The Business of Letting Go: Experts help with decluttering, downsizing

Erin declutteringWhether it’s due to a move to a smaller abode, a desire to live more simply, or taking on the chore of selling a parents’ home, clearing out years of accumulation is a challenging task.

It’s such a hot topic that books are coming out left and right with titles like “Downsizing The Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go” and “Take the U Out of Clutter.” Websites promise to help you declutter and downsize to create room for a life that matters, or suggest how to downsize your house without losing your mind.

Sue Finley, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway in Petoskey, has worked with numerous clients who were moving to smaller homes and needed to figure out which items to part with to fit in a smaller footprint.
Finley should be able to give such advice, as she herself has moved eight times in the past 16 years. “The first thing is to look at it as an opportunity. When you clear stuff, it is freeing,” she said. Items need care and attention – what she calls managing. If you don’t have it anymore, that’s one less item to manage.

She said the first step is to determine what is really necessary, determining the difference between wanting to keep something and needing to keep something. If the item is something with only sentimental value, perhaps you can offer it to someone else who would feel the same. “Maybe I could give that family photo to a niece or nephew,” Finley offered as an example.

Finley’s not alone. Realtor Don Toffolo of Pat O’Brien and Associates in Boyne City has faced similar circumstances with clients. “People get to an age where they are wanting to downsize. But it’s tough to get rid of things,” he said.

In Finley’s case, she and her husband had four children and did foster care. With just one child now at home who’s preparing to graduate from high school, they found themselves looking for a smaller home.
So before their planned move, which ended up taking place last year on Labor Day last year, she started paring things down. With that many kids in the rear view mirror, she had lots of kids’ clothes, which she went through to determine which could be donated and which had outlived their usefulness. Then the same process with toys and down the line. “We donated a lot of children’s books to the library,” she said.

Finley said one recent client was leaving the area to move to a condo downstate. She was able to find buyers for some of her possessions by posting them on Facebook. Craigslist is another option, one Finley herself used. “When my husband and I redid the kitchen in our new home, we sold the (old) cabinets and appliances on Craigslist. We bought the new ones there, as well.”

Those who are able to afford more space aren’t immune to the challenge. Toffolo has a client who purchased a 12,000 square-foot home through him because she needed more size than her 7,000 square-foot home for her art and other collections. Now that she wants to move to a smaller home, she has to prune her possessions.

Stage Left

Realtors are turning more often to professional stagers to help them make a home more appealing to potential buyers. The stagers are able to look at a home with a more objective eye than a homeowner. Professional staging of a home to appeal to sellers invariably starts with a decluttering process.

“Put away the collections, the extra pillows, the extra pictures,” said Karen Van Nort.

The owner of Staged to Sell/Staged to Live in Glen Arbor said when she works with clients, she’ll go through a home room by room, then sit down with them and talk about what they have to do before she comes back. “They have to start with decluttering, decide what to keep. When they’re done, I can do the staging.”

Even for those looking to upsize rather than downsize, it makes sense to declutter their present home. Karmin Philp of Cherry Wings Realty in Traverse City had clients who wanted to move to a larger house because they were outgrowing their present one. She told them they needed to move some of their belongings somewhere else.

“I didn’t care if they rented a storage unit or took the stuff to Mom’s house or whatever,” she said.
She told them point-blank the house looked like it was bursting. “People are going to see that and think there’s no storage.”

Van Nort’s business model includes not only staging for selling, but staging for those who want to see their own home in a new light. She said that part of the business is actually overtaking working with home sellers.

She’s not alone in that. Erin Simon has turned the challenge of downsizing and decluttering into a profitable business, Clutterfunk of Traverse City.

“I’ve been doing this for friends and family for a long time. I decided it was something I could do professionally,” she said.

Simon said people often have collected their possessions over the years and while they want to cut back on the amount of stuff they have, they find it difficult. “Most people have a hard time. They get sidetracked. I try to keep them focused,” she said.

“I start with clothing. It’s easier to get the knack that way. Then when we move into more memorabilia (where they’re more likely to have an emotional attachment), they’re already in that groove.

“I enjoy creating new spaces, reworking spaces to make them functional and enjoyable,” said Simon. “I’m very organized so it’s fun for me.”

Whether it’s fun as Simon asserts or freeing as Finley says, it can be a difficult and time-consuming task. But one the clutter is gone, they all agree it’s worth the effort.