Why do you clutter up, buttercup?


Clutter – for most of us, it’s everywhere. That drawer in the kitchen full of no-one-knows-what. The boxes full of old football programmes in the loft. The pile of magazines on the coffee table which you’ve read only once.

And what about digital clutter? The thousands of images from your camera, uploaded with the best of intentions to your PC, yet they’ve never seen the light of day? The overflowing downloads folder on your computer, full of documents, articles or websites you’ll never look at again?

Sentiment or fear?

messy toys
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels

We just can’t seem to let go. “I might need that later.” “This lot might be worth something one day.” “These cost me a fortune – I’m not binning them!” We keep this stuff because it might be valuable, or useful, or maybe it’s just down to plain old sentiment! Or is it fear?

Clutter is an unfortunate side-effect of prosperity – we all get sucked in by adverts and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and all-too-often end up with any number of things we use once and discard. For many of us, this wastefulness (financial and physical) contributes to anxiety, stress and feelings of regret.

But it’s not our stuff which is the problem, it’s the mindset, which then manifests in mess, disorder and confusion. This in turn leads to feelings of despondency and even depression as we become overwhelmed by our clutter, completing the vicious circle.

Order, order

Although some ‘chaos’ may be beneficial, our brains are wired to respond positively to order. When we enter a calm, organised and uncluttered space, we can more easily and efficiently concentrate, focus and, above all, relax.

Whatever the reason we keep stuff, we could all benefit from a ‘spring clean’ now and again. Japanese lifestyle consultant and author Marie Kondo has created the Konmari Method, which asserts that the items we have around us must “spark joy” – it’s less about tidying up than getting rid of items which lack value.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

– William Morris

Marie advocates that decluttering is a major event – doing it in fits and starts just won’t cut the mustard. It’s very much all-or-nothing. But that’s easier said than done when we’re facing a mountain of junk.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it might suit you better to go ‘little and often’ – start with the things which bother you the most and maybe aim to sort/donate/bin one thing a day until you hit your stride.

Clutter-free – top tips for decluttering

When you’re ready to take the plunge, it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions. Would you spend money replacing the item? Is there someone else who would make more use than you do? You don’t wear it anymore – is it in good enough condition to send to a charity?

Once you’ve narrowed down the field, it’s time!

  • Get some black bags – lots of black bags! And set a timer for 25 minutes at a time, which will help focus and concentration.
  • Organise your ‘clutter’ into the following broad categories:
    • Keep: the stuff which “sparks joy”
    • Sell: does it have value on eBay or at a car boot sale? If not…
    • Donate: give to friends/family, or donate to charity
    • Recycle or bin: if it’s of no use to you or others, recycle or bin it
    • Not sure: really can’t bear to part with it? Put it away and revisit in 3 months

It’s never easy letting go, but just try to bear in mind: banish the fear – let gratitude be your attitude, gratitude (for instance) that you are in a position to give unwanted or unused things to help others. This in itself helps reduce stress and promote feelings of positivity and well-being.

A word of caution

Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Before you undertake a decluttering project on an industrial scale, ask yourself why you’re planning it, or how it would help.

If you’re comfortable with relative chaos, that ‘lived in’ environment, sit tight. Life is stressful enough without heaping extra pressure on yourself, to conform or tidy up so you can impress or keep pace with your friends or family.

Is it something you feel you ought to do, or something which is long overdue? If you don’t really want to do it, don’t! By the same token, be mindful of ignoring the clear out (or keeping items) through promises, obligation or perhaps feelings of guilt or duty.

But once you’ve made the decision to strip back a bit, you’ll be amazed how much you can achieve once you get started. Good luck!

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