‘Decluttering: What to do when it makes me feel miserable?’

May 24, 2021
The process of decluttering is supposed to make us feel satisfied and pleased with our efforts, but Adrienne has found it's having the opposite effect. Source: Getty Images

Before I can downsize, the first thing I must do is declutter. A simple word. Unclutter might be a better word for me. Decluttering is the removal of all clutter while uncluttering means just tidying up the clutter. I do unclutter from time to time. The lockdown in 2020 was a perfect opportunity for me to start cleaning up, and I did. I cleaned and tidied the cupboard under the bathroom vanity and the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

My daughter did the pantry and threw out anything more than five years out of date. I agreed to throw out one item with the use by date of 2005, but I objected to almost everything else. I don’t know why. I would never use them. I rarely cook. I just don’t like throwing stuff out. I feel like it’s being wasteful.

I think I have more clutter than most — a combination of having been a primary school teacher for many years, a book rep later in my working life, and having six children. I have kept their kindergarten art and books from their school years. I don’t know why I bothered. None of them have the slightest interest in their childhood masterpieces.

A friend has started the decluttering process by ditching his school and university textbooks. That would be a good place for me to start too. I have a whole cupboard of them! I’ve only looked at one of them in the past 20 years, and I could have found many more Japanese haiku on Google than in my Modern Japanese Literature. Not so modern — printed in 1956! Decision made, it went into in the recycling bin.

Maybe I should start with something less precious. I have boxes and boxes of credit card statements, receipts, and invoices. Why am I keeping them? I don’t know. I have this nagging feeling I might need something as soon as I’ve discarded it. I don’t think I have a hoarding disease. If I do, it’s a hundred times less severe than that of my brother.

I have culled my slippers down from 14 pairs to just seven. I couldn’t believe I had so many! When I last went to Europe, I didn’t take a single pair! Tiled floors in a European winter are not good for the feet, so of course, I had to buy a pair. In my defence, they are the only slippers I have ever bought: the others were gifts from my kids for Mother’s Day and my birthday in June.

Similarly, I have culled my clothes from four wardrobes to two. I took photos of my most-loved dresses that I would never be able to fit into again. I’ve managed to stop my clothes from ‘breeding’. When I get something new, I choose one item to give away.

The one thing I have kept for more than 30 years that is being reused by my daughter is baby clothes. She’s a minimalist and I really didn’t think she’d want old baby clothes, but she loves them. The quality is so much better than what it is today. The handmade clothes are one of a kind: her baby won’t be wearing the latest Kmart fashions, but designer pieces. And to my surprise, she’s opted for cloth nappies instead of disposables.

Writing this has motivated me. I threw away four boxes of old credit card statements and receipts. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the pretty boxes they were in. Do I feel better, lighter, as I’ve been promised when you declutter? No, I don’t. I feel like I’m on the road to my grave or urn, whatever is cheapest. It’s not a good feeling.

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