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Unlocking the Clutter Code: The Emotional Attachment to Chaos

Services for Real Estate Pros with HouseTie.com

That sinking feeling. . .

It's one of those listings you dread. The location is great, the curb appeal is there, but all of the sudden, your heart sinks... you are speechless. This place is a mess! No buyer will ever see what this house is really worth with a room like this. "This is all the buyer is going to remember." That's what the listing agent said to me on the phone.

"I am sure I have seen worse. It can't be that bad, "I said.

"You don't understand, I cannot open the door, and we're on the market next Monday," the agent said, exasperated.

When I arrived, Mary, the homeowner, invited me in and led me to her sewing room, then opened the door. Make that, she tried to open the door.

Magazines were everywhere. "Ohhhh, Mary!," I said. "Let's do the math: Six subscriptions times 30 years. ...You have over 2,000 magazines in here!" I wanted to say "crammed in here," but I didn't. She told me she had not been across her sewing room in almost seven years.

She explained to me that her husband would practically disown her if she brought the magazines to their storage unit.  "I love my cooking magazines. You never know when you might need a good recipe!"

"Mary," I said with a soft voice, "how were you planning on finding that great recipe?"

"I don't know. ...I did find a great site on the Internet," she said.

Rolling up our sleeves, we pulled out an ironing board to use as a narrow table in the hallway. I set up my six-box sorting system, STACKS*, then cracked open the door removing what I could.  With a heap of magazines in front of her and a number of magazine she decided to keep (only 20), I had her place the ones she wanted to keep to the right and the ones to recycle to the left. Then I set the timer, bringing her more and more magazines as the time went on. After four hours (and three trips to the recycling center), we were halfway there.

The rest of the day we spent organizing her sewing supplies and all I heard from Mary was, "Why hadn't I done this before," "Why was I so upset to lose my old magazines?," and "Look at what a great room this is, and I haven't used it in seven years."  When it came right down to it, Mary only kept four magazines, the ones she remembered using with her late mom. For Mary, holding on to all the magazines was her way of holding on to her mother's memory.

When your seller hangs onto an overwhelming amount of material things, it's never what it seems. There's always an emotional connection to a time in their lives or to someone they were close to. Be gentle and understanding because there's more than meets the eye. It's not about the mounds, it's about the memories.

*For more information on my 6-box sorting system, STACKS, and a printable form for your seller -go to Clutter stops buyers in their tracks!!

Helping you get your listing SOLD,
Angela Voss
Designology Home Staging

Margo Currie
Exit 1 Stop Realty - Saint Augustine Beach, FL

This is so true. Many people save everything, and often it is an emotional attachment.

May 04, 2010 02:43 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Angela- I think when people hoard there's an emotional connection and it's a way for the hoarder to find some control in their world. 

May 04, 2010 03:07 PM
Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com
HouseTie.com - Spokane, WA
When first impressions count...

Thanks Margo for stopping by.

- I'll be writing another article about it, but the average family collects 1,000 lbs of stuff a year.




May 04, 2010 03:08 PM
Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com
HouseTie.com - Spokane, WA
When first impressions count...

I find many people who have hoarding issues, have no idea why they do it. To others on the outside it may seem obvious, yet to the person beneath the piles, the are confused and don't have an idea of where to begin.

May 04, 2010 03:30 PM
Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging Consultations that Sell Portland Homes"

It sounds like your system really worked for this homeowner.  What a nice ending to your story!

May 04, 2010 05:21 PM
Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com
HouseTie.com - Spokane, WA
When first impressions count...

Thanks Maureen. I have had a lot of success with clients using the STACKS system. It makes it simple to get through some difficult situations.

May 04, 2010 07:25 PM
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging, www.homes

Your STACKS system makes perfect sense Angela.  I always wonder about these situations after the "cleanse". Does the house stay that way or does it eventually creep back in?  For some, it takes years to really process the reasons why they hoard, and you're so right about the emotional connection.

May 05, 2010 01:56 AM
Marla Hofstee
Design by Marla - Burbank, CA
Design by Marla- Home Staging, Burbank & Los Angeles, CA

Good post, Angela!  Have you seen the TV show about hoarders?  It's hard to watch.  Their lives are ruined, in some cases, by their possesions.  I try to live by "one thing in but two things out".

May 05, 2010 06:00 AM
Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com
HouseTie.com - Spokane, WA
When first impressions count...

Hi Karen and Maria,

I just wrote you both back and lost it all for some reason.

In Short:

Karen - Sometimes, yes, it creeps back in and here's what I say....

"Debra, I know you have a lot on your plate with the house going on the market, the kids, your job. Would you like the name of my housekeeper I use for my house. She is fantastic and I couldn't do what I do without her."

If the money is there ($60 a week - 3 hours x $20)  I would say that they take me up on it 90% of the time.   


Maria - That show I have seen up close and personal many times. All I need is the camera crew behind me. I'm sure your in the same boat, staging is being a counselor - marketer - with a little decorating on the side.  

Thank you both for your feedback.

May 07, 2010 03:45 AM
Cathy Lee
CL Design Services Home Staging - Danville, CA

I love your post and your Stacks system. I have had a few hoarder clients and they have each had trauma and emotional problems that were heartbreaking. Their clutter was protecting them and they felt they were in control. Such sad situations.

May 07, 2010 06:22 PM
Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com
HouseTie.com - Spokane, WA
When first impressions count...

Cathy - As stagers we get to enter into so many lives, closer than agents at times. Some people come and go and we forget, then special ones stay with us as sad stories to voice to others in their same situation. I find that if we explain that similar type stories, the hoarder, or just overwhelmed client, doesn't feel alone.

Thanks, Angela

May 08, 2010 03:05 AM
Sussie Sutton
David Tracy Real Estate - Houston, TX
David Tracy Real Estate for Buyers & Sellers

Well I know I have a hoarder in  me so I am very careful to recycle and give away stuff. I always pretend I am moving and need to pack it up and storage it to move later. That thought alone make me put it the recycle, or give it away or just trash it.

Jul 15, 2015 06:12 AM