I’m having a clear out. Ugh. I'm not talking about just one cupboard here, I'm talking about The Stuff In My Loft. Yes I’d rather stick pins in my eyes but let me elaborate: I am not cleaning out my loft for fun. I am doing it because I have to (we’re about to do renovations), and it’s murder.
A mention that I am decluttering elicits lots of sniggers in the office and suggestions that I need to “do a Kondo”. Marie Kondo of course is the woman who wrote bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her book sold over four million copies worldwide and was hailed an all-round publishing sensation, so much so that are now even books about her book, like The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi, a copy of which landed on my desk this week.
Now it’s easy to scoff at whether you actually need a book to help you throw stuff out (and even easier to kick yourself that you didn’t think of the idea first), but there’s no getting away from the fact that tidying is big business. Kondo has made a lot of money from spreading the “KonMari" gospel (her special word for chucking out). And while most of her advice is a bit slow and methodical and bordering on the bonkers – show me anyone who actually “folds their underwear” and “thanks objects they’re about to throw” – I can confirm her basic premise is sound: “focus on what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of” actually makes a lot of sense, especially now after my hellish weekend of loft-culling.
None of these books are ever going to do the work for me though, or tackle my main bugbear: which is an ever-growing pile of things I’ve kept for “sentimental” reasons. Taking up half my loft, as well as a big proportion of cupboard space in my house, I need to do something about it, pronto. So last weekend I decided to take the plunge and see if there were a few take-outs from it that I could share. And here they are:
1. HOW TO DEAL WITH SENTIMENTAL THINGS
They’re the hardest to cull. My wardrobe is full of clothes and bags that fall into this category but my particular achilles heel is kids stuff: much-loved toys, drawings, bedtime books that I have read to my boys a thousand times over when they were tiny. Although I’d love to save it all, I just don’t have the space. So I stick to one rule – group things into categories and then ask myself two things: how much does the object really mean to me (echoing Kondo’s “focus what you want to keep” advice) and who I would want to pass it on to. I ration myself to keeping a handful of things but draw the line at throwing out the vintage wooden highchair both my kids used when they were babies, as who knows, it might be something their kids (my grandkids) could use. By being more logical I end up making good inroads into things I’ve collected over the years but have forgotten the reason why.
2. DON’T DITHER
I think I’m being efficient by starting a “keep things for now” pile but quickly notice that it becomes the fastest-growing because all I’m doing is avoiding making decisions over whether to throw or keep. If I have any advice is to try not to hesitate or you’ll be there all day. If you’re struggling, give yourself a cooling off period and set yourself a deadline to make a decision.
3. ....AND DON’T MAKE A “TO EBAY” PILE
This is another pile that’s just not worth starting as they’ll sit there for ages and you’ll never get round to them. Your only weapon is if you know a teenager who you can pay a small commission to sell it for you. I am happy to loan out mine if you’re stuck.
Kettles, picture frames, a TV: I’ve lost count how many broken things I’ve stored up there that were waiting to be brought down to be mended
4. STOP SAVING THINGS YOU “MIGHT” USE
If you’re reluctant to throw away something because you “might need in the future” this is probably a good a reason as any to chuck because it is highly likely that if you haven’t used them by now, you won’t ever use them.
5. SET YOURSELF SOME SPACE LIMITS
Like anyone I love buying new storage, but I’m trying to sensible by telling myself that space is finite, meaning: if your books are overfilling your bookshelf, the first thing you should do is see what books you can take to the charity shop not start googling Ikea. Of course, once you’ve finished clearing out, you are then free to indulge yourself in a blissful hour or two of storage shopping, but only then.
6. SHRINK THINGS DOWN
Take a clippings from old magazines and then put them in recycling. Digitise old photos in seconds with Google’s new Photoscan app and do the same with your old CD’s (it’s called “ripping”). Like with eBaying, it’s the perfect teenagers pocket money job.
7. FORGET THOSE FIX-UP PROJECTS
Kettles, picture frames, a TV: I’ve lost count how many broken things I’ve stored up there that were waiting to be brought down to be mended. They’d been replaced ions ago, so why do I need to keep them as “spare”? But that’s the thing about hoarding: there’s absolutely no logic in keeping an old broken thing “just in case the new one breaks down you bring it the old one down from the loft and mend it”, although it always makes perfect sense at the time.
8. CULL YOUR CLOTHES
It’s simple really: chances are you won’t wear things again if you haven’t worn them in a year or longer. Be ruthless – recycle or charity shop them.
9. IF YOU GET “DECLUTTERERS GUILT”…
You can get declutterers guilt for several reasons: a) it cost a lot of money and you feel it would be a waste (in my case this is an old designer bag that’s tatty and ink-stained). b) You’re worried you might regret it (I have some old curtains that cost us a small fortune. I’ve never liked them but fret that I might need them if we ever move house). c) It was a present (I have a juicer that has never been used because I already have one but I feel awful about getting rid). I find the way not to feel so guilty is to take those items to a charity shop so you know they’re going to a good home.
10. AND FINALLY: AVOID CHUCKING OUT “BLINDNESS”
Deciding what you should be throwing out and what you might regret discarding later takes time. Trust me, after a while you won’t be able to see the wood for the trees so limit your clear out to short sharp bursts. I soon realised that Rome (my loft) wouldn’t be decluttered in a day and it’s going to take a while to reach organisational nirvana, if I ever do. But as much as I will keep on truckin’ I will also keep on chuckin’. After this weekend I have decided I have some new storage to buy…