Decluttering and having Stuff

This is one of my favourite subjects. I have in recent years become a bit of an evangelist for decluttering.

It all started about 3 years ago when I realised just how much ‘stuff’ I had. Having lived with my parents, then in a flat with another person, then a shared house I then ended up back at my parents’ house.

Over the years I had acquired the boring but useful trappings of a home like pots and pans, bedding, and furniture as well as clothes, gadgets and the assorted knick knacks a person collects. But there was also so much more, some of which had never actually left my parents home in the first place. Photos, travel journals, magazine collections *Magazine collections?!*, books in boxes, old records, video tapes oh the endless videotapes, bags of old toys from childhood, *old toys?!* School certificates, a collection of some 200 badges and on and on and on.

Moving in with my parents meant furniture had to be quickly got rid of as there was no room for it. That was quite easy. Most of it was second hand or total crap to start with. And all of it was given away to needy persons, apart from one bookcase which disintegrated under the shock of being empty and ended up at the council tip!

But everything else not already living in boxes in a cupboard, ended up in boxes, in cupboards.

Which after a brief settling in period suddenly struck me as very odd.

And I wondered, is this normal?

Do other people keep stuff like this? And if so, how? Is it in their homes lovingly on display or shoved in their parents’ attic for 20 years? If people don’t have old possessions loitering with intent to clutter, what do they do with them? Did they ever have them in the first place?

Do we really need to have material records of times gone by, or is it clutter? Does our stuff trap us, or show us how unique (or not) we are?

I think there’s a certain primitive instinct to ‘hoard’ and protect what we have. but I also think there’s been a real tendency in the last couple of decades or so for us (society) to expects to have a ‘record’ of our activities. Been to the theatre? Enjoyed it? Great. But no, now you buy a programme and a t shirt and a key ring!
Photos used to be taken only on special occasions. Birthdays, wedding, annual holiday. And when the roll of 24 pictures was used up, that was that. Now we have millions of photos everywhere. This in some ways could make it easier to let go of what you have. No longer are your photos of your children confined to one image in an album. Now the whole extended family has a dozen of them.
But, equally, pixelated images on a disc are just not the same as granny’s photo album, with someone’s flowing handwriting on the back of the pictures and a lock of hair in an envelope stuffed between the pages. Whose was it? Long forgotten.

Perhaps I’m hankering for simpler times. When there was less ‘stuff’ to be had. A less consumerist lifestyle and era.

However ‘the simple life’ where we make our own jam and repair our worn out clothes actually means the need to have stuff like sewing machines and jam jars.

I’m not so sure people ‘in the olden days’ had less stuff. They just had different stuff. In fact they were probably more attached to their blankets and butter churns as they would’ve been harder and I would think costly to replace. And of course many of the household ‘things’ we have evolved for practical reasons. Carpets keep the house warm and are nicer to walk on than bare floorboards. Wardrobes and cupboards keep dust, ash and insects off your clothes. Teapots are a useful means for making tea!

I don’t feel its bad to own such things, or desire them, but if storage space is at a minimum, or of it costs money to hold onto them (in storage units, although I never went down that grim industrial shed filled path),

Is it right to still want to hold onto old stuff?

Asking around among friends and colleagues I discovered the divide was quite strong. People either kept a lifetime worth of material memorabilia, or they had kept almost nothing.

This also seemed odd to me. Really? No ‘old things’? Ah, it turned out when I dug a little deeper that actually yes, lots of old things, but people didn’t count this as ‘stuff’ much less clutter.  Old music records, even in the attic, were just ‘there’, as was old baby booties and granddads war medals. People are quite understandably emotionally attached to these sorts of things. They provide a connection to the past, to our own pasts, not just an abstract story in a history book.

But what about when it needs to go?

Never the less the time comes for things to move on. Emotionally, and materially. Possessions need to be transient; after all they’re not what are really important. (That’s right girl, you keep telling yourself that!).

So having made the decision to seriously declutter and then had to actually do it.

I loathe the idea of throwing anything away if someone can use it. So eBay seemed ideal. While I did manage to shift a fair bit of stuff this way there are limitations. No-one wants to pay postage on a heavy box of items that are essentially low value. No one wanted piles and piles of old ‘Empire’ film magazines, or ‘TV Zones’. It was literally a heart pounding moment when I tipped then into the paper recycling bank at Morrison’s car park (not enough room in my doorstep recycling bin).

I felt a huge and rather silly relief. They were gone. Hurrah!

Un-post able but sellable things were given to charity. By the bagful.

Other stuff was simply given away, to friends, to random strangers on the interweb, oh yes it’s a social network indeed!

Some stuff was just chucked.

Some stuff was car-booted. It’s not like on the telly you know! No 20 quid knick knacks here. 20p to you madam and would you like this one for free, no please take it.  I remember the look of joy on a small boys face as he picked through the 10p each box of assorted happy meal toys and The Phantom Menace era Star Wars toys, *phantom menace toys?!* when I said he could have the whole box for a pound.  One happy child, one happy de-clutterer!

So little by little, years upon years of fusty old knick knacks, of very little financial value, too much sentimental value were gradually wittered away.

And here I am years later, so much, so very much has gone. I feel lighter. It’s tremendously cathartic.

But hang on, what’s this box? Oh, audio tapes…oh what’s this?  A bag of sewing arts and crafts bits that I have never used….what’s this? Wrapping paper! Why didn’t I find that last week before I bought some?!

It.  Never. Ends…..

Lady loafers decluttering tips

*Never ever start a clear out by buying more storage. The idea is to get rid of stuff. See what storage you need after you’ve cleared out. Chances are you’ll have empty boxes.

*Break it down into sections, clothes, books, paperwork and so on. Focus on one.

*It’s surprising how much you can get done in an hour. Stop procrastinating and get on with it. But remember the whole process could take weeks, even months. Like dieting, years of excess won’t disappear overnight.

*Someone somewhere probably wants it. Car boot sales, eBay, freecycle, charity shops, gumtree, local ads, and pawn shops.

*If you have to bin it, be nice to the planet. Most things can be recycled.

*Don’t fob your old rubbish on charity shops; they want stuff they can sell.

*If you haven’t got round to reading/listening to/watching it by now, you’re not going to are you?

*If you haven’t worn it in a year, you’re not going to now are you?

*You’re never going to slim/fill into it. Get it gone. And you’re never going to get it altered are you? Gone, now.

*Things you keep because you think they look good in your home – whether books, music, drinking glasses, pictures, whatever- don’t look good living in boxes in cupboards. If they are truly only there temporarily then fine, if not then make space for them where they do look good, or get rid of them.

*Some clutter is just good or important things in the wrong place. Get things together. Paperwork in one place, your wedding dress carefully boxed up and put away, not hanging in the wardrobe in the way

*It’s not useful. You’re not using it, you haven’t used it, and so you’re really not going to are you?

*And when you’re done with all the decluttering don’t just fill it up with new clutter. Think wisely about what you bring into your home and your life.


Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. 
William Morris



2 thoughts on “Decluttering and having Stuff

  1. Great advice, though personally I find getting the storage sorted in advance is more helpful. Not buying more storage, just knowing where stuff is going to go and clearing a space for it. Otherwise you end up making a ‘temporary pile’ until you have somewhere to put the newly-sorted stuff and in my experience temporary piles all over the place are the kiss of death to decluttering.

  2. Hi Redglass, thanks for your comment. I find I have piles of stuff, sorted out to go to the charity shop/car boot sale/ebay….and it just sits there. I find it harder to actually get it out the house than sort it out, but once I do, it’s such a relief.

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