Clutter. It’s become another toxic byword. With shows like ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners’ and ‘Hoarders’ filling up our screens, it’s all too easy to view those who live with clutter as freakish one-offs. Poor, unfortunate souls who we watch and feel for, but whose homes we secretly find shocking. And yet, they aren’t isolated cases at all.
Many of us struggle with clutter. It’s just not something we talk about publicly.
I recently came home from a holiday and was hit with a realisation; my home was overrun with crap. Stuff, by the bagload, piled into cupboards in every room. Clothing, shoes, baby equipment, boxes of old cables and games, cards from old jobs stuffed into gift bags - you name it, I’d kept it. Things I’d been ‘storing’ for a decade or more suddenly confronted me as if I was seeing it through new eyes.
I’d become a collector. A hoarder. And it was beginning to make me ill. I grew up in a home full of ‘stuff’, and I remember vowing that I’d never live that way myself as an adult. But here I was, looking at my own nightmare. And so, I decided to end it with a cleanse that’s been at least ten or fifteen years in the making.
As I write this, I’m at the end of week three of decluttering my house, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. Not just about myself, but about the many, many other people who live in the same way - and the feelings of shame and embarrassment that they carry too.
I began the declutter at the top of my house, pulling everything (and I mean everything) out of the attic. Every single outfit my child has ever had, furniture, handbags, paints, books, teaching resources, CDs - it all came out and littered my floor. “I’m a complete lunatic, how has this happened?” I thought to myself. Then, an idea hit me. I decided that I’d document it all on my Instagram so that I could see the progress on the days I felt like giving up.
It started off as something I expected to take a few days, and it’s turned into so much more. As I worked on those two attic rooms (which alone took me five days), people began to send me messages about what they were seeing. Messages of support, not mockery, but more interestingly, messages of empathy:
“I need to do this, my house is exactly the same! I just don’t know where to start.”
“I thought it was just me who chucked things in cupboards and shut the door!”
“Keep going, you’re inspiring me to do mine!”
That last one rang loudest of all. I never set out to inspire anyone, I just knew the clutter needed sorting. But as the days turned into weeks, other people on Instagram started to send me pictures of their own decluttering efforts. Toy rooms, dining rooms, kitchen cupboards - all being pulled apart and purged of things that seemed to be taking up room in people’s homes, hearts and heads.
Mine too. The more I purged, the more power I felt. For the first time, I looked around and noticed that a lot of the stuff I’d accumulated in my home wasn’t actually mine. It was all things that other people had given to me, but nothing that I’d actually chosen. I was hoarding so as not to upset people who didn’t give a shit about the stuff they’d dumped on me anyway. I made two vows:
I will have nothing in my house anymore that I don’t choose.
If it doesn’t make me feel happy, it’s going.
They, along with the reminder that giving my things to charity will benefit other families, have really kept me going. They’re also helping to shift my mindset. Stuff will no longer define the way I live. I refuse to let it. I already feel stronger purely for emptying my home of ‘the stuff’. ‘The stuff’ I’ve been keeping for no reason other than it’s all I’ve known. And yet, I know now with absolute certainty that I will never allow myself to live that way again. I will never allow clutter back into my home, or my lifestyle.
Decluttering The Stigma
What I need everyone to know though, is that I’m not an unusual case. There are so many more of us who suffer with clutter in our homes and just daren’t speak up about it. This isn’t right. Fear and embarrassment about clutter create a cycle of shame, and I hate to think of people feeling down and trapped by their things, scared to tackle it or ask for help in case of being outed as ‘one of those hoarders from one of those shows’.
Clutter creeps up upon us all, and we shouldn’t feel stigmatised or ashamed of ourselves for struggling with it. I refuse to be, and neither should anyone else. Ask a friend, start small, but make a start, and don’t be afraid of it.
Declutter your house, declutter your life - you’ll get more out of it than you realise.