How can I declutter my home?

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Answered by: Mary, An Expert in the Manage Your Home Category
In the last few decades, we have had to change how we view material possessions, and it has been very difficult for some. It is an undeniable fact that items are now mass produced for current fashion, with the expectation that it will be replaced in a few years rather than being made to last for generations, as many of our grandparents and great-grandparents belongings were. We are aware that there is a huge discrepancy between items that cost more and are generally made to last more than a few years, and cheap items that might, if we're lucky, last a few months.

And yet we expect even the cheapest of items to last for ages. As a parent, I know that I am guilty of telling my son to take better care of his things, as I expect them to last, while knowing full well that he will probably get another year of enjoyment out of it, at most. I remember being told the same thing as a child, that I must look after my things, because I'll want to pass them on to my children one day. Aside from Lego and a few favourite teddies and toy cars, nothing I had when I was a child has been passed onto my son. It's not just toys, either. Furniture, crockery, clothing, and even kitchenware are simply made to last for a few years, then disposed of. We know this, yet we keep these things, as back ups, because we might need them one day, "just in case". We fill the hidden areas of our homes with items that, in all honesty, we're probably never going to use again.

When I first decided to declutter my home, I got hold a few boxes, sat down, and filled the first one with things that I would take to the charity shops (because other people may be able to find a use for them, even if I didn't want them any more) and another to take to the tip. I was expecting not to have much to take to the tip, because, I had promised myself, I would not throw away anything that was working or could be used. Well, after several days of clearing through the house, I had taken more to the tip than the charity shops. Why? Because I had kept things that had broken in the hopes that I could fix them or find another use for them, even though the chances of me finding the time to fix something that I could replace, and, in most cases, replace cheaper than I could repair it. I realised then that the vast majority of my clutter was an echo of generations past. They worked hard and brought good quality items that could be passed from generation to generation, and they took a huge amount of pride in this fact. What will I leave behind for my children? The same items that were left to me by my grandparents, and an old Nokia 3310, because those things are indestructible, and I'm almost certain everyone has at least one tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Every other item that I have brought is likely to be thrown away either before or just after I die.

This knowledge, while rather depressing on the surface, has helped me tremendously whenever I get the urge to go through a room or cupboard and declutter. Simply knowing that I no longer have to feel guilty for throwing away a cracked plate or a broken chair has been more of a help to me than any of the self-help books I purchased, or any of the organisation tips I have read. I will never throw away something that is still able to be used, but I now plod along with what I have, only to replace something when I am able to afford an item that is going to last for years, rather than months, and is preferably made of something more eco-friendly than plastic. I have also adopted the one in, one out method of keeping the clutter down, which is an enormous help.

People forget that there is an element of psychology to material possessions. From the joy we get when first buying an item to frustration when it stops working as it should and guilt at disposing of it, we are emotionally tied to the things that we own. In a way, they define us. To effectively declutter my home, I had to come to terms with those emotions, and find a way to overcome them. It can be a difficult journey, but one that anyone can take, and the happiness and contentment found in a home where everything has a purpose, where everything has a place, is second to none.

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