You Need to Try This Real Estate Agent’s Ingenious Decluttering Hack

published Nov 6, 2023
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

This is my ultimate flex: My home sold while I was living in it with two (yes, two!) preschoolers. One of the most stressful parts of selling a house is keeping it ready for showings, and with kids at home the task is … Sisyphean, to put it lightly. 

My floors were constantly covered in LEGOs, stuffies, and every Melissa & Doug product ever sold. I could never have managed the clutter without my Realtor, Arlene Rouse. When I told her that it was literally impossible for me to stay on top of the chaos, she offered a simple solution: Keep a laundry basket by the front door. 

“When I text you about a last minute showing,” she explained, “Just toss everything in the basket — dirty dishes included. Then take the basket with you to the car when you leave.” 

Yes, I could do that. In fact, my kids loved throwing everything in a basket. (They also loved pouring everything back out of the basket, so I learned to scoop it up before they emptied it again.) 

The idea that all of our clutter could fit into one basket was laughable at the time. I definitely used two — one for the kitchen and one for the living room. Three would have been even better if I had a larger car. As it turned out, removing two baskets of clutter was enough to convince someone that our home was worth the investment.

Credit: Meg Asby

That was more than 10 years ago, but I still use Arlene’s basket hack. The contents of my laundry bin have changed — tennis balls, Amazon packages, water bottles, and school laptops have replaced the toys — but the process is the same. If someone stops by unexpectedly, I can clear the entryway and kitchen counters in the time it takes them to walk from their car to the door. If I run out of prep time before our monthly dinner party, I can at least deal with the clutter in a flash. 

I know none of this is strictly necessary anymore. Visitors aren’t assessing the value of my home the way potential buyers were. But my mom always tidied for guests when I was growing up, and I admired the way she showed that respect to every single person, from my childhood friends to her colleagues. I want to do the same, when I can. 

An unexpected benefit of this method is how easy it is to tackle the mess when I have time. Everything is contained in one basket, and one bin of clutter isn’t as overwhelming as a roomful. 

I still can’t keep my house showing-ready all the time, but with the laundry basket hack, I don’t have to. When people drop by I can feel only happy to see them and nothing else. The ability to show respect without constant clutter vigilance helps my perfectionistic soul relax just a tiny bit.