So lately I’ve been using as much of my ‘spare’ time as possible trying to address issues in my home: namely, ridiculous piles of clutter on every surface and in every corner. Ever since I realised that home décor does actually interest me and is something I get pleasure from, I have begun to take on chores which have been neglected for, literally, years. And for the first time I am seeing rooms which I have ‘dressed’ and really enjoy spending time in, and it makes me feel like a proper grown up at last; which is weird when you consider that I’m in my early 40s and I have two small children to my name.
I read Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project way back at the beginning of 2013 but every now and again parts of it come back to me and now I remember that she devotes a chapter to de-cluttering too, arguing that “outer order contributes to inner calm”. I’m a great believer in this simply because I have experienced it for myself on and off over the years and I recognise the feeling I get after clearing out bulging cupboards, sorting and shredding huge piles of paperwork or completing a successful trip to the nearest tip. If a bout of exercise releases feel-good endorphins then de-cluttering must be the lazy person’s route to a legal high.
I was also pointed in the direction of a programme about happiness over on Netflix recently and it transpires that some of the poorest people with the least amount of material possessions are amongst the happiest that the documentary makers encountered which speaks volumes.
I think the thing about clutter is that a lot of the things we choose to retain keep us firmly rooted in the past – things with sentimental value, clothes that remind of us when we were young/skinny/hip (delete as applicable). I am guilty of keeping hold of paperwork long out of date – MOT certificates from a decade ago, receipts/guarantees for computer equipment long since obsolete. There is a fear of loss, of letting go of something which *may* still have some use. But in the end you have to weigh the value psychologically.
I read an article recently which goes much more in to depth about the psychology of our relationship with clutter and I found it fascinating. The things we choose to keep are not just about who we were in the past, but can also be about who we were hoping to be in the future. As I may have mentioned, I have had many aspirations over the years – be it to create my own artwork or become a master baker – but eventually, you have to take an audit of your own life (another of Gretchen Rubin’s points too) and kind of just let go of those unrealised dreams, and in so doing, let go of some of the tools of those trades that you might have acquired as if to fool the world into believing that you actually are that person – accept that there are paths which you may never walk. Only recently I got rid of a big pile of old fading, out of date copies of ‘The Rough Guide to…’ that I picked up maybe 20 years ago. I had Switzerland, Costa Rica, Norway… I’m not saying I’ll never visit those places but I’m learning to accept that I’m never going to be that world traveller that lives in my mind. Heck I haven’t even left the UK since 2010. And it’s a wrench – which is probably why people find it so hard to get motivated to take on what should be a straightforward task of tidying and organising.
My brother in law on the hubster’s side is an army man and as a consequence they have led a relatively nomadic existence moving from one posting to the next. My sister in law has become an expert over the years at packing up and moving on and yet she is a huge fan of home décor and home styling and, in my opinion, a natural at it. I was speaking to her husband K, a few weeks ago and he said she is an expert at keeping things clutter-free. Despite being able to take pleasure in sourcing and buying various pieces of furniture and decorative items for their home, she has no problem changing things up and selling off unwanted items on ebay as soon as space is needed for another project or house move. Sometimes they also make a great profit in the process.
I think what my sister in law’s example really teaches me is that everything we own does not have to have some significance or necessity.
I have already drafted a list in my head of items I want to try and sell on ebay. This task and the sorting of years’ worth of paperwork are the ones I keep putting off but I know it will make the rest of the process easier as these are the main things I own with a potential ‘value’ – financial or otherwise.
Yes I think my new mantra has to be ‘less is more’ – I crave that sense of freedom that can only come through empty (or easily cleared) spaces. So wish me luck on my journey – I believe it will become possible only in small steps and stages but eventually I will reach that El Dorado – and maybe I’ll even achieve Gretchen Rubin’s golden ticket to headspace potential – “The Empty Shelf”.