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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Emery


As an interior designer, I often deal with people who are moving from one home to another or need to get organized in preparation for a renovation.  In doing so, I am faced with the opportunity of going through everything with them and helping them decide what they no longer need.  I call this an opportunity because people seldom do this kind of weeding out without being forced.  It is a great time to really lighten your load.

When a client goes through the decluttering process, I become much more than an interior designer.  I put on my therapist hat to help them with the difficult process of letting go.  Having gone through this so many times with clients and even for myself, I have learned that letting go is a very difficult but important thing to do.  I used to get caught up in the emotion of it with them and would have a hard time telling them to just get rid of it.

Over the years, I have learned that 99% of the time people don’t even think about the items they got rid of again, which has made it easier for me to encourage them to let go.   Maybe having moved so much during my childhood and early adulthood, has contributed to my ability to put aside the sentimental attachments because I was constantly moving on.

On the other hand, my husband’s family moved around a lot too and I think it made him even more sentimental about his things.  Unfortunately my kids seem to be taking after him in that area… which is why I declutter their rooms when they are not home. I have tried getting them involved in the process and we are lucky if we end up with one small thing out of their entire room that they are willing to part with, voluntarily.  In fact, the other day, I finally brought home a new door mat, since the one we had was shredding and shedding all over our shared hallway.  My daughter begged me not to throw it away.  Needless to say, that is one battle she didn’t win.  Even my husband was with me on that one.

I have found that as soon as my children start going through things, they rediscover toys/games that were buried in the back of the closet that are suddenly interesting again.  PS: They ended up in the back of the closet for a reason.  Inevitably within in a day or two, they have once again forgotten the item.  My kids are 9 and 10 now.  I don’t think I will still be “helping” them declutter when they are teenagers.  In fact, I will probably be lucky if I am even allowed in their rooms so I need to stay on top of the accumulation now!  And for the time being, just like in my professional experience, I have yet to have them ask me where something is that I have gotten rid of.  They simply don’t remember.

As for my clients, too many times I have seen them regret holding on.  Once they get into a new space and everything feels fresh and new, the last thing they want is clutter.

Some of my older clients have expressed relief at going through this process so their children aren’t faced with it after they are gone.  So much better to give something to your family or friends while you are still able to see them enjoy it.  My grandmother had a great idea.  She kept a detailed notebook on what she intended for whom.  Unfortunately, there was only one copy and my father and his three brothers could not find it when she passed away.

Since they only had a vague idea about her intentions, they were left to divide things up amongst themselves and try to do so in an equitable way at a time when emotions were high.  Her intentions were good, and luckily they were close and able to work it out together, but with a little better planning, it would have been an easier process.

Some of my clients use professional organizers to help them weed through everything.  This can be wonderfully helpful for someone who needs that objective, unemotional nudge.  These services should also have a number of places they can recommend where things can be unloaded.  And I know from experience, it is that much easier if they handle that part.

If, like me, you are a DIYer, you can plunge ahead on your own.  Although I said before, I am good about weeding things out I am not good about actually getting them out.   I make my different piles and then it takes me forever to take them out of the apartment.   I either don’t know who to give it to or just taking that extra step of transporting it somewhere makes it more complicated and therefore less likely to happen.

If it drives me crazy that my husband can’t decide to get rid of things, it drives him crazy that I can’t make the final step to move the stuff out.  When I have someone to hand them off to, it happens much faster.  It is key to know ahead of time where to take the things that you no longer want or need so that as you are going through everything you can make specific piles. If it is not going to go to family or friends, then some other great options are charitable organizations, shelters, recycling organizations, thrift shops, estate sales, etc. Once you get it done and out, you will feel a weight lifted!

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