Decluttering: 6 Lessons learned from (bitter) experience
The ‘do’s and don’ts’ of decluttering
As I mentioned in a previous post, I started my room-by-room decluttering offensive this month. After many years of going through this exercise there are lots of tips I have picked up along the way that can help to minimise the angst. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
1. Vacuum bags are not your friends.
If there’s one invention I wish worked as well as the adverts claim it’s ‘vacuum bags’. You know the things I mean: those bags that you fill with your bulky bedding, seal, then suck all the air out via a special valve. I was sucked in (sorry!) by the convincing claims of the advertisements and went out and bought some. I watched in wide-eyed wonder as my five foot high pile of duvets and pillows was reduced to mere inches: an organiser’s dream!
However, my ‘wonderment’ was short-lived when I decided to use these marvels on a camping trip. I couldn’t help feeling a teensy bit smug as I packed the back of our car with lots of extra provisions because our duvets were confined within a wafer-thin prison of plastic. The journey to our campsite was a complete breeze. However, the trip back was a different matter because the vacuum bag malfunctioned and the kids were in danger of being suffocated as the three-inch envelope of bedding began to swell to its original dimensions in the back of our A6 estate.
You have been warned!
2. Check before chuck!
Once in the midst of a particularly ruthless decluttering frenzy four or five years ago, I made the mistake of assuming that Richard’s old tennis shoes and Miss B’s black boots were surplus to requirements. In the words of Pretty Woman, ‘Big mistake! Big! Huge!’ Let me just say that Miss B still talks about those boots, ‘Mummy, do you remember when you threw away my favourite boots?’ In fact, whenever the words ‘I’m going to tidy the house’ pass my lips, the fabled boots get an honorable mention! So, take my advice, ‘check before chuck.’
3. Don’t be overambitious!
When Richard and I were newlyweds and were faced with the task of redecorating our marital ‘house of woodchip’, our old neighbours reminded us many, many times that ‘Rome wasn’t build in a day.’ They were right, of course. There’s nothing more discouraging than only managing to accomplish a fraction of the tasks you set yourself when you first began your decluttering journey, full of optimism and enthusiasm.
Cleaning and tidying always takes far longer than you think so make sure you set yourself realistic and achievable goals such as one room (or even one cupboard!). You can always do more if you’ve zoomed through your list with time to spare but you’ll feel so much better than if you’d intended to deep clean the entire house and only managed to clean inside the fridge.
4. Strike while the iron is hot.
When you set yourself a decluttering task, make sure you carry it through to completion. For example, if you clear out a room and end up with a bag of things for charity, a bag for the tip and some things to pass on to friends, ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and distribute them immediately, (or at least put them in your car and make plans to). If you don’t, you risk losing your momentum and having them cluttering up your house for weeks.
5. Perfection is overrated.
Just as the models on the cover of magazines are airbrushed to give an illusion of perfection, the homes you see in the lifestyle magazines will have been prepped, scrubbed, cleaned, decluttered and staged by a team of stylists and professionals for hours before the photo shoot. I suspect that even in ‘magazine land’ there is one room in the house that never makes the glossy pages…The room where the team have piled all the clutter, tat, kids’ drawings, sentimental but untrendy heirlooms and most probably the kids too. Again, it creates an illusion of perpetual order and tidiness but never shows you the ‘after’ shot when the kids have been home from school for a few hours.
In my opinion, perfection is overrated because it usually comes at the expense of being a real home, filled with real people. I’ll admit that sometimes, when I’ve managed to get all the rooms cleaned and the clutter neatly put away, the idea of changing the lock on the door has crossed my mind. However, the moment soon passes. At the end of the day, a home is to be used, enjoyed, lived in and shared: the piles of shoes, the toys, the noise and ,yes, even the fingerprints on my white emulsioned walls remind me that it is.
6. Give yourself an incentive!
Whether you’ve tackled a massive ironing pile or decluttered a room, you should give yourself an incentive to make sure you have something to look forward to when the job is done.
In my case, the promise of a glass (or two) of wine is motivation enough!
Over to you!
If you have any tips for tidying and decluttering I would love to hear about them.