How to Maintain an Uncluttered Home: Out with the Old – Part I

To maintain an uncluttered home, one needs a combination of ruthless tiding and well thought-out storage. But how does one tackle both? This month I’m going to cover the ever-dreaded topic of decluttering and next month, I'll be sharing some designer tricks to storage.

Clutter has a funny effect on people. Physically it get can get in your way and emotionally it can get you down. Not only can it make it hard to get easy jobs done as it blocks your path to desired items, but sometimes it can even feel like an overwhelming amount of stuff (your clutter) is suffocating you and it can turn even the most lovely home into a frustrating mess.

You may think that these are extreme statements for what can be seen as a minor issue, but in the early naughtiest an origination called the CELF brought together anthropologists and archaeologists to research how we currently live. As part of their research, they measured levels of cortisol, a hormone which is released when we feel stress. As the participants talked about the clutter in their home, their cortisol level plummeted, giving the same type of readings as people suffering from chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder or higher risk of mortality. A terrifying thought.

Even though we are aware of these matters, it's hard to escape the clutch clutter has on our homes. We are a society of consumers so we naturally acquire stuff. I have often dropped two large bags of toys, kitchen accessories and clothes to charity only to return home with two more bags of purchased items. Sound familiar? As much as we try, the scales seem never to be in favour of a clear, calm space.

But how do we tackle it? Like losing weight it isn’t rocket science. For your health you run more and eat less. For your home, you need to dispose of more and buy less. However we struggle with it. How do we select what we keep? Can we adopt the ruthless approach given in Marie Kondo’s book, The life-changing magic of Tidying? Kondo believes that if you touch an item and it gives you joy, then you can keep it, but if it doesn’t bring you joy, then into the bin it goes. Whilst this philosophy is one I can get behind, Kondo sadly didn’t seem to believe in recycling and donating to charity which are two decluttering practices that I wholly endorse. That being said, whilst Kondo's philosophy works for many possessions, I find practical items like saucepans and toothpaste often give me very little joy but are rather just one of life’s necessities. For these items, I adopt more of a William Morris attitude. Morris wisely said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” and I believe this simple phrase is the best philosophy to adopt when tackling your worldly possessions.

I am not guilt-free from having little nests of clutter around my home and as I see them I can feel myself annoyed by them. Sadly clutter takes time and patience to tackle. However, when I do find the time, I make it count by being as ruthless as possible when fighting the clutter. To do this well, I normally divide things in to three categories: The Unloved, The Functional, and The Irreplaceable.

  • The Unloved– These are the items you don't like but somehow can’t bring yourself to get rid of. If you dislike something, you are never going to love it, so it's important to let it go and make room in your life for things that you'll actually like, things that will bring you joy.
  • The Functional– these are the items like toothpaste and saucepans that create no emotional impact on you at all, they just get on and do their job. This is the area which needs a more critical eye when sorting out as it's every so easy to place things back in cupboards whilst thinking Well, I might need that one day... I often find that the storage space the functional items in my home are filling is more vital to my well-being than the possibility that I might suddenly require something one day, so I make a real effort to ask myself if these items bring me joy. If it does, I keep it and I make a concerted effort to get it out and use it.
  • The Irreplaceable– These are the things we love, the stuff we inherited and the items that mark our life journeys. These are the things we should celebrate and find space for in our homes and lives.

As you combat the clutter this spring, remember that the stuff we fill our homes with should bring us joy, not stress. I urge all of you to give yourself a weekend of decluttering (better yet, ruthless decluttering) and I promise that both your space and your mind will feel more tidy, fresh, and clear.

Are you a ruthless declutterer or are your cupboards bursting with things that need a new home?  Tell me about your tidying dilemmas and revelations on Twitter or check out some of my favourite tidy rooms over on Pinterest. Happy decluttering!

Black & white images via here, here, here.