Stumbling on the blog and podcast of Brooke McAlary of ‘Slow Your Home’ one night, I realised there was a growing movement of folks like myself. Folks who were fed up of long stressful working days with 3 hour commutes, of juggling endlessly the demands of work and family life. Why were we doing this? To pay a mortgage on a house we were spending increasingly less time in… because we were always at work? So we could buy more ‘things’ to clutter up our already cluttered houses and fill our wardrobes with clothes which we never quite liked or fitted us? I know… to provide yet more toys for our children, most of which were destined to languish underneath beds or stuffed into a cupboard and forgotten about. Or in the case of my sons Lego… sucked up by the hoover.
Despite frequent visits to donate at the charity shop, we still seemed to be drowning in ‘things’. It was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, however it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that something needed to change.
Does It Spark Joy?
There are many decluttering gurus out there, Marie Kondo probably the most high profile of late, with a legion of converts. I have read her book (after a lengthy spell on my local library waiting list) and took away some useful advice.
‘Does it spark joy?’ Marie Kondo challenges you to hold each possession and ask yourself this very question. On a practical level this has helped me the most and if I don’t love it, it is gone!
Putting It In To Practice
I found some of her methods, like saying ‘thank you to our belongings’ a little touchy feely, although I do understand the reasoning… Undoubtedly we can form strong emotional attachments to our ‘things’ and experience a sense of guilt when parting with them. Saying thank you seems a somewhat fitting way to disengage and move on. And so the beautiful and very expensive dress which hung in my wardrobe, unloved and unworn for many years, was thanked (inwardly) for some lovely memories and donated.
It wasn’t until I had worked through KonMari’s decluttering advice that I realised how much we as a family had accumulated over the years. My late mum was a hoarder, she stockpiled ( I often thought this was the result of being a post war baby?) and was an avid collector, ornaments and nik naks covered every surface. My house, at least on the surface, looked very different. It was (most of the time) neat, uncluttered and minimal (or so I thought). Post Kondo I realise I did in fact have lots of ‘stuff’ just like mum. I was just better at putting it neatly out of sight in funky Ikea storage!
The KonMari method advises to declutter by category, leaving sentimental items till last, such as the well intentioned family Christmas gift which really isn’t your thing. My own approach favoured 3 boxes for bin, donate and sell with a further category of ‘not sure’. The not sure bin I sealed and dated and revisited 3 months down the line. This saves me from procrastinating over my things!
My husband on the other hand, holds on to everything, up until recently we had a ten year collection of NME’s in the garage, and a p.c. in the loft circa early 90’s.
Decluttering with Children
Anyone with children will probably like me, have been frantically searching for the chapter on decluttering with a young family. I have often felt that this was a contradiction in terms. On one particular occasion I had just persuaded my daughter to donate some toys and books, only for her to return home from the school fair with as many soft toys as she could carry.
At times I felt like a massive bonfire might be the way forward, but I doubt KonMari would approve. I have, I am ashamed to admit ‘decluttered’ and donated some of my children’s ‘things’ without their knowledge. Toys and games I had never seen them play with, and books which they had outgrown… Should the children notice I would plead ignorance… Have you looked in the cupboard/under the bed/ in your brother/sisters room? It didn’t take my daughter long to get wise to what was happening. I heard her tell her dad one day ‘If you can’t find your t-shirt mum has probably donated it to the charity shop’ The guilt and shame… I realised I had to find a gentler way.
These days I try to respect my children’s boundaries, and lead by example. The kids donate their things regularly, not as many as I would like… but on their own terms… we talk about how their donations will benefit others. When out shopping (which we rarely do outside groceries) I try to encourage the children to be more mindful about what they bring home. It doesn’t always work, my little boy insisted on buying a football magazine last week, it cost him 2 weeks pocket money… and kept him entertained for all of ten minutes… however, he is only 9! What can I say, we are a work in progress!