Expert decluttering tips that will transform your home
‘It’s increasingly clear to me that to maintain a sense of wellbeing and calm in today’s world we need to take decisive steps to cut out the overwhelm, whether from our phones, emails, news, noise or other people. And it needs to be happening inside our homes too,’ says design expert and self-confessed clutter-clearer Michelle Ogundehin. The writer, TV presenter and former Editor-in-Chief of Elle Decoration magazine is an authority on interiors, style and culture, and has recently released a book ‘Happy Inside: How to harness the power of home for health and happiness’ guiding readers on how to create a calmer, happier home.
Like many others, enforced time spent at home over the last couple of months has meant I’ve been sorting, tidying and doing the sort of jobs that usually end up on a to-do list that never gets completed (Mr TNMA is amazed!) Because we live in a flat with very little storage space and there’s nowhere to put the unwanted stuff until the charity shops reopen in June, I’ve held back on the serious decluttering. There’s a large carrier bag, tucked out of sight, in the corner of the spare room. And a list of other things that will be discarded as soon as our local Shelter opens its doors again. To me, decluttering is a continual process, one that started with a huge clear-out of furniture, clothes and stuff when we had built-in wardrobes fitted in the spare room. I regularly spend time reviewing and reconsidering what’s worth holding onto. As Michelle Ogundehin says, ‘Clutter is the arch-enemy of the restful home. It is the interiors equivalent of a to-do list that never gets completed, undermining any attempt at relaxation. Physical clutter equates to emotional debris, stifling energy and dampening enthusiasm.’
But what to do with those harder-to-let-go things? How do you cut through the clutter and work out what stays and what goes? ‘There’s a huge difference between your things and stuff’ says Michelle. ‘Things are the narrative of your life, your story. But stuff keeps you tethered to the ground when you’re aiming to take wing and soar. Stuff you can live without. So if you can’t be bothered to dust it, clean it, polish, oil or otherwise look after it, then you need to think deeply about whether to keep it.’
Here, Michelle Ogundehin shares her expert tips for all that harder-to-clear stuff:
Broken things you might mend one day: If it can’t be done right this minute with a needle and thread or a tube of Super Glue, recycle or throw it away. Especially if you have children. I say this because as a very sage friend once said to me on spying my neatly stacked ‘to-do-later’ pile shortly before I was due to give birth to my son, unless I tackled it straight away, it’d still be sitting there when he turned 18. I think I finally jettisoned the last of it when he was four.
Multiples: It’s okay to keep extras of things such as printer cartridges, plain paper, pens and paper clips, and essential to keep spare toilet rolls, cleaning solutions, kitchen towels, batteries, bulbs and matches. But do you really need four sets of salad servers? Or two for the price of one of almost anything? They may seem like great savings in the moment, but where will you put all those extras? Unless you have some lovely empty shelving in a garage or basement expressly for the purpose of stockpiling basic items, only buy according to the space you have available.
Anything you’re indifferent to: For example, if you dropped that fruit bowl and it broke, would you care? These are things you can definitely live without. Pass them on to someone who might genuinely appreciate them. This category also applies to things that no longer hold any fondness or relevance to you today: stamp albums, old school exercise books. Although be careful here: sometimes it’s better to consolidate these items; rather than keeping the whole lot, you pull out a few favourites and honour them accordingly, in a frame or a new smaller album, because at some point they meant something to you, and this is your history.
The practical but seldom used: An item bought because you felt you ought to, but which you either don’t use regularly enough to justify its existence or have lost the manual so you haven’t a clue how to operate it now anyway. Here things often fall into the but-I-might-need-it-one-day camp. To which I say, okay, then hang on to it for another year and if you still haven’t used it, get rid of it. After all, if it really came to it, you could probably borrow one through the ever-expanding sharing economy or buy a new one (and then sell it on), as newer models will inevitably exist by the time you might actually need said very specific item, and they’ll undoubtedly be far superior to whatever you have mouldering away in storage.
Anything that annoys you: That jug which always dribbles. A cup that’s hard to hold because the handle is too small. Placemats that can only be hand-washed because otherwise the colour runs, so they’re tricky to dry too. That figurine from a distant relative who hasn’t yet realised that you’re no longer six and not that madly into collecting china cats any more. We usually keep this stuff because it’s not broken and therefore we feel we cannot in good conscience discard it. You can. It annoys you. And you don’t need that in your life. Trust me, someone else will love it.
Gifts: Sometimes when gifts have been received we feel obliged to keep them because they’ve been beautifully crafted, we love the designer or we appreciate the sentiment. But would you have gone out and spent your own cash on them? If not, perhaps they need to be reconsidered.
Just-in-case items: You cannot live your life based on a wholly unquantifiable expectation of the future. It doesn’t exist yet, and when it comes, have faith that whatever happens, you’ll have everything you need to deal with it. In the meantime, perhaps you really could let go of the various just-in-case bits and bobs no doubt listed as ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘other’ on your inventory. Certainly you’ll be more prepared to deal with anything that might crop up if you’ve cleared your home to the point where you are able to be relaxed and happy inside it. And for those who say, ‘Oh, but what always happens is that I throw something away and the very next day I need it!’ Well, indeed that would be mildly annoying, but it is mere coincidence, not an excuse to not declutter.
Things kept in lofts: If you have one, when did you last go up there? If you’re an annual skier, and this is where you keep your kit, then fine, but anything else – old letters, paperwork, ancient baby toys? Pull it all down, and be ruthless in your sorting. Be honest with yourself: if you haven’t been up there in a year, none of this stuff adds value to your life. What I hope may occur, though, is that you unearth a few forgotten gems – perhaps a vintage tea set from your parents or a funny drawing you, or your child, did at school. If such things are found and they prompt fond memories, then consider them for use or display, don’t leave them unappreciated. Crucially, having clear space above your head, rather than the dead weight of forgotten possessions, will bring an incredibly powerful yet subconscious lightness to your being.
And a final note on ‘note sure’ items: If you still can’t quite bring yourself to part with whatever it is, then if you were to move house tomorrow, would you pay someone to wrap and box it for you? Tentative yes? Still keep. Basically, if you’re wobbling, I suggest you leave it precisely where it is. Forget that whole stick-it-in-a-box-and-put-it-to-one-side-for-six-months thing – you’ll just have an extra box in your way, for an unnecessary amount of time, assuming you even have a spare box conveniently to hand in the first place! Just leave whatever it is precisely where you found it. Every time you see it from now on, you will consciously re-evaluate it. And one day you might realise you can live without it, or not.
This extract is part of Happy Inside: How to Harness the Power of Home for Health and Happiness by Michelle Ogundehin