Scaling Down, De-Cluttering

“De-Cluttering” is one of the key steps to getting your house ready to sell. “De-Cluttering” is basically the processes of engaging with the emotional, non-linear, and irrational house-buying public. The reasoning (such as it is) goes something like this:

  1. You need to create “light” and “air-i-ness”
  2. You want to create the illusion of huge space – in terms of the potential buyer perceiving that “There is lots of space to put my stuff”
  3. You want to create the illusion of small, comfy space – in terms of: “This isn’t a frightening “huge space” place. It is a small comfy space that I will feel warm and secure in”
  4. Having the house “occupied” is much better than having the house “vacant”
  5. Except that the general public expects “occupied” to mean “occupied by a family of aliens from a distant planet that somehow live in a 3,129 square foot (291 square meter) house but also somehow only have 3 shirts, 2 pair of pants and 1 pair of shoes – and absolutely no other personal artifacts.
  6. That is, you have to have enough furniture in the house so that the imagination-challenged buyer can visualize a furnished house, without having so much furniture that your life interrupts the buyer’s attempts to visualize their own life.
  7. Books are bad. Apparently, most of the house-buying American public is severely allergic to books. Books bring back images of failed exams. Upset teachers. Smart people making remarks that they couldn’t follow.
  8. Walls have to be empty. Pictures of your life conflict with the imagination-challenged buyer’s ability to visualize their own life.
  9. Oh and by the way, the United States litigation culture means that you can’t actually discuss anything you think about the house – good or bad – because your remarks might be the subject of a lawsuit later.

Wonderful.

Picture of artwor removed from walls
Everything Off the Walls

So… let’s get to work. First step: everything off the walls.

Wow! I had now idea how many dozens of things we had managed to hang on the walls of our house in twenty-two years. Phew! Just taking things down off the wall and cataloging them to go to storage went on and on and on and on…. We must have almost 100 things in frames. It just wouldn’t stop.

We have diplomas from all over the world for three generations of family members. Among them is a diploma from the Massachusetts Institute Technology for an ancestor who crawled out of the slums of Philadelphia, served in the Air Force as an aerial photographer during the Korean War, and somehow made it through MIT on the GI Bill while supporting a wife and three children off of a Christian Science Monitor paper route. We have exotic Polish art purchased by a certain wild, world-traveling, young Japan Airlines employee. We have Swedish weaving diplomas. We have childhood treasures that won local art competitions and ended up framed for posterity.

These things definitely had to come off the wall and head to storage – we need a nice blank wall for the buyers to project their dreams on.

Picture of Dave Patching Holes in the Walls
Patching Holes in the Walls

Opps… Oh my. Yes, those previous things? They needed hangers. The hangers were attached to the walls. Take down the things and you are left with ugly hangers. Take down the hangers and you are left with ugly holes. We did a lot of patching and paint touch-up in the last few weeks.

Next Problem: Books.

We *LOVE* Books. We like picking them up. We like flipping through them. We like reading them. We like discussing them. We like thinking about the messages the author worked to formulate.

Thirty or Forty years ago, books were cool. Leading fashion magazines posed men with an elegant blazer and a pipe, reclining in front of a shelf of books. I love books and I loved those images.

My general life pattern, however, is to be “The last guy to get the memo” I certainly missed it about books. Books are no longer cool. What is cool is Twitter. Oh, and yes: Cats Eating Cheeseburgers” ┬áThe fashion magazines are posing emaciated young men leaping over invisible fountains while wearing pin-striped pantyhose and a girl’s trainer brassiere cleverly embellished to resemble a men’s coat. Books are definitely out.

Picture of The One-Cent Book Phenomenon
The One-Cent Book Phenomenon

So, we needed to get rid of most of our books. iPad to the rescue! We were amazed to find several different iPhone scanner apps with incredibly effective scanning functions. Just pick up the iPad and aim it at the barcode on the rear of the book. Within seconds, the free iPhone app recognizes the barcode, decodes it, jumps on the internet, and brings back the lowest market price for the book out there in the internet cloud.

The result was stunning and depressing at the same time: all the really “great” books that we had purchased and enjoyed over the last twenty years or so had a market value of…exactly: $0.01. This information was quite a shock, but it was also not quite what it appeared at first glance.

  • Does the $0.01 price mean that there is no market for the book?

No. That would be too shallow of an understanding. If you click and purchase the book, you will pay $0.01 for the book and $3.99 for shipping and handling. The seller will pay about $3.52 for postage. That leaves the seller working to figure out how to package and label your book for $0.48. In most cases, this business is a break-even proposition for the sellers. However, they get benefits by increasing the number of recorded sales, positive evaluations, and so on. There are a lot of big operations out there willing to engage in the One-Cent book trade.

Looking at this another way, the market dynamic for printed books has changed fundamentally. Thirty years ago, people had the David-Hetherington-Style-Archiac affectionate attachment to their books. Current consumers – especially young students – look at books as something more like toilet paper with information printed on it. As soon as they are done consuming the information, the toilet paper gets discarded. This change in the attitude towards books, changes the arithmetic of the market for paper books.

Previously:

  • If there were 100,000 people interested in you book…
  • …you sold 100,000 books.

Now:

  • What matters is not the absolute number of people interested in your book…
  • ..but rather the “Reading Capacity” for your book.
  • If each reader of your book holds on to a copy for 60 days…
  • ….and there are a total of 1000 new people per month who want to read your book…
  • The market for your book is 2 months * 1000 people or 2,000 copies.

Once the 2001st copy of your book enters circulation, the market price drops instantly to $0.01. That is, even if over a ten-year period a total of 120,000 people want to read your book, you will only ever sell 2,000 print copies. These will get circulated more or less endlessly with each new reader paying $3.99 shipping and handling plus $0.01 to get the book from the previous reader.

Amazon has inadvertently created a giant, world-wide, virtual, fee-based, lending library.

Fortunately, this mathematics only applies to mass-market “Best Seller” books. We happen to love quirky, unique, unpopular books and these tend to retain their value.

Picture of Unnaturally Neat Book Shelf
Unnaturally Neat Book Shelf

So, we proceeded to sell off as many of the unique not-one-cent books as possible. We also took a lot of the great-quality, appalling-that-it-is-one-cent books to a local used book store. They were happy to have them. Such a store can sell the book for $2.00 and still beat Amazon.com in terms of shipping cost.

Picture of Large Book Shelf
We Had to Get Rid of A Lot of Books

We also gave away a lot of Japanese books to friends in the local Austin Japanese community.

The process went on and on. Multiple trips to the used book store. Anything that seemed to have value was moved to Asatte Press. With tons if effort, we managed to get rid of a bit more than half of our inventory.

Next we had to wipe down the shelves. We are normally not big on obsessive dusting and the shelves were pretty dusty. We arranged all the books neatly according to size. Stacking the books by size to look neat on the shelf led to a totally bizarre scramble of categories, but the shelves ended up looking very neat and clean.

Even with all of this effort, the real estate agents were not very enthusiastic of the presence of books in the house. Apparently much of the American public is subconsciously allergic to books. They must bring back unpleasant memories of having to read and study.

Picture of Pile of Dave's Clothing
One-Third of Dave’s Closet Goes to Donation

The closets were the final problem. As I went to clean out my closet, I discovered that an enormous amount of stuff simply needed to be donated to the Goodwill. I had multiple University of Texas folding umbrellas, plaid shirts that were hopelessly out of fashion, shorts I never wear [As a public service, I refrain from wearing them], event T-shirts from long-ago forgotten events, and worn-out running shoes. All of it went into a huge pile.

Picture of Boxes of Clothing to Storage
The Rest of Dave’s Closet Goes to Storage

Most of the rest of the contents of the closet got tossed into large cardboard boxes to go to storage. The effect was like one of these circus acts in which a small mini-car drives into the ring and twenty different clowns crawl out of the mini-car. It was absolutely amazing how much stuff came out of storage.

Picture of Dave's Unrealistically Neat Closet
Dave’s Unrealistically Neat Closet

The final result was a wildly unrealistic, ultra-neat closet. Just a few shirts hanging neatly in a row. Nothing crammed into the corners. Nothing spilling out the door. The kind of closet some sort of Martian might have.

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