Clearing up means tidying away. Throwing out the rubbish, putting the rest in its rightful place.
Clearing out, however, which implies going beyond jettisoning obviously unwanted items and instead suggests removing long stored but no longer used items, is hard.
Clearing up, clearing out. Just one little word different within each phrase, but emotionally they are worlds apart.
Items that we have had for a long time are more than items – they are memory stores. Even an old radio that no longer works might be kept, because it was the first present given by someone precious.
An old iron, completely broken and beyond repair, might be kept “because it was the first thing I bought when I moved out of my parents’ home”.
As for getting rid of photographs, that can seem almost like cutting one’s hand off. And besides, surely our children will want to reminisce over them, even if they have no interest in the past at this moment.
So big is the problem of past possessions that there are even people around nowadays who describe themselves as “decluttering coaches”. A frightful title, and not necessarily one that might draw us to such a person – but we can all see what it means.
To solve any problem what we all need is a plan of action – a plan that is not just logical but which also meets our emotional state.
One way to handle “clutter” in this regard is to recognise that a lot of things are kept because they have an emotional link with our past. If one starts with these items when one begins to try to solve the issue of old things, one can instantly get blocked.
Nothing is thrown out, but worse, we start to believe that we can’t throw anything out.
If, however, we start with the non-emotional items then we can often make some progress.
So one can start with leftovers: a box of cables that has been collected from old electrical goods – just in case we suddenly need them. In reality cable endings change every few years, so the box can go.
Some really old clothes might have an emotional connection, but those items that were bought and were hardly worn – and are kept because “it’s hardly been worn” – really can go.
People who buy books find it hard to throw away books – so load up a boxful of those that you know you will never read again and take them to the charity shop.
In the bathroom and the fitted cupboards there may be old towels that you no longer use – you have the newer ones so throw out the old.
There are some people who keep all the letters they have received or all the Christmas and birthday cards. But the question then arises – are the memories they bring good memories or sad? If really good, hold on to them – otherwise they can go.
And then if you get stuck, try this approach:
If you have plenty of space and you are not thinking of moving, then yes, keeping all these items in your house or garage is in one sense ok. They are there, no one looks, no one minds, and hopefully they are not a fire hazard.
But if you find the knowledge of these items disturbing then it is time to do something.
And if you are going to move – then the value of these items can be measured. Another ten boxes of memorabilia is going to cost you a few more pounds when you move. And that’s before you consider whether you can store them or not in your new home.
That’s when the true value of the clutter in the house becomes apparent.