Decluttering versus sentimentality


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Decluttering, it seems, is the new buzzword. Holidays come around and every man and his dog plans to declutter. I’ve said it myself, (ahem) several times. I’ve done it in varying degrees, but obviously not enough, because I wouldn’t need to keep revisiting it.

Why are our houses so cluttered? What is it with our preoccupation with things, with stuff? I’m not sure I can answer this in one blog post, as I suspect the answer is complex and layered, and varies for each individual person. I’d say a lot of our own individual history informs our behaviour towards ownership and the collection of goods.

My Mum was a hoarder, not the psychological-illness-type of hoarder, but hoarded enough to qualify for the title. And my siblings can verify this as clearing out her place after she died was a joint effort. Even though the task was monumental, in a way I was grateful to her for holding on to lots of the things we came across.

There were lots of old photos, but there were cards that we’d made as kids, pictures we’d drawn for her, school reports, behavioural cards (from being badly behaved at school!), newspaper articles that were relevant to our family. But also paraphernalia that related to her story, letters between her parents, photos of their family dog, so her story, but also our back-story.

And now I have at least a couple of boxes in my garage of the same things – school diaries, photos, letters between friends, letters between my husband and I, before I joined him in England. And I have boxes in each of the kids rooms with their hospital bands from when they were born, cards from their birth and first birthdays, their coming home from hospital outfits, a couple of outfits bought just for them that I can’t bear to part with, odd pieces of paper, like the first time my daughter wrote her own name, the first drawing that was clearly a person.

I’d never dream of getting rid of these things, and I lug them around, from house to house and curse myself for being a hoarder as well. But then there are things like the shelves and shelves of books, that I’ve read once and am pretty certain I won’t read again. But for what ever mysterious reason, I can’t bear to part with. Racks of clothes in my wardrobe, that haven’t seen the light of day for a very long time (when your clothes are gathering dust in the wardrobe, it really is time to let go).

And here’s the thing, I’ve gone on decluttering frenzies and delivered bags of clothes to the Salvos, only to look for an item to wear the following season and then realise it’s gone. Then I curse myself all over again for trying not to be a hoarder. So how do we strike a balance?

When we were clearing out Mum’s place, between us, we probably found at least 20 sets of keys. There were also padlocks, not of the same number, but more than the average person could use in a house for one. Some had keys inside, some didn’t. Funnily enough, I still have some of those padlocks and sets of keys from Mum’s kicking around my place now. I don’t even know how I came to bring them home. Like Mum, I probably thought, ‘I’ll need that one day and then I’ll be really annoyed for not keeping it’.

But alas, I’m not giving up my quest for a minimalist home, I just have a feeling it might be lifelong quest.

Got any tips for letting go? Pray tell…



  1. says

    Fabulous article. I can so relate! I call all my family members hoarders and pretend I am not one of them. I got away mentally sane! Please don’t go through the boxes sitting in cupboards, on shelfs and in the garage though. You might actually start to think I am seriously ill. But it is so true what you said: I look at these things every now and then and think, my kids would love to find all these if I were to die tomorrow. At the end of the day they are all witnesses of our being and what excited us, where we have been and who the people were we loved.

    I love reading your posts!

  2. Jo says

    I follow Francesca’s sentiments…I love reading your blog. As a soon to be 42 year old who has lived in 4 countries, 3 states of Australia and probably close to 35 houses…I to still have clutter, although it is changing and seems to decrease with each move. It use to be books and magazines and clothing I was attached to but now it is Charlie’s artwork, notices from school and not to mention the garage full of prams, cots and highchairs. So maybe the state of your clutter depicts the stage in our lives. Maybe the more full and busy our life the more clutter we have. Who knows why we have it. But you got me thinking and isn’t that what all “great writers” do . Love your work xx

    • says

      I like the idea Jo of my clutter being a stage of life (am optimistic!), although if it is slightly genetic then I think each stage of my life will always bring clutter. Any tips for releasing the books? I love my books, but really, they just take up space (I also like the look of a cluttered book shelf, so perhaps I can pass it off as an interior design choice??

  3. Kathy says

    I think clutter is perfectly fine as long as there are no critters nesting in it and the pathway to and from your bed is mostly free. I have decluttered more and more over the years, but I certainly keep the items that are ear marked as treasuers (they are even in plastic boxes in the top of the cupboard just in case the 100 year flood comes as loosing the first hand print, or lock of hair would break my heart more than loosing the TV). I think when you are ready to let something go it can actually feel like a releif. Just wait until the cot leaves the house for the last time!
    Thanks for sharing about your mum so openly, it was 22 years for me this year and I still have some of her bits and bobs – not padlocks, but knitting needles…. who knows one day I might even find time to knit

    • says

      Gosh, Kathy, you were young when you lost your Mum. How nice to have her knitting needles. Something so small is worth so much. See, this is why I’ll always have the bits and pieces, as the small things with lots of meaning, hold real value for me. Imagine how soothing it would be to knit with your Mum’s knitting needles.

  4. Jenny says

    Very good read Collette and so true, immediately I said to myself that it must be a female thing, but then I think of my dad and he has boxes of tape cassettes of all his favorite musicians over the years and art books and magazines decades old, I guess it’s always a case of,'”this maybe needed some day” or simply a love that you don’t want to throw away. On my trip home recently I came about a box that my mum has put away, it’s got all our reports good and bad, our school uniforms, debs dress and notes of love from us children to parents. As I went through the box, I felt so loved, it’s part of my mums life that she never wants to throw out. When I try to declutter, I ask myself can it be replaced? If it can be bought or borrowed from somewhere else and I don’t use it…it’s sent away….to the shed…for me to deal with later…or keep for a friends baby…which she hasn’t had yet….or to sell on eBay….yes I’m a hoarder.

    • says

      Hmmm, I like the approach of ‘can it be replaced, bought or borrowed’ again. That’s a good way to do it. Will try that, in the next school holidays…

  5. says

    Maybe hoarding is partly a good thing and our sentimentality is what makes us compassionate human beings? (Am hoping so as I am sadly a hoarder by nature even though ideally I am a minimalist). Having had the “declutter to end all declutters” we arrived in Australia with only one suitcase each, the absolute bare essentials for six people. It was an extremely liberating feeling. Two years on and we somehow have amassed enough stuff to fill a removal lorry when we moved house recently. I was angry at myself for allowing it to happen but somehow was powerless to stop it. I try to have a “one in one out” policy – buy a new pair of shoes for the kids, the old ones get thrown out etc but they always end up in the garage “just in case”! For me the secret is to have a very small house with next to no storage and then things which aren’t essential just have to go or there is no room for the people!
    Really well-written and highly readable article Collette.

    • says

      You are right Al, a smaller house might be the answer. Although the tendency is to move for more space, which is quite extreme. But I confess to have done exactly that! But it is always the ‘just in case’ – I guess that is what makes you (and me) a hoarder! On the weekend I took two large garbage bags full of kids clothes to the Salvos, in an effort to help them keep their room tidy. I had to get my husband to take them as soon as we were done with the sorting, just in case I started trying to retrieve things from the bags!


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