- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

If you’re looking to remodel your house, as thousands of Americans do, be sure to look beyond the color swatches, carpet samples and appliances. Remodeling is more about shoveling out your place than anything else.

This is particularly true if you’re redoing several rooms at the same time. When I finished my basement, a week after preparing for the contractor, I figured out that I had to actually get a storage unit for all my earthly belongings. So I visited Fred.

Fred is that quintessential good-guy neighbor that you see on the television programs. He’s not perfect, but he’s pretty darn close. He’s the one the wife means when she says, “Go ask Fred, he’ll know what to do.”

I knew he had recently remodeled some parts of his house for a wedding, and I knew he had chucked a lot of stuff and stored the rest. He had borrowed my truck to do it. This good neighbor thing works both ways.

He had rented a storage unit. I walked over, made note of the phone number and turned to go back to the house to call, but I noticed that Fred grimaced and shook his head.

“What?” I asked.

“Well,” he sighed. “I got that unit and it was supposed to be for just a couple of months. I really need to dump all that stuff. I’ve now had it for two years.”

We stood there and did the math. That’s when the reality hit. He could now be the owner of a very nice multimedia center in his basement with the latest in surround-sound technology for what he had put out to rent that storage unit.

Note to self: When the wife is hounding you to get a unit just for a while, you may be kissing goodbye what really matters in life.

What is this connection we have with stuff? We really have a hard time getting rid of things. We won’t let go. There are myriad Web sites on this topic. There are shows on major cable networks that let us sit amid our own clutter to watch professional teams of cleaners declutter someone else’s house a la “Clean Sweep” and “Mission: Organization.”

These Web sites and programs basically suggest you find three boxes and label them “Keep,” “Give Away,” and “Toss.” That’s fine if you’re doing one room at a time.

When it comes to remodeling, though, you might need to park three large crates on the lawn to go through all your earthly belongings.

You might consider bringing in some help. A trusted friend can counsel you in what can be kept and what can be given or thrown away. If you treasure your marriage, this trusted friend cannot be your spouse.

Every excuse is used to hang on to an item: “Aunt Sally gave that to me, God rest her soul,” “Oh, Fred’s wife wants that, don’t throw it out,” or “that’s for the baby when she grows into it.” While sounding harmless, these are really beastly lies designed to clutter us into oblivion.

On the other hand, if you and your spouse have moved everything from three rooms into the living room, making room for the contractors, painters, electricians and plumbers, the frustration of dining every night next to your bedroom furniture can sometimes help both of you overcome all objections. You’re ready to give all your possessions to every tax-deduction-giving charity in the region.

There are some wise steps to take. I like the way that OrganizedHome.com Editor Cynthia Townley Ewer does it using the four-box method, which is really three boxes and a large trash can. My one addition would be to put the trash can on rollers. She identifies the boxes as: “Put Away,” “Give Away/Sell” and “Storage.” The large trash can acts as the fourth box, and this is why Ms. Ewer wins my award for best method.

The other online resources want you to have four boxes the exact same size. That’s baloney. You must have the much larger “toss” box or you’ll just end up moving “stuff” from one end of the house to the other and never really declutter.

To apply this method to a remodeling project, I would suggest putting items in piles in your garage, carport or one room you’re not remodeling at the moment. In addition, instead of a “Give Away” box, you can rent a trailer or truck, which becomes your “Give Away” — and possibly “Trash” — box.

Like moving, the remodeling of your house becomes that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chuck all the stuff you’ve been collecting over the years to make room for the things that really matter in life — your family.

It is a touching moment when, as a family, you can gather around the new 50-inch plasma TV with digital surround sound in the newly remodeled movie room.

Pass the popcorn, junior.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions and comments at his Web log (https://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com).

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