Friday, November 25, 2005

Decluttering Before Remodeling Key to Sanity

If you're looking to remodel your house this year, as thousands of Americans do, be sure to look beyond just the color swatches, carpet samples and appliances. Remodeling is more about shoveling out the junk than anything else.

Particularly true is if you're redoing several rooms at the same time. When I finished my basement, a week after preparing for the contractor, I figured out that I had to actually get a storage unit to put all my earthly belongings into. So I visited Fred.

Fred is that quintessential good-guy neighbor that you see on the television programs. He's not perfect, but pretty darn near it. He's the one the wife says, "Go ask Fred, he'll know what to do." So I knew he had recently remodeled some parts of his house for a wedding and I knew he had chucked a lot of stuff and stored the rest, because he had borrowed my truck to do it. (Hmm ? who's the good-guy neighbor, now?)

Talking to Fred, I found where he had a storage unit and turned to go back to the house and call, but Fred kind of grimaced and shook his head. "What?" I asked. "Well, I got that unit and it was supposed to be for just a couple of months. I really need to dump all that stuff -- I've now had it for two years." We stood there and calculated it for him and the reality hit that he could now be the owner of a very nice multimedia center in his basement with the latest in surround sound technology for the price of what he had put out on the storage unit. Guys take note -- when the wife is touting you to get a unit just for a while, you may be kissing what really matters in life, good-bye.

What is this connection we have with stuff? We really have a hard time getting rid of stuff that we've purchased and won't let go. There are a myriad of websites on this topic and now television shows on major cable networks where we sit amid our own clutter, watching a professional team of cleaners, declutter someone else's house (i.e., Clean Sweep, Mission: Organization, etc.).

The best thing about all these resources is that they all have the same process, and as you look at remodeling, you most definitely need to follow their steps. While these programs point at three boxes to label: Keep, Give Away, Toss (or some derivative of the three); that's fine if you're doing one room at a time. When it comes to remodeling your house -- you may need to pull in three crates outside on the lawn to go through all your earthly belongings.

During this declutter/chunk/giveaway process, you may need to bring in some help, as well. A trusted friend may be able to counsel you in what can be kept and what can be given/thrown away. If you treasure your marriage -- this trusted person is not your spouse. Every excuse is used to hang on to an item -- "Aunt Sally gave that to me, God rest her soul," "Oh, Fred's wife wants that, don't throw it out," or "That's for the baby when she grows into it," while all sounding harmless are really lies from the very pit of hell designed to clutter you into oblivion.

On the other hand, if you and your spouse have moved everything from three rooms into the living room, making room for the contractors, painters, etc., the frustration of having dinner every night right next to your bedroom furniture, can sometimes help both of you overcome all objections and begin to give all your earthly belongings to every tax-deduction-giving charity in the region.

There are some wise steps to take, as referenced earlier. I like the way that Editor Cynthia Townley Ewer does it using the Four Box Method, which is really three boxes and a large trash can (my addition is a trash can on rollers). Identify the boxes as: Put Away, Give Away/Sell and Storage. The large trash can acts as the Fourth Box and thus, this is why Ms. Ewer wins my award for best method. All the other online resources want you to have four boxes the exact same size ? that's a crock. You have to have the much larger "toss" box or you'll just end up moving "stuff" from one end of the house to the other and never really declutter.

To apply this method to a remodeling project, I would suggest again, putting these items in piles in your garage, carport or one room you're not remodeling at the moment. In addition, instead of a Give Away box, go rent a trailer or truck, which becomes your Give Away (and possibly Trash) box.

Just like moving, the remodeling of your house becomes that once in a lifetime opportunity to really chuck out all the stuff that you've been collecting over the years to make room for the things that really matter in life -- your family -- as they gather around your new plasma, 50-inch, digital surround sound media center in your newly remodeled movie room.


Mr. Carr has covered real estate since 1989. He is the author of "Real Estate Investing Made Simple." Got a personal real estate issue? Questions can be posted at Anthony's blog.
Published: November 18, 2005

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