Purging belongings can be an arduous task for sellers. Sentimentality can be a powerful disincentive to declutter. How could a loving daughter sell her family silver, even though she dislikes the pattern? How could parents ever discard a painting by their young budding Picasso, even though he’s now 30 and hasn’t picked up a paint brush in 20 years?
Most home owners avoid those tough decisions and schlep possessions from house-to-house. But it’s far smarter to shed before moving. Not only does it clear out space to make a listing look its best, it also saves on moving costs to transport less stuff.
Here are 13 steps to help make the task of decluttering less daunting.
1. Study the entire house. Sellers shouldn’t tackle every room in one fell swoop. Go room-by-room, starting at the front door. Sellers should pretend they’re seeing each room for the first time, says Kammie Lisenby, CEO of The Organizing Experts in Seattle. The goal is to make rooms resemble those in a hotel, says professional organizer Katrina Teeple, owner of Operation Organization in Los Angeles.
2. Make piles. Sellers should organize piles as they clear each room — for example, stack items to keep, give to family or friends, donate to a charity, sell online, get hauled away, and consign. They should bear in mind the size of the home they’re moving to, their degree of sentimental attachment, and the financial value of each item. It’s best to put highly personal items aside in the keep pile, such as family photos so potential buyers don’t see them during showings, says Lisenby.
3. Create a spreadsheet. A master list of what rooms will require organizing tasks can be helpful. This will also aid in prioritizing expenses, such as home improvements, paint, and staging elements. To play it safe with finicky buyers, sellers should go neutral in paint and decor, says Teeple.
4. Empty closets. Often becoming a graveyard for all the belongings home owners don’t know what to do with, clean, spacious closets are a coveted feature among buyers. Izsak suggests eliminating anything not worn or used in the last two years. Aim to dispose of 50 percent of wardrobes since most people only wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time, he says. The remaining items should be stored on uniform rods, or in labeled, see-through bins, says Teeple.
5. Clear off counters and bookcases. Get rid of books that won’t be reread, particularly now that so many people read online. Add a few home decor items for sparkle. When in doubt, follow the “rule of three,” a mantra among home stagers, by clustering items into threes to create visual appeal. The final effect should reflect a neutral style.
6. Inspect the home’s exterior. Depending on the time of year, sellers may need to hire a professional to clear leaves, snow, or ice, so that they don’t hide a home’s features. Messiness and wear and tear on the outside indicates to buyers that the inside hasn’t been cared for well.
7. Check curb appeal all around. While the front yard is key to making a good first impression, more home owners spend time out back, so sellers should be sure lawns, shrubs, trees, and amenities like a fence and air conditioning condensers are maintained.
8. Spruce up the kitchen. This is the home’s most popular gathering spot and another place where everything gets dumped—backpacks, car keys, cell phones, etc. The rule of three applies here, too. Tell sellers not to stuff anything into a pantry or cabinets; get rid of it if it hasn’t been used in a few years. Also, clean out the refrigerator and freezer.
9. Make bathrooms spotless. Not every seller has a spa bathroom to unwind in, but clean grout, tiles, shower door, and vanity can make a big difference in an average bathroom. Clear out the prime real estate of a medicine cabinet, add crisp white or other neutral towels, fresh soaps, and a plant, Teeple suggests.
10. Purge basements, attics, and garages. These are a home’s purgatories—where stuff goes to never see the bright light of day, says Izsak. Anything that’s been moved at least twice and not opened needs to be reassessed, says Chris Seman, president of Caring Transitions in Cincinnati, a relocation service. Separate the items to be stored in see-through bins to reveal their contents; do so by categories, such as holiday decorations; and be sure bins are labeled clearly and have lids to keep out pests.
11. Professionalize an office. With more home owners working from home, a separate room or corner for an office can boost sales appeal. Have sellers clear up paper piles and file documents—but remember, most home owners only reference 5 percent of their files, says Seman. The work area should include good illumination, a comfortable chair, and clean equipment, says Izsak.
12. Get rid of belongings. Now it’s time to rethink what to do with everything in piles. Here are some upsides and downsides to these decisions:
- Sell or auction through an online vendor like Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace or at a flea market. Downside: It may take time to get the desired price.
- Leave at a consignment shop to get stuff out of a house now. Downside: Proceeds get shared, and it may take a while to sell.
- Give away to family, friends, or a nonprofit such as freecycle.org. Some communities let residents leave stuff outside their house with a sign, “Take it!” Upside: It gets rid of things fast.
- Have a group haul it away such as 1-800-Got-Junk? Upside: This avoids driving it to a dumpster.
- Donate to a charity. Upside: It gets out of a house, helps someone in need, and provides a deduction. Fill out IRS Form 8283 if total exceeds $500.
- Organize a yard sale. If time is of the essence, the seller could hire a professional who sets up tables, takes money, and gets rid of what doesn’t sell. Downside: Proceeds get shared.
13. Don’t repeat collector mania. Once a seller moves into their new home with fewer possessions, purchase carefully. After all that work, you wouldn’t want to have to go through it all again!