Almost everybody’s got one – a room you intended to be a haven that has turned into a cluttered catch all. The door often gets closed and you shudder a little every time you walk past. It’s not what you wanted it to be. Worse still, there’s probably some pretty special stuff in there – heirlooms, mementoes and keepsakes – things you’d like to be enjoying on a daily basis, but that stay shut away along with the rest of the clutter. It might be a spare room, guest room or den. For me, that room was our library. And yes, the picture above is an ‘after’ shot! With my easy tips to help you declutter and move on, you can have an after shot like this too.
Before I published this post in 2013, I was way to ashamed to publish a ‘before’ photograph. The floor was covered in books and boxes of photographs dating back four generations. We still hadn’t decorated and we had been in our ‘new’ house nearly six years. My friend Shirley was desperate to get in there and help me with the mess, but she was quick to caution me that it wasn’t just a physical mess, it was a metaphysical one.
I knew my friend was right. In late 2007/early 2008, my parents died within six weeks of each other. My husband, son and I were moving at the time, and it wasn’t just our furniture and personal belongings that got packed into boxes and moved into our new home, it was a lot of pretty raw grief. Almost everything that reminded me of my parents ended up in the room I intended to be the library, and no matter how many times I went in there and cleared things up, the clutter always returned with a vengeance.
Sarah Ban Breathnach describes a similar situation (albeit for a different reason) in her book Moving On. She writes “Clutter is much more than objects that lie on the surface of our lives. Begin thinking of clutter as the tip of what lies beneath, struggling to show its face.” Sarah also explains that we should “Think of clutter as co-dependent; we allow clutter to accumulate and it enables us to stay stagnant in an unhealthy situation that should have been dealt with years ago.”
Years ago indeed. I was definitely beginning to feel it was time to move forward. And with a little help from my friend, we did. Now, instead of threatening to fall out of the cupboard under the bookshelf, my late father’s diaries are in a pretty box on the top shelf of the cupboard. I can enjoy sitting at my late Great Aunt Margaret’s desk under the window writing letters and I can actually sit in the big comfy blue chair and read a book. I know where all the photographs and albums are and in due course we are going to go through and sort the photographs so I can enjoy them and preserve them for future generations. As you can see, we’ve even got some space on the bookshelves for them.
So how did we tackle my clutter-filled library once and for all? Here are some easy tips to to help you de-clutter and move on, even in a room that has become a catch-all for everything from old socks to memories.
Easy Tips to Help You De-Clutter
Whether it be professional help or the help of a friend, don’t tackle a clutter filled room on your own. Choose someone you know will be supportive and sympathetic, but who is tough too. You need an impartial ally with a firm resolve and a soft heart.
Take everything out of the room first.
Even if you are not going to decorate (although this is the perfect opportunity), remove as much as possible from the room. You may even want to remove pictures from the walls. Clean it top to bottom. If you are going to decorate, do it now.
Think very carefully before bringing things back in.
This is a fresh start, so carefully consider what furniture you really need – and want – in the room, as well as what you hang on the walls.
If there is a project in the way of decluttering, put it to one side, don’t let it delay you or bring it back into the room.
For example, my boxes of family photographs are now stored neatly elsewhere until we can spend a few days sorting through them. Vintage photographs will be physically placed in albums, more recent ones will be scanned and made into photo books. The books and albums will then go on the empty shelves near the window. Don’t let the fact you haven’t completed a particular project stop you from making the room into everything you want it to be.
Be patient with yourself.
Stirring up old memories and pieces of the past will definitely be stressful. I got quite moody and grumpy half way through the day, but with a bit of help from my very understanding friend I pushed through and felt so much better afterwards.
If it isn’t “beautiful, useful or seriously sentimental”, give it away or dispose of it.
Have one pile for the garbage, one for recycling and one for charity. Be careful of heirlooms and pieces from the past. If they don’t have good memories attached to them, you don’t have to keep them. Just keep the things that bring back happy memories and make you smile. Equally, don’t rush to throw away sentimental items you are not sure about. I still regret giving away a couple of things in the confusion of the early months after we moved.
Enjoy your new room.
Now that there’s space to get in there, use the room you have cleared. If it’s a guest room this is a great excuse to invite some distant friends for a visit. Take time out to sit and watch a great film in the den you’ve cleared, or sit down at the desk in the office and start writing that book you always dreamed you would. As for me, I’m off to sit in my big blue chair and get lost in a book.