Skip to content

Starting Clean

by Kathryn Boughton

The party is over. The last ornament has been packed away, the tree, shorn of its glory, has been recycled. And the Christmas presents have been squeezed into closets already bulging with items acquired over the years.

Most Americans have too much. It is a fact that grows worse each year until some event causes a sudden reassessment. Perhaps it is an estate that must be cleared or a decision to downsize. Or maybe, it is the sudden realization that we are just living with too much stuff. Feng Shui has fled before the avalanche of commercialism.

So, what to do?

Linda Pulford, a professional organizer from New Hartford, said the only solution is to lighten the load, to rid ourselves of unused or unwanted material possessions so that we can live more easily in our own homes.

Pulford said consulting a professional organizer can be helpful for those committed to downsizing, but, those who chose to tackle the project themselves should take small steps.

“Do just one item at a time,” she said. “It is helpful to sort likes with likes. If you have 40 pairs of black pants, putting them all together in one place helps you to understand how many you have. Then, maybe you can select the 10 that are the most flattering. If you think you are going to lose weight, then keep a couple that are a size smaller—but not all of them.”

She said possessions are often kept in different rooms and the homeowner never appreciates their full volume. “I had a woman once who was into arts and crafts,” she recalled. “When we put all the stuff together it had the same volume as a refrigerator. She didn’t realize how much she had.”

If gathering all items of a kind together seems too hard, she suggested working drawer-by-drawer or room-by-room. And, for those who imbue material objects with memories, she suggested eliminating things that carry sad associations to focus on those with happy memories.

Some people are unable to let go of any item, and hoarding is becoming an increasing problem, particularly in an aging population. Pulford said there are professional organizers trained in dealing with hoarders.

What to do with the objects culled from our lives is the next issue. Pulford, who operates New England Online Auctions, advocates this method of eliminating excess possessions. “If people are ready to let go, this is the best way,” she said. She photographs items and lists them online for 45,000 online New England bidders to see. Initial consultations are free.

But, she cautioned, many of the treasures held by families will not find high markets. “It’s so sad,” she said. “Many people think their traditional furniture is so valuable, but it sells for pennies on the dollar. All our parents have left their furniture—there is so much out of it. It used to be you would have to go to antiques stores to look for something; now with the Internet you can find 2,000 of any item online.”

Among the items not being collected by millennials are traditional furniture, fine china, flatware, and clothes. For clothes, Pulford suggested making donations to non-profits. “Then you can take tax write-offs,” she said.

Collectors are currently particularly keen for items from the middle of the 20th century.

She conceded that eliminating clutter can be stressful. But the reward of a fresh start can be profoundly satisfying.

To contact Pulford, e-mail or call 860-558-1747. Her business serves all of Connecticut, Western Massachusetts and nearby New York State.