Thursday, 21 November 2013

Clearing my clutter | judgement, guilt, obligation

Last week, we decluttered the kitchen. The very last room on the list. There was so much resistance getting to that point –I've yet to work out why – but now that it's done I'm trying to work out how I feel about the house, about the whole process. Before I get there, I want to reflect back...

In Karen Kingston's book, she mentions four categories of clutter: things you don't use or love; things that are untidy or disorganised; too many things in too small a space; and anything unfinished. I think we can all relate! I remember feeling such a weight reading this, because I knew it and I knew we had too much in every category.

The office is where we first started. Too many books, too many piles of paperwork, old picture frames needing to be filled and hung somewhere, binders, magazines – oh the magazines! – and general clutter were making the room feel heavy. But I never made it a priority. We never made it a priority. I guess we weren't ready yet. It's important not to judge ourselves by the way. This was timely:

Let's take judgment about clutter – your own and everyone else's – and dump it right now. You can also unload any guilt you may feel. If you have clutter in your life then for some reason you have needed to create it. Therefore, the clutter you now have has been perfect for you in your life until this point.

I can hear you exhale. I know I did just that.

It drained me every time I used to walk in or walk past the office. Must sort that office out, I'd think. Must sort through those magazines. Must file that paperwork. There were thoughts like this everywhere in the house. And I know it was just compounding my tiredness and zapping the life out of me.

Every time you think about it, your energy dips, until eventually it is costing you more energy not to do it than to just roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

It was all I needed to hear. I need more energy not less. So I cracked on. My magazines were the first to go. Gourmet Traveller, Country Style and all the UK magazines I used to write for. I donated some, and the rest Luca and Kian went to town cutting out their favourite images – they got used and then binned in the recycling. I kept a stack that I refer to regularly and the ones with my work. It was harder when it came to books, old ornaments and gifts from the past. In fact, I got a bit stuck. Obligation, a little fear, not wanting to contribute to landfill rubbish, not wanting to let things go without trying to sell them first.

But the object of this exercise was to clear it out and make space; it wasn't a money-making exercise. I held onto that, particularly as the thought of listing everything for sale and having it lying around in the interim drained me in itself. And again, I focused on how I wanted the house to feel, how I wanted to feel when I walked into a room, so I shifted the environment concern – I knew I would dispose of things responsibly. As for the other emotions, this gave us clarity: 

If you keep it in your home out of obligation, you are giving your power away. Every time you walk into the room and see it, your energy levels drop.

There it was again... energy levels. Suddenly, Graeme and I were picking things up and asking each other out loud, why are we keeping this? Do we love it?

We went through junk drawers (out of sight, out of mind doesn't work either), filed the paperwork and developed a ruthless streak. When one of us started to cave in, the other would step in.

It got easier. I drove huge boxes and bulging bags to the charity shop, rearranged our bookcases and after two days solid we ended up with a room that was easier on the eye and lighter to walk into... a room that made us feel good. There's space on shelves now. Space!

And here's the telling part: those things we dilly-dallied over, those books we couldn't imagine giving away, those little nicknacks that we daren't part with because they were shipped across the world, well they're not here anymore and the truth is I couldn't name a single one of them if I tried. You think it matters, but it doesn't. You think you need it, but you don't. I don't remember anything that we gave away; I just remember the size of it.

Something to keep in mind if and when you start your process (applies to everything, not just books):
Aim to end up with a collection of books that represents you as you are today and the intended 'you' of tomorrow.


  1. This is brilliant Vanessa. You have really spoken to the core of where most people, myself included, get stuck with clearing out the space. Often you hear people complain 'I don't have enough storage space' when in fact it is often the other way around - we keep too much stuff we don't really need! I cleared out the top drawer of my chest of drawers the other day and the delight it gives me each morning when I open it now is almost embarrassing, who knew an organised drawer could make me so happy. (I must disclose I am a Virgo :) xx

  2. Weve just been packing to move and I loved the process of decluttering, although it was hurried packing so there will be more on the other end! Two things I read that helps with my guilt and obligation were not keeping gifts because you felt you needed to do the right thing by the giver.. Giving is an act and therefore not just about the object; and not thinking everything you got rid of needed to go to the perfect home, I am terrible at this, always keeping this for someone or another... I bagged it up and ran errands but then some of it went elsewhere because I just wanted it gone, and probably that someone or another didn't really need it either! That being said I still am driving around with a bread maker in my car because the op shop wouldn't take it and it still works and it was given to us! Not perfect after all, but at least it's not out of sight out of mind anymore!!

  3. Great post but i found it difficult to read. As in the type is very light. I dont know why as the comments above are dark and clear.

    1. Sorry about this Lynda. Did you come back to it? Was it OK then? I don't think it's a problem my end.

  4. A great post. Decluttering is certainly very good for the soul!

  5. A brilliant post. And well done, by the way, on all that decluttering.

  6. This describes the process I'm currently going through and I'm planning on seeing it through. I started over a year ago as we planned moving house, and now we are in our new house which is a doer up and my vision is for it to look like a magazine house. So room by room I'll declutter in advance of my husband building and painting.

    BTW our study sounds like yours used to.

  7. Inspiring Vanessa, We're moving house again shortly so we have a perfect opportunity to do just what you're talking about. Big deep breaths...

  8. Yes! The thing I find most challenging is living in a two bedroom home and having a mother in law who LOVES to give. She's like Santa every time she visits. I would happily live without 'stuff' - trinkets and decorations and the amount of toys we have. I think what I find hard is that she gives as an expression of her love. She thinks of us, and enjoys the shopping, the wrapping, the giving. I do find the obligation thing hard with her. I have taken comfort in the fact that as time passes, the connection to the stuff fades, so I usually do a big clean out before the kids' birthdays/christmas. But yes, the landfill things makes me uncomfortable and I wonder if somehow I can address it with her without squashing a significant part of the way she relates. :)

  9. So much truth in this post
    I started on a mini declutter today- just the boxes of kids art/certificates etc - I find it so hard - but there's just too much - but emotionally its probably not the best place to start - the paperwork and magazines are waaay easier
    I will persist!


  10. So much wonderful advice in this post Vanessa and so many of your insights and personal thoughts here have really inspired me to continue on with my de-cluttering mission rather than put it in the 'too hard' basket :)


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