Decluttering your life

One of the biggest internet sensations so far this year has been Marie Kondo. Her quirky advice and ideas really seem to be striking a chord with people drowning in a sea of clutter. I watched her show and gave it a go. I tackled my dreaded t-shirt drawers, where everything was just thrown in and squashed together, as it had been for years.

I piled everything on the bed and then went through them, one by one, deciding if I really liked it and was likely to wear it again ever. I discarded about a third of them, though I stopped short of thanking them as Marie had suggested. The ones that were left I folded up neatly the way she had demonstrated and began placing them in orderly fashion in the drawer. By the time I had finished I found I had one very tidy drawer of neatly arranged shirts, any one of which was instantly visible and retrievable. I also had one completely empty drawer. It was something of a revelation. I couldn’t believe I was standing there feeling good about myself because of a drawer of t-shirts.

Kondo’s sudden entrance into my realm of awareness was serendipitous indeed. I had already begun a daily regime to declutter my life. The idea had been to throw away at least one thing every day. To begin with it was an easy task. My house contains not only years of my own ‘stuff’ but a great deal that has ended up with me that belonged to my parents. I’ve always been something of a hoarder, with that almost delusional belief that ‘I might need it one day’. I have come to realise, as the years whizz by, that ‘one day’ has never arrived for most of the stuff and I’m now leaning towards the idea that it never will. Everywhere I look there are things. Each shelf, cupboard, nook and cranny, they all are crammed with stuff. And the more I sit and look at it the more I realise that most of it just sits there unused and unnoticed, year after year after year.

I have books I haven’t looked at in thirty years and must surely accept I probably never will look at them again. I have DVDs and CDs that sit on shelves and remain unplayed, in most cases since I bought them. Nowadays I listen to music mostly through the computer and I watch movies mostly through Netflix and Amazon Prime. I also read eBooks. Yes, it is still nice to flick through a real book or browse a CD booklet, but it is hardly necessary. There is massive scope for decluttering my life thanks to the digital revolution. There are books and CDs that I could never part with but there are plenty that I could, and be more than happy with a digital version.

Photographs are a trickier one. Yes, I only take digital photos nowadays, and they are all on the computer and in the cloud. And I have scanned my favourite family photos to add to them. But what do you do if you have boxes of old family albums that have been passed on from your parents and grandparents? You can scan them, like I have done, to have digital copies but what about the originals? If you have children it may not be something you will worry about. You’ll just assume things like that will automatically be passed down to them. But what if y0u have no children to leave them to? No one else wants a ton of old photographs of a family they don’t know. Those goofy seaside holiday snaps from fifty years ago may have some meaning to you but that’s as far as it goes. If your house ends up being cleared by some stranger they will just be binned. You might as well save them the bother. It is a really difficult one, but you have to ask yourself honestly how often you get those old albums out and spend an afternoon slowly looking through them and reminiscing. For most the answer would be somewhere between rarely and never. Any photographs that were that important to you would probably have been framed and on permanent display. If you scan them in to your computer then they won’t be gone forever but the originals are just bits of card adding to the clutter in your life. If you still find it a hard thing to do then put them in storage somewhere. Let a couple of years go by and see if you seek them out once in that time. If not, it is clear you can survive without them.

The more you get into decluttering the easier it becomes. And you begin to feel wonderful about it. That pineapple corer I bought ten years ago and have never used, well it is gone now and I’m not losing any sleep over it. There are ornaments that were sentimental to my parents but I have come to realise have no real meaning to me other than the fact that they were sentimental to my parents. But I don’t need objects to remember people. I have the memories of them in my head and I carry them with me wherever I go. If I ended up homeless and living under a hedge somewhere I would still have that lifetime of memories with me and wouldn’t need some cheap porcelain horse to enable me to access them. Sentimentality attached to physical objects is a curse. People you have loved and lost are always with you. Discarding a few knick knacks will not make you forget about them but it will help you to focus more on living your own life – which is exactly what those loved ones would have wanted.

Until you start decluttering you don’t realise just how much stress that clutter is causing you. It isn’t at the forefront of your mind, constantly nagging at you. It remains hidden deeper in the shadows, gnawing away at you from the darkest recesses of your brain. Once you get into the decluttering frame of mind it can become addictive, but as addictions you go….

If you have ever found yourself thinking “god, I hope I never have to move house again” then perhaps it is time you paused to take a good look around and ask yourself how much of the stuff you are surrounded by is stuff you actually need. Decluttering your life can declutter your mind.