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17th Feb 2019

How decluttering my wardrobe helped me declutter my whole life

Alison Bough

I may as well come completely clean.

Or not, as my house is never completely clean; because I’m a hoarder.

I should clarify that I’m not quite at the climbing over stacks of newspapers, keeping my poo in a jar kind of hoarder but I wouldn’t rule it out in twenty years. I am surrounded by stuff. Physical stuff, digital stuff, emotional stuff, useless stuff.

It’s not just my house either. The mess has followed me like a dark blob in a horror film. It has crept into my car and even into my giant handbag. I now carry the stuff around with me at all times as if it is a beloved child. My colleague Katie recently told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t clear out the bag, she was going to.

Something clicked. I thought my stuff was a secret. I thought my constant state of disorganisation was well-hidden. It wasn’t. Other people noticed. They saw. So now I’m outing myself publicly; this will be the year that sees the end of my hoarding.

I started to read up on de-cluttering and came across a line by professional organiser Christina Scalise:

“Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fueled by procrastination.”

That’s me. The queen of procrastination. I should have “I’ll get back to you on that” tattooed on my forehead to save time. I’m constantly overwhelmed. I can never catch up on everything I have to do. I can never find anything I need to find. My mind is just as cluttered as my physical space. I live in a near-constant state of chaos, distraction, and guilt.

The more I read, the more I excused myself. It’s not your fault I said, you have three kids and a full-time job and an incontinent dog. You don’t have the time to de-clutter. You can’t be expected to do this in the forty minutes you get to yourself. Who in their right mind would waste wine-o-clock putting stuff in bin bags? Hoarders are full of excuses. I have more excuses than Donald Trump:

  • We downsized when we moved
  • I inherited those; they belonged to my great-great-grandmother
  • Aww, I bought those on that trip to Paris remember?
  • I might need those again someday
  • I’m going to give those to the kids when they’re grown-up
  • That’s broken I just need to glue it, fix it, get it rewired
  • That belongs to such and such I must give it back to her (haven’t seen her since 1999 and she’s emigrated)
  • This could totally come back into fashion
  • I’m not throwing those heels out they cost a fortune! (can’t wear them without shoes filling up with blood)
  • This is an antique of the future, especially in the original packaging
  • The last time I threw stuff out I needed it shortly after
  • I’m going to re-paint that, and it will be good as new
  • That works I just can’t find the charger/thingy for it
  • I use/wear those I just don’t have enough storage

Ah yes, I left my favourite one till last, “I need more storage.” Only it’s not really about storage at all is it? Storage is not the answer. Out of sight, out of mind right? Nope. It’s all still there – above me, beneath me, falling out of wardrobes, under the bed – lurking and cluttering up my life. Yet more procrastination from me, the custodian of crap.

Katie the handbag-stuff-threatener had mentioned a book. It is “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising” by Marie Kondo. I spent hours reading about people’s Damascene conversions on the internet. The clutterers and the hoarders couldn’t sing her praises highly enough.

Now I have to be honest. The book is weird. I mean, after spending a long period of my life working as a psychologist I’m pretty open-minded, but this was out-there. Kondo instructs that you should touch every item and ask yourself if the object “sparks joy?” – if it doesn’t you have to talk to it in order to thank it for its service. Told you it was weird.

And so it came to pass that my husband walked into our bedroom (the heart of hoarding darkness) to find his wife hugging and talking to a 1996 Notre Dame V Navy At Croke Park t-shirt. I’m not going to lie, the process was painful. Marie Kondo advises that you tidy in this specific order:

1st – Clothes

2nd – Books

3rd – Papers

4th – Miscellanious

5th – Sentimental

Clothes, therefore, in Kondo’s world are the items with the least emotional attachment. Not for me lady. I got sucked into a vortex of nostalgia with each item that I touched, almost crying as I changed the line from a simple “thank you for your service” to things like “thank you for that wonderful night at that gig where we ended up drinking with the drummer and it was so hilarious and…” – you get the picture. But I realised that I couldn’t fight Marie’s words:

“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

Four days of emotional and physical graft later and my bedroom is a living space instead of a storage space. I gave eight (full) bin bags of clothes to three different charity shops and I felt bloody great about it. I threw out bag after bag of rubbish. I scared away the monsters under my bed and yes Katie, I cleared out the bag. I’m now a preachy convert on the importance of abandoning crap you don’t need, both physically and metaphorically.

The bathroom cabinet is going to be pretty terrifying though…

Are you a hoarder? Let us know in the Facebook comments or join the conversation on Twitter @HerFamilydotie