George Carlin famously joked that a house is the place where you kept your stuff. And it is. What he didn’t get into was what that stuff means to you. He did not foresee all the attention to how you’d feel, later, about what’s stuck in the cabinet over the refrigerator!

When we at 4 Buyers Real Estate work with clients who are buying bigger houses, we remind them that they will find themselves filling it – to some extent – and that the process goes better with planning.

When we work with clients who are buying smaller houses, we remind them that they will need to bring only a subset of what they have collected, if they expect it to fit in the next place.

If you are planning to move this year, or in two or three years, this may be a good time to look at what you fill your current house with.

Author Ann Patchett on decluttering your stuff

Ann PatchettI turn today to the wisdom of Ann Patchett. I have enjoyed several of her novels. Her talent lies in noticing motivation as it drifts through her characters internal monologues. In this article, she is the character thinking through her process of giving away the things that have collected in her house that no longer are part of the person she is.

Ann Patchett was inspired to look around her home after the death of her father’s friend. The friends had to figure out what to do with a lifetime of objects. Many were important to the deceased. But, what now?

She set out to “pretend to move.” But, she admits, she was also pretending to die.

I did this process three years ago, inspired by my mother-in-law’s move from a three-room condo to a studio in an assisted living. When we came home, we set out on a task in our house that is like the one described in the Patchett article.

Here are some of Ann Patchett’s takeaways. I wish I knew about number one. It would have sped up my process:

  1. Separate out what you no longer want. Do the process of removing it from your house later. Like writing and editing, they are two different processes.
  2. She considers the meaning that object have. Here are her categories (and advice):
  • Things that were for the you that you thought you would be is a category of things you don’t need. In Ms Patchett’s house it was her collection of beautiful drinking glasses. In my house, it was the detritus of craft project materials.
  • Things that were part of the you that you were. These are harder to let go of. You really loved that doll. You loved the little girl you were when you loved that doll. Do you still want the doll? This type of thing needs to go to the right person.
  • Things that are part of the you that you still are.  You may want to keep these. Even if you don’t use them, they are part of your story. For Ms. Patchett, it was her manual typewriter. For me, it is a set of political buttons.

If the decluttering bug did not get you during the pandemic, it will get you before your next move.So, you might as well start now. Do a spring cleaning, and use this advice.