Julie Starr

DIY while Hunkering Down - Pandemic Activities for Homeowners

For my 16-year-old daughter's birthday last month, I turned two of her embroidery projects (new COVID hobby) into decor for her bedroom, as a present to her (a pillow and a wall hanging). She was thrilled! Both of us have been spending time, while hunkering down, working on crafts, bedroom redecorating (in her case) organizing and decluttering (in my case) and repainting (in my case). It isn't surprising that many of us, while stuck inside with only virtual social lives, have turned to DIY projects to improve our homes (and expend creative energy). This article in the New York Times by Ronda Kaysen describes some really interesting and impressive DIY projects completed in the greater New York area. So, whether you are a Northampton area homeowner interested in readying your home for the market, or someone who just wants to put some creative energy into making your home the most comfortable and functional place it can be - this article may be of interest. And, speaking of Northampton Area Homeowners - NOW is a GREAT time to have one of our agents come give you an opinion of market value for your home! It is a buzzing seller's market out there!

Extreme D.I.Y. for Home Decor

Since they have spent so much time at home in the last year, some homeowners have taken craft and design projects to a new level.

Jen Rondeau didn’t set out to turn her laundry room into a psychedelic disco lounge, but now that it looks like one, she’s very pleased with herself.

It all started in early January as demand for the homemade masks she had been selling since last spring dwindled and Ms. Rondeau, an artist and musician, found herself without a creative outlet. So she turned her attention to the gray utilitarian room in the basement of her West Orange, N.J. home.

Over three days, she painted an abstract midcentury design along one wall, a bold mix of red, blues, pinks and oranges. Smitten with the results, she extended the design on the opposite side, set an orange chair in the corner and set up a disco light machine that plays a flashing light sequence in time with whatever music she pumps through her Bluetooth speaker.

“I had a lot of energy that I needed to put into something,” said Ms. Rondeau, 43, who lives in the four-bedroom ranch-style house with her husband, Paul Rondeau, 42, a freelance cinematographer, and their two young sons. Now that the laundry room is painted, “I want to be in there,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

Miss going to the movies? There’s no time like the present to turn the basement into a home theater with a full concession stand. No room for a soaker tub in a tiny bathroom? No matter. Install one in the bedroom instead. Do the children have cabin fever? There’s no time like the present to bring an ice-skating rink to the front yard.

For these homeowners, pandemic do-it-yourself projects have been liberating, tapping unrealized artistic talents, or honing ones they’ve nurtured for years. Their homes have become not just a space they want to occupy, but one they can mold to their creative vision.

“I’m seeing a lot more color, a lot more of a sense of adventure in décor choices. People are like, ‘I don’t have anywhere else to go, I might as well look at something interesting while I’m home,’” said Ingrid Fetell Lee, a designer and the author of “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.”

Leanne Ford, an interior designer and a star of the HGTV show “Home Again with the Fords,” sees this as a moment for homeowners to relinquish some of their pre-pandemic expectations. What’s the point of a guest room if you have no guests? “We don’t need to decorate how we were living a year ago, we need to decorate for how we’re living now,” she said.

 

 

It's a SELLER'S MARKET out there!!!

IT'S A GREAT TIME TO SELL YOUR HOME!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has, among other things, created a backlog of home buyers, eager to move out of urban areas, and into more remote towns and cities. Northampton and it's environs is a highly desirable place to live in a *normal* year; but during a pandemic such as this, we are even more popular than ever! With people relegated to spending most of their time at home these days, there is a premium on home ownership in a small town or city such as Northampton, and it's neighboring communities

We realtors at Maple and Main Realty are seeing houses receive multiple offers, some of them with cash buyers, on houses not only in Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst - but also in Holyoke, the Hilltowns and even farther afield than that! If you have been contemplating listing your home (or land) for sale - we are happy to come give you our opinion of market value, and advise you about all manner of things related to listing your home. It doesn't cost anything to have the initial conversation. In fact, we don't receive any payment (commission) until your house has actually sold! So whether you choose to list your home right away, or you decide to wait until next year -- having the initial conversation with an experienced realtor is a great first step towards making the decision to sell your home. And, once it is listed, we take over to get your house sold! Contact us today to set up an appointment for a comparative market analysis and opinion of market value.

 

News Updates from Stowe Farm Community in Colrain, MA!

Hello Readers. We are excited to share with you some updates from our new(ish) land listings at Stowe Farm Community in beautiful Colrain, MA! This unique intentional community has something for everyone! Read on, and reach out if you have questions. Link at end of blog post. In the meanwhile, stay healthy and wear your mask!

 

 

Stowe Farm Community
is a rural cohousing neighborhood nestled
in the beautiful hills of Colrain, Massachusetts.

 

GEESE, LUMBER, GARDENS, PIGS, BORSCHT

 

Quarantine Goslings

Sebastapol goslings helped us through the pandemic. Read our friend Martha's story of how they came into all of our lives and hearts...  Goslings

Milling Lumber Locally

Kai (above) is self appointed project manager of the milled lumber. This lumber is from Michael and Betsy's managed woodlot and from the border with our neighbor, Lynn. It was milled using a portable bandsaw sawmill owned and operated by our neighbor, Matt Gancz. The portable sawmill was built by a Menonite craftsman in the Midwest. Read more and see video: local mill

 

Butterfly Garden

At age 11, Harley was the youngest member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Lepidopterists' Society. Now she works at the local butterfly conservatory and has created a beautiful butterfly garden in her own backyard at Stowe Farm. Read more: Family in the garden

How to Outsmart the Pigs!

Haynes is always trying to outsmart pigs, this time with some success. The challenge was to provide a  continuous source of water, on gravity pressure, that is relatively impervious to pig fascination and abuse. Pigs are strong and curious; they like to rub up against anything new or just anything that has edges. Their curiosity often leads them to get their snouts underneath a new object and try to flip it up, sometimes bending or breaking it. Read more: Outsmarting pigs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nourishment for mama to be

Nothing is better than nourishing a mama who was eating for two except cooking for the new family! Recipes: Borscht and Dumplings

Judy with her mama goats, bucklings, and doelings.
See our animal photo album: Stowe Farm animal pics

The pandemic has increased interest in the value of living in community. We have asked Julie Starr, of Maple and Main Realty, to help us manage sales of the building lots.
We recommend that you email us first about the community aspects of living at Stowe Farm, then we will connect you with Julie about purchasing a building lot, or give you information about the house for sale.

Please visit our websiteFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest. Stowe Farm Community is scheduling distanced outside visits and tours. Email us for more information.

It's OK to Get Outside, If You Take Proper Precautions

Hello Friends of Maple and Main Realty! We hope you are finding some silver linings in this surreal moment in history. Time in the garden, clearing out your basement, reading a good book, time with your nuclear family, zoom calls with loved ones, walks with dogs? Real Estate IS still happening, but inventory is limited, since any seller who lives in their house is unlikely to open it to the public at this time. We are still seeing empty houses and new construction coming on the market. Clients are relying more on video tours of homes vs. in person visits - though those, too, can happen! All buyers must wear masks and gloves and showings are staggered so that only one party is in the house at a time. 

On another note, since public parks are in MA closed due to the pandemic, people are looking for other ways to get outside. There are numerous conservation areas with walking paths to explore here in Western MA. This article from MassLive highlights a one mile walking path in the Silvio Conti Wildlfe Refuge in Hadley. There is also a link to other areas to explore at the end of the article. 

 

social distancing sign in a park 

 

Got cabin fever? Walk this Silvio Conte refuge trail

by Steve Smith

HADLEY — Visitors to the Fort River division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge can observe wildlife, get an education in the environment or simply enjoy the trail.

Conte represented Massachusetts’ 1st District for 32 years. An avid sportsman, environmentalist and fisherman, the Pittsfield native introduced the federal legislation that created the refuge to preserve and protect the Connecticut River watershed. The refuge is comprised of nearly 40,000 acres within parts of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire.The Fort River division of the Conte refuge is named after the body of water that flows through it. Fort River is the longest free-flowing tributary to the Connecticut River in Massachusetts.

It is a one-mile trail with wooden observation decks so visitors can pause and take a front-row seat to nature. It’s accessible. On the difficulty scale of easy to moderate to strenuous to you-need-to-give-up-all-desserts, this trail is a piece of cake. No hills. Wide, smooth paths. No roots to walk over. No tree limbs to block your way.

Before you go to the Fort River or any trail, here are some answers to questions you might have:

Is it safe to go outside?

Yes, as long as you practice social or physical distancing. By now, you know the drill. That means you must maintain at least six feet of distance from anyone you might meet outside.

Really? Won’t there by other people on the trail?

Yes, that’s possible. Maybe even likely. But imagine meeting a bear on the trail. Chances are he’s more afraid of you than you are of him, and he’ll move away. Be alert. If you hear people coming on the trail, move off the trail They’ll likely do the same. So no headphones. And if you see a lot of cars in the parking lot or lots of cars parked alongside the road next to the trail entrance, come back later or another day because the trail is probably too crowded.

Do I need to go by myself?

No. You should be safe with anyone in your immediate family. If you binged watched episodes of Tiger King on television or completed a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with the person during the days leading up to your cabin fever, it’s probably safe to bring them along.

How about Massachusetts state parks? Are they still open?

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is urging people to stay home as much as possible to avoid person-to-person contact, but he acknowledges individuals and families need to get outside to walk, hike, jog or bike. State parks and other natural resources managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation are mostly open and accessible to the public. There is currently no vehicular access to the Quabbin Reservoir. Elsewhere, playgrounds, fitness areas, visitor centers and bathroom facilities are closed, as are coastal beach parking areas. Find the latest updates and restrictions at: mass.gov/orgs/department-of-conservation-recreation

Seeking an FHA Loan? You Have Options

With the warmer climes we have been experiencing, the spring real estate market won't be far off. Local housing prices being what they are, it can be challenging for first-time home buyers, and/or for buyers who don't have a large amount of money to use as a down-payment - to compete in this seller's market. Since you may be competing with other cash buyers, or buyers with more cash to put down -- now is a great time to connect with an experienced buyer's agent to help you navigate the process - including making introductions to experienced mortgage brokers and loan officers. The following article published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on 2/21/20, discusses the subtleties to seeking an FHA loan - which might be a great option for certain buyers.

 

Can’t find an affordable FHA-approved home? You have options

 

By KATE WOOD 

 

NerdWallet 

 

Americans took out nearly $150 billion in loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration to buy homes in 2018. Nearly 83% of those FHA borrowers were first-time home buyers, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

It’s unsurprising that FHA loans are especially popular with first-time home buyers, due to more lenient credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. But with scores of buyers searching for affordable entry-level housing, finding a place to call home can be a struggle.

 

In pricier markets, even the FHA’s 3.5% down payment option might bust your budget. Houses that have a low asking price but “need TLC” may not pass an FHA appraisal. And in highly competitive markets, it can be difficult to make an offer that gives you an edge on other home buyers.

 

What’s an FHA buyer to do? Here are three options.

 

Priced out? Look at FHA-approved condos 

 

If an FHA-approved single-family house would push your budget past its breaking point, consider making your starter home a condo.

 

As of October 2019, borrowers can get FHA loans for individual condo units without having to worry about whether the entire complex is FHA approved. John Graff, CEO of Los Angeles-based Ashby & Graff Real Estate, said via email that this change should increase the inventory of FHA-approved condos, offering a broader selection of affordable homes.

 

For example, in Denver, the 2020 FHA loan limit — the maximum loan amount the FHA will guarantee — is $575,000 for a single-family property across most of the metro area. Looking at 2019 data from the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, that’s enough to cover the steep average sale price of $515,149 for a single-family home. But buyers there could save substantially by looking at condos, which have an average sale price of $366,937.

 

You’ll want to budget for condo homeowner association fees as well as property taxes. But generally, opening up your search to include condos should bring you lower-priced options.

 

Found a fixer-upper? Get an FHA 203(k) loan 

 

In markets with older housing stock, passing an FHA appraisal could be a bigger obstacle than cost. Listing photos that make a low-priced house look like a charming fixer-upper can conceal major issues, Corning, New York, real estate agent Jennifer M. Baker noted in an email.

 

An appraiser’s key objective is ensuring the property is a sound investment for your lender. But an FHA appraisal isn’t just about value. To be eligible for an FHA loan, the home must also meet the FHA’s minimum property requirements by being “safe, sound and secure.” 

 

If you see potential in a house that won’t pass an FHA appraisal, an FHA 203(k) loan could help you afford the needed work. It has similar requirements to a regular FHA home loan, but the costs of renovating the property are rolled into the total mortgage amount, which is based on the “as is” appraisal and an estimate of the home’s value once the renovation is complete. Using a 203(k) might mean living in a rental a little bit longer — costs you can include in your new home loan — or in a construction zone. Either way, you’re turning a house into your home.

 

Facing stiff competition? Be flexible 

 

There are affordable homes out there, but with many buyers competing for them, it’s a seller’s market.

 

“When a home goes on the market up to about $250,000, we’ll see an actual race to get to that home,” says Michelle Sloan, broker and owner of Re/Max Time near Cincinnati. “We’ve seen up to 10 offers within 24 hours of a property being listed.” 

 

Though you can use strategies to make your offer more attractive — like being flexible on the closing date — you may also be able to find more options by changing your home search criteria.

 

A short commute may be a high priority, Sloan says, but allowing for a little added drive time could get you more potential properties. If you’re wedded to a particular location — for the schools, maybe — try to whittle down your wish list. Maybe three bedrooms will work instead of four.

 

An experienced buyer’s agent can help you weigh possible trade-offs, supply insight into your local market and encourage you throughout the process.

 

You may not get the first home you submit an offer for — or even the fifth — but “keep looking,” Sloan recommends. “There is a home out there for everyone!”

Thriving Arts Scene in Western MA!

As an ex-New Yorker and realtor, I have a natural affinity for old mill buildings and factories. It's so exciting to see the development of our local mill buildings, such as those in Holyoke and Easthampton, where new businesses are growing and thriving. Recent years have seen development further south in Springfield, with the creation of the MGM complex; not to mention preexisting venues such at the Springfield Symphony Hall and the Majestic Theatre. We are lucky to live in an area with a wide array of cultural and sporting events to take advantage of. The following piece from MassLive goes into greater detail about our local arts and entertainment growth.

 

The Gateway City Arts Complex in Holyoke (Don Treeger / The Republican)By George Lenker | Special to The Republican

Western Massachusetts arts scene thrives with ‘amazing venues’

While it may still be too early to make any final assessment, there seems to be a growing sentiment among Western Massachusetts’ arts and entertainment promoters that MGM Springfield has not had the negative effect on neighboring entertainment venues that was once feared.

Now entering its third year, the casino resort draws approximately 15,000 visitors daily, but those entertainment dollars don’t seem to be coming largely out of the pockets of other arts and entertainment venues.

“I haven’t seen any downside from MGM Springfield. Our number of shows and tickets sold in the region has increased every year and I expect that trend to continue in 2020,” says John Sanders, a partner and talent buyer for Dan Smalls Presents, an agency that books shows up and down the Pioneer Valley. “I’d actually like to be doing more in Springfield at Symphony Hall and hope to be able to develop a working relationship with MGM to do that.”

Jim Neill, marketing director of Northampton’s multi-venue Iron Horse Entertainment Group, agrees about MGM Springfield not having much of a negative effect.

“They are one more player at the table for some of the same shows everyone else is vying for, so sometimes a show we’d have done will go their way. But in many cases they are doing shows that wouldn’t make sense for us anyway,” Neill says. “After all the anticipation about the casino, the reality is that it hasn’t had a major impact on us.”

MGM itself seems to be doing just fine, as well.

Michael Mathis, former president of MGM Springfield, said 2020 looks bright for the casino. Part of its success, Mathis said, comes from customer feedback.

“Shortly after we opened, we launched a ‘You Said We Did’ campaign, where we solicited customer feedback and then worked to implement their suggestions. This is common practice in the industry,” Mathis said. “We opened a new VIP Lounge based on conversations with our guests. Most recently, we started construction on a new VIP parking area on the second floor of the garage.”

For Danny Eaton, director of the Majestic Theater across the river in West Springfield, the casino has served as a corporate sponsor, so there has been no downside for him.

“For the two years they were under construction, they were a corporate sponsor. Then, once open, for the next five years they (agreed to continue) with their corporate sponsorship but also buy the house for one performance of each of our five plays,” Eaton says. “So, the MGM impact has been and continues to be a benefit to us.”

In general, Eaton says his subscription-based theater has held steady and actually saw an uptick over the past year. “I certainly attribute it to the mix of plays we offer each year; that’s pretty much held true over the years,” he adds.

Neill says the challenges for Iron Horse in the arts and entertainment market remain the same.

“Competing promoters, getting attention as a secondary market and building new acts. Balancing the more adventurous booking with time-tested favorites,” he says. “Staying passionate about the music is the easy part. There are so many talented artists out there, old and new, and we always have our ears to the ground. We’re always planting seeds that will grow into tomorrow’s staples.”

Neill adds that he was excited about the prospects in 2020. “Our spring calendar is packed. We’re beyond thrilled to have Courtney Barnett playing the Iron Horse on her small club tour. Also at the Horse we’ve got Nada Surf, Dar Williams, KT Tunstall, Altan, Lunasa, Loudon, Holly Near, and prog legends Nektar, to name a handful,” he said. “At the Calvin we have Kamasi Washington, Gaelic Storm, the High Kings, comedian Nate Bergatze, a Guster show March 28 that’s almost sold out already.”

Sanders says he, too, is hopeful about the coming year as Dan Smalls Presents (DSP) represents sustainable growth.

“My work with DSP started five years ago and our growth, I believe, has been pretty organic,” he says. “I moved to Northampton and started promoting shows in Western Massachusetts – oh boy, 20 years ago – so my relationships run pretty deep. There was a need to create new opportunities for touring artists to perform in the region, and we’ve developed great partnerships with a few amazing venues in the valley.”

Along with looking to bring some shows to Springfield Symphony Hall, Sanders says Dan Smalls Presents is also planning on expanding its usage in venues it already employs.

“We did six incredible shows at the Pines (Theater in Look Park, Northampton) in 2019 and will likely at least double that amount in 2020,” he says. “I’m very excited to be working with the team at Look Park to be bringing back live music to this amazing spot. We’ll start rolling out the shows later this month, and I hope the valley will be as excited as I am about the lineup we have this summer.”

One venue Sanders already works with, Holyoke’s Gateway City Arts, has been growing and expanding since beginning in 2011. Gateway City Arts co-director Vitek Kruta says 2019 was great in terms of finalizing and completing the venue’s construction phase.

“We now arrived at the turning point. We also created very successful relationships with (Dan Smalls Presents), Signature Sounds and few other promoters,” Kruta says. “We updated our sound system to state-of-the-art quality with help of Klondike Sound so we can not only assure best quality entertainment but also to attract bands who require that level of quality.”

Kruta saw last year as a year of completion. Along with creating a small works gallery now featuring regularly changing shows, the venue also now has a new bar-restaurant called Judd’s, featuring Czech-American cuisine, a theater, a tap room, a music hall, and woodworking and ceramic shops for use by members.

As for his outlook for 2020, Kruta says, “Holyoke is a home to lots of artists and amazing talent. In the past few years, some artists unfortunately moved away or passed away, and the scene was kind of quiet. But it is slowly coming back and we are going to see more activities this year.”

Over in Easthampton, Rachel Phillips, the chair of Easthampton’s Cultural Council, says 2019 was a great year of growth for her city as far as the arts, and she sees more of the same for this year.

“The city engaged in a series of facilitated community workshops, the Easthampton Futures Project, inviting community members to envision the next iteration of the arts and culture chapter of the city’s master plan,” Phillips says. “And, with more event venues like CitySpace on the horizon and our Millpond Live festival in August and September, 2020 should be yet another banner year for the city.”

De-Stress Your Home!

In the 14 years we have lived in Northampton, we have moved house three times.  This probably sounds like a lot (after our last move, it FELT like a lot) but the progression has made sense for our family over the course of time. We recently purchased and gut-renovated a late 1800's house in Florence Center. We moved in 11 months ago, and we can't imagine moving out any time soon. For one thing, we love our home. We worked with Workroom Design Studio in Florence to come up with the design concept (they are wonderful!). We put a lot of thought (and experience) into creating the spaces. For another, we love the location. However, I can still fall prey to that feeling of walking into my house and feeling stressed out. This usually has to do with the laundry list of items on my to-do list about the house and household. I was able to carve out a home office for myself, so I try to keep the to-do-list-related piles within those 4 walls. However, I'd hate to feel any less cozy and comfortable in our home. I came upon this article from Domino magazine, which makes some helpful suggestions about de-stressing your home.

Is Your Home Stressing You Out?

Four signs to look for—and how to fix them.

 

Published on January 31, 2020

home-making-you-anxious-dominoPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON BENGOCHEA, HOME OF CAROL MILTIMORE

Have you ever walked inside your home at the end of the day—and been hit with a wave of anxiety? It’s as if the minute you close the door and take off your shoes, an accumulation of nerves begins to bubble within your chest and explode like a hot kettle on a stove. Sure, this could be the result of working long hours or not getting enough sleep, but there’s no doubt that our home environments also influence our well-being.

And as much as you may strive to keep your house in tip-top shape, you might live in a place that causes your worries to go into hyperdrive without you even realizing it. We turned to clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., and Havenlyinterior designer Brady Burke to find out exactly how your space can impact your mental health. Below, find out how you can tackle these common triggers to make your home the sanctuary of your dreams.

Remember the last time you had an awful night’s rest because you were too hot or too cold? Or when your house felt stuffy? These little nuances can make you uncomfortable and negatively impact your mood, according to Manly. “Anxiety can surely be triggered if a home is too hot, too cold, or without adequate ventilation,” she says. “In fact, many people can’t sleep well if a bedroom window is not open, and yet others get anxious if the windows are not closed.” Figure out what works for you, and stick to it.

Clutter is taking over

When things are out of order, it’s impossible to relax after a long day—especially when you know you need to do that ever-growing batch of laundry that’s been tucked in the corner. “Clutter is a telltale sign that your home is working against you and not with you,” says Burke. “If your home is disorganized and disheveled, try rethinking your layout and give all your belongings a home.” That doesn’t mean that you have to go full minimalist: Burke adds that personal touches like artwork and decor go a long way to making a tidy home even more comfortable. 

Your work life and personal life are blurred together

According to Manly, if you do business from home, you should set up shop in a specific area where you’re normally already active. “When work is confined to one space, work time and rest time can be more clearly delineated,” she says. 

If you don’t have the room to create a designated office area in your home, whatever you do, refrain from bringing you laptop to bed. This can disrupt the only peaceful environment in your home. “In order to allow the mind to ‘turn off’ and allow for restful sleep, it’s essential that phones and computers be kept as far away from the bedroom as possible,” Manly adds.  

Sunshine is important in a home for way more than just aesthetic reasons—the vitamin D it supplies you with also helps reduce depression and anxiety. “Natural light is a mood elevator and improves one’s quality of life,” says Manly. If your apartment errs on the dark side, consider adding lamps so you don’t have to rely on unflattering overheads.

 

 

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    Time To Declutter!

    This time of year, we tend to spend more time inside of our homes than out. It's harder to avoid noticing the clutter that inevitably builds up when we are looking at it day in and day out. For many people, figuring out how to lessen the clutter (and maintain systems of organization) is an overwhelming concept. Luckily, there are a number of talented people in the Northampton area who specialize in helping people let go of unnecessary clutter, and create organizational household systems. A recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette addresses the issue, and suggests local help. Read on!

    Photo Courtesy Jill Bromberg

    Clearing out the clutter: Valley home organizers help clients find some peace of mind 

    Staff Writer
    Published: 12/31/2019 12:25:06 PM

    It seems to be a universal problem: Americans have too much stuff.

    Take just a quick cruise around the web, and you can find references to article that cite some alarming and depressing statistics, such as that the average U.S. home contains 300,000 separate items; that about 10 percent of Americans rent offsite storage units, despite the typical house size tripling in the last 50-plus years; that the average American family spends over $1,700 a year on clothes.

    Don’t believe what you read on the internet? Well, consider what Kira Coopersmith, a professional organizer in Greenfield, says about the issue. She has worked with hundreds of clients in the last several years to declutter their homes and apartments or helped them downsize for a move.

    “A lot of us are drowning in stuff,” says Coopersmith. “People can’t deal with it, and it causes a lot of stress ... We’re a consumer society, and, in some cases, our things start taking over our lives.”

    As Coopersmith sees it, many people may want to simplify their lives and get rid of a lot of excess possessions — clothes, toys, kitchenware, books, computer equipment, memorabilia and keepsakes — but lack the time and energy to do it.

    “In so many families, both parents are working, and they can make the bed, maybe vacuum the house once a week, and that’s about it,” she says. “They’re overwhelmed.”

    That’s one of the reasons Coopersmith — who previously lived in Belchertown and has also worked in the hotel business and in health insurance service and sales — likes her job. She enjoys helping people declutter their homes and find a little peace of mind.

    “This job really is about helping people make those decisions that will make their lives a little easier,” she says.

    Coopersmith and another professional organizer, Jill Bromberg of Montague, say they’ve worked with a variety of clients over the years. Some are older people or couples who are looking to move to a smaller place, but others come from many walks of life and have different problems they’re trying to solve.

    “That’s one of the things that’s most interesting about the job,” says Bromberg, who used to work with people with special needs and started her organizing business in 2012. “I think what we [organizers] can give is an objective perspective. I can guide people to making decisions on what they want to keep and what they can let go of. And I get a lot of satisfaction on making their lives a little more manageable.”

    ‘One in, one out’

    One big headache for a lot of people, Bromberg says, is clothing.

    “It has become so easy to shop online, and then you have these cheap fashion trends that are constantly changing, so things tend to pile up and just get added to the closet,” says Bromberg, whose business is called Serenity Home Organizing and Move Management. “It’s easy to find yourself with too much.”

    That’s especially true this time of year, Bromberg notes, with clothing a popular gift idea for many people. She recommends that people practice a “one in, one out” rule: If you get, say, a new sweater for Christmas or Hanukkah (or on some other occasion), think about giving an older one away to charity, or to a friend or work colleague.

    One could take the same approach for books. If you’re adding to your collection, take a bunch of older titles that you haven’t read in a long time (or maybe ever) and take them to a used book store for sale, or donate them to a book drop or “Free Little Library” in your neighborhood.

    “I always tell people to take pictures of some of these things they’re giving away, so they have a reference if they maybe want to find that book or item again,” says Bromberg.

    For professional organizers like Bromberg and Coopersmith, each decluttering or organizing job begins with an initial meeting with clients to assess their needs, get to know them a bit, and figure out a plan for action. Sometimes a job can take place over a long period. Coopersmith, for instance, says she has been working off and on for several months with a couple who have run a farm and business in Conway for many years and now have begun to downsize their affairs.

    On the other hand, Alex Milne — an independent scientist and researcher in Northampton who works with a variety of clients in bioacoustics, physical acoustics, wireless spectrum management and other technical fields — got in touch with Coopersmith to help organize his equipment. They met just twice, he says, but Coopersmith not only helped him get better organized: She showed considerable sensitivity and understanding in grasping the basics of what he did and what equipment he needed to keep, he adds.

    “I really found Kira to be an exceptionally compassionate human being,” says Milne. “I felt like I was becoming trapped with all these work items that were kind of overwhelming my home life … she learned about [the equipment], which she hadn’t seen before, and made good recommendations about handling it.”

    Coopersmith helped Milne organize his equipment by application: storing tools together that would be used for similar operations. For instance, Milne later stored together in one drawer all the items he needs to measure, form, cut or shape small thin metals into structures or components (with some exceptions).

    “She brought a level of sophistication to this that was really impressive,” said Milne. “This wasn’t something I’d been able to do on my own, but now I feel I’m in a better position for managing my stuff in the future.”

    For her part, Coopersmith says a big part of her job is to figure out which items her clients are emotionally attached to — a family heirloom, say — and which they might be persuaded to part with. “It’s not up to me to tell people what they should or shouldn’t keep, though I’ll clearly make recommendations,” she says. “If someone is super-attached to something — clothing or something they inherited from a parent — we’ll talk that through.”

    Other tricks of the trade

    Another bugaboo for many people is paper. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t have a basic filing system,” says Coopersmith, who works primarily with residential clients but has also helped small businesses improve their filing systems and overall paper management.

    “It is so easy to get buried by paper,” she says. “That’s something a fair number of people need help with — keeping and filing the important stuff in an organized way and learning to get rid of the junk quickly.”

    Wendy Sibbison of Greenfield, a retired lawyer, wanted a space in her home where she could write a book. She had a room in mind on her top floor, but, unfortunately, that spot “had become a dumping ground for years for paper and old files and who knows what else,” she says. “I just couldn’t deal with cleaning it out myself.”

    Sibbison previously had paid her adult daughter, who lives in Philadelphia, to help her declutter her home about four years ago and felt she couldn’t ask her for help again. So through the internet, she found Coopersmith’s business, called “Sensible Sort,” and hired her to tackle the mess in the third-floor room.

    “It was perfect,” says Sibbison. “I never felt rushed or upset [in getting rid of things], I had fun chatting with her, and, in the end, she took away 12 boxes of paper and other stuff.”

    That’s another service organizers such as Coopersmith and Bromberg provide: physically transporting excess material to a recycling center, a charity or some other destination of a client’s choice. Bromberg says she’ll always do that for elderly clients or those with physical limitations, but it’s also helpful for others.

    “It can be easy to put things in the back of your car and then somehow not get around to actually getting rid of something,” says Bromberg. “Clutter is often postponed decision-making, so if I can help people take that final step, I’ll do it.”

    And though this year’s big gift-giving season may already be past, Bromberg notes that in giving gifts in general, a future plan to reduce clutter — or at least keep it in check — is to rely less on physical items. Give someone a gift certificate to a restaurant or a concert, she suggests, or arrange for airline tickets for a vacation.

    “We can all use less stuff and less clutter in our lives,” she adds. “It’s just another way to simplify things and make life less stressful.”

    Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

     

     

    Weekend Events in the Northampton Area!

    Hello Northampton Area Friends! We wanted to remind you of some fun and important upcoming holiday (and non-holiday) events going on in the area this weekend.

    The 16th Annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage is happening in Northampton this Sunday, December 7th. The first event starts at 9 a.m. in the parking lot next to the Northampton Brewery. There are many local businesses present, giving away goodies. It's fun to cheer on the many walkers and runners who have raised money for this wonderful event!

    The Cottage Street Open Studio Sale is on this weekend and next! The dates are December 7, 8 and 14th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cottage Street Studios in Easthampton.

    The Easthampton Art Walk, which occurs on the 2nd Saturday of each month, is scheduled for next Saturday, December 14th, after the Cottage Street Open House. 

    The 8th Annual Holiday Toy Exchange is happening next weekend. Toys can be dropped off on 12/13, the exchange itself is on the 14th. The event is run nearly entirely by volunteers, and is co-sponsored by the Northampton Department of Public Works and its ReUse Committee and by Northampton Public Schools/Coordinated Family and Community Engagement. Those wishing to donate used toys can do so from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, at the cafeteria of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. Toys should be clean and complete. More information can be found on this flyer

    Lastly, The 39th Annual Northampton Winter Craft Fair will take place Saturday, December 7 through Sunday, December 8, 2019. The event will benefit CHD’s Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Hampshire County in furthering its mission of creating and supporting one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Join BBBS at Northampton High School to shop from a beautiful selection of goods produced by 90 artisans and a delightful children’s book sale. The event will feature live music, including local jazz artist Taylor McCoy, delicious food from Hillside Organic Pizza and Catering, and a silent auction taking place on Saturday. The fair is open 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sunday. The price of admission is $5 for adults and free for children. There is free parking on the premises. McCoy will perform from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday and 12 – 2 p.m. on Sunday.

     

    Median Home Sale Prices in MA in 2019

    Happy Weekend, Northampton-area friends! For those of you thinking about selling your home, good news! Sales prices in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties are up this year. For those of you looking to buy, it's a good time to connect with a realtor to help you navigate the competitive market. Attached are some recent real estate stats, courtesy of Masslive!

    Got $400,000? That’s the median home sale price in 2019

    Posted Oct 23, 2019 / MASSLIVE

    By State House News Service

    The median Massachusetts home sale price over the first nine months of 2019 clocked in at an even $400,000, bolstered by a record-setting month of September.

    The Warren Group reported Wednesday that the year-to-date median home sale price rose 3.2 percent compared to the same nine-month period in 2018, but that home sales so far this year are down 1.6 percent. Sales are down this year in 10 of the state’s 13 counties, while prices are up across all counties.

    Sale prices through September

    Sale prices through September

    Sales were up 1.4 percent in September and the median home sale price last month of $399,000 was up 5 percent over September 2018 and marked a record high.

    "The gain in the median price last month was the biggest monthly gain since March and the gain in sales of single-family homes is the first time sales have actually increased since May," Tim Warren, CEO of The Warren Group, said in a statement. "Until the economy hits a bump in the road, the real estate market in Massachusetts should continue to inch its way upwards."

    The median condo sale price in September of $375,000 shot up more than 14 percent over last September and also established an all-time high for the month. The higher prices did not discourage buyers as condo sales for the month were up 5.6 percent over September 2018.

    "Condos have been a hot commodity in 2019, but a double-digit spike in the median sale price is quite remarkable," Warren said. "In fact, 14.3 percent marked the biggest year-over-year spike for the month of September in 17 years."

    Year-to-date condo sales are down 2.3 percent. The median condo sale price this year is $385,000, a 4.3 percent bump compared to the same period in 2018.

    The biggest year-to-date home sale declines in 2019 have occurred on the islands of Nantucket (24 percent), Martha's Vineyard (16 percent) and in Suffolk County, which includes Boston (6.5 percent).

    The largest increases in median home sale prices so far this year have occurred on Nantucket (9.1 percent), Franklin County (7.8 percent), Bristol County (7.6 percent) and Berkshire County (7.6 percent).

    The five counties where the median home sale price this year has registered below $300,000 are Worcester ($290,000), Hampshire ($282,250), Franklin ($220,000), Berkshire ($215,000), and Hampden ($205,000).