Staging a Home? Declutter It First

Messy BedroomClutterWomanClothesbedheapunorganizedadultBack in her days as a pack rat, writer Betsy Talbot gave in to clutter. She let piles of magazines gather dust, printed out too many paper copies of digital photos, and kept hundreds of obsolete CDs from her music collection even though she had upgraded to an iPod. Talbot was reluctant to declutter and get rid of the things she and her husband never used anymore. Sound familiar?

Just because you loathe decluttering and throwing things in the trash doesn't mean you are going to be recruited for the next edition of A&E's series, "Hoarders."

According to Geralin Thomas, a certified professional organizer featured on "Hoarders," there are a couple of key factors that set a clutter-prone, disorganized individual apart from an full-blown obsessive collector. Whether you're decluttering before a home sale or just trying to lead a more organized life, here are some tips to help get you started.

1. Clear out the non-physical clutter

Several professional organizers say that there's a connection between physical and mental clutter. Usually those with a disorganized home overload themselves with too many commitments and struggle with time management. To begin decluttering your schedule -- minimize communication time by limiting the number of ways that people can get in touch with you and setting aside an hour a day to return e-mails or calls.

Another way to declutter the mind is to find a process to deal with incoming paper loads, such as newspapers, magazines and kids' school papers. To deal with the mail, Thomas will sort it with her client, time how long it takes and then advise them to schedule this amount of time each month when bill-paying-day rolls around.

2. Identify problem areas, empty out the space and sort

Karli Vertocchi, a Chicago-based professional organizer who runs Organized With Style, says paper, closets and kitchens are the three most common areas that need decluttering in the household. If your closet looks like it was hit by a tornado, take everything out and sort it into piles: shoes, sweaters, pants and so on. She says that once you can see everything it's easier to make decisions on what to keep, throw out, give away to a friend or donate.

3. If you need, take your time

Talbot understands that for some people it may be overwhelming or scary to throw mounds of possibly prized possessions out at once. She advises taking baby steps to declutter: Start with one drawer or shelf at a time and then build on that success. "You also have to give yourself time to get rid of it or else you are just going to be moving piles around your house," she says.

4. Put often-used things at eye-level

Vertocchi uses the strategy of placing at eye level the things used on a daily basis, like dishes or cooking ingredients in the kitchen, or positioning work pants and belts front-and-center in your closet. Kitchen utensils, like a slow cooker or a serving dish that are only pulled out on special occasions, can be stored remotely in closets or high cabinets. In the bedroom, declutter by stowing off-season clothes in bins, in the back of closets or under beds.

5. Manage the clutter that comes into your life.

Lorie Marrero, founder of a virtual team of professional organizers, The Clutter Diet, says that it's important to be aware of what causes the clutter and is hindering your way to home improvement. Consider the stuff that you purchase, acquire (gifts, hand-me-downs, things inherited from relatives) or allow (the non-physical clutter).

Before going shopping, Marrero advises that you review what you own, do research and plan. Prior to buying anything, ask questions like "Where will this be stored?" and "Why do I want to buy it?" As for gifts, don't feel like you have to accept, or think about who else might need it or where it could be donated.

6. Use a checklist to maintain an organized home

Once your home is in order, the work isn't over. Work will be required to prevent reverting to your old cluttering ways. To maintain the home improvement momentum, Thomas suggests that her clients use a quarterly and yearly checklist of household duties. Quarterly tasks may range from vacuuming under your bed to flipping mattresses, while examples of yearly tasks range from deep-cleaning carpets to checking for leaks in the attic.

7. Get social to stay organized

What? Something fun? Organizational experts say that being social is another way to stay accountable for keeping a decluttered, streamlined home. Thomas recommends holding at least two parties a year and finding what she calls "clutter-buddies"-- a group of friends or couples who help each other clean out their homes' junk and rotate households throughout the year. "It is fun, it goes quickly and it keeps everyone honest," she says.

Removing the clutter and getting your home in good condition not only organizes and simplifies your life, but it also adds value. For example, an improperly fixed drip in the ceiling could escalate into a much bigger structural problem, or the consequences of a leaky window is going to result in skyrocketing gas and electric bills.

Or that value may come in the form of having a home that is staged and ready to sell quickly. Talbot credits decluttering her 1,000-foot storage-deficient Seattle townhouse as the reason it sold. "We are 100 percent positive that we sold so fast, even in this market, because it was clean and minimalist," she says. "People want to envision themselves in your home."

Did home staging help you sell your house? Got tips and advice to share? We want to hear from you! Add your comments in the box below.
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