ten top tips for letting go and decluttering

Reading Camilla Long in The Sunday Times I came across this gem  “…I may never be as tidy as my mother, whose Christmas afternoon treat is a full assault on the downstairs loo.”  I wondered briefly if Ms Long’s mother and I share similar genetic make up.  It is a standing joke that my idea of the perfect Mothering Sunday is to be allowed to gut my entire wardrobe from pyjamas to coats and everything in between without anybody mentioning the word “obsessive” once.

The reason for the outing of Mrs Long was the discussion of Marie Kondo a Japanese organisation and decluttering expert.  Always keen to see how other people approach the process I duly googled said expert.  I am now convinced that I share genetic backgrounds with both Mrs Long and Ms Kondo.

Her top ten tips are:

I have never subscribed to the slowly but surely approach to decluttering.  It has never worked for me for the simple reason that it is too slow.  I want to see results and I want to see them now.  Clearly if you live in a  house the size of ours you can’t do the whole thing in 24 hours but you can do a whole wardrobe or even a whole room.

Empty out the whole cupboard sort it out and only put back what you are going to keep.  Put the rest in the bin/recycling/bag for the charity shop IMMEDIATELY and put them in the car the same day.  So long as it stays in the house you will be tempted to retrieve something you don’t need.  I find the pulling it all out and strewing it across the floor very satisfying, it is also an excellent shock reminder of how much rubbish you have.

Don’t start with the box of unsorted photos.  Start with something you know is due a serious clear out.  For most of us that’s the wardrobe.  Once you get into the swing of things letting go becomes easier.  I speak from experience, we are almost one year into our declutter and now hardly a day goes by when I don’t fill at least one small bag, if not a bin bag every day.  This is the result of a quick sweep this afternoon.


You cannot sort your wardrobe if half of it is in the dirty washing basket/ironing pile/dry cleaners/back of the sofa.  Get everything together at once.  This is the only way you can spot duplicates or a disturbing fondness for electric orange tee-shirts.

You’ve heard it before a million times.  If you don’t use it (don’t throw out your toothbrush) or love it then why is it taking up space in your house?  It is hard at first, I know.  But it really does work.  I finally got rid of three sarongs today.    There is nothing wrong with them but I don’t wear sarongs anymore, I prefer to throw  kaftan over my swimming costume (I think this is something to do with age and size 🙂 )  I kept them because they were perfectly good and quite pretty.  But I don’t need them and they certainly don’t make me smile when I see them.  Well they didn’t until I saw them in the charity pile.

There are some things that you have to keep.  Legal documents (birth, marriage, divorce certificates)  Insurance polices, tax returns and supporting papers for 7 years etc.  You do not need to keep your credit card statements and bank statements for the past 10 years or more.  You really don’t need to keep all the paperwork that comes with electrical goods.  If  you don’t know how to use something there is more information on the internet than there is in the multilingual pocket sized guide that comes with your phone.  Where and how you keep them is up to you.  Marie Kondo says keep them in upright containers to avoid the collection getting too big.  Having seen the size of some magazine files I think it is possible to let a collection get to gargantuan proportions.  My preferred method is to put the paperwork loose in a dropfile in a filing cabinet.  You can’t fill a dropfile to bursting point.  It just falls apart.  Find what works for you but do not EVER use box files or magazine files.  You can get far, far too much in them.

Why?  Why are you filling your house with guilt?  Do you like feeling guilty?  Yet every time you see that vase, or that book or that scarf you never wear you are filled with a huge sense of guilt that you hate  something that a loved one chose for you.  Hey, we have different tastes, that’s what makes it interesting to meet new people.  Just because your mother loved the purple Angora stole doesn’t mean you have to.  But somebody else will.  On that basis surely it is more wrong to keep something that is never going to be loved or used than to give it away and let somebody who really does love it use it on a daily basis.  I let go of a shoulder bag that my father brought back from Australia  THIRTY YEARS AGO!  Today I finally looked at it and knew that my father would be laughing his socks of if he knew how long I had been carting that bag around the country.

Because you will just fill it up.  You already  have cupboards, drawers, coat hooks.  Use them.

This is the first time where Kondo and I part company but that may be because in our house I have far more hanging space than drawer or cupboard space.    I’ll leave this one up to you.

If you have followed the rules and only kept things you love then treat them well.  If you only have three handbags it’s easy to keep them clean, polish them and put them back in their dustbags.  If you have 23 handbags you’ll never manage that.

8 thoughts on “ten top tips for letting go and decluttering

  1. Fantastic tips. I love a good huck out! Thanks for letting me feel less guilty about getting rid of unwanted gifts!!! The other hard one is the “but I might need/ use it one day” catagory! Will attack my wardrobe this week. You rock keep up the great work Mx

  2. Gillie,
    As you may have noticed, I’ve been decluttering–although I’ve been doing it 20 minutes a day, contrary to these instructions. I find it works best for me, and usually the 20 minutes grows to 30 or even 60, because I enjoy it so much! I really appreciate all these tips, and actually on my list this week was to tackle my o’erstuffed clothes closet, and this list gives me a bit more inspiration to face it! I’m going to share this list!

  3. Interesting how there are different views. I think for people with “normal” amounts of stuff to declutter, doing it all at once must be very difficult or even impossible. As an ongoing process, I find that at first, although I got rid of a lot, it took several rounds and some time before I could get rid of other things, which I then did (and do) with a vengeance. It also takes time for habits to adjust and to bring less in, I find. I notice Ms Kondo is still very young – at 50 or 60 or more, we have accumulated a lot more in life, including children and all their paraphernalia (I still have two daughters’ rollerblades, snowboards/boots and other sports gear to house, for instance!) and much-loved inherited items (larger ones too, like furniture!) that we can’t or don’t want to declutter!! It was fortunate that I got round to clearing out before more of the latter turned up to be dealt with – it was a learning process and at present, I’m quite pleased with the balance (there will be more, much much more – be prepared :o).
    Even better when we are childless LOL (only now we have grandchildren!!)!!!! ;o

  4. Well I’m 50 and I had a LOT of stuff to get rid of 🙂 There was no way we could do our house in a day but I did each room once and was very strict about what I kept. I had been “decluttering” for years but it was only this time around that I did it properly. If anything the girls were better at getting rid of their unwanted paraphanelia than I was. The rollerblades went without the batting of an eyelid 🙂 Furniture is a different matter as we do need tables and sideboards etc. but we have got rid of quite a lot of that. We inheirited quite a lot about 18 years ago and made the decision then to only take items we really wanted and lovely though the dining table was, we had one already that we preferred. I am not looking forward to the day I have to clear my mother’s house. It is stuffed to the gunnels….

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