The Fine Art of What to Keep

Spring is fast approaching, and that means another round of seasonal cleaning is upon us. Yet for some, this task can be fairly daunting. I talked to Sharon Butler, the Clutter Butler specialist on downsizing, to get some great tips on how to determine if something is clutter or precious to you.

Inevitably, most of us will reach a point when we need to downsize our living space. How can Clutter Butler help alleviate the stress of moving?

Downsizing is not always related to a move. It can simply be about restoring flow and function to your living space. As we go through the different stages of our lives we have different priorities, which are affected by age, jobs, children, parents, etc. Clutter Butler is a process of looking at what the needs of the individuals and families are as a unit. Needs in the context of wants is always the biggest struggle for “things” to which we have become attached. Downsizing living space means compromise and realism. I help by working with individuals to get to places of clarity on what they need, and a little of what they want. I do this by asking questions like:

  • How long has this item been in a box, or basement, or closet, or storage?
  • When was the last time the item was used or enjoyed?
  • Where and when did you get the item?
  • How is it important to you?
  • Is this a family item that was passed down to you? Do you want to continue to pass it down, and are the recipients interested in the item? Does it, or will it, mean anything to them?
Sharon Butler.

Sharon Butler.

Ultimately, the goal is to reduce, recycle, sell or donate items, big and small, to accommodate a smaller living space with items that are frequently used or enjoyed. Doing this prior to moving will always make the set up in the new space more organized. It is always helpful, if there is availability, to view the new downsized living space so that the process has more clarity. Communicating with all individuals who are moving, and discussing what their needs are in the new space is essential to establish what to keep and what to relinquish. It is a process at which I excel, and through it I am able to work with others to help them downsize with ease.

How do you help people make the decision to throw away unneeded items?

I really try not to use the term “throw away,” as many of us hate to think that things that we have spent money on, or saved for, or worked for, are thrown away…. it’s a dangerous term in our very disposable culture. Part of this answer is above, but to add to it, there are several ways to dispose of items that no longer fit into our lives. Selling, consignment, donation and storage are a few solutions, depending on the people involved. There are always others who would use, enjoy or restore items that we no longer need, and who are worthy of our items in a really positive way. The old saying, ‘one’s garbage is another man’s treasure,’ is so true in this process.

The hardest process has to do with the emotional attachments to possessions. I work hard to figure out what the attachment is, how important it is, and where it leads them. Some hold onto things because they came from their family members, some are representative of a happy memory or gifts from loved ones. Getting down to the emotion, and then sorting through the priority of it, takes time for some; others can wade through it much faster. Each person is different, and I can respond productively to most situations.

Can you tell me about the services Clutter Butler offers?

There are so many variations of my work that can be applied to lots of situations. For many, it is just starting the project that has been identified. It can be daunting to start, and I can easily begin a process that inspires them to keep at it until completion. Different situations include:

  • Organizing and de-cluttering homes, rooms, offices, etc.
  • Downsizing
  • Moving organization and preparation
  • Storage organization & de-cluttering
  • Seniors moving from houses into retirement or assisted living situations
  • Working with families who have experienced a loss of a family member and the household contents
  • Selling a home and wanting it to be organized for showing and eventual moving prep

Does the client typically help with the de-cluttering process?

Yes! Their involvement is critical to the process. It is not just the adults involved; kids are also involved, when appropriate. The individuals are the ones who decide what to keep and what goes. The client can be slightly removed if I am working with a parent or teen, but consultation is always necessary, not on a constant basis, but via big picture approval.

Is there a rule of thumb when trying to decide on the items that need to be purged?

Not really, as situations and needs differ across individuals. The questions I posed above in your first question help to move through the process, but some will get very emotional and others cannot purge fast enough. Balance is key and assessing the pace by which people involved can make decisions without being overwhelmed is important. There are clearly situations when time is not available, a date is set and it has to happen by then. I can work at whatever pace with which the client is comfortable; hit it hard or work away at it. I also encourage them to work on it on their own, if they are able as it gives them much more ownership and sense of accomplishment. The end result has to look and feel good. VT

To hire Clutter Butler, email clutterbutler2014@gmail.com or call 954.464.3615.