Declutter Before Listing the House to Sell

selling a home
Spring is upon us and so begins the moving season in Chicago. Homeowners are putting their homes on the market and want to sell this spring, so the calls have begun to help them declutter before listing. Moving and decluttering go hand in hand. You really can’t do one without the other. If you skip the declutter step, things are worse, more complicated and definitely overwhelming on the other end after you move. Throwing it all in storage isn’t the solution easier. If you’re moving into temporary housing for a period, I could accommodate that one exception. Otherwise, steer clear from dumping boxes and furniture into storage. Once they’re in there, it makes it more difficult and time consuming to get the stuff out later on. Deal with the stuff now and make the most possible decisions in the present.

Moving situations can vary but the approach and philosophy is the same. I get calls from condo owners that are moving after just two years of living somewhere and from home owners that have lived in their home for twenty something years. Both clients have the same questions: Where do I start? What should I do? How does decluttering work? The simple answer is just start getting rid of stuff. The more elaborate answer is making a plan and attack one room at a time. Some clients need to take more steps than others depending on their life stage and situation.

Young Singles and Families– You all have it the easiest. Tackle one room at a time. Get rid of the excess and items you don’t want to bring with. The longer you keep items you haven’t been using, the more you’ll get attached. So take this time to let go of items you really don’t need to drag to your next place. You hopefully haven’t accumulated too much at this point so it should be fairly simple and straight forward. Remember to take note of the size of your furniture. Apartments, condos, and townhomes can have tight stairways, elevators and rooms don’t accommodate large pieces and king size beds. So do your due diligence and measure furniture against the new spaces and rooms. Also be mindful of square footage. If you’re losing a third or half of your space, then really let go of a third or half of your things. If you’re doubling your space or gaining space, I wouldn’t be as hard on you to purge. Still don’t bring needless items with but you’ll have some wiggle room.

Middle Aged Folk- Not only would I give you some of the tips above for younger folk but I’d add for you to get the whole family involved. School age children to help by going through their rooms and clothes as well as basement play spaces or outdoor toys. This is a great time to teach them to think through what they do and do not want to bring with. It’s also a great way to show them how to make things fit and what is realistic and not. Set the example as parents and show them how it’s done. Focus on purging closets, books, common areas, and family spaces. Do you really play all those board games? Read all those books? Wear all those coats? Etc. Take time to go through each area of the home and depending on the size of your next home and what climate you’ll be living in you will know how ruthless you’ll need to be.

Empty Nesters/Retired- I hate to say it but you all have a lot of things to get through and most likely have a lot of leftovers your grown kids have left behind. You may even have started to accumulate things the grandkids use or play with. It’s time to get tough and tell your grown children they need to come get their things. If they don’t by a certain date, the stuff has to get donated. Excess sets of bedroom furniture needs to be scheduled to be donated or sold on Craig’s list. You no longer need four bedroom sets, a pool table, or two living room sets. Instead of being sentimental, look at it as a chance to restart a new chapter in life and redesign your space and life. Making things simpler and consolidated in your life will be freeing and less stuff means less maintenance. You will need to think through what specific services you might need to help you declutter and downsize. It may be a book pickup, an electronic recycling trip, posting several things online to sell, and lots of trips to the local donation place. As you tackle each room gather up what needs to go where. Tag piles and make a trip or errand just once. For example, get the mobile shredding company scheduled after you’ve gone through all the filing cabinets and paperwork, not just the paper on the first floor.

Listing a Relative’s Home that has passed- Here’s where you need a plan. Think through several of these options.

  1. Do you need a dumpster? Schedule a junk hauler?
  2. Did your relative have any collections? Research specific things such as china, stamp, coin, or vintage jewelry places if need be.
  3. Schedule all donation pick-ups. You’ll have a lot so start scheduling them now.
  4. Recycle the appropriate things- hazardous waste, electronics, paint, etc. Start researching the local city or suburb recycling options.
  5. Don’t tackle a whole home alone. There’s way too much work involved. Hire a professional organizing company, college kids, or do this as a family with help from friends.
  6. Pick one day or weekend to let family or distant relatives take what they want from the home. It’s not your job to organize, tag, and deliver items that they want to all your family members.
  7. Don’t just pack everything up and take it home with you. This happens so often and it is the worst idea yet. Sorry I’m being a little tough and too honest, but it makes for even a harder job on the other end and clutters up your family, home and life. Deal with it in the relative’s home once. Don’t bring it all home to your house.
  8. Remember this is a process and doesn’t need to be done in one week. Set a goal, time frame, and be realistic. Breaking your back, increasing your stress level and not allowing time to grieve isn’t a healthy way to process a family member’s home.

Photo © frenta / depositphotos

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6 Responses to Declutter Before Listing the House to Sell

  1. Iva Lourdes

    Thank you.Really useful information

  2. Decluttering helps so much to sell your house!

    I followed your tips and sold the property within 2 days of it going on the market and I am based in UK.

    So this shows that your tips really work. A BIG thank you.

  3. Rob Ohs


    Great post !!!It is really very helpful too.I am happy to visit your website again and again.I always found important topic with proper guidance You are doing great job always.

  4. Hi ,

    It is nice to see this post and learn good and creative points from it.It is really eye catching post .It is informative and helpful article.It is really to the topic and well written too.

  5. Amanda Bell says:

    As a person who had been a slave to her items for years, I could say that it’s useless to keep everything and not declutter, especially if you are planning to move to a new place. I felt so relieved when I finally decided to get rid of some things. The decision to do it and finding free time to do it was hard, but when I did, I felt really good. Believe me, it’s much easier to move without all that staff you think you might need some day.

  6. I have helped many people move, and the worst part about the whole move is just starting to go through the stuff that one has! Over time, we collect so many random things that we attach sentimental value to. The biggest thing to overcome like you said in your article is just overcoming those feelings and throwing away what needs to be thrown away which makes the rest of the process much easier!

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