We call our house a magic house. Not like in a fairy tale. It’s magic because no matter what you need at a particular point in time— feather boa for a Gatsby event, sandwich board sign, retro crepe maker, dropsaw—we’re more than likely to have it.
The other day a visiting Miss 4 asked if I had a mermaid outfit.
– Do you think I will?
– Yes, she replied, completely assured.
– How do you know?
– Because you told me you have everything in your house.
Clearly the child listens well. Our house houses pretty much everything. There are two main reasons for this:
- It’s a big house with a double garage with lots of shelves, a ‘studio’ (a fancy term for a converted garage/dumping ground), and even a shed. Each is full. Having this sort of space is a bit like having a large handbag. The bigger it is, you more you put in it.
- We’re hoarders. Not stacked-up-to-the-roof- can’t- walk-around- the-house hoarders, but hoarders nonetheless. Because I’m a die-hard sentimentalist and find it hard to get rid of stuff, particularly family stuff, and because we live by the ‘Justin’ rule. Just in case it comes in handy one day.
This is not ideal behaviour
It seems, though, this proclivity for housing a large and eclectic array of things is not the thing to do. In fact, it puts me at risk of being a social pariah. The notion of decluttering is rampant, with a whole social movement out there promulgating its joys and merits and dedicated to helping others ‘cleanse’ and simplify their lives. Articles, books, TV shows, consultants, YouTube clips and workshops.
It will free your mind, change your life, make you happy, perhaps win you a Nobel prize.
A few years back, the world went mad for Marie Kondo’s book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and set off a whirlwind of global expulsion. Kondo, an organising consultant, encouraged us to put our hands on everything we own and ask ourselves if this item sparks joy or if it’s truly useful. If neither, you should thank it kindly for its past service, then send it merrily on its way. ‘Let it go, let it go.’ After the discarding, the rest is beautifully folded, rolled or hung and tucked away in visible, tidy and accessible places. At this point you will have reached declutter nirvana and your world will be transformed.
There’s also the more recent and rather grim-sounding Gentle Swedish Art of Death Cleaning theory, which basically means cleaning out your own stuff before you’re dead so others don’t have to do it, a notion put forward by a Scandinavian Octogenarian with a very practical approach to life.
Having just cleaned out my own Mum’s house, I’m the first to admit this approach has much merit. I’ve spent possibly hundreds of hours sorting, deliberating and discarding, so I know what can collect. Televisions that haven’t worked for decades, 27 pairs of tummy-sucking stockings, moth-eaten jumpers, Christmas trees that disintegrate on touch, potting mix with the texture of set concrete, by way of example. And so much more.
This recent and still palpable experience, together with the plethora of well-meaning advice and assistance on the art and benefits of shedding, might almost be enough to have me jumping on the declutter bandwagon like an underweight Labrador throwing itself on dinner. It’s certainly had me doubting my self-worth and feeling guilty I’m badly failing this purging test, or at best destining my children to a world of woe when I kick the bucket and they have to deal with all the things.
But not quite.
The alternative view
I am not yet prepared to shed everything in my house and in my life just so that:
- I can be exceptionally neat and minimalist and
- my house can look like it’s on display for a weekend real estate open house.
- I’m not, and
- I’m not selling. Not for at least another 20 years at least.
This is beautiful, but unattainable for me. Surely no one actually lives here? What do they do all day?
I know, I know, one day I’ll downsize and the shedding process will be an ordeal, especially for the children who will inevitably be involved.
But the reality is, I like my shit. I love my crowded cupboards, full of stuff, and memories. I love that the kids’ puzzles, books and board games I’ve kept are getting a second life with the grandkids (actually a third at least given some of it was second hand in the first place, which is a bit confusing really.)
I love my bulging wardrobe. Mainly it’s bulging because it still houses some very old stuff which I call classics, and I’ve been amazingly consistent in my tastes for decades, so I still like it and wear it. It’s just that much of it seems to shrink a bit each year!
And I love my overspilling bookshelves, which now house my parents’ and grandparents’ books as well. There’s a lot of history there, and a hell of a lot of reading.
A little assurance
Just so you know, I’m not totally bonkers and I/we do shed where possible—donate, sell, discard, repurpose. I clean out my cupboards every so often to cull truly unneeded items, and do runs to the local Vinnies with donations. (Well, I have been known to drive around with boxes in the boot for six months before I get there, but that’s not the point.) I’ve even come up with ingenious ways to give family furniture a new life.
Finding middle ground
But now I’m taking heart from the words of declutter queen Beth at mysimplerlife.com who assures me: ‘It’s not a must-do. You only need to declutter if it feels right to you.’ Praise Lord! She tells me I don’t need to be perfect and just wants me to declutter enough so I can enjoy my home, have a nurturing space (I’m interpreting that as meaning not completely overflowing with shit), make my daily routine smoother or help me accomplish other goals.
I’ve decided on a compromise. I’m not going to rid myself of ‘all the things’ and model my home on the minimalist principles of a Buddhist monastery, because I’m not convinced some crazy purging exercise would instantly escalate my happiness index.
I see a happy medium here.
To answer Ms Kondo’s burning question, do the items in my bulging cupboards bring me joy? Perhaps not every single item and maybe not rapturous joy, but mostly—yes, yes, they do. Hundreds of them. We’ve become quite good friends and I’m not yet prepared to thank them and send them blithely along.
And even those things which aren’t particularly joyous or useful, maybe they will be in the future. Remember Justin? How else could you convert an old beam from a torn down garage 25 years ago into a lovingly made feature-table at your daughter’s wedding? You see what can eventuate with enough passing of time and imagination?
I’ve made a decision
So, die hard declutter fiends—stand down! I appreciate your efforts and accept that decluttering has enormous merit, but I’m going to politely desist the calls from the masses—Swedish, Japanese or otherwise— to purge my material possessions. I just don’t really want to get rid of all my stuff yet.
My house is never going to look bare, but I will put things away and strive for clear benches. And if my cupboards are organised and (relatively) tidy, I really don’t give a rats they’re full.
Pristine and sparse be gone. Homey and neat(ish) it is.
And when Miss 4 comes by and asks if we can build and fit out a cubby house, we’ll probably be able to oblige without even leaving the house.