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Are Clutter-Loving Sellers Overwhelmed? You Bet!

We’ve all walked into that home. You know — the one with knick-knacks in each corner and clutter lurking in every nook and cranny. Quite often, these homes are owned by prospective sellers who are intimately aware of the sale price of every property on the street and, as a result, they also expect top dollar for their kingdom.

As Realtors, it’s our job to help Sellers appreciate all the work that goes into preparing for the sale, including the need to declutter. More often than not, however, sellers are totally oblivious to their own mess — and this can result in disappointment all around.

Here are five tips for helping Sellers not only organize and get rid of clutter as needed, but also feel less overwhelmed and helpless throughout this potentially stressful process.

1. Start with a plan…

“Start with the easy stuff first,” explains Dylan Nihte, a licensed agent and growth manager with Zolo.

“Ask your clients what their no. 1 obstacle is when it comes to decluttering. The answer will enable you to frame the solution to better help them.”

For instance, if Sellers are just too busy, you can create a timeline that illustrates their journey from the first day you meet to the day your professional photographer is scheduled. Block out chunks of time and list every task that must be done during that time.

The first week, for example, could be dedicated to removing and packing all personalized photographs, knick-knacks and artwork. The second week could be dedicated to packing away half their audio, visual and reading matter (this includes LPs, books, magazines, etc.). The third week could be dedicated to tackling specific rooms, such as a spare bedroom (which often becomes a storage room) or the basement.

By developing a schedule with specific tasks and deadlines for your Seller, you can give them direction, hold them accountable and motivate them with a final deadline. Ideally, that deadline should be no more than three months out, and tasks should be broken up into small, manageable daily accomplishments.

The best part about this approach is that it works no matter what answer your Sellers give. Overwhelmed? Use the calendar and to-do task list. Can’t let anything go? Apply the same solution, only helps the Seller focus on collecting, storing and labeling all those “just-in-case” items. The first week could be all printed matter; the second week could be all back-up kitchen pots or appliances, and the list goes on.

In the end, the solution you are actually offering is a strategy to overcome the real problem: the fear of getting started.

2. Implement a strategy…

This is where you help your Sellers understand that leaving clutter around results in more than just not getting top dollar for the home. According to Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, clutter is a significant source of stress in our lives.

“Clutter bombards our mind with excessive stimuli, distracts us, and makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally,” Carter wrote in her Psychology Today article. Not a good state to be in when you’re trying to sell the largest asset you own.

Now that the Sellers are convinced that they need to implement a decluttering plan, it’s time to offer a simple strategy. Virtually every professional organizer offers the same advice in this area: develop categories and slot every single thing you own into one of those categories.

These categories can be “love it,” “need it” and “just-in-case.” Or the categories can be straightforward like “keep,” “sell” and “charity.” The idea is to slot each item into a category and then carry out the action associated with that category.

If implementing this strategy still seems daunting to the Sellers, ask them to start in a room with fewer emotional attachments, such as the kitchen. It’s doubtful that your client will get teary-eyed over donating a spatula (or two, or three!) or a set of mixing bowls. And once they start, the process gets easier and goes much faster.

3. Store it, sell it, donate it…

A key part of the Sellers decluttering plan must include enough time for them to find suitable storage for the items they want to keep as well as enough time to sell or donate items.

For the most part, it should only take a week to store, sell or donate items. Talk to the Sellers about this (both at the start of the process and closer to the due date) and, if they feel they need more time, double-up on the decluttering tasks so they can still meet their deadline.

4. Tame the paper dragon…

For most people, the real clutter beast is paperwork. There are lots of thoughts on how to handle paper clutter. Some professionals suggest not starting this job unless you can finish it — and if the Sellers are like most people, this task will probably take much, much longer than a single day.

Sellers need to dedicate 15-20 minutes to organizing paper clutter each day. By setting time constraints, Sellers limit their exposure to this overwhelming task and reduce the likelihood that they’ll derail the decluttering efforts.

In that 15 or 20 minutes, Sellers should sort all paperwork into four piles:

“Deal with it now”
“Pay or do this month”
“File it”
“Throw it out”

Sellers should start with the daily mail and then move on to paper piles around the home. Doing this will help them tame their paper dragon.

5. Final recourse: Hire a professional…

If, after all encouragement and suggestions are exhausted,  and the Sellers are still unable to start or stick with the decluttering process, suggest they hire a professional.

“For every box of clutter you remove from your home, you increase the equity by $500,” explains Vancouver-based professional organizer Elinor Warkentin. Remind them that most sellers end up removing 10 or more boxes of clutter. Typical organizer jobs will cost between $2,000 and $3,000, so the seller is still ahead even after paying the pro’s fee.

The ultimate goal is to create a space that is so appealing buyers will want to pay top dollar to live in it. While it takes a bit of work completely declutter a home, it’s well worth it.