Thursday, 21 January 2021

How to Declutter and Still Be Sentimental

|A dressing table with a vase in the background and a basket containing assorted trinkets, including books, beads, and a model of the Eiffel Tower
 I've never considered myself to be a hoarder, but I do like to hang onto things. Not necessarily out of sentimentality, although that is often the case, sometimes because there is no real reason not to keep something. I look after things and keep them in good condition, so why not just let it all stay? Like most people, though, my house is not huge, and recently I've found myself dreaming of a bigger place even more than usual. Something had to give and it was time to either buy an awful lot of lottery tickets or get tough. I started with my dressing table, which I talked about in Creating my Small Space Home Office and I've carried on from there. Here's how I decluttered my whole house successfully, without losing my mind, or anything I didn't want to. 

I wish I could be a minimalist, I really do, I love the calm and organised impression you get from a minimalist home, but some things are important to me. I've suffered from short term memory problems for as long as I can remember (sorry, little pun, couldn't resist!) and it means I rely on trinkets and photographs to connect me to people and events that could otherwise be forgotten. Items made for me by my children, souvenirs and pictures all take up space in my house, but that doesn't mean it has to be cluttered. My home may never be entirely without personal items here and there, but I've found ways to get it to a point of organisation where I am happy with it, I can find everything I need easily, and I think I personally prefer a 'homely' vibe, rather than a showhome feel, so we're all good. 

Two shelves, one in the background with stuffed animals and a Pop figure on and one with a china tea cup and saucer in the foreground and behind it a carafe, cut glass perfume bottle and jewellery hanger in the shape of a hand

If you keep everything, you have clutter, but if you keep groups of items and arrange them purposefully, you have collections. These can be a lovely focal point to bring joy to your home, but they work best when you cut away the deadwood. This means collecting all of your individual pieces together and sorting out the favourites and the best ones, leaving out the ones you're not keen on, the broken ones, and anything else you've just lost the love for. This can apply to anything; shoes, clothes, ornaments, they can all become tatty or go out of style and when you take those parts away, you're left with the things you really love and it's much easier to see and appreciate them once they're not crowded out by everything else. This process can really lift your spirits if money is tight too because rediscovering something lovely that you'd forgotten, or that had got buried, is almost as good as buying something new. 

I've learned that there is a whole spectrum between minimalist and hoarder. I used to get really disheartened because I didn't feel I could go down the Kon Mari route of organisation, basically because too many things bring me joy, but if you don't want to live a minimalist lifestyle, that's ok too. It's fine to like having possessions around you, but it helps if you can keep on top of everything so that it doesn't become too difficult to keep life in a reasonable state of order. What that state of order actually looks like is also a case of personal choice, not every home has to be a showhome and what's comfortable for you is the important part. The main issues with having a generous, unchecked 'stuff' habit is that it makes it much easier to lose things, which makes tasks take longer and can leave you feeling disorganised and fed up. Having clear sight of everything and knowing where items are can contribute to a feeling of calmness and order which is a great way to help combat feelings of stress and anxiety. You just have to find a system that works for you. 

When I declutter, I make three piles; 'Now', 'Not Yet' and 'Never'. The Now pile is anything I use all the time, that needs to be easily accessible and within reach, the Not Yet pile is something that I don't plan to use any time soon but will do one day, that needs to be out of the way, like in the loft or on top of the wardrobe, so that it doesn't clutter up my living space all the time, and Never is anything that can be recycled or given away to charity because I have no use for it anymore. The 'Now' pile might also need sorting out into 'Every Day' and 'Sometimes' so that I have easy access to items I use all the time, such as current letters that need dealing with and a small supply of pens, pencils etc, but the letters I might need later and the spare stationery goes in a box under the bed, so it's there when I need it, but not getting in the way. There were some surprises when I used the 'Now', 'Not Yet', 'Never' method, such as the amount of bed linen I own. I had no idea I had so many parts of duvet sets; mismatched pillowcases and duvet covers, etc. It's just not something I've ever really thought about, but when I went through and recycled all the ones that I just don't use and bought a couple of pillowcases and bottom sheets to marry up the colours I had, I ended up with half a dozen easily accessible sets, which saved so much space, I actually had a spare shelf and an unused shelf in my house is like gold dust! 

A double bed with white duvet and pink pillows, above it, a landscape photograph of a pier, to the side a bedside table with a lamp, Lumie Bodyclock and painted carafe. There's a dreamcatcher above it on the wall. In the middle of the bed is a stuffed Starlord figure.

Charity is a very important aspect that has helped me to let go of things that I was very keen to keep hold of. This is where I tackled the 'there's nothing wrong with it' aspect. As an example, I have a pretty impressive stationery habit, I love new stationery and really like trying out and buying new pens, etc. Over the years I've been to a lot of different events connected with this blog and nearly always get given a goody bag invariably containing at least one notebook. There is something really exciting about the possibilities and potential of a new notebook. What can I use it for? What will I fill those pages with?! I know, I'm bonkers. Anyway, when I decluttered my stationery collection I counted 17 brand new notebooks. Up to now, I'd kept them because, why not? I would use them one day, right? This time, I sorted out a few of my favourites and gave the rest to charity, safe in the knowledge that somebody else would probably get the same daft, giddy excitement that I had over the possibility of journalling or list-making. I did this with everything in my stationery box and the result is that now I can see what I have, use it and enjoy it. It saves a lot of money too. I'm always buying extra sellotape, blu tack or paperclips because mine are buried in a sea of things I don't need, so I think I've run out. Another option, if you have items of particular value, is to sell them. It's often worth doing a quick search on eBay to see what other people are selling similar items for in order to establish if it's worth your time listing them. 

Another big source of clutter for me was unfinished jobs. I had piles of pictures waiting to be hung for years, photos that needed to go in albums, as well as other unfinished projects that needed dealing with. For a lot of us, there really is no better time to deal with those dust-gathering piles than right now. Not everybody, of course, some people are working harder than ever to keep everyone going during the pandemic and to you, I say a huge well done, and you can always save those jobs for when everything calms down again, they're not going anywhere. However, for those of us with a bit of spare time right now, grab a hammer and a few small nails and get going. If you've never hung a picture, trust me, it's not that hard, just make sure you bang the nail in at an angle downwards. There are a wealth of how-to videos on YouTube if you don't feel very confident about it. The same goes for the rest of the to-do piles, there's something quite satisfying when you get to the bottom of a job list and your uncluttered room will thank you for it. 

So, to recap because I've gone on a bit: 

  • Even if you paid money for it, it's brand new,  or you've had it a long time, if you don't need it, can't use it, or don't love it, give it to someone who will. It takes a bit of resolve to start with, but you just have to remember that, even if it cost actual money, it has no real value if it's just getting in the way of having a home you are happier in. If you have the time, you could always sell your bits and bobs on eBay or a local selling group and make some money back.
  • You don't need all the things, just because they fit with a particular theme or style that you like. Keeping the best examples and throwing out the tat can highlight what you love and make collections look more purposeful.
  • Allocate some time and go through your piles of unfinished jobs, if you have any. It's boring, that's why you've put it off, but put on some good music, or your favourite film and get that clutter gone.
  • Organise everything you own into how often you use it. Keep your most-used items in the cupboards and drawers where you can reach them and everything else in the less accessible places, so you know what you have and where it is.
This project took me a few weeks, but I really enjoyed it. I went through every single room and sorted through everything, from old paperwork to my sewing box, where I found 147 spools of thread, which is what happens when you don't know what colours you already have. Oops! I invested in a few new storage solutions, which I will cover in another post, and, most importantly, found that I really like organising and being organised. I mentioned in 17 Ways to Relax that sorting and organising is the best way to switch off and I stand by that, focusing on a repetitive, easy task is a great way to take your mind off the stress of everyday life for a while. You can start small, go slow, but so long as you keep moving forward and sort out more than you collect, you will win the battle of the clutter! 

Dressing Table Photo by Fiona Murray on Unsplash


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