With a change in the air, now is a good time to tidy up your life. A serious declutter can be good for the soul. Penny Fray helps you clean up your act
There’s a room full of dusty old books, a faux orange fur that’s never seen the light of day and a loft full of designer clothes several sizes too small. So many shopping trips, so little house space.
I’m a well-known hoarder and since my move from Muscat back to the UK, I’m engaged in a war against clutter – closet-creaking, bookshelf-breaking and surface-hogging clutter.
I don’t know why, but people always think I live in some sort of sterile space rather than the ‘hobo’ house I’m currently encased in. My friends say it’s because I seem more organised and unsentimental than I actually am. For some reason I find it comforting being surrounded by possessions. Just the idea of throwing anything away brings me out in hives.
Similarly, my mind is always full of thoughts and plans. It buzzes with a swirling swarm of things that I need to do, want to do or plan to do. These mental lists can be exhausting just thinking of them, let alone doing them.
Sometimes, I long for a quiet, calm head, where everything is neat and in order. My home could do with being like that too.
Which is why having a good old clear-out and sweeping away the rubbish in your life, be it emotionally, physically or mentally, can have an amazing effect on your well-being, effectiveness and productivity.
“Spring is a great time of year to go through life’s wardrobes and declutter,” agrees Jenni Eden, a life coach based in Muscat.
“They say decluttering your rooms has a corresponding effect on the mind.
“When we go through and tidy up surfaces, clean out kitchen cupboards, dig out magazines and the various bits we long ago decided to keep for some obscure reason, we feel lighter, fresher and brighter afterwards.”
It makes sense to me.
While I haven’t yet reached the stage of losing my two dogs under the junk, I admit that every cupboard, closet and spare space in my five-bedroom home is crammed with unused things.
My home office, which I’m currently sat in, is home to more files than the FBI – piles of weekend supplements and boxes full of randomness with nowhere else to live.
This, however, is just what Jenni Eden says I should be getting rid of, in order to blow away the cobwebs in other parts of my life.
“Just as we keep old letters, reports, books, half-started projects and out-of-date tins cluttering up our homes, we also in the same way carry around old beliefs about ourselves,” she says.
Apparently, as a result of these limiting beliefs, old tapes continue playing in our heads, reinforcing our behaviour. It can limit our creativity or future success.
“You will ‘cap’ your success by holding yourself back with these thoughts,” says Jenni, who has just written a book How to Plant Positivity to Sow Seeds for Success.
Of course, some forms of disorder seem more justifiable than others; it should go without saying that you can never have too many books. They’re educational. Up until the point where they collapse in a literary landslide and nearly kill the cleaner – but more on her later.
And my black dresses? Classics. A girl can never have enough. Ditto trench coats, totes and ballet pumps.
The thing is with clutter, the occasional blitz is not enough – it’s an ongoing battle. One that I’m losing and one that the cleaner charges more for the emotional distress of facing.
They tell me that getting rid of stuff is therapeutic. And I’ve always had a nagging suspicion that life may become a little more straightforward if I could manage to streamline what I own. But I can’t.
Enter the tidiness guru, otherwise known as my mother.
She’s ruthless. So much so that she used to throw away my childhood paintings seconds after they made it across the threshold, arguing that they didn’t go with the decor. Ditto gifts. There’s no pretence or polite “how lovely, dear.” Instead they’re packed off to the charity shop with merciless efficiency. Her rule for decluttering is simple: ‘If you don’t use it, bin it.’
I reckon any psychologist worth their eye-watering hourly fee would identify her as the root of my hogging habits.
As a kid, I knew that if I didn’t squirrel away my possessions, they would be sent to charity.
But why are we so afraid of change? After all, a change is as good as a rest the old saying goes. Yet many of us – myself included – freeze in their tracks at the thought of changing just the tiniest thing in our comfortable lives.
Yet experts argue that we must be brave and take the plunge in order to streamline our lives and minds.
Jenni Eden says the most common obstacles are fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being unworthy and fear of losing your identity. The latter perhaps explains my reluctance to throw away any of my possessions.
Decluttering your mind means letting go – of past hurts, perceived slights, disappointments, grudges and long-held grievances.
“The mind is a lot more complex than clearing out your wardrobe and more challenging – it needs a different approach,” says Rosie Malcolm-MacEwan, a therapist from the Al Harub Medical Centre in Muscat.
“Mostly these are things from the past but not forgotten, hard things in life that maybe we haven’t been able to deal with.
“The mind has amazing strategies to push them to the back of our mind, such as denial, avoidance and procrastination.”
Rather like an old forgotten dress stuffed at the back of a wardrobe, however, these suppressed emotions have a habit of resurfacing, leading to anxiety and depression.
Only when you remove these blocks and resistances, can you be free to achieve your desires and ambitions.
“It’s all well and good spring cleaning your wardrobe and decluttering but if you don’t start with the mind you might as well not start at all,” says Rosie.
“Like those detox diets and rigorous exercise programmes when you sweat it out, in the mind too, feeling uncomfortable is a necessary step to cleanse and clean.
Just like I need to face up to my phobias about throwing any material objects away, a similar stoical stance is needed when it comes to getting rid of baggage in your life.
“Take responsibility for your self and all those negative feelings, and your own boxes,” says Rosie.
“Detox those friends too that aren’t really true or giving to you. I believe its better to have a few true friends than ones that clutter your life and leave you feeling dumped on.”
My mother certainly doesn’t mess around when it comes to putting my house in order, literally and metaphorically.
Within 24 hours of arrival, the purging parent has decided to restrict my retail splurges to almost nothing.
She’s more pitiless than the world-renowned order freak Marie Kondo, author of The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying – a bible for ‘neatniks.’
In just a couple of hours, the kitchen and living room are mess free.
Old newspapers, videos and cushions are thrown. As the physical clutter clears, so does my mind. I feel calmer and strangely at peace.
I think I’m ready for the next stage: cleaning out my head.
Marie Kondo’s Guide To Decluttering Your Home:
Rosie’s Guide To Decluttering Your Mind:
Tip: Emotional Freedom Technique (E.F.T) can be incredibly effective in helping to declutter emotional rubbish. It involves literally tapping on specific meridian points to help release blockages from the mind and body.
Kate Ginn, Y’s Sections Editor, on why a good purge works wonders in her life
Both my wardrobe and my mind are given regular clear-outs when the need arises. Spring, with its sense of new beginnings, is always a good time for a spot of renewal. And in my book, if you are going to do it, you might as well do it well.
Believe me, I am ruthless. Friends and acquaintances will be culled from my smartphone contacts and Facebook if they have reached their sell-by date. It might sound harsh but age brings a certain understanding that time is precious and you therefore want to at least spend it with people with whom there is some sort of connection.
My mind is the next to come under the microscope. Over a year or even several months, the brain becomes clogged with what I call the detritus of life, emotional lumps and clumps. These need to be cleared out. I think of it as a bit like unblocking a drain.
This involves getting rid of any baggage, such as negative thoughts or unhealthy issues, which may have built up. I always seek guidance, whether through self-help books or a professional, to sweep away the obstacles.
And once my mind has been flushed out, I am set with a clear head for the months ahead.
The final part of this decluttering process is my wardrobe. I am, by nature, quite a sentimental person (though I may not seem it) but when it comes to clothes, I have no compunction in throwing away unwanted items. My mantra is ‘Not worn for two months, never will be.’ Items are arranged in three neat piles: keep, charity collection and bin. I feel no sadness whatsoever when a pair of too-tight trousers bought in a sale (the promised diet never happened) are chucked out. Far better to recycle to a new home that will love, cherish and actually wear them.
When the clear-out cycle is complete, I always feel refreshed, re-energised and ready for what the future may bring. Until the next declutter that is.