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Clear Out Your Clutter

Mark Gale

Mark Gale

Author

Lifestyle

Clear out your clutter and change your life!

Decluttering your home doesn’t have to be dull or stressful – in fact, it can bring many long-lasting and surprising benefits. Read on and be inspired! If you were brought up with the words ‘waste not, want not’ ringing in your ears, you probably have a house full of things you can’t throw away because they ‘might come in useful one day’. Getting rid of belongings isn’t easy at the best of times, but for people who grew up during the war, or had parents who experienced rationing and real hardship, the thought of discarding something because it’s no longer needed or wanted somehow feels wrong. The problem is we don’t have rationing any more, and the world is a different place.

‘The idea of “waste not, want not” does not sit easily within today’s consumerist, disposable society,’ explains Clare Parrack (clarifyinteriors.co.uk) from the UK Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers. ‘We have more stuff because it’s cheaper, and relatively speaking we’re better off. But we don’t want to get rid of it because we’ve been taught not to throw things out. It’s the perfect storm.’

Research suggests that we have a growing problem with clutter in the UK. The average British person has 3,370 cubic feet of their home stuffed with items they rarely or never use – that’s twice as much clutter as we had 30 years ago. So what can we do to put our houses in order? More people are resorting to professional decluttering services, but not because they’re lazy or suffering from ‘can’t be bothered syndrome’.

‘While most of us cite lack of time as the reason we don’t declutter, the real reason may be more deep-seated,’ says Clare, 56. ‘There’s a large psychological component. Clutter is actually about postponed decisions. Every bit of it is something you tell yourself you’ll “deal with later”. And, of course, the longer you put it off, the harder it gets.’ 

Time for a fresh start 

For many people, it takes a life-changing event to make them face up to how much ‘stuff’ they’ve accumulated. When Sandra and Kevin Czachur from Manchester received an ‘offer they couldn’t refuse’ on their six-bedroom Victorian home, they decided a garage sale would be the best way to kick-start the downsizing process.

For 15 years their gorgeous detached house had been home to their five children (now grown up) and it was filled with possessions and memories that it would be very hard to let go of – starting with the couple’s bed.

‘It was a humongous wrought-iron Victorian bedstead,’ recalls Sandra. ‘I can remember when we first bought it and the children were so little they could hardly climb onto it. We couldn’t possibly have taken it with us.’

The garage sale also raised other difficult emotions for Sandra. ‘When I saw all the clothes I’d managed to accumulate – some still with their labels on because I’d forgotten about them – I felt very guilty. But I honestly thought half the stuff we were selling was rubbish, and was astonished when we made nearly £4,000.’

For Clare, it was a milestone birthday that propelled her into action. ‘Passing my 50th birthday was a wake-up call. I had a stressful management job and felt a strong desire to do something completely different, so I took early retirement,’ says Clare. ‘I’m not a naturally tidy person and I realised I needed to tackle the clutter around me if I was going to clear my head and be in a fit state to do anything. So I bought a book called No More Clutter by Sue Kay, followed her advice – and began to feel so much better.’

However, any plans to reinvent her life were put on hold when Clare received a phone call from her mum. ‘She was really distressed because her partner of 20 years had diminishing health problems and had to go into a care home,’ she recalls. ‘She needed to downsize but it was upsetting for her to decide which of their lifetime’s belongings to keep and which to dispose of. So we did it together.

‘Once we’d finished decluttering, and Mum was happily resettled in a lovely new flat, I realised I’d found my new career.’ Both Sandra and Clare agree that the benefits of decluttering are immense. ‘We finally moved house last May,’ says Sandra. ‘It was hard leaving the family home but getting rid of all that stuff was liberating. I also feel more conscious now about buying things I don’t need, especially clothes. We’re off to Barcelona next week – another advantage of downsizing – and I definitely feel more energised and positive about the future.’

‘Declutter and you’ll reap the rewards, both practically and psychologically,’ adds Clare. ‘Remember, when it’s taking up physical space, it’s also taking up mental space in your head. Imagine how much lighter you’ll feel without it!’

We can help

Because we know it can be hard to downsize and sort out your possessions, McCarthy & Stone offers a service to help as part of your moving package. Douglas and Iris Nerrlie (right), who live in Beeches Gate, Aberdeen, took advantage of it and found that it made their move easier and less stressful.

‘It’s such a big decision to move from a large family home that’s full of memories, and it was a tough job to declutter our house,’ says Iris, 74. ‘There were quite a few charity shops in Aberdeen that benefited from our lovely furniture. Moving into a one-bedroom apartment meant we had to be strict with what we finally decided to hold onto. McCarthy & Stone helped us with their Moving Experience scheme. We just had to tell them what to pack and what to take to charity. It made everything so much easier.’

7 steps to successful decluttering

Plan your day
Choose a room, drawer or wardrobe, and stick to it. Don't be tempted to move from room to room. 

Be Realistic 
It's taken years and years for the clutter to build up, and it will take time and effort to sort it out. Decluttering is emotionally and physically tiring, so plan it for a couple of hours at a time. 

Use, it, need it, love it? 
Most objectives fall into one of these three categories. If you don’t use it regularly, need it sometimes, or love it all the time, it’s time to question whether it should stay.

Get started
First tackle the visible clutter on surfaces or the floor, to give yourself space to work. Then work clockwise around the room until it’s done.

Colour Code
Use different-coloured bags for different things, so you don’t get confused. You can get through a lot of black bin liners in a day!

The time has come
Our kids might have used our homes as a storage facility since they flew the nest, but now it’s time for them to come and take their stuff to their own homes. If there are special family mementoes around that you can’t fit into your new home, perhaps they can be kept in the family – but only if they’re truly wanted.

Savour the moment
Downsizing is an emotive time and memories are special. Give yourself time to remember special occasions and previously times as they arise, and think about taking photos to preserve them for future generations

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