22 Dec Decluttering

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Are you a hoarder? Is everything stored in drawers or cupboards on the off-chance that “you never know, that might come in handy sometime…’’

Is your annual New Year’s resolution to finally go through it all? And every year, does that resolution go no further than the end of the first week of January because you can’t bear to part with that book/yellowing newspaper article/coat/jumper? I recently heard of someone who hoards key-cards from hotels as a reminder of past holidays, even though they will never return to that hotel.

The first thing to say about de-cluttering properly is the importance of getting someone in to help. If you try to do it yourself, or with the help of your ‘significant other’, you’ll always find a reason not to get rid of something. And it’s likely to cause arguments, especially if the enforced proximity of the festive season is already causing tempers to frazzle.

You need someone to take a dispassionate view, be brutal when necessary and to ask: “Why are you keeping this? Give me three good reasons for keeping it. If you can’t, it’s going.’’

I know a woman who runs a professional decluttering service. I got her in because my other half had reached the point of threatening murder unless I got rid of my hoard of VHS cassette tapes. I don’t know why I was keeping them, I didn’t even have a machine I could play them on. They had become part of the furniture, so to speak. To use a cliché, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. My professional decluttering woman could. Within two hours, they were gone.

What else can you do? If you’re decluttering the whole house, start in the kitchen. It’s easier to throw out tins than clothes. Make the decision to give discarded items to a charity shop – you’ll give added impetus to the process if you feel as if you are doing something worthy, rather than just filling bags with stuff and throwing them in a recycling bin or on a rubbish tip.

Psychologists say that clutter bombards our minds, distracts us and makes us feel as if there is always something to do (the ‘I must clean that cupboard this weekend’ feeling). So the phrase ‘Tidy house, tidy mind’ has something to it. Why not keep repeating it to yourself as you fill those bin-bags?

Sometimes, just having one too many pieces of large furniture in a living room can make it seem cluttered. Is there an item which could be auctioned or sold off, like a bookcase or a dresser? You’d be surprised how much difference one item can make.

Are there toys scattered everywhere, creating a mess? Why not insist that your children clear their toys into an alcove at night, then let them come out during the day? Do you have too much ‘stuff’ on your surfaces? Are your coffee tables, windowsills and the like strewn with small ornaments, pictures and other family memorabilia?

If so, be ruthless. Take everything off those surfaces, put it all on the floor and only put back those items that you really really want to look at. Find a new home for the other items or, better still, consign some of them to the charity shop or the bin.

The layout of my house means that people walk through the front door and straight into the kitchen. This means the kitchen can quickly become a dumping ground for bags, coats, scarves, newspapers and post – the kind of things which encourage people to say ‘I’ll put that away later.’ Too often, ‘later’ never happens and before you know it, the kitchen becomes a tip.

For New Year, resolve to keep at least one area completely clear. If you must have items on display, use the tops of corner cabinets which can be unobtrusive – and tell the whole family that bags and coats will not be stored on chairs, but put away in their proper place.

Bathrooms can become cluttered very quickly if toiletries and shampoo/shower-gel bottles aren’t put away – but can be made tidy equally quickly. Resolve that anything which isn’t used daily will be tidied away into a cupboard or a storage basket. If you really can say that everything is used daily, put it all in one corner of the room and ideally buy a wall caddy, or something which hooks over the top of the shower cabinet, to contain it.

Make sure you have a sponge and bathroom cleaner to hand, as well. Nothing makes a bathroom look untidy and cluttered quicker than soap stains and general ‘gunge’ clogging surfaces. So be certain to give all the surfaces a quick wipe regularly to get rid of the muck. As I said above, clean rooms look tidier and give the impression of being tidier.

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