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A ruthless approach to decluttering completely transformed my life

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/09/2019 Saima Mir
Marie Kondo © Getty Marie Kondo

When I moved in with my husband, we found ourselves with two of everything. We sold furniture and donated kitchen utensils to charity. But, having lived alone, parting with more sentimental items was difficult. And, as I later discovered, my husband is a bit of a hoarder. He couldn’t ditch his MDF TV cabinet; I was too attached to my impractical 50s Danish tub sofa.

Things got worse after we had children. With the arrival of countless toys, books and kids’ clothes, it got out of hand.

I am an introvert who loves being at home, but, as a freelance writer, our house is also my office, so I need clarity and a certain amount of organisation to function. The clutter made me anxious.

© Getty

My husband feels none of this. He can walk past a pile of clothes, a collection of empty toilet rolls, row upon row of shoes, and settle himself in front of the TV for the evening. I needed to restore order, but the immensity of the job and my desire to succeed, combined with the chaos inflicted by three small boys, left me feeling like Wile E Coyote. The problem felt insurmountable.

That was until I caught an episode of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. Kondo is the queen of the cull, instructing her devotees to look at their stuff and ask: “Does it spark joy?” Her clear instructions meant I didn’t have to press my tired mind for strategies. I had put the show on in the background, but Kondo was so convincing that even my husband was onboard within 15 minutes.

We were going to have to be ruthless in our mission to declutter. The house was permanently littered with toys, so we started by giving away anything that was ignored or had been outgrown. Sure, I had to smuggle the toys out after bedtime, but getting rid of things meant the boys played better with what they had. What remained was split into two groups: our staples of books, Lego and art supplies stayed close to hand, while the rest was stored in the loft and brought out on rotation.

Next, I pared down my wardrobe. Having worked in TV, I had a lot of bright, beautiful clothes that I had been holding on to in the hope of reliving those days. With motherhood came acceptance. Everything had to go except for black jeans, black dresses and a few scarves to add colour. I ditched all the Pakistani outfits I had kept for rare formal functions, keeping only my saris; they never go out of fashion.

Moving from the north of England to London meant becoming more reliant on public transport, so heels are now obsolete. A pair of black biker boots, some black trainers and my flip-flops carry me through the year. Everything else went on eBay or to the charity shop.

Kitchen gadgets have left the building. I have zero time to make spring rolls or samosas. I accept that I will never use a food processor. The demands on my time outweigh any desire to make culinary creations that can be procured elsewhere.

© Getty

The time I invested in decluttering was recouped quickly. The process made my mind clearer, and the time I spent with my boys less fraught. As well as reducing my anxiety levels and making everything easier to find, decluttering had some surprising side-effects. During the process, I had asked my five-year-old to help fold his clothes. Together, we had gazed adoringly at his newly organised wardrobe and drawers. The next morning, as I was making breakfast and packing lunches, he came downstairs fully dressed, having done it himself for the first time. The project had given him a sense of control and instilled in him responsibility for his own clothes.

Personally, I no longer wasted valuable minutes deciding what to wear. The black clothing hides a multitude of sins, too, so I also worried less about my weight.

Another unexpected impact of decluttering has been financial; we buy a lot less. A wander round TK Maxx no longer results in surprise acquisitions. Those beautiful sticky notes, the extra Le Creuset jar that will languish in the back of a cupboard, yet another unnecessary mirror – they don’t find their way into our house. In fact, we rarely go shopping. We know what we need, so we buy it online.

Of course, with growing children and a hoarder husband, this is a work in progress. I dread the various packages that appear in the post as a result of his love of new stuff, but they are few and far between now that he has seen the benefits of owning less. As for me, our more minimal life has helped my work to flourish. Eight months into our orderly regime, I am better organised and have more time and less mental load, which means I have more brain space for creativity. Life looks set to get busier and there will be less time to declutter, but I am determined never to let things get out of hand again.

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