How to Have a House

Living with and understanding a home.


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Empty the House.

In America, we are lucky enough to have just about everything.  This became even more apparent while I was chatting on the phone with a podcast host when I mentioned: “empty the house”.  He laughed and said that’s crazy. “Really?” I said, “next weekend look into all the garage doors open on your block, see if any cars fit in them”.   Some of the most passionate conversations I’ve had with homeowners have been about what to do with all their stuff. 

For most of us, we live pretty stuff free in our 20s.  Then we move in with a partner or have kids, and things start to pile on.  A lot of that stuff is just part of setting up a house, necessary and helpful.  We decorate, buy kitchen gadgets, add an exercise room, take up a couple of hobbies and go garage sailing.  If kids show up, so does an entire world of cribs, diaper pails, toys, batteries, strollers, high chairs, and more toys.  Kids mean more family room accessories, like huge TVs, bigger sofas, surround sound, and flat-pack cabinets to hold it all.  After a few years, the whole house is just about full.  But the stuff doesn’t stop showing up.  There’s so much stuff, dad needs some room, so a man cave is built.  Mom had a couple of kids, so the ski machine goes out and a palates gym appears.  All that old stuff gets stored in one of the garages, the attic, maybe the basement, if there’s any room left in there. In many cases, a storage unit is rented to move the stuff into.  There’s too much.  But life is a busy thing, and getting rid of stuff is the last thing anyone wants to fool around with.  

Moving from one house to another in our 20s, 30s, and 40s is easy enough.  No matter how much stuff we have, we just pack it all and haul it to the next house.  We throw un-packed boxes into the attic and the back of closets, get the kids enrolled and go to work at the new job.  But what happens when the kids are all out of college and the parents are living in a house that they don’t need anymore?  Usually, they freak out a little bit.  If they are like a lot of folks they’ve kept a bunch of the kid’s toys, all the kids’ drawings, and A+ papers.  There are 15 years of camping gear, bikes, game consoles, beds, and all kinds of other stuff. In the meantime, grandma and grandpa are getting too old to deal with their house, or maybe one of them had a fall, and they have to move.  Some of you have been there.  You might be there right now.  It’s pretty overwhelming. So here’s the brutal truth.  Empty the house.  Empty it now.  Stop overthinking it.  Most of that stuff we raised our kids with holds little value.  We may have paid $375 for a Barbie Dreamhouse, but now it’s almost worthless.  Sure, you can jump on eBay or Marketplace and try to sell this stuff one thing at a time, but that will take forever.  Here are the steps I’ve taken customers through.  One, get your emotions out on the table and face them, getting rid of all this stuff is going to hurt.  So many memories, and don’t even talk about the money spent.  And how about the fact that your grown kids don’t want your mom’s china cabinet. Ouch.  But it’s true.  Don’t take it personally.  Face the facts and get past the emotional block that will get in the way.  Two, call your kids, family, and friends and tell them you’re emptying the house.  Remind them you don’t need their advice, you’re just calling to let them know that if they want anything they have 30 days to come and get it.  Three, in the meantime sort the garages, basement, garden shed, attic, and extra rooms into estate sale condition.  This will help when friends and family show up to claim their favorites. When the last of those visitors drive away, immediately  have at least one estate sale.  Ask for help.  Have a bunch of friends come and help conduct the sale.  Empower a couple of your friends to ring everyone up, and let them negotiate prices.  Forget it, you’re not going to get your money back, you just want the stuff to go away.  Have two or three sales in one summer if that’s what it takes.  Fourth, donate as much as possible.  Call ahead and know the guidelines to the local second-hand store Savers, Goodwill, or Salvation Army.  Take everything they will accept.  This might mean van loads of stuff.  Do it.  Get it out of your house.  By this time, you will have shed a few tears.  It’s worth it.  Five, hire a dumpster and throw the rest out.  Now you’re really flipping your lid because you know you’re going to be throwing stuff in the dumpster you paid good money for. 

You might be asking, “how can this guy be so cruel and thoughtless”?  Here’s how, since you just got rid of all your stuff, you’ll avoid the unfortunate situations I’ve seen.  You’ll be living in a house that feels open again.  Service workers will be happy to work for you because they can get to the water heater, furnace, basement plumbing, and electric service panel. You won’t be tempted to upsize, and if you do move and hire a real estate agent, they won’t have to be the one to tell you to empty the house.  Also, your grown kids won’t have to do all of this work for you when they are trying to move you to your late-life residence.  And most importantly, the energy in the house will be airy and light. Feng shui is a real thing, and it will return to your home and energize your days, relax your nights and make room for you to truly love the things you live with, with nothing else in the way.