‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful’ – William Morris.
I’m at it again. It’s a perennial urge. I pull everything out of every drawer, cupboard, box and basket I own, contemplate its relevance to my current version of me, put those things aside that I no longer find “useful or beautiful”. Then get completely overwhelmed and shove it all back again before anyone notices my failed attempt at decluttering.
I do have a lot of stuff. And I do live under this false belief that deep down under an immense omnium gatherum I am secretly a minimalist. I identify as a minimalist. I’m not actually one but I want to be seen as one.
I’ve just moved house twice in two years so that’s given me two first-class opportunities to declutter. Not that I’ve taken them. I have curated, filtered, contemplated each item and whether it “sparks joy”, then I’ve just hurled it all into boxes and dragged it to the next abode.
Where I live now has an assortment of small rooms and large cupboards that aren’t essential to the daily-life circuit of bed, bath, kitchen, repeat. This helps with decluttering. It means that most weekends I can carry out performative decluttering by taking a pile of stuff, folding it carefully, moving it from the sunroom to the boxroom, or the mudroom to the shed, or from the linen cupboard to the towel cupboard. It looks like I’ve freed up a drawer but actually I’ve just moved the gallimaufry into a sistema and shoved it in the window seat.
I do love a dump run, and most weekends I box up a bunch of stuff for the Sallies. But I also love the reuse shop at the recycling centre, and I can’t resist an opshop. It’s the circular economy, and I’m doing my bit (I tell myself this as I re-clutter my decluttered book nook).
Hoarding is an actual disorder. But if you dust regularly it’s not hoarding it’s ‘collecting’. I myself have a salmagundi of 30 white jugs that pass as a pretty impressive collection but serve no real purpose and do take up considerable space. “Stuffocation” is a syndrome and “material deviancy” is listed in the DSM-5.
There is science behind decluttering. Well, not exactly science, more a made-up series of steps invented by instagram influencers who probably have cleaners, but still fairly useful. There’s the KonMari Method, the Becker Method, the Peter Walsh Method, the Colleen Madsen Method, the Leo Babauta Method, the Tim Ferriss Method and the Fly Lady Method. There’s OHIO (Only Handle It Once), Grey Area and UFYH (google it).
There are professionals who will swoop in and declutter you faster than you can say, “But I really need all my back-issues of BayBuzz”. There’s even a clutterfree app.
One idea I do really love, and I’m almost tempted to try, is a Minimalist Packing Party. Simply, you invite your mates over and pretend you’re moving, then get them to do all the decluttering for you. They box things up and take away the stuff you don’t really love while you sit in the corner, rocking, with a stiff gin and a platter of comfort food. You then leave the boxes packed up for a week and anything you haven’t freed and used gets flicked to Vinnies.
The Scandis have it nailed with their ideas around ‘dostadning’: the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning. Basically, preparing for your own demise should start early as you shed domestic detritus. Gift precious treasures, hand-over heirlooms, donate that which still has useful life left in it, do a digi-declutter by keeping a notebook of passwords and tidying up your desktop. Advocates say dostadning is a relief not a burden. For anyone moving into a unit, sleepout, tiny-house, bus or back home with Mum, death-cleaning could be a fitting first step.
There are more esoteric ways to declutter. Having a thorough clean-out of your Facebook friends is as cathartic as sorting out the pantry. Clearing out your calendar, minimising your obligations, tidying up your vices and disposing of bad habits can be just as lustral as regifting the contents of the toy box. Emptying out your evenings of TV binging and endless scrolling can free up time for quality conversations, reading and playing games (I have a whole cupboard solely for board games we might one day have some time to play).
Embracing the clutter is always an option too. Surely maximalism is as viable an aesthetic as minimalism.
Rather than stripping everything back to bare necessities, perhaps we pile on layers and layers of overstuffed gaudy, garish, glorious junk. A pile of old manchester is ‘clutter’, a neatly folded collection of Napier Woollen Mills vintage tartan throws is cosy ‘cottage-core’. That way all us palaeophiles and antiquaries can keep our miscellany and our mementoes because if “less is more” just imagine how much more more can be?