Kim Carruthers, Sydney, NSW
The garage door rattled open. As it did, I was confronted with mountains of stuff. ‘I don’t know where to start,’ the owner said, overwhelmed. As a decluttering expert, it’s a sentence I hear all too often!
I’ve always enjoyed being organised. As a student, I lived in Japan, where I experienced the minimalist culture and quickly learnt that less really is more. When I returned to Australia, friends started calling on me to help them clear out their clutter.
It didn’t take long to find out that people often held on to some pretty peculiar things. One day, I was helping someone tidy up when I lifted something odd out of a box. ‘What’s this?’ I frowned, studying the thick strand. Her eyes widened, then she burst into fits of laughter. It turned out she’d been keeping one of her ex-boyfriend’s dreadlocks for years!
I now give de-cluttering workshops and help people clear out their homes. Like my friend, lots of people tend to hold onto something sentimental and quickly forget about it. Over the years, I’ve found the biggest cluttering culprit is books. Treasured novels are often kept with the mistaken belief they’ll be read a second time. ‘Pass them on to someone else,’ I tell clients. I encourage people to become a member of a local library so they can return the books they read.
For most of us, getting rid of things after we’ve finished with them is something we struggle to do. We’ll often replace an item and hold on to the old one ‘just in case’. Before we know it, drawers and cupboards are piled high with duplicates we don’t need. That’s when clearing it out becomes too daunting, so I encourage people to set small goals and declutter in stages.
The bathroom or kitchen are good places to start, as there tend to be fewer sentimental items there. Once progress has been made, it often gives us the encouragement we need to move onto trickier areas.
Having an emotional attachment to items is the biggest hindrance when it comes to clutter. This becomes problematic for parents. As a mum of two, the stuff I inherited when I had kids was extraordinary! Wardrobes were stacked with hand-me-downs and maternity wear I wouldn’t use again. Then there are birthday and Christmas toys. The biggest thing parents find hard to part with is their kids’ art. I once met a woman who’d kept every drawing her children had ever done!
The biggest thing parents find hard to part with is their kids’ art.
The rule of thumb when it comes to de-cluttering is ‘one thing in, one thing out’. When we buy new stuff, it’s crucial to make space by clearing out something of a similar size that we no longer need. Charities will take most things that are in good nick. You could even make extra cash by selling them online, at markets or in a garage sale. One woman who attended my workshop was surprised by just how much her ‘junk’ was worth. ‘I’ve made $2500 in two weeks!’ she beamed.
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the relief people feel afterwards.
But de-cluttering doesn’t mean your house has to be immaculate. There are just fewer things to get in the way! I believe we should be just tidy enough to be healthy and just messy enough to be happy. That works well for me!
As told to Kim Bonett
Originally published in that's life! Issue 2, 2016.
Kim’s tips to clear the clutter:
• Observe the ‘one in, one out’ rule. If you buy something new, try to get rid of something of equal size.
• Join your local book and toy library so you can enjoy things without keeping them.
• Keep toys on rotation. Store most up high and only let kids play with four at a time. When you switch them, it will feel like a new gift!
• Only hold on to hand-me-downs if they can be used within two years.
• For birthdays, ask for experiences not things.
• When shopping, create a list of the things you need to avoid impulse buying.
Turn your trash into cash!
• Keep a bag in your wardrobe to put clothes in when you no longer want them. When the bag is full, donate them or sell them online.
• Advertise your unwanted items on websites like Gumtree or eBay. Post photos and a brief description, set a realistic price and don’t forget to account for postage costs.
• Set up a market stall. Your local council can tell you about upcoming events and you can join forces with a friend or neighbour.
• Recover or paint furniture to be sold for a higher price.
• Have a garage sale and advertise it on Facebook. Do it straight away so you don't hold onto old items for years!