I can’t even remember half of the things I own anymore. Having moved twice in the past five years into two rented houses, most of my worldly possessions have remained bubble wrapped and lifeless in battered cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. With both sisters now living elsewhere, leaving me, my parents and until recently a cat, for once in our lives we have a spare room; yet for us this has the sole function of storage. Behind the forever closed door at the corner of the landing, there no doubt used to be a bedroom, as the owner’s mirrored wardrobe and single bed still take their place. Yet now, if we slowly creak the handle and push our way into our ‘spare room’, we are confronted with a dark, musty, obstacle course of a room which looks like the inside of a removals van, only not so neatly stacked.
Of course I have unpacked those things that I can’t or won’t live without, but everything else has stayed silently stowed away in the dark; this point has been repeated to me at intervals over the last five years by my parents (who are not at all innocent, as a lot of those brown battered boxes are theirs). So often I will shuffle in, black bin-liner in hand and start wrestling with box flaps, sending a sprinkling of dust into my face as I get ready to brutally de-clutter so that we may finally have a spare room. However, on further inspection of these containers of all things useless, something happens. As if rediscovering an old friend, every random piece of rubbish suddenly holds memories or sentiment, and is something that I clearly need and cannot live without. The result: bin liner gets dropped to the floor, I hastily look for some sort of cloth that can clean the poor, neglected object and it is awarded its very own spot in my small, messy bedroom whose current array of bits’n’bobs are already fighting for space.
This process is repeated for many items from many boxes. Some objects don’t quite warrant freedom, as although they trigger endless reminiscing my rational self argues that they are absolutely useless. Like, for example, a clock in the shape of a cat which my parents brought back from a short holiday in Swanage, Dorset, from my favourite shop there that I visited during my childhood holidays. Of course a clock is not useless- except this one, a couple of days after I was given it, was knocked over ironically by my own cat, and the all important cogs and mechanical pieces rather dramatically spilled out over my desk in an unfixable manner. But as I held it, albeit with its vital pieces missing, I could not bring myself to place it in the black sack which I had discarded in the moments of delight as I discovered forgotten objects.
And so it continues; jewellery boxes from old Christmas’s, which are pretty and in perfect condition but not as nice as my new one; cassette tapes from about ten years ago with songs which I love to remember but don’t love to play anymore; candles, from my phase of copying my older sister in covering all mantelpieces, desks and tables in various candles and candle-holders; a tiara from the school prom; a kids games console of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ which still works, if only it had batteries; school exercise books, because well what if I need to know how to do standard deviation or trigonometry one day? It could happen.
Proving that not just a select few of us are prone to hoarding all kinds of rubbish is the thriving de-cluttering industry. Any Junk? is a junk removal service working for anyone from domestic clients to big businesses- they even removed the scale model of a Skoda made entirely of cake from the recent advertising campaign. Jason Mohr, founder of the successful company, says of his domestic clients, ‘Most people tend to hang onto anything concerning their children, because of sentimentality and a lack of discipline to get rid of the things they no longer need or want.’ Other companies such as ClutterGone, The Clutter Clinic and The Order Restorers all offer to declutter your home and hence your life- the latter’s caption for their website is ‘We will give you back your sanity’. Well that’s not fair, I might keep useless objects most of which I’d forgotten exist but that doesn’t make me insane. Of course television caught on a long time ago, with Channel 4’s How Clean Is Your House? and the brutal BBC’s Life Laundry, where Dawna Walter, aka my worst nightmare, enters her victim’s- sorry, client’s- home and empties it of all things nice and homely and precious, to restore order in their lives and help them to move on.
It seems it’s not just about being disorganised, us clutterers actually believe that these items will be of use some day in the future. Or does ‘just in case’, that great excuse of a phrase, mean something else? Lynda Hudson, a Clinical Hypnotherapist thinks that we usually hang on to objects either for a fear of letting go, difficulty in making decisions, or for security. ‘People are usually collecting security at the unconscious level, such as through items from childhood,’ Lynda suggests.
There is some truth in this for my collection of oddities. I keep my shattered cat clock and its tiny broken pieces in case it can, miraculously, be fixed one day, or in case my parents take offence that I throw it out. I keep candles in case I need them in the event of a power cut, or something just as disastrous, although I’m not sure I’ll know which box to look in, especially in the dark. I keep the cassettes in case they’re worth something one day, or I want to hear the songs again to relive my youth when I’m sixty and covered in wrinkles. I keep the jewellery boxes because they are doing a great job of neatly storing my old pieces of jewellery for me, which I can’t throw out in case I need some plastic rings and bracelets in the distant future. You just never know.
Lynda explains that decluttering has benefits of making you feel in control of your environment, giving you psychological space and allowing you to be free to move on from situations. Lynda recalls a patient of hers, ‘A man came to me once whose wife had died young and unexpectedly. He could no longer throw anything away except food-rubbish and even that was difficult; his house was a mountain of stuff and all he could do was to sit on the settee and look at it.’
The benefits of clearing out our clutter are important in Feng Shui; the concept that the physical space around us has spatial dynamics that affects us at both a design and an energy level. Feng Shui has its own term for this sentimental type of clutter. As Sarah McAllister, Director of The Feng Shui Agency says, ‘The term ‘affection’ relates to items such as toys strewn everywhere, cushions worn with wear, the bottle of wine left open from the night before- these create a sense of affection, of a place being lived in.’ However, as Sarah explains, ‘In Feng Shui the house is like a body, so we don’t want to obstruct the arteries (corridors) with clutter, and we want all the doors to be unimpeded so you can open it fully. Clutter can account for around 33% influence on your life, of whether your home or office are good Feng Shui or not, and clutter is definitely bad for Feng Shui flow.’
In my spare-cum-clutter-room, I don’t think anything is flowing apart from dust. Although I’m sure it’s not good for me to keep a whole room as a storage cupboard, I think throwing out those precious useless items would cause me more distress. So my collection of stamps that my Grandad gave me, my old art sketchbooks, a short story I wrote in Year 6, the odd Barbie doll, a broken disco ball, children’s books such as Mog the Cat and Mrs Pepperpot, and everything else that I’ve acquired through the years gets to stay wrapped up tight in boxes, aptly labelled ‘Stuff’, until the next time I appreciate their existence.