Americans have a lot of stuff.
Stuff in the house. Stuff in the garage. Stuff in the attic, basement, shed.
Americans even pay to pack away their stuff in storage facilities.
Eventually, stuff has to go, and that isn’t as easy to handle as you might think.
Kim Sawyer and Kim Moulds have made it their business to help people “declutter” their lives, and the women led a discussion and Q&A Saturday in front of about two dozen people eager to learn more about what seems to be a growing phenomenon.
“It’s a hot topic,” Catherine Sturtevant told the group, noting the popular Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Kondo is a professional organizer from Japan whose decluttering method is known as the KonMari method.
Sturtevant is a local Realtor who moderated the discussion, held at the downtown Central Rappahannock Regional Library. She also uses both women to help sellers clear out their houses before moving.
Sawyer pointed out one reason she thinks decluttering and downsizing have become popular.
“Americans have too much stuff,” said Sawyer, who started A Better Move in 2015. She said her business aims to help people declutter using a “logical and common sense approach.”
Moulds, who started Smooth Transitions Fredericksburg in 2011, said decluttering a house can run the gamut, from just clearing out a closet to cleaning up a house to “decluttering to sell.”
“It’s living without the excess,” Moulds said.
Alvah Beander, an appraiser focusing on high-end art, said after the session that companies like these “have become extremely important.”
Beander, who has worked with Moulds in the past but never met her until Saturday, pointed to the baby boomer and millennial generations as the driving forces behind the growth in the downsizing movement.
“Everybody thinks this is easy, but it isn’t,” she said, adding that appraisal companies like the one she works for deal only with big-ticket items, not the majority of things that fill most houses. That’s where decluttering companies come in.
Beander, a baby boomer herself, said she has downsized, moving from a 4,000-square-foot house to a much smaller one at 1,400 square feet.
“It took me two and a half years to declutter,” she said with laugh.
Moulds and Sawyer spent much of the two-hour session providing tips on the various challenges that come with decluttering and downsizing and how to handle them.
Moulds has a “five-finger rule” to help determine what to keep and what to discard: Do you love it? Do you want it? Do you need it? Does it bring you joy? Do you use it now?
Sawyer said cleaning out a house, especially after a parent’s or grandparent’s death, can prove “overwhelming” and provided some tips to help.
“Take your time,” but start as soon as possible, she told the group. Communication also helps, and can help a person decide what to keep and what to let go. She also told the group that finding a way to enjoy the process—such as sharing memories—can help. And, she added, it’s a good idea to get someone to help, such as a friend, “or someone like us.”
The women also noted that planning ahead and time management are important, as is having the right mindset concerning your stuff.
The things we accumulate over the years, or inherit from parents or grandparents, can be important to us in different ways. Sentimental value, “the story behind items,” as Moulds put it, is a big one.
Sawyer, a former teacher, said decluttering is hard work, and it can prove much more challenging after a parent’s death.
The challenge can be eased by planning ahead, the women said. They suggested starting by getting rid of items ahead of time or planning ahead with your parents or grandparents to determine what to do with their possessions.
The women gave that advice for decluttering in general.
Moulds added that it’s also a good idea “to start small,” with just a shelf or closet and gradually peck away.
“It’s simple if you do it every day,” she said. “A fly can eat an elephant one bite at a time.”
What to do with stuff was another topic.
Moulds and Sawyer covered various approaches to getting rid of possessions, such as estate sales, auctions and donating items. Yard sales are another method, though the women don’t think this route proves very fruitful.
If all else fails, “trash out,” Sawyer said.
Moulds added that the market is flooded with stuff, much of which isn’t in demand. But she and Sawyer warned the group not to assume the value of something or what the market might be.
One woman in the crowd who mentioned cheap costume jewelry as she was running down a list of items she wasn’t sure how to handle. She figured the faux jewelry would be worthless, but Moulds told her that costume jewelry is actually a hot item.
The women also talked about ways to handle difficult things to discard, such as documents, computers and cellphones.
Moulds and Beander finally met after the discussion and talked about the growing phenomenon of downsizing and decluttering.
Still, Moulds thinks her kind of business still isn’t on the radar for many people in these situations.
“We’re still meeting people who don’t know this kind of business exists,” she said.