Professional healer, GEORGIA COLERIDGE, offers her guide to purging our homes of junk
Both of my parents are life-long hoarders. They didn’t seem to mind having houses packed to the rafters with furniture and bric-a-brac, like the cave of Tutankhamen’s tomb. For 30 years I’ve been hoping that they would throw away two-thirds of their accumulated clutter. Not the things they loved; but the things that they no longer used, that no-one else wanted, but which clung to their lives like insidious, emotionally-charged limpets.
Even when they divorced and remarried other people, both my parents’ houses were filled to the brim with random clutter. My mother kept objects like rusty Edwardian prams, bulbous inherited Victorian furniture, tatty old dog baskets and dozens of vertiginous Manolo Blahnik shoes that she could no longer wear.
Books, papers and hundreds of old newspapers
My father kept papers: half a century’s worth of letters, utility bills, restaurant receipts, minutes of old meetings and more, which filled the filing cabinets in his office and spilled out onto the floor. He also kept books, shelves and boxes of them, and hundreds of old newspapers, because somewhere in each one was something he might one day wish to re-read.
As they both reached their seventies, it no longer seemed sensible to hold onto their large family houses. In the end, my mother dodged the issue, and bought a larger, cheaper house in Dorset, which comfortably stored all her stuff and more. But my father hit having to face that fact that moving to a smaller London house, with fewer bedrooms, and possibly no attic or cellar in which to park his papers meant that he would have to part with them. Now that he has accepted that much of it has to go, my siblings and I have been trying to help.
Edit, retain and dispatch
I have a confession to make. With strong clutter-hoarding tendencies in my DNA, I am full of sympathy. I like living in a calm, organised house, but I have to be hugely strict with myself to edit what I want, and to keep and dispatch what I don’t need.
For example, if we go on a family holiday and come back with 300 photographs, my husband, in his brisk callous way, will effortlessly select the best 50, stick them in his album and throw away the rest. Whereas my inclination is to keep the remaining 250 in a drawer. From time to time I will look at this old pile of pictures, and vaguely wonder what to do with them, forgetting that the better ones, when our children aren’t scowling or squinting into the sun, are already saved and displayed.
But apart from photographs of our children, I’ve got pretty good at de-cluttering. Over the years I have developed all sorts of strategies, which I have been trying, tactfully, to teach to my parents. Though my mother was not receptive, my father has made heroic efforts and reduced his books and paper collections by about half. His house feels so much better already. It looks much bigger, and we are all convinced that it will be easier to sell, when he puts it on the market.
Georgia’s 10 tips to clearing the clutter mountain
- Stick to the William Morris rule. If an object isn’t beautiful or useful, why should you live with it?
- Books. If you didn’t enjoy a book, or have no intention of reading it again in the next 20 years, give it to the charity shop for someone else to enjoy.
- Plan your space. Imagine where each item is going to go in the next house. If there is no room for granny’s gargantuan sideboard, then pass it on to someone else in the family, or sell it. You may have happy memories of it in her house, but why resent the space it takes up in your own?
- Papers and photographs. Frame the photographs and family mementos you really treasure and put them up on the wall so you can see them. Stick other items with particular sentimental value into scrapbooks or photo albums. Use the scan test on the rest. Ask yourself honestly, would it ever be worth your time to digitally scan or photograph your other papers? If not, they can probably be binned.
- Damaged goods. Ruthlessly fix or throw away anything that is broken or chipped. It is better to move into your new house with everything working and clean.
- Heirlooms. If you are saving items for your children, hand them over now. You might be surprised how little they want and how different their own taste is from yours. If great-uncle Albert’s commode isn’t to your taste, or their IKEA world, why hang onto it? Sell it on ebay and give them the money.
- Keep only what you intend to use . If you only play the family piano once a year, then consider selling it. If you can’t actually read the complete works of Trollope, with its tiny typeface, trade it in for a Kindle.
- Kitchen equipment and cookbooks. Cut your losses, chuck that enormous plastic ice-cream maker with its 10 attachments that you only used once along with the teasmaid. And do you need all those cookbooks?
- Rid your clutter from your home. When you have decided what should go, take it straight to the menders, dustbin, charity shop, child’s house or auction room. Don’t let it sit around reproaching you.
- Get some help. If the process is too emotionally fraught with close family, ask a friend or hire a professional, (Google ‘Clutter Clearing’ on the Internet).
In short, every item should be sternly scrutinised before it’s allowed into your new house or even remain in your existing one. You should act like St Peter at the Gates of Heaven, deciding who or what has earned its place. The consequence, if done well, will be a clean, pared-down, surprisingly optimistic environment for the next phase of your life. The strange thing is, you seldom if ever, miss the things you have given away, when you have given the things you love the space to breathe.