I usually recommend that clients work on areas of their house rather than types of clutter, as fully decluttering an area enables them to see the progress they’re making more clearly.
However, if someone knows that they have a lot of a specific type of clutter, it can help to bring it all together from various places in the house, so they can get a clear understanding of what they’ve got.
Sarah (not her real name) asked me to work with her on various types of clutter. And was happy for me to blog about it.
(Sarah gave permission for this blog post by the way. I only blog about clients who are comfortable with it. And I give them an opportunity to comment on my draft posts before publishing, taking out anything they don’t want published. So don’t worry, if you want my work with you to stay entirely confidential, it will).
We started with magazines. Sarah had bags and piles of magazines all over the house: on the couch in the living room; in bags on the chairs behind the dining room table; in bags in corners of the living room; on her desk; under her bed; beside her bed; in a box at the foot of the bed…
First we gathered them all together on her bed. They made quite a pile and Sarah was shocked by how many there were, commenting on the amount of money she’d spent on them.
She has read them all though so I suggested that they weren’t a waste of money. She just needed a system to move them on faster, so that they didn’t become clutter.
She keeps them because, after she’s read them, she wants to go back through them to pull out any articles or recipes that she might want to file and keep. I suggested that, in future, she tear out such pages as she comes across them so that she can put magazines out for recycling as soon as she finishes reading them. And she took this on.
We were able to work through the magazines quickly as she was happy to let some (such as Red, Good Housekeeping, Grazia and Cosmopolitan) go without checking through them again.
She was interested in keeping articles about Buddhism (from mind, body, spirit magazines) plus recipes (from magazines about cooking and eating).
So were able to sort through the magazines simultaneously, with me tearing out anything I thought she might want to keep and putting those pages in a pile for her to check.
In with the magazines, we found a small amount of other paperwork: bills, letters etc, which we put into piles for action and filing.
When we’d finished, we had a small pile of magazines that she will pass on to a friend, one magazine that she has yet to read, and a pile of articles and recipes for filing. And not only had we filled her recycling tub with magazines, we also had two big bags of magazines to go out with it.
We’d got through the magazines in just one hour, so we decided to tackle another type of clutter within the same session, and Sarah suggested jewellery.
Sarah loves jewellery, and has a lot of it, both costume jewellery and a few more valuable inherited pieces.
However, she was aware that she had a lot of pieces that never got worn because it was too hard to find specific pieces within her various boxes, and because it wasn’t all kept in one place. Some was the other side of the bed from her dressing table and she rarely climbed over the bed to get it.
So we decided not only to clear out some of her jewellery but to organise it in a way that worked for her.
First we tipped it all out.
Then we sorted through each item, categorising them as: keeping; charity shop; broken (to be freecycled for remaking); needs action (repairing or polishing); and giving away.
As we went through, we paired up earrings, put backs on earrings that were missing them, and removed knots from chains.
We also found some silver cleaning cloths in one of her boxes, which we used to polish the silver items that had become tarnished.
And we found some items that belonged elsewhere in the house, such as reels of thread.
Sarah kept berating herself for keeping so much. However, she was also parting with a good deal so I took every opportunity to acknowledge how much she was letting go.
Jewellery is always tough to declutter as every piece has an association, whether it be that we inherited it from a relative, it was a gift from someone important to us, or simply that we chose it carefully on holiday or in a place we loved.
Once we’d been through every piece, we looked at how best to organise the pieces she was keeping.
She has a jewellery stand in the shape of a hand which can hold several pieces, although it’s best not to put too many on it as it becomes difficult to get them off.
Sarah noticed that there was no real logic to which pieces she kept in individual gift boxes. And that such individual boxes are not the most practical way to store jewellery as it’s not easy to see the contents when choosing what to wear. We decided it would work best for her to use boxes only to store matching sets.
We used all the small, clear, plastic, snap-shut bags that we could find to hold single pairs of earrings, or a single necklace or bracelet. And put all these bags into one large box.
I recommended that she buy a mesh earring stand for her studs and small earrings. She liked that idea and, in the meantime, we pushed them through a piece of paper to hold them in pairs and make them easy to search through.
I also recommended that she diarise repeating the exercise for a few months time, as she will then be able to assess which items she has worn in that period and may be able to let some more go.
Completing an area after all
Having worked through the jewellery, we realised that it wouldn’t take us long to completely declutter the top of the two chests of drawers in her bedroom that serve as a dressing table. Now that the boxes of jewellery had been removed from them, we could quickly deal with the other items.
A USB flash drive and a cable went downstairs near the computer, a lump of blu-tac was returned to its packet downstairs, safety pins went into a small bag on her cosmetics shelf to be amalgamated with others when we declutter her cosmetics, sample cosmetic sachets went to their rightful place in the bathroom, an unwanted pill box joined the jewellery in the charity shop bag.
This enabled us to clean the surfaces, which was satisfying as, in their cluttered state, they’d got very dusty.
When we’d finished, her dressing table looked lovely. She’d polished up the leaves of a plant and dusted some candles and shells with which she decorates the space. The jewellery was all in one place, with containers neatly stacked.
I love the idea of her being able easily to access all her jewellery so she can choose which piece she’d like to wear, as she dresses each morning.
The jewellery had taken us two and a half hours so we decided to stop for the day.
Nevertheless, such an effective clutter-clearing session had got her in the swing of moving stuff on and, when we went downstairs she spotted a book on the bookshelves that she and her partner had been given and never read, and it quickly went into the charity shop bag too.
I’m going back in a few weeks time to help her sort through her shoes and her cosmetics…
(NB: I provide a confidential service and only blog about clients when they are comfortable with it. Sarah approved this blog posting. Sarah is a pseudonym).