Decluttering For Downsizing: An Interview With Expert Hellen Buttigieg

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We sat down with award-winning professional organizer, life coach and Gemini-nominated HGTV host, Hellen Buttigieg. A bona fide expert in the field, we discussed the all-important decluttering exercise geared to people preparing for their downsizing next chapter. Known for her compassionate yet firm approach, she helps homeowners understand their emotional obstacles, face their fears, and find freedom from clutter.
Hellen shares her top 10 tips with us that ensure a successful downsizing at the end of our interview…but first…

UP-CLOSE & PERSONAL WITH HELLEN BUTTIGIEG

TR: There is endless information on the topic of decluttering, with tips that seem to cover every aspect of the subject. When it comes to preparing to downsize, does it differ from your general advice on the topic and if so, how does it?

HB: Yes, the challenges faced when downsizing are different from a general decluttering. It’s one thing to just let go of what you don’t use or love, and keep everything else. It’s another thing to have to let go of items you may love because you won’t have the space for them or they no longer work with your décor. The emotional obstacles can make the process become heart-wrenching.

TR: Ideally, decluttering should become an ongoing healthy home practice, especially as we reach a downsizing transition. Realistically, how long before you put the ‘For Sale’ sign on the front yard should retirees, or perhaps budding retirees, begin the exercise of decluttering to ensure a smooth transition to a new home?

HB: Ideally, I recommend beginning the moment you start thinking about your next chapter. The more time you give yourself, the easier the process will be. Waiting until the last minute is very stressful and overwhelming. If it took 30 years to accumulate, is it realistic to expect to declutter in a few weeks? For some people, it can take several months but starting early ensures a more successful transition.

TR: As a professional organizer/life coach, your wildly successful HGTV show called Neat addressed various situations of excess stuff found in home. In your 15+ years of expertise in the subject, you have equated at times the reluctance to let go of stuff usually has some deep emotional issue that must be addressed properly beforehand. How often is the decluttering process halted because of this vital step that must be taken first?

HB: This is a great and very important question. Clutter is just a symptom. Removing it without uncovering the source of it will provide only short-term results, so this is something we address very early on in the decluttering process.

TR: Interestingly, your devoted tribe of followers often mirrors the stage of life you yourself are in. A growing number of your clients now are seeking your help as they embark on creating a meaningful third age. How long did it take you personally to make your vision become a reality?

HB: We started decluttering when my two daughters left home to go to university. We downsized a few years later, to a house almost half the size (but in our dream location). It wasn’t until six years later that my husband retired and we were freed to travel.

TR: With ongoing and rotating lockdowns, decluttering has become a favourite pastime for most of us. How has the pandemic affected your clients’ reasons for working with you?

HB: The experience of being in a pandemic has given people clarity on what matters most. Material items have diminished in importance. Priorities have shifted to more time with family, greater work-life balance and finding meaning and purpose in the everyday. Clutter just gets in the way of that.

TR: The act of decluttering is often a literal and figurative way to clear the way for a new chapter. Preparing for retirement or semi-retirement is definitely one of those times…In your experience, how important is finding the right home and location important to achieving a desired lifestyle?

HB: Finding the right home and location is of paramount importance when starting a new chapter in our lives. When we were ready to move out of our large home, we had reached a point in our lives where it’s less about storing all our stuff and more about being free to choose how we spend our days. Whether it’s walkability, access to cafés and restaurants, or close to nature, when the weight of your stuff is lifted, you are free to create the lifestyle that’s best for you.*

Thank you for sharing your well-honed expertise on this crucial pre-downsizing stage we must all deal with at one point in our lives Hellen. It certainly reinforces the fact that a successful and seamless transition at any age takes a lot of planning and soul searching…and with the help of professionals like you, it is time well spent that ultimately ensures we arrive at our desired outcome.

Read Hellen’s top 10 decluttering steps for downsizing successfully

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