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Through Autumn last year, my wife and I managed to get the extension to our flat, which we have been planning for 4 years, completed. This included work on the second bedroom, the hallway, kitchen and bathroom, so was pretty much the whole flat. We stayed in the flat while the work was done, which meant for a protracted period we were living, working and sleeping in a bedroom.
A huge proportion of our stuff got packed into boxes and put into storage. We kept some clothes, computers, essential kitchen equipment and condiments and 40 plus houseplants. In packing all your stuff, it makes you take an inventory of it. Boy, did we have a lot of it!
When you look at all your worldly wears stacked up in a friends garage and a rented storeroom, you wonder “where the hell did we keep all of this stuff” followed by the revelation “why do we keep all this stuff”. Living with less for the months of the extension build, should us how little of this we needed in our lives.
Lockdown had its part to play for us and others. The time at home during lockdown has also made us prioritise things. Wardrobes of clothes have gone unworn and we live in our favourite hoodie. Being stuck at home has made people question their home environment, to clear the physical clutter in what is a mentally troubling time. What is important and essential has become clearer and the superfluous stuff falls away.
Sort before you pack
We packed in a rush. The builder became free, offered us a date and we jumped at it. Boxes were procured from the surrounding streets Amazon deliveries and things got hurriedly packed. Rooms had to be cleared at an evenings notice and I packed the car up with more things to be taken away. The stuff should have been sorted before we packed. That didn’t get done. Upon the extension, kitchen and bathroom being completed, every single one of those boxes came back.
Box by box
Unpacking some of the boxes was a joy, particularly the kitchen. I love to cook and we had been “saving” many items we didn’t previously have space for. The random collection of wine glasses from France, from antique shops and from car boot sales. The set of pans and the cutlery, which were wedding gifts.
Many boxes got unpacked and I felt I had everything I need. Nothing is missing, but there are still many boxes to go. What is this stuff and why does it cause me so much anxiety?
As items have reared their heads, they have been auctioned off on eBay. Our old furniture has snapped up on Gumtree. Bits and pieces have been left on the wall outside to find a new home. A little has been donated to friends starting new homes. The charity bag is ever-growing, waiting for the shops to open. There is still just too much.
It takes two
I have to admit, not all this stuff is mine. My wife has collected many memories and mementoes over the years. She as squirrel away items for “when the extension is done”. Some of which are a revelation when they appear and some that are met with a shake of the head. She is sentimental; a tricky trait when clearing out and also hates creating waste. She can pretty much give anything a second life, which means holding onto things for when the time comes, but means they don’t get cleared out. As The Minimalists say: the three most dangerous words are “just in case”.
Do I need more storage?
This is one of the misnomers of “organising”. You tell yourself – “It’s not that we have too much stuff, its that we need more storage”. From our kitchen that didn’t fit two grown people in it and had no drawers, the new spacious kitchen with ample storage is quickly running out of cupboard space. There is still rationalisation to be done.
Is it adding value?
Some of the stuff does add value to my life. Sadly just not right now and some tend to be pretty large. My snowboard and bike are constant ammunition for my wife as I ask for stuff to be cleared out. The freebie race finishers t-shirts are clogging up my wardrobe so I can’t see or find the clothes I want to wear. Old trail shoes that may be good for a walk (one day) take up space in the hallway. Books that are never going to be read again and DVDs that were important to me 15 years ago, now hold no sentiment.
What you bring into your house
The clearout/sort out is ongoing. Things are slowly on the move and there is a snowball effect. Releasing one item leads to more items going and the clutter and anxiety ebbs slightly. I’m not going to list ten things to do to declutter, but I will leave you with one point that has kept coming to mind as this situation has gone on. It is – be aware of what you’re bringing into your house. Keep a tally of what’s coming in and what’s going out. Is this tally is going up or down and how does it make you feel?