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Removing my existence to make room for another |

Removing my existence to make room for another

“You need to declutter,” the realtor told me as he walked through my house in preparation for listing it.

Declutter? What did he mean? There were no old newspapers on the floor; no magazines on chairs; no used coffee cups scattered about. No “clutter” at all. I admit you might find a spider or two tucked into corners, but I don’t think they qualify as clutter.

Finally, I realized he was talking about too many accessories. You know, those vases, pictures, plates, bowls, books and pretty do-dads with which we decorate our homes. And I had plenty. But in my defense, I had to fill those tall built-in book shelves with something, didn’t I? Just maybe not so much something.

And so I went about packing up. With every book and do-dad I took off the shelves, a memory flew out. I found books from my graduate school days; Grandma Morris’ antique mirror; Aunt Ethel’s china dog; Grandma Stroud’s green vase; a monogrammed silver plate given to me when I was garden club president. And other silver plates, bowls and compotes that were wedding presents. If you’re not entertaining every week, what do you do with these things? I found them a home on my book shelves and now they were being evicted. And why?

What I learned from my broker and the designer brought in to “stage” the area is that when your home’s on the market it needs to be de-personalized. No family pictures, a limited number of accessories, fewer sofa pillows.

In the kitchen everything is off the counters. Hide the kitchen knives, the soap, sponges, dish towels, toaster oven. It has to look like a model kitchen in a home improvement store. You may keep the coffee pot, but all those old statements, letters, cards and magazines stacked up? Toss them.

The same treatment goes for the bathroom. Tooth brushes, make-up, combs, brushes — all get the boot. The counter tops must be pristine. And don’t forget to hide the scales you weigh yourself on each morning. Why? Because they send a negative vibe. Really?

When all was decluttered, I have to admit that I rather liked the place. My home seemed more serene, peaceful, harmonious. There were no boxes of mystery on counters; no drawers hiding who knows what. All had been Martha Stewarted into complete submission.

One evening as my sister Ruth and I were just sitting down to dinner, the phone rang. Someone wanted to see the house. Into the refrigerator went our food. Within 45 minutes we had hidden everything left on the kitchen counters and had put the decorative pillows back on the beds. We were ready. A half hour later the prospective buyers were gone, and Ruth and I had to try to remember where we had stashed everything.

An editor of one of the leading home décor magazines once said that your home is your resume. I believe it’s true that you don’t really know a person until you see them in their home environment. How would I have known that a friend of mine had hunted wild game in Africa unless I had seen the stuffed trophies on the walls of her home? This part of her background never came up in polite conversation.

So what does your home say about you? I think mine says I like books (I’ve got gobs); I like antiques (inherited) and 18th century furniture. A friend of mine once said my home looked like an old lady lived there. “Well,” I replied, “she does.”

Now, I’m looking forward to down-sizing. This means getting rid of furniture, as well as accessories. But which piece stays and which one goes? Through the years my home has become a jewel box in which I have stored my dearest treasures — each one with a story. How do I choose?

I believe that when a home is not organized and sorted to death, it allows for a little mystery…and personality. If you strip all those personal touches from rooms, you lose sparkle, humor, fun and creativity. But that’s just the point my realtor was trying to make. Decluttering allows prospective buyers to see the home without the owner’s personality getting in the way. It provides a clean slate where the new owners can come in and fill it with, yes, you guessed it — their own clutter, which is essentially evidence of life.

Josie Harper is a freelance contributor.

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