I recently found myself in a situation where I had to quickly and without much warning pack up a home I had lived in and loved for 16 years.
I finished raising my family there, I divorced and remarried. My children left and came back; my mother moved in; renters moved in and out. We celebrated my 50th birthday there, had 2 wedding receptions, graduation parties, New Year’s eve parties and many, many holidays with friends and family.
My challenge was to empty a 5 level, 5 bedroom house with every room completely furnished and the ghosts of many memories dancing around. Where do I begin? I had about a month to ready the house to put on the market and 6 weeks after it sold to clear it out. This is how I did it:
- Start with the easiest place for you to go through. Linen closet? Books? Start small, start specific, but START.
- Get in the zone. Remove emotions. This is not the time to get sentimental, going through children’s artwork or old photographs. You’re on a time-crunch. Believe it or not, this helps.
- Work quickly. Fast decisions. Keep, give, toss, keep, give, toss. Just keep going. Keep lots of trash bags and boxes handy.
- Think of everything you think you want to keep as real estate. How much will it cost to store it? How much will it cost to hire someone to move it from one place to the next? I downsized from a 2200 square foot house to a 10×15 storage unit (150 sq. ft!) I refused to store and pay for things I “may” need somewhere down the road.
- If you’re moving to a temporary situation, which I was, ask yourself, “Will I need/use this in the next 6 mos?” If not, can it be easily replaced? My daughter asked me this question about muffin tins. No, I did not plan on making muffins in the next 6 mos and yes, they are easily replaced.
- IS it easily replaced? If so, don’t waste space, time or energy on it. You can buy it again. Most of my crafts fell into this category. As an artist, I had shelves of yarn, paint, buttons, lace, fabric, ribbon that I had to let go. I could replace it for the amount of money it would cost to store it. So most of it was donated.
- Do you LOVE it??? If not, give it away to someone who does. DONATE, DONATE, DONATE.
- Do you have multiples? How many lamps do you need? Sets of sheets? Towels? Live on what you need and let the rest go. You can always buy more when you are ready.
- Have a friend or relative come over and work through a room or a box with you. I reached a point where I no longer knew what was important and what wasn’t, what I needed and what I should let go of. A few friends and family members helped me when I reached this stage, asking questions (see #4 above) and helping me see more clearly. Even one hour of help can make a difference.
- When you do have people over to help you, let them do their job. If they are working independently, trust their decisions. If they know you at all, they will know what is important, what to bring to your attention and what to let go of.
I found myself meddling occasionally, going through things in the “give away” or “trash” pile. Then realized I was too overwhelmed to care much. Let someone else make the decisions.
- Set aside time to do something else – clear your mind from making the myriad moving decisions. Come back later, slightly refreshed.
- ASK for HELP. Continue to reach out to whomever is available until the job is finished.
This process was so exhausting and daunting. I experienced many moments when I couldn’t see how it would all get finished. I just kept slugging along, before work, after work. I made phone calls to friends and family. Even my renter helped!
Even if you have the money to hire movers, you’d still have to go through everything unless you planned on keeping all of it.
So one last suggestion: start NOW. No plans to move? No problem. Clear out a closet, a drawer. Go through your books, your papers. Don’t wait until you are in an emergency situation with your back against the wall. Start NOW to pare down.
And DON’T wait for your kids to be left with all of it. They don’t want any of your stuff now, they’re not going to appreciate having to sort through it later. Trust me, they’ll throw most of it away!
Alternate suggestion: NEVER MOVE! Stay where you are until you expire. Then let your kids clean up the mess!