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What's This Modern Obsession With Tidying?

11/01/2016 12:39 GMT | Updated 10/01/2017 10:12 GMT

It's New Year. Everyone's turning over a new leaf. They're going to become the person they've always wanted to be. And each year there are trends in terms of the types of habits we adopt with a view to becoming different people.

Last year everyone was droning on about smoothies. Usually these were in glass jars and had spinach in them. Kale exploded onto the market. I like kale as much as the next person but it didn't deserve the attention it got. It's chewy and tasteless unless you smother it in something tasty. Then people yakked on about avocado as if it was the new boy band. Well news flash! Avocado has been around for a long time and still tastes like nothing.

Funnily enough gnawing the fat off lamb chops never plays a part in the mass rejuvenation plan.

This year there's been lots of noise around the idea of ridding yourself of 'clutter'. At first glance it's easy to see why the promise of a more organised existence is seductive. Owning too much stuff stresses us out. As far back as 2013, researchers at U.C.L.A observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found Mother's stress hormones increased when they were dealing with this excess 'stuff'. Many of us have been trapped in a specific purgatory unique to parents. It involves picking up stuff and putting it away, picking stuff up and putting it away, until your knuckles graze the floor.

I suffer from worrying levels of rage when confronted with mess. There are some things I can ignore (a muddy shoe sticking out from under the sofa) but others drive me mad. I would love to live in a world that was ordered and minimal but my lifestyle won't allow it. When I see stark, white, organised homes in magazines I wonder where all their mess lives. Is it squeezed into drawers ready to spring out once the photographers have gone?

This year people are talking about Marie Kondo's new book 'Spark Joy' which builds on the success of her first de-cluttering bible, 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying,' proving more detailed instructions on how to live a mess-free existence.

Friends who've gone through Kondo's process say it has changed their lives. When they go to find a pair of scissors they're exactly where they expect them to be. Their T-shirts stare back at them in a rolled up, sensual manner. I cannot imagine a life like this. In our house each drawer secretly breeds its own contents. As soon as you've emptied it, it magically refills itself with crinkled up bank statements, elastic bands, lip balms and half-burnt birthday candles.

One of Kondo's key tenets is to only keep things that 'spark joy'. But this implies that we only buy stuff we love rather than stuff we feel 'meh' about. It's hard to break out of the consumerist cycle we've got ourselves into. We buy things when we're feeling tired. Or sad. We buy things when we need attention. We use shopping to pep up the parts of our lives that are flagging. If I really drill down to the nitty gritty, there are only two things that 'spark joy' in my home. One is the kettle (it makes me tea) and the other is the oven (which makes me food). There are also a couple of photographs that I feel sentimental about. I also kept a wine cork from one of the dates I went on with my boyfriend when we first got together. That's it.

I love clothes. I love beauty products. I love quirky furniture. But none of them truly 'spark joy'.

My Mum is a hoarder. She keeps everything. Old knitting wool. Toys from the seventies. She has enough quilts to cover the Houses of Parliament. She grew up after the war and knows what it's like to play with a doll made out of a clothes peg. She remembers the days when butter was a luxury. De-cluttering is not in her vocabulary. I too have some of that hoarder-ness in my genes and I was a spoilt eighties kid who never wanted for anything (apart from sugary cereals and a Cabbage Patch Doll). Maybe that's why we have our current obsession with tidying and getting rid of stuff. Perhaps we're feeling sick of the endless race to accumulate.

It's worth remembering that 'tidying up' (which is what it is even if you turn it into a trend or issue specific instructions on how to do it) only really works if you analyse why you bought all the stuff in the first place. If you bought it because you loved it and it made you feel marvelous - great. But if the stuff you own is making you feel tired and drained, rolling it into fancy shapes isn't going to make much difference. It's still rolled up stuff that you don't want.

Studies have shown that true happiness comes from doing things for other people. If you think things through logically there's a way to avoid all the de-cluttering. In the future instead of buying things for yourself, buy them for other people. This way YOU'LL get all the 'joy' you need.

You'll be the one with the stark, minimalist environment whilst your loved ones struggle with their excess stuff like donkeys trying to cart a wagon full of watermelons up a steep hill. I predict that next year will be all about the power of gifting to others (I'm writing the book as we speak).