Drowning in a sea of stuff, and other first world problems.

In the lead up to Christmas I felt overwhelmed, mostly by the state of my house. I felt that no matter how much I tidied up at the end of each day, I still felt overcrowded, suffocated by the clutter and that the walls were closing in on me. Part of that feeling was because there was little I could do about it at the time.

The month of December is so incredibly busy – before November was finished, every single weekend in December was booked up with events and social engagements. Not just the weekend either, week nights we getting busy to. I was feeling suffocated not just by the clutter, but also by the schedule. Why do we do this to ourselves and our families every year? (That is another story, for another day.)

In my despair I vowed that once Christmas was over I was going to declutter with a vengeance. I’ve written about decluttering before – you can read it here. My news feed on social media leading up to Christmas was saturated by articles about decluttering and how freeing the experience has been. I was keen to tap in to that, I needed a bit of ‘freeing’.

So I gave myself Boxing Day off and then started. My target was my wall unit, which was predominantly holding books. I love my books; make no mistake. I love the way books look on a shelf, I love to look at other people’s book shelves (I think what people read says a lot about a person). Certain books remind me of certain times in my life, so it’s fair to say that I’m pretty invested in my books. BUT I do think they were part of the problem, perhaps just the beginning. Why did on hold on to so many books, for so long? (Again, another story for another day!)

I sent, at a guess, around 150 books to the charity shop – along with bags and bags of baby toys, cot linen, bed linen, clothes from my wardrobe, my husbands wardrobe, my three children’s wardrobes. The whole boot of my car was full of things for the charity shop. When I looked in the boot of my car I was exasperated by the volume of all this ‘stuff’. For all the clearing out I’ve done, I still have that feeling of being crowded out. So I need to keep clearing, and be a bit more ruthless, so I can get back some breathing space.

My post-new year news feed was filled with articles about new years resolutions; how to make them and how to keep them. I felt like until I cleared the way, and made some space (both physical and psychological) I’d be frozen in to inaction regarding planning and executing plans for 2015.

One of my lovely friends was not so ‘stuck’ with her new years resolutions and one promise she made to herself was that she planned to consume less, of everything. Her decision not be drowned out by over-abundance really resonated with me, in light of my struggles with ‘stuff’ at home.

She borrowed Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine from the library, and set out creating some boundaries for her consumption. One of her boundaries was that if she wanted to buy something, she had to sell something first. On first hearing this I thought it was a bit ‘bah humbug’, but actually in light of my overflowing house, it makes a lot of sense.

Then, a few days later I read an article by Georgina Dent, on the Women’s Agenda – ‘Why I’m not shopping for six months’   and this sentence struck a chord with me: “I am looking at my resolution as a personal challenge that will save me money and time, and force me to be more creative.” Saving money, time and becoming more creative are things that I actively seek. Could the simple act of not shopping help me achieve them?

On pondering this article and my friend’s resolution I realised that all the ‘decluttering’ I was doing was of no consequence if I didn’t stop buying stuff. I’m not a big ‘shopper’ as such, but I can’t resist a bargain and I don’t need most of what I bring home. Also, for many of us, shopping, the act of purchasing, is habitual and often much more complex than seeing something that you like and buying it. It can be an escape for some, a comfort, filling a void or chasing an, often unobtainable, dream.

So I’m not making a public declaration per se, that I’m not shopping, but I don’t see the sense in expending so much energy in clearing out the crap from my living room, only to make space for more. I’m still struggling with the clear-out, let’s say it’s a work in progress, so if you have any tips on what works for you, please share them.

If decluttering has brought you that elusive ‘freeing’ feeling that I seek, I’d love to hear about it.

If decluttering has brought you that elusive ‘freeing’ feeling that I seek, I’d love to ut it.

Decluttering versus sentimentality

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Image via Pinterest (alifesdesign.blogspot.com)

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…