Can't see the wood for the trees, or tabletops for trinkets? This month Kali Anthony talks about de-cluttering your life to allow space for creative thinking...
When I started my writing journey, one of the first things I gleefully let go was the concept of a pristine house. Actually, I suspect I let go of that concept when I had kids… Be that as it may, as a writer I aggressively adopted the mantra of ‘words first, clean later,’ unless I was procrastinating in which case you’d find me scrubbing the bathroom with a toothbrush. You know the drill.
Back to my house. Now, whilst I may yearn for my place to be one of clean modern lines (who am I kidding, I’m all about country style clutter) it’s almost impossible to achieve. The problem is that two adults, a teenager, two younger children, a dog, a cat, fish and ‘stuff’ means a lot of squish. Especially in a small house with an absence of decent cupboard space.
Yes, my place looked more like an episode of hoarders than home.
What has that got to do with writing, you ask? Heaps. Studies have consistently shown clutter affects a person’s mental state. People talk about feeling drained, being weighed down. The word ‘suffocating’ was often used, and if you’re feeling like that there’s no mental space left for creative thinking.
As the organising guru Peter Walsh said, “If you have so much stuff it drags you into the past or pulls you into the future, you can’t live in the present.”
I was there. What to do about it? De-clutter of course.
You’ve probably all heard of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’d read it and began adopting a few of her suggestions. The first, broadly, was that if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. It’s a freeing approach to take, and allowed me to dispose of all sorts of things I’d been hanging on to because I didn’t want them to go to waste (a hangover from the lessons of my frugal Scottish Grandmother).
I can also highly recommend her way of folding and storing clothes by placing them on the narrow end in a drawer rather than stacking them on top of each other. Seriously, try it! You can see everything you have. It’s a miracle!
This time, though, I decided to go hard-core after reading about dostadning, or Swedish Death Cleaning.
I understand a bit about this concept, currently in the process of going through my parents’ house after my father passed away. Dealing with the stuff was an agonising emotional journey. What to do with it all, now they’d gone? How much better for them to have sorted it whilst they were alive, so difficult decisions wouldn’t have to be made by the kids?
It seems in Sweden, the process begins when a person is in their fifties (I’m there in January) and it’s all about decluttering. Margareta Magnusson has written a book about it called, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Her motto is, “If you don’t love it, lose it. If you don’t use it, lose it.” Perfect!
Apparently the first rule of Swedish Death Cleaning is to talk about Swedish Death Cleaning. I tried that on my husband.
“Darling, you know when you die I’m just going to get a skip a throw out all your stuff?”
(He has lots of stuff. The 15 year old computer in our laundry is exhibit 1 and if you’re old enough to remember, he still has his Good DoBee certificate from Romper Room, awarded when he was five.)
Hubs didn’t even look up from his phone, “Yeah, I know. But I sometimes store bank notes with rare serial number in my books, so don’t chuck those.”
I’m still learning new things about him, even after 11 years of marriage…
“When Dad dies, can I get a mouse?” asked our ten year old son from the lounge.
My husband and I were as one.
Not to be left out our nine year old daughter chimed in, “Mum, when you die can I have your shoes and vintage clothes?”
Okay, once we’d sorted out the relevant succession and inheritance issues, and re-wrote the will, I got down to business.
My methods were a combination of Marie Kondo and Death Cleaning. I got rid of things that didn’t give me joy. If I didn’t use it, it was gone. My family scattered in terror because I was a human de-cluttering demon. They hid things from me. Admittedly, I ended up retrieving some items that had gone into charity bags that because I was a touch overzealous, but overall, it seemed to go well with only a little angst.
A tidy house really did give my brain space to be creative again. I felt light. FREE, even! My imagination ran riot again. The clean was a revelation for my wardrobe. Out went anything that was uncomfortable,
with questionable fit, or I was keeping ‘just because’. I could see what I had, and some old faves I’d forgotten about. But I also learned a few things. Lots of my stuff gives me joy, so there’s a heap I could not get rid of. This still left me with a problem of where to store it?
Over a glass of wine at an exhausting job well done, I picked up the phone discuss my dilemma with a friend. Her husband is a carpenter. Hmmm. Perhaps I need more cupboards…
Kali is a writer of happy endings and a failed domestic goddess. She will work for coffee, wine and chocolate! For more information follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Have you ever tried a major de-clutter? How did it go? Tell us in the comments or on Social Media to join the #PHS readers conversation on this topic.We'd love to hear from you.