Expert helps South Euclid's Pauline Nance declutter: Full House
SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio -- Pauline Nance's immaculate gold-and-cream living room couldn't possibly belong to a woman with a clutter problem.
"It makes people's lives better, and they love it," she said. "Is Your House Overweight?" is available in bookstores and through Sharon's website.
"Just wait until you see upstairs," harrumphed her husband, Henry. "Upstairs" was the room that needed professional help from Inside & Out's informal anti-clutter contest.
After reading "Is Your House Overweight? Recipes for Low-Fat Rooms" (Heather Lane Publishing, 2011), a new book by Hudson interior designer Sharon Kreighbaum, I thought that it would be fun to see her strategies in action. I asked readers for photos and brief descriptions of their messy rooms, and I received about 20 entries.
Sharon specializes in staged makeovers, which means she helps homeowners prepare their homes for sale by getting rid of clutter. She wrote her book based on a 20-year career spent seeing how slimming down possessions improved families' lives. Her mantra is, if you don't love it, need it or use it, then get rid of it.
Sharon and I selected Pauline's South Euclid home for our project because she wasn't a hoarder (those folks were beyond a quick fix) and was willing to purge items. The goal was to see how much a team could accomplish in one day.
When Sharon and her husband, Mark, arrived at Nance's home, we trooped upstairs to see the large atticlike room. Four double clothes racks and about 40 hatboxes -- labeled with things like "Grey Straw," "Purple Winter" and "New Red" -- dominated the space.
All around were items we all toss into storage areas: empty cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, mystery shopping bags, children's chairs, a window fan in its box, emergency Christmas presents, an Easter basket, a calendar from 1987.
Pauline said she would love to replace the battered orange carpeting and host card parties up there the way she used to. Neither could happen until the room was cleaned up.
I assumed that the clothes were passed down from relatives or no longer fit. But Nance said the classic outfits and dressy hats were the result of decades of shopping, and she regularly wears them to church.
"All of that is mine. I'm halfway ashamed," Pauline said.
Sharon explained that we would identify zones and clean them one at a time. Pauline's job was to decide if each item was something she loved, needed or used. Things that failed the test would be bagged for donation or the trash.
"We want you to end up with what you love," Sharon said.
Sharon helped Pauline make decisions and organize the room so that Pauline would be able to see what she had. Mark's job was taking filled bags out of our way. I scribbled notes in between filling bags, and Henry kept Mark company downstairs.
Sharon shrugged out of her jacket and walked over to a corner clogged with stacks of dusty vinyl records, an old television set, mystery shopping bags, used photo frames and, of course, hatboxes.
Pauline -- a semiretired elementary-school cook -- hesitated to donate a pair of Chinese-style vases because she wasn't sure who would want them. Sharon assured her not to worry, saying, "You know that someone who loves it will find it."
"We haven't used it in so long," said Pauline, pointing to a stereo and old records. After a quick consultation with Henry, the couple decided the relics could go. It was obviously a big psychological step for them, and Sharon gave Pauline an excited hug.
As we worked, Pauline became decisive and confident. Out went stuffed animals, T-shirts, a shoe holder, games and a foot massager. A broken trophy hit the trash.
We uncovered new winter boots, still in the box, that Pauline didn't even know she had.
But a three-tier lazy Susan made of carved wood with pineapples on top -- a souvenir from the couple's trip to Hawaii -- was spared. "He won't let me get rid of it," Pauline sighed. She left it on a bookcase out of sight.
We took a lunch break around noon, and Pauline was amazed to see the garbage bags that had accumulated in the living room. "I can't believe it. All that couldn't have come from upstairs," she laughed.
Fortified by sandwiches and thick slices of Pauline's homemade pound cake, we headed back upstairs to tackle the clothes racks. Pauline yanked suits that no longer fit her husband, and that emptied a rack. Mark, armed with a screwdriver, dismantled and hauled it outside to await the garbage truck.
I was amazed by how much we were accomplishing in just one day and impressed by Sharon's strategies. Her best idea was to recruit a work crew and delegate tasks. Just having someone to take the bags away (especially if stairs are involved) and drive loads to the donation center saves time and lets the cleanup workers conserve energy. I made a mental list of friends I could bribe to help me organize my third floor in return for my famous lasagna and a "Doctor Who" viewing party.
Eleven donation bags and four trash bags later, we were standing in Sharon's beautifully organized, airy room. All it needed was a card table and chairs to be ready for entertaining.
The guys were impressed. The women beamed and hugged. And it was just 2:30 p.m. -- we'd finished early.
"It's a world of difference -- my, my, my!" Pauline exclaimed. "I just couldn't get to it myself. I just needed help, which I got today."
Then she said the words that made it all worthwhile: "We will play cards up here again."