, but just keep working at it.
Next, give yourself a time allotment and try not to leave the room or get distracted during that time. Start with the items which are visible, and then take on the adventure of what lies beneath the surface in drawers, cabinets, closets and boxes.
Now that you’re prepared, let’s talk about 4 of the top items with which you could encounter the most difficulty….
Paperwork. My husband and I have 2 boys at home and we’ve had to battle against the age of technology from the beginning. When it comes to decluttering however, technology is a friend. We no longer have to keep bank checks, credit card statements, monthly invoices, and more. Excited? Let’s get to work.
Keep important documents such as Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Military Discharge Papers, Diplomas, etc., in a fireproof box or a safety deposit box. These are typically more timely and costly to reorder, and items which you’ll need from time to time for important transactions.
As for the pile of “want to read” articles, the stress of a growing pile is easily overcome by pitching them and starting again when you are done decluttering (this article being the exception of course). The same is true of recipes and old greeting cards. Digitize them if you want to keep them, and respectfully discard the rest.
Most of the other statements and invoices mentioned above which you may need to reference can be quickly retrieved electronically or physically from your computer or directly from your financial institution or other professional group without you having to store a thing! If you’re unsure, call your bank (or other applicable business) and confirm what they’re able to provide for you should you need it, and understand how far back they can access the documents.
Statements and other documents which include sensitive information should be shredded. Start a box of “shreddables” and watch your file drawers shrink to a manageable size of frequently-referenced documents such as medical, auto, and insurance policies. Even these downsized folders should be recycled every year to maintain only current information. If the pile is big enough to make your personal shredder start smoking, take them to an office supply store such as Staples and pay by the pound. We’ve had a room full of documents to be destroyed for our clients, and when we do, we schedule a house visit from Shred-It, or Document Destruction where the entire process is completed in minutes right in front of you. They usually have a minimum cost of around $150 for up to 250lbs, and the cost accrues for each additional pound. Both companies often have “shredding events” around the city where you can take your documents to the event site to be destroyed. Make it as simple as you can. Your time is valuable too.
Photos and keepsakes. This is another category where technology is our friend. Before digital cameras gave us the gift of instant gratification, we stored our photos in photo albums or scrap books if we were quick on the draw or disciplined enough to get it done. When all else failed, we put them in bins and boxes and then never saw them again…until we found ourselves having to declutter or downsize, or until a basement flood destroyed them! Thanks to individuals who heard our cries for help, we now can ship photos by the box-full to companies who will scan them and put them into a digital photo book. Matt Paxton, of “The Legacy List” and former host of the “Hoarders” show, now offers just such a service called Memories by Matt, where the first 100 photos are free! Digital Memories is another example that can also transfer slides, videos, and more. Search around and find the service which you feel will serve you best. Most will return the photos or discard them for you and you’ve just reduced boxes of images to a nice coffee table sized book. Order more than one and give them to family.
Keepsakes such as that priceless Murano glass clown playing guitar figurine (I’m speaking from personal experience now) which has been passed down for generations are our next consideration. Take a nice photo of it to include it in your new coffee table book. Large family portraits? Antique child’s rocker from your great-great-grandparents? Take a picture and include them in the book for you and others to look through as often as you like; then give yourself permission to let them go by donating, discarding, or selling them. There’s another family out there who will treasure the décor and antiques and give them new memories. As for you, you’ve just freed up space in your home, or space on your moving truck for the things which are truly important to you.
Kitchen items. If you are planning to downsize, ask yourself how much cooking and entertaining you’ll be doing. Be realistic and declutter accordingly. If you have your new place selected, how many drawers and cabinets do you have in your new kitchen? Start filling a comparable number of drawers and cabinets in your current home so that you know how much you’ll be able to take with you. If the things you want to take won’t fit in your new kitchen and storage spaces, then make those decisions now – not after you move them. There is still cache in some brand names such as Le Creuset, All-Clad, and cast iron, however more common manufacturers are better off left with the reward of donating them.
Furniture. My husband and I realized after 20 years of marriage that out of the house full of furniture which decorated our home, we had hand selected less than 5 pieces. The rest was a hodgepodge of mis-matched furniture styles and obscure décor (remember the glass clown) which were handed down to us by our parents and family members. They were generously given to us with admonishing information about how valuable they were (and always will be) and how they need to remain in our family until the bitter end. The ominous guilt and accountability for maintaining these heirlooms is no different than the feeling you get from being “watched” by a portrait of an ancient family sea Captain as you move throughout your life. None of us really purchase furniture as an investment, and they shouldn’t be used to rob loved ones of their peace of mind. There are always exceptions to the value question of course and art is one such category, however is it art which you and your family enjoy, or is it stored in a box in your basement? Take a photo and include it in your new coffee table book of digital images.
Finally, to discard, donate, or sell is the constant question. And it always receives the same response: “it depends.” At Caring Transitions, we strive to do all that we can to honor families. We donate most clothing and shoes to worthy organizations like Matthew 25 Ministries, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, BLOC Ministries, and a whole host of other reputable and deserving organizations who serve the local and worldwide communities. When we disburse furniture and miscellaneous household items because a sale is not appropriate for one reason or another, we like to support People Building People, New Life Furniture, Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, as well as consignment shops like Legacies in Hyde Park Plaza, and Pizzazz Interiors.
When a sale is in your favor, then consider online auctions. They are a safe, and relatively quick way to liquidate your household items in one fell swoop, while minimizing foot traffic in your home. The sale may wind up paying for your entire moving project which may inspire you to rethink the ultimate objective of hosting a sale.
Most of us will not be able to retire on the sale of our household items, but the sale of our home will provide more hope. We all know that our home is typically our most valuable asset. The things inside them are really just obstacles to getting to the house. It’s easy to get caught up in the perceived value of things which in reality are usually quite less than we imagine or even what we paid for them. Auctions are a great method for determining what the true market value really is. Our national platform for online estate sales is CTBids.com and we use it to help our clients achieve their objectives of emptying or decluttering their home in a relatively quick way by finding the perfect new owner who will treasure their heirlooms in a way in which the sea Captains in our life would be proud. Spoiler alert: the Murano clown playing guitar was not priceless.
I hope that these insights have helped in some ways to help muster up the energy to attack and tame the beast of decluttering. Use technology and sound decision-making to harness some of the toughest categories, and call your local Caring Transitions office if you need help with reaching and crossing the finish line. And don’t forget to celebrate when you’re done. You’ll feel freer and more limber with fewer things to manage and dust.
Gina Siegel is a native of Cincinnati, and the owner of Caring Transitions Cincinnati East – a franchised business with almost 200 offices nationwide. They are the nation’s largest and most trusted solution for senior relocation, downsizing, and the liquidation of household goods. Visit CaringTransitions.com, or call (844) 220-5427 to find an office near you.