Now unless you’ve been living under a rock for quite some time, I’m guessing most of you will have heard the name Marie Kondo.
The petite Japanese whirlwind shot to fame a few years ago with a best-selling book entitled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and a famous tagline “Does It Spark Joy?”
To date, her book has almost 2300 positive reviews on Amazon UK and it’s now been followed by an insanely popular Netflix show which sees Ms Kondo visiting people who are in serious need of some tidying magic.
My opinion on this is totally divided.
Firstly, I’ve never been very good at minimalist living.
It’s not that I don’t like the idea. I actually do consider myself an extremely organised person.
The contents of my studio and most of my house are tidied away into small boxes and draws and I am the proud owner of a label maker which I use for almost everything.
For me, mess definitely equals stress and I regularly find myself having a good old clear out.
I live in awe of these wonderfully creative types who are able to see through the chaos that surrounds them to create their very best work, whilst I feel a nagging need to hoover and set things straight before I can focus on my anything.
So yes, I agree on some level that tidying can be magic, or at least cathartic. I just can’t bring myself to agree with chucking away my momentos willy nilly.
Not everything is just stuff!
So what does count as clutter?
Clutter in my house refers to anything that hasn’t been used or more importantly, wanted in a given amount of time and that has no sentimental feelings attached to it.
Easy things to look at are paperwork, clothes and books. Things that are accumulated without much thought. Passing phases that have now become old fashioned and dated.
With clothing, I have a simple rule. If I haven’t worn it in 2 years, it goes to charity.
Why? Because if I haven’t wanted to wear it for two Springs, Summers, Autumns or Winters in a row, chances are, I’m not realistically going to want to wear it again – unless it’s something really classic or special.
Anything with holes in, or whites that have turned a horrid shade of grey can just go. Why did I keep those again?
The same goes for fiction books. I’ve read them front to back 3 times over and I have no desire to dig them out from under the bed to put them onto a book shelf, it’s probably best to pass them onto someone who would get some enjoyment out of them.
Letters and paperwork are a big one! I have an unhealthy habit of collecting unwanted mail and random bits of paper and if I don’t go though them regularly, I’d never find a thing.
Bills get put into files and I sort through the million scrawled notes I’ve written to myself, filing most of them straight into the bin.
This is the kind of clutter that irritates. They’re the kinds of things that you end up tidying around. They get in the way; gather dust and generally make your life a bit more difficult.
Having a really good clear out of these kinds of things can definitely be therapeutic.
Why do we have so much of it?
My Mother will be the first one to tell you that even up to a few decades ago, people just didn’t seem to have the volume of clutter.
We live in an increasingly disposable society where many things just aren’t made to last.
Even when I was small, it was common for people to hold onto things like furniture and items of clothing for years, but now, retailers have developed a stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap mentality.
Clothes and household items follow trends and fashions, becoming obsolete within a few years.
Pound shops, discount stores and supermarkets now fill our high streets, making many things super cheap and easy to come by. By de-fault these things have next to no value at all.
Then there’s the huge increase in second-hand.
Walk down any high-street and count the number of charity shops. Consider the huge success of Ebay; Gumtree and the Facebook Marketplace.
Whilst recycling and re-using can be a wonderful thing for both our pockets and the environment, it does mean a lot of us end up buying more than we would usually consider.
There’s a real risk that we stop appreciating the things we have and that we just end up with too much stuff.
Why is it so hard to throw things away?
Ok. So hands up. Who really, really wants to spend their entire weekend sorting through the clutter in their homes and making 100 trips back and forth to the recycling centre?
No? Really? I didn’t think so.
Whilst it can be therapeutic to have a good clear out and it’s nice when it’s finally done, decluttering can be serious hard work and getting started can be totally overwhelming.
There’s the cupboards, wardrobes, attic and the boxes crammed under the bed. Ugh!
Sometimes, it’s a lot easier to stick it all up into the attic, out of sight, out of mind for another time, rather than face going through everything.
I will admit to whole weekends being lost to the recycling centre and local charity shops, when I finally decide enough is enough. Delivering boxes upon boxes of things I probably should have sorted through 5 years ago.
Then there’s the things that are hard to get rid of for other reasons:
The things that we don’t really want, but that we were given, so feel a bit too guilty to give away.
The things that have some kind of personal attachment, so we feel unable to let them go.
The things we keep because they might end up being useful again. One day……….
There have been times over the last 20 years when I’ve been amazed that the ceilings haven’t collapsed under the weight of the things kept there just in case.
Sometimes it’s not just that we can’t be bothered, or don’t have the time. There’s a security in having our things around us, even if we’re not quite sure why we want them.
Should we really just get rid of it all?
My answer to this is unequivocally No! Not everything we come to own falls into the category of disposable clutter.
Just because we don’t need it, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Not everything we own has to be useful.
I’ll take a guess and say that most of us have absolutely no desire at all to live in houses devoid of any sense of warmth or personality.
A lot of the time, the objects we collect say something about us. We decide to keep them for a myriad of different reasons and we probably want to keep some of these things on display.
Even things we don’t want to look at all the time, don’t deserve to be just thrown away.
Our belongings are like mini-time machines. Having the ability to transport us back to almost-forgotten points in our lives. Reminding us of people, places and feelings gone.
Whilst the old adage ‘Tidy House, Tidy mind’ rings true for many of the things we amass over the years, it’s certainly not true for everything.
So what’s the difference between clutter and our momentos?
Many years ago now, I used to work in palliative care and I know how important things and belongings can be to people, particularly in later years.
I’m not talking about the book you picked up whilst walking through Waterstones because there was nothing good on the TV. I’m talking about the things we end up owning that have meaning attached.
Photobooks; children’s drawings and holiday souvenirs.
Things that bring us comfort; make us smile and make us say “Remember When………………………”.
Old birthday cards and letters are just stuff. Bits of easily recycled paper right? But are they really? Should we just get rid and move on?
I don’t think so
There are certain things we treasure and want to keep, not because they’re valuable, beautiful or sort-after, but because they remind us of people, occasions and places.
They’re like puzzle pieces that help us plot our lives and help us recall times we want to be reminded of.
It’s not silly or sentimental. These special belongings provide important links to our past.
From that poetry book you won at school when you were ten, to the first gift your partner gave to you at 21.
Those letters you still have from your Grandmother and the box of carefully saved souvenirs from your wedding day.
Some things are most certainly not clutter and definitely do deserve to be saved.
How do we decide what to keep?
I’m going to agree with Ms Kondo on this one point. Does it spark joy?
Not in the sense of, is it useful or not, but more, does it evoke a feeling or a memory of a time that you want to keep?
Does it make you feel happy when you look at it? Does it remind you of someone you’ve cherished?
Is it hard to think about getting rid of it, not because you can’t be bothered, but because it would genuinely upset you to be without it?
If it’s is any of these things, then keep it. Even if it’s just for the time being.
So how do we stop our memories taking over?
It’s all very well loving, cherishing and collecting mementos, but nobody wants to keep so many things that their house begins to look like a museum or a car boot sale.
With the exception of the few things you want to display in your home, most of your keepsakes will end up being safely stored away in keepsake boxes.
The first thing, is to decide what really deserves to be kept.
Momentos are collected over a lifetime, so you’re not talking about one or two things. You could end up with quite a lot. Realise now that you’re never going to be able to keep every momento from every occasion. It would be impossible to find space for that much stuff!
Try to keep only the most sentimental things. The things that have the strongest and fondest memories attached to them.
You definitely don’t want to open up your keepsake boxes in 20 years-time and wonder what on earth everything is!
Dried flowers from your wedding bouquet? Probably. Scan pictures and babies first fluffy bunny? Most definitely! Soaps from a holiday hotel bathroom? Maybe not.
Organising your keepsake boxes
The important thing here is to store things away neatly and in a proper place.
Large plastic boxes with lids work really well. They don’t have to be anything particularly special, just so long as everything can be kept dry, safe and free from curious creatures.
You need to be certain that the contents cannot get damp, spoiled or nibbled by the odd Houdini field mouse or moth.
Once you have found a suitable container, you’ll need to put things inside in an organised way.
Putting things into boxes haphazardly just isn’t going to work. You’ll need some way of remembering what everything is and what occasion it’s from.
A great idea is to pop keepsakes into files or containers, inside your boxes, that can be clearly and easily labelled.
Strong, rigid acid-free envelopes; plastic wallets, sturdy brown postal boxes and vacuum sealed pouches for items of clothing.
Label every individual item with the date; the special occasion it was from and any other important details you don’t want to forget.
Always label with a name if applicable. This is especially important with children’s keepsakes and even more important if you have more than one child. It’s a little awkward when you can’t remember which keepsakes belong to which child (yes, this has happened to me).
A final note
From diaries to pocket watches to photos, your keepsakes are most certainly not just material objects that take up valuable space.
They’re three-dimensional markers on the roadmap of your life.
One day your keepsakes might be even more important to you than they are today. They might also be important to your children or ancestors a few hundred years from now.
People who want to learn about their family history and heritage. Learn about you’re here and now. Your legacy.
The things we pass down and the stories that accompany them, link one generation to the next, connecting us to a family history otherwise lost, far more so than official records or births, deaths and marriages.
So for this reason, I will keep hold of my clutter.
I will store my memories safely away in their keepsake boxes and I will treasure them for years to come because yes, they definitely do spark joy.
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