“Things” so often represent way more than just “things”. Furniture, décor, and things have so many emotions entwined around them. The problem comes when irrationality comes into play. It can be an issue of quality vs. quantity. It’s been said before, and it bears repeating for emphasis, “Keep only the things that you find to be beautiful, useful, or sentimental.”
My appointment yesterday was with a very sweet elderly lady, and her nearly elderly daughter. I was hired to come to the home she had just moved into and help arrange furniture, hang artwork, and make the space generally beautiful and functional.
The home itself is a beautiful 1970’s ranch, updated, and about 1600-1700 sq. feet. As soon as I walked in, I knew there would be problems:
The lady had 2 very large full size sofas, a large loveseat, 4 large wingback chairs, a recliner, 2 gliders with footstools, an 8 seater dining room table with 10 matching chairs, a round kitchen table with 4 chairs, a very large (10 ft. tall and about 5 feet wide) 3 part tv armoire, about 10-15 small tables, 8-10 dressers, 3 cedar chests, 3 very large wooden bedroom suites, a large floor to ceiling desk unit that wraps around one wall to the other with a rounded corner piece, 7 complete sets of dishes, 3 large china cabinets full of china and knick knacks, about 40-50 largish pictures/mirrors for hanging on walls, a beautiful standing grandfather clock, 2 glass display shelving units (full of more figurines), about 20 throw pillows, countless flower arrangements and décor items, books, vhs tapes, dvds, and LOTS of other miscellaneous stuff. The house was so full, you had to contort your body to walk through and find paths through all the stuff.
I wanted to tread carefully, knowing that I have no right to tell people what to do with their stuff. I also knew that all the stuff, was about much more than just tables, and chairs, and sofas.
Plainly put, it was just way too much stuff. Hoarder amounts of stuff. I didn’t know what to do. In my opinion, about 80% of the stuff needed to go. There is only one elderly woman who will be living there. Her daughter, and her daughters husband would be visiting occasionally, as they live on the same street, just down about 4 houses. I knew through asking that most of the individual things she had accumulated didn’t specifically hold any special value to her, rather it was the quantity of the stuff. She (and her daughter) couldn’t bear to part with anything. They used language like “getting rid of”, and “I can’t let it ALL go”, and “that’s worth money” (it wasn’t).
After I walked around and gathered my thoughts, I decided upon a way to tackle the potentially delicate issues. I said lots of things like “What I would do” (emphasis on the “I”), and “If it were ME”, and “there’s only so much we can do if we’re going to keep everything”. At the end of the day, if they really wanted to keep everything, the look and feel of the house would never change, which I could sense they really WANTED, even if it was seemingly impossible to let go of the stuff. I told anecdotes about my recent experience with letting go of a bunch of my own stuff while staging our home to sell, and how much “freer” I felt walking around my house and seeing everything so fresh and uncluttered. I suggested a consignment store that would come to her home, pick up anything they didn’t especially love, and they would earn money for it (important to them) and not have to lift a finger. I suggested going through all the art, and choosing the 20 pictures she loved the most, and letting the rest go.
After my suggestions, we did do some (quite a bit of) actual shifting and moving of furniture. We made one of the bedrooms the overflow room (although I didn’t call it that to the ladies) and we stacked the room floor to ceiling with lots of excess furniture and décor. We established a pretty vignette right when you walk in the front door. We established a seating area for the living room, keeping the recliner she loves the most and uses, and also one sofa. We gave the beautiful grandfather clock a position as a focal point, to make sure it stood out. In fact, I had to laugh, because one of the men who was working on the house to update it came into the living room after we had moved stuff around and commented on how beautiful the clock was. He said he guessed he’d never noticed it before.
At the end of the day, I’d like to think I helped. I tried to delicately and tactfully plant “seeds” of ideas about what would change the look and feel of the home, which they both really seemed to be wanting- it was just conflicting with their need to keep all the stuff. I will be curious if they are able to overcome any of the deeper issues surrounding all the stuff, and will follow up with them in time. I am spending some time today reflecting on what the experience taught me professionally and personally. I am glad I had it, and I am grateful to those 2 ladies for helping me to help them, and for them being brave enough to consider that things could possibly be different.