In the Trenches: Finding the Beauty Within

Prepping a listing for sale almost always means tackling stuff—and deep emotions. Here are three powerful decluttering stories.
Person peeking out of boxes

© Steve Musgrave

I helped my aunt, who was a hoarder, sell her house so she could downsize to a condo. She had stacks of Beanie Babies, which she collected, as well as books and papers filling bathtubs. I had her start decluttering slowly, donating items every two weeks to a charitable cause. But after a month and a half, she made little progress. So, I found a company to help her, and the rest of the home was cleared out in five days. We discovered the carpet had become threadbare under so much junk, and we replaced it. The paint on the walls was still in fine condition despite all the stuff that had been stacked against it. I staged her home with her own furniture, and she cried at how beautiful it looked. She hadn’t seen her home in such livable shape in 20 years. We had busy open houses that weekend and got an offer $30,000 over listing price.

—Nancy Miller, eXp Realty of California, San Ramon, Calif.

Birth of a Collector

It took more than a year to declutter my client’s property. He was selling his childhood home after his parents died, and the basement was filled with rows and rows of personal belongings. There was hardly any space to walk. I had to refer my client to a professional cleaner, who helped him clear out items.

It was a deeply emotional process for the seller. He was an only child who had lived in this home with his parents and grandparents. Decluttering, to him, meant the elimination of many memories. I acted as a counselor to him as he worked through his feelings. When we finally sold the home, my client gifted me an old professional camera from the 1960s that had been a family heirloom.

It was my first vintage camera, and it ignited my interest in starting a collection. I now own more than 30, one of which dates back to 1910—a cool, clunky contraption with a retro dark cloth for the photographer. But to be clear, they’re not clutter! I have my client to thank for spurring my fulfilling hobby.

—Erika Villegas, RE/MAX in the Village, Oak Park, Ill.

One Step Forward...

My 85-year-old seller had at least 25 boxes of papers, receipts, and old photos stacked almost to the ceiling in her home office. She couldn’t afford professional organizers, so I told her I’d help her pare down. The first box I pulled was full of receipts from 1980. My client started crying and said, “I just can’t part with any of this.” She saw these items as keepsakes from her extensive travels. She agreed to have the boxes moved into the garage for listing photos. But she couldn’t handle her belongings being disturbed, so, after the photo shoot, she had them moved back into her office—where they stayed even during showings. The office was an eyesore for potential buyers, many of whom said the clutter made the room look small. It was a miracle that we were able to eventually sell. My client loved her stuff—every little thing.

—Lauren Klein Rogers, Liz Moore & Associates, Williamsburg, Va.

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