Busting the clutter can be cathartic once the ache of loss heals
The Moschino bra you bought me last Christmas
Put it in the box, put it in the box
Frank’s (Sinatra) in there and I don’t care
Put it in the box, put it in the box
Take the box ….
It’s a song about accepting the end of a relationship and divesting herself of the symbols of their love. Sadly, I’m not one of those types. I’m a love hoarder, an intimacy addict, hoarding all memories of people long gone, relationships broken, friends who have moved on, people or family I loved who have died.
My cupboards are full of old letters, records, CDs, a piece of cloth, a lock of hair from an ex I kept in a jar. I have an old phone book with 30-year-old numbers. Which isn’t as cringe-worthy as what a childhood sweetheart told me at my last school reunion. That he’d stolen a pair of my knickers for sentimental value and still has them in a plastic bag decades later. Japanese schoolgirls eat your heart out.
But it’s not just symbols of love that I can’t let go of. Every year I make a New Year’s resolution to do a spring clean in general — of papers and what I call biddledy-bobs. Quick as a flash nothing happens. Tired of never finding anything, buying things twice, forgotten bills in boxes under the couch, I always swear I’ll do it.
Once every two or three years I try to actually take the plunge. I’ve had a few clutter-busters over the years. I’ve had things yanked out of my hands with a declaration of: “You don’t need this any more.” I remember looking at photos of a very old ex. “You and he are too small in these, you took them from too far away, so they are of no use.” Trash. “It doesn’t help to hold on to your late father’s jumper. It will be eaten by moths anyway, the material will decay, chuck it out,” said one as I sobbed.
Although it’s always been cathartic in the end, it’s been traumatic at the time and there are things I do feel I was “encouraged” to give up that I regret — records that are now coming back into vogue, beautiful dolls, a hand-crochet shawl from my grandmother. Yes, that jumper of dad’s. Everything dies, so do we, but it’s sad to let things go based on efficiency rather than heart.
Enter a new breed — the neo-organisers — with empathy as their tool. One such person changed my life. With a background in meditation, personal development and eastern philosophy, Fay Goodchild came into my house armed with a profound desire to help me grow, not divest, using the motto: less is more.
Her work began well before we even opened a cupboard. We talked for a long time. It was like a spiritual therapy session. Even though I’d known Fay a long time, I was forced to describe myself in detail. What was I like when I was young? What were my dreams then/now? What do I love? Meaningful events? Where have I decided to go with my life?
Struggling with a relationship issue at the time, I wrote notes about what I was looking for in a partner. What did I need to let go of to get it? We did an exercise where we drew an imaginary line. I stood in the place of the old me, then moved over the line to who I wanted to become and what I wanted to attract into my life. I could see and feel the new me. I was artistic, embracing colour, vibrancy. With each possession to divest, Fay asked if it was in synch with who I now was or working towards being. Black clothes had to go. But beloved Teddy stayed. It’s a great technique to do for those attempting to clutter-bust on their own.
Kim Carruthers, professional organiser, speaker and author of The Art Of Tidying Up, agrees the profession is changing and becoming more empathetic and aware, rather than one of pure efficiency.
A quick look at some of the members of the Australasian Association of Professional Organisers reveals many with backgrounds in nursing, social work, psychology, people management.
“We (clutter-busters) do have to start looking at the psychological aspects first. Many people can’t let go of their past, clinging on to memories or lost love. Is it a security thing?’’
“Perhaps it’s family related,” says a woman who herself took years to part with a collection of antique cameras inherited from her late grandfather because of sentimentality. “Sometimes it has to do with depression, anxiety or stages in life. Decluttering issues are emotional as well as environmental and practical. You need to find a simple, soft way of dealing with these issues.”
She said she’d like to see some personal development training as mandatory for certification but says this would be hard to enforce.
Louise Hay, author of the international bestseller You Can Heal Your Life, says: “Our cluttered closets can be considered symbols of a cluttered mind.” She says to examine each item and its corresponding thought and decide: “Is this still useful or am I just afraid I won’t be able to replace it?” We need to let go of the old to create psychic space to let in the new, including new love.
Fay suggested I tell the story of each item before I said goodbye. It was a valuable part of letting go. We thought about where things were going. For instance, knowing stamp albums were going to a stamp lover made it easier than putting them in the bin.
She is a big believer in “re-gifting”. I have regifted many of my ex’s and many women have regifted me theirs. It seems that when clutter-busting love, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Start, sort, solve, stop for a break
Take photos of your progress. This will help you stay motivated
Take photos anyway as a memoir of what must be divested
Go slowly and finish what you do
Buy nice boxes and storage furniture to create space
Never leave it until tomorrow
Tell someone the story of something important you are letting go of
Pack a suitcase of next season’s stuff to keep it out of the way
Don’t use your fridge door as a junk collector