The great decluttering movement of 2010

by DaniGirl on August 30, 2010 · 25 comments

in Happy @ home, Life, the Universe and Everything

When we found the house in Manotick, we hadn’t been seriously looking for a place, and we had entertained only the briefest thoughts about selling our place. Mostly, the thoughts were along the lines of, “Man, if we were ever to have to sell this place, we’d have a crapload of work to do.”

To exacerbate the situation, I had the highest hopes this year of actually checking off a few items on the household to-do list this summer. We’d do one small thing every two days during our mutual vacation, and have at least a dozen things finally done by the end of the summer. Uh huh. And the actual number of items we ticked off the to-do list? Um, none. Add to that the fact that we are a family that seems unable to rise above the tide of clutter in the house and has simply surrendered to it and lived happily amid the overflowing piles and untidy stacks of ungodly amounts of stuff. Holy mother of Jesus, when did we get so much stuff?

So when the dust settled and we realized that yes, we did in fact just buy a house in Manotick and it was not, as a matter of fact, conditional on the sale of our current home, we had an enormous amount of work to do.

E. Nor. Mous.

We started cleaning right away. On the day we made the offer on the house, we spent about six hours doing the sort of cleaning you only do when your in-laws come to visit. Except my in-laws are so easy going that we stopped sanitizing the place for them years ago. Which might be more than part of the problem.

We rented a storage space that looks like a garage in a place near my work, and each night we’d load up the Mazda with as much crap as we could cram into it and each day I’d drop it all off on the way to work. Then I started having to make more than one run each day. The extra chair in the living room, about a dozen ride-on toys, a bookshelf, endless rubbermaid bins of off-season or between-boy clothing sizes, small kitchen appliances that hadn’t been used in a year but that might still come in useful some day, half a dozen cartons of books, another half a dozen cartons of various bits of paper too important to throw away but too insignificant to keep on hand… oy, the sheer amount of STUFF! And we threw away about that same volume of stuff, bless our poor garbage collector’s little heart.

Right about the time the place started looking all neat and tidy, we tore it all apart again to paint half the main floor and one of the bedrooms upstairs, and then had to spend another two days after that cleaning the place up again. Yeesh!

In all, we put in 12 solid 10 hour days of hard labour, hauling and scrubbing and hardening our hearts to sentimentality so we could get rid of even more stuff. The problem, of course, is once you really start looking, you realize how much has to go, and how dirty everything really is. When I found myself hand-washing and drying the light bulbs from the bathroom fixture, I was pretty sure I’d officially lost my perspective, if not my mind. (Truth be told, for a long moment I actually wondered if I could run them through the dishwasher. I mean, washing them in the high efficiency washing machine was definitely out of the question. They’d never survive the spin cycle.)

We did all those annoying little household jobs that really should have been done months (often, erm, years!) ago. We hung the closet doors we’d bought for the front hall last summer. We replaced all the cupboard and drawer handles in the kitchen, since one has been broken and another missing since, um, well, a while. We patched the holes that the baby gate pulled out of the paint and filled in the dents and chips and nail pops in all the rooms we didn’t paint. We tightened loose screws and oiled squeaky hinges. And we scrubbed the place within an inch of its life, until it gleamed in a way very much unlike it has ever seen a messy family of five living in it.

On Wednesday night, the night before the photographer was to arrive to take the pictures for the real estate listing, we looked around us in astonishment. Whose house was this? Honest to god, I really didn’t think we were going to make it, but we did. The house? Looked amazing. For one blissful night, we relaxed in a clutter-free and totally spotless house.

Due to a fluke in vacation planning, the stager couldn’t make it until after the photographer had come and gone, and she arrived on Friday. To crush my soaring expectations. From the “dated” brass light fixtures permeating the house to the front door and garage in need of paint to the bathrooms in need of an update, she showed us everything that was wrong with our house. Our home. It was hard not to take it personally.

She showed us a hundred places where we could bust even more clutter, and I could only laugh and say, “I really wish you’d seen it before!” She told us brass light fixtures are very 1995, and that I should consider taking them down and spray painting them black, and suddenly I felt like I was in an episode of Trading Spaces and started looking around for the cameras. She said that our style is has a very rustic vibe to it, but to sell we need a neutralized contemporary sort of feel. We’re all about the knotty pine and vivid colours, but what appeals to the mass market is that dark espresso wood and leather feel. She said we absolutely needed a dining room table in our dining room that has served, tableless, as a sort of a central play room for the past seven years, and she showed me a dozen spots where I should add decorative pieces.

And that’s when I started to get balky. Okay, so our style is not exactly contemporary, I get it. Okay, so we still need to streamline things a bit more, fine. I need to take down the family pictures and take the boys’ names in letters from their bedroom doors. Gulp, okayfinethen. But seriously, I just spent two solid weeks decluttering and storing and throwing things away like the house was on fire, and now you want me to ADD knick-knacks? But not just any knick-knacks, bien sΓ»r. They have to be DECOR knick-knacks like big vases with fake grass and trios of fancy candles on otherwise empty tables. And when she told me I should leave a book and a coffee cup on a little side table beside the easy chair in my bedroom, I think I actually rolled my eyes.

Remember I said I was pretty sure I’d lost my perspective, if not my mind, when I found myself hand washing and drying the light bulbs from the bathroom mirror fixture? I take it back. After unloading 60 cubic tonnes of crap from my house, the point at which I officially lost my mind was when I was standing in the middle of the grocery store asking the clerk where I could find those little raffia balls that go in bowl (that I’d rescued from the trash) for the dining room table we’d rented for a month.

So even though we truly thought we were done on Wednesday, between Friday and Sunday we’d also repainted the en-suite bathroom and bought a new comforter for the spare bed and replaced our rustic wooden mail box with a nondescript white one and fixed the front interlock and moved another dresser into a closet and sent another three or four carloads of stuff to storage and replaced all the family pictures with framed art courtesy of my 365 project (thank god for overnight printing at Costco!) and replaced 21 brass plug and light-switch face plates with flat white ones. And our long weekend plans now include repainting the front and garage doors, sigh.

I flat out refuse to spray paint the brass bits of the goddam light fixtures black, though. You don’t like the brass fixtures? Paint ’em yourself.

A girl’s gotta draw a line somewhere. Go ahead, try and find some dust in my house to draw it in — I dare you!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Capital Mom August 30, 2010 at 11:26 am

We bought a house with ugly brass light fixtures everywhere. I hate them but loved the house so we bought it anyway. πŸ™‚

2 Steve August 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

As soon as I moved into my house, every brass fixture in it went in the garbage and was replaced with brushed nickel. I hate those brass light fixtures with a passion. Funny she mentioned it though as cosmetic stuff can be changed.

3 DaniGirl August 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Okay guys, you’re freaking me out. Anyone who is not as afraid of electricity as I am want to come over and help me change the light fixtures? (I swear by all things holy, I will buy $100 worth of new fixtures before I spray paint over the brass.)

4 valerie August 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I don’t think it’s such a big deal, Dani. Our stager didn’t say we needed to change ours, and we bought our new house despite it having horrid switches, wired upside down. The lighting fixtures are also 90% NOT to our taste, so we’ll be changing them, too. But it didn’t stop us from buying. And Robin bought her house when the seller hadn’t even had time to clean (it wasn’t on the market yet). I say don’t sweat the little stuff!

5 Ingrid August 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm

When we sold our house 4 years ago, I was disgusted by my own dirt. It is a humbling experience selling your house and admitting to the world that you ( not you Dani, but me) are a bad housekeeper. We spent 6 weeks doing the same thing as you did and repainted 90% of our 2000sq ft home; even the finished basement was repainted. But it was worth it in the end, despite the emotional trauma. It was over and done – inspection and all – in 4 weeks. I have not lifted a paint brush since, though.

6 Tania August 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm

This is one of the most exhausting and stressful posts I’ve ever read.

7 Paula August 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I don’t know where the heck you found the time to write this post! Just a comment on the stager. In my opinion, stagers go too far in what should and shouldn’t be done to a home. Brass light fixtures will not make or break the deal. Buyers are not stupid people and they can look past what you have with any minimal sense of vision at all to see how they can make your house their home. While some ideas from stagers are good, I feel that they want your home to look like a showplace that’s never been lived in. I doubt that anything you’ve put in place because of the stager’s recommendation will asked to be included in the sale of your home. Your home will sell to the right buyer, without all the props. Best wishes in your new home!

8 August 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I have lived in more houses than I care to remember. Trust me when I say a good number of them were not exactly clean when we moved in. Also I don’t think I have ever kept a light fixture. We have always bought for location then floor plan. I think you have done an amazing job. Based on your location, you should sell quickly. Good Luck!

9 andrea from the fishbowl August 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Part of selling a house is about VIBE. You want to create a great vibe. Suck up your pride and buy the black spray paint. It’s cheap. You’ve gone this far, you can do it!!

10 Jen August 30, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Wow – you HAVE been busy!! i love that stuff though πŸ™‚ We’ve sold three houses now (two in four days!) and I’m all about the getting it ready for sale – so. much. fun! I’m sure your house absolutely shines at the moment, but I’ll echo similar feelings on the brass. Da brass has got to go! Personally, I think of brass, as old/dated. Which then makes me think that the house I’m looking at is dated, which makes me then really scrutinize the kitchen and bathrooms, which should be updated, etc. Of course this could just be me,.,. thoughts run like a freight train in my head sometimes.

Since you’re selling the house after the prime time of spring, I’d get the spray paint and go to town. The more that you can do to get the house to move quickly, the better (and it’s always the stupid little knit-picky things!). I would draw the line at the coffee cup though – I mean, seriously?? I’m not a fan of the gimmicky stuff to sell a house (smell of coffee and baked goods, etc.) but a clean, streamlined look with nice finishes can do wonders!

I’ve got my fingers crossed for a quick sale!

11 Emma August 30, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Smiling, painfully, in empathy – we put our house up for sale in June and went through the same pain including the stager. Solidarity!

12 Amy August 30, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Wow, that’s a lot of work! I think your agent should update the photos of your home to reflect the latest round of fluffing. The paint colours look vibrant and pretty and fresh. And your living room is beautifully presented. Nice work! I hope it sells fast.

13 Laura August 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I’m tired from reading your post! I also am staring at the holes in our walls from the baby gates. My kids drew eyelashes around the holes – I think they are kitchy. (Amazing what you get “used” to) All your hard work will pay off Dani. Fingers crossed for a quick sale and…maybe even multiple offers. πŸ™‚

14 DaniGirl August 31, 2010 at 5:33 am

Amy, I edited your comment to remove a few details. Good detective work on finding my ad and agent, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to share that with the general public because it has my (and my kids) home address on it. If you’d have left your e-mail address with your comment, I’d’ve replied directly to you.

If anyone wants to see the MLS listing, though, send me an e-mail and I’m happy share.

Haha, captcha = “yanhous Hence” — quick, somebody find me Yan, I’ve got his house!

15 meanie August 31, 2010 at 6:54 am

ummm, three kids. you have THREE kids. what have you done with them during all this? i cant’ even get a meatloaf in the oven because of my kids let alone stage a house to sell!

i would love to see the photos πŸ™‚

16 DaniGirl August 31, 2010 at 7:03 am

Kids? I need a whole separate blog post to tell you how amazing my kids have been! Aside from one small incident of baby footprints in white paint across the laminate in the dining room floor (luckily noticed before the paint dried!) they have been angels. ANGELS! Who knew? It’s been a week of miracles. And I owe my mother and our friends with the backyard pool immensely for favours pulled in!

17 Trista August 31, 2010 at 7:05 am

I’ve only bought one house (and haven’t gone through the ordeal of selling one yet) but I tend to agree that brass fixtures won’t make or break a sale. We loved our house the minute we saw it, notwithstanding the office-grade track lighting in several rooms (nope, not kidding) and large brass ceiling fan/light in the master bedroom. As buyers we recognized that these things could be replaced at a relatively small cost to us, so we didn’t let them get in the way of looking at the more significant aspects of the home. A clean, de-cluttered house enables the buyers to see the house, but I don’t think it’s worth it to change light fixtures etc. when, in all probability, no matter what you change them to the buyer will simply change them again to suit their preferences, since they’re not expensive or difficult to install. Then again, I don’t have a degree in “staging” …

18 Judy August 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

Brass fixtures won’t make or break it, however, I agree with Andrea. Creates a vibe. Our “new” house has brass fixtures everywhere and it added to the dated feel. Definitely not a selling feature and one more thing on a list of reasons to negotiate on price.

So… do you want to sell quick and high, or just quick?

19 Amy August 31, 2010 at 8:28 am

Dani, I am verrrrry sorry, I feel like an idiot. I guess that’s why I rarely post on blogs, just silently enjoy (as I have for years with yours). Thanks for being so kind concerning my blunder. And again, good luck. And did I mention that I LOVE your new digs? Congrats and keep us posted.

20 Mary @ Parenthood August 31, 2010 at 8:57 am

Meh – We’ve just replaced most of our light fixtures with brass. Your stager might think they are ugly and dated, but I think they are beautiful and timeless. It’s like having a white fridge. It doesn’t scream “I just renovated my kitchen”, but it doesn’t go out of fashion either. No idea whether our fixtures have anything in common other than the colour though!

My parents recently sold their house with the help of a stager and didn’t get nearly as much as they’d hoped for in the end, especially considering the hundreds of hours they put in bending over backwards to fulfill the various demands. Actually, in the end they only attracted a really picky purchaser who took the legal requirement to leave your house empty to the letter – making us cart out leftover patio stones that the previous owners had left behind in case some needed to be replaced.

I thought a lot of the advice from the stager was very subjective. For instance, apparently blue is out of style. Whatever – my brother-in-law bought their house in part based on the blue walls in their dining room, which they loved. And that’s the thing about real estate: You only need to appeal to one buyer. Yes, creating a vibe is important, but I find it hard to believe that someone with your ability to take such beautiful pictures doesn’t have sufficient artistic instincts to stage your own home. Only one person has to fall in love with it.

So if you think the lights are fine, they probably are!

21 DaniGirl August 31, 2010 at 9:49 am

Mary, have you been eavesdropping in my head? That’s what I’ve been saying to myself over and over: it only takes one! Ironically, this is the same mantra we used to say back in our infertility days, when talking about one sperm out of millions, but erm, I guess that’s a little too much information? πŸ˜‰

Amy, no worries at all — I appreciate the follow-up comment!

Overlapping showings tonight — nothing like a little competition to motivate the buyers, eh? (And, it also means there is no time to even consider updating the fixtures, so brass it is!)

22 Lana August 31, 2010 at 10:20 am

When we bought our house, it had brass fixtures (still does… have yet to replace them) and we offered above the asking price. To me, spraypainted fixtures are just as ugly, I mean it’s not really solving the problem that the shape of the fixture (may be?) dated.

23 kev August 31, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I’m totally on-side with Steve. Brass, to me, screams mid-eighties to mid-nineties. I find them dated, along with beige wall-to-wall carpet and cream walls, and have eliminated them from wherever I’ve lived along the way.

That said, I also think your stager is nuts. I would never factor lighting fixtures into a purchase, because they’re (in most cases) such an incidental cost it falls into the “who cares?” bin. I would replace all of the outlet/switch covers, though, as they’re a 30min., $30 fix, but replacing the fixtures seems like a money-burn to me, as a lot of people make replacing them honey-do-list item #1.

the only thing that’s timeless to me is what’s buried in the back yard. brass reminds me of my high-school and early uni days, and I’m happy those are well behind me πŸ™‚

24 Paula September 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm

On taking down family photographs – I’ve always disagreed with this. I can tell you in my experience, it is usually the woman (more often than note) that has more persuasion in deciding on the family home, and they like to see family photos up on the walls – it shows there is LIFE in that house. I know many real estate agents say that it helps people visualize themselves in the house, but I’ve always found that if I was looking at a home that still had family photos up, it created a positive “family” vibe, and rather than walking into a room that looks like a hotel. Of course, it depends on who your buyers are (eg. buyers without kids might not feel the same).

25 Trixie September 2, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Ha! I nearly peed my pants laughing when I got to the part about having to clutter back up your uncluttered space! (what? I said I liked it as much as the Pirates of Penzance..). I’ve got my fingers crossed that the right sperm err- buyer comes along tonight and loves your happy home! (even your own comments are funny…).

P.S. My mom was a real estate agent and she swears by the trick of baking bread or a chocolate cake before the viewing β€” smells like many childhood homes, they say. Ya know, just in case you want to throw that on to the To Do list. heheh…

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