I didn’t manage to do anything I’d planned to do today because my executive function decided to officially give me the finger and wheel spin out of the car park, which left me unable to do anything useful. I have spent most of my day grumpy and angry with myself, so tonight I decided to try and do something semi-productive by finishing one of my many draft blog posts. Whether spouting boring gibberish on the internet is going to help or not remains to be seen, but it seems like a fairly harmless way to take my mind off things.
Over the last few months I’ve been trying to rearrange some rooms in my house. In theory the task involves clearing out some stuff and moving some other stuff. It sounds quite straight forward, but it’s not. It should be, but it’s not. It involves some decluttering and decluttering leads to – well firstly drafting blog posts when you should be decluttering and secondly it leads to work that is physically and mentally draining.
Our house contains too much stuff and reducing the volume of stuff is a big ugly job. I have been a yo-yo declutterer for most of my adult life. I’ve never been on a diet but I am constantly planning my new slimmed down life with less possessions instead of kilograms. For our family there is also an issue created by fake tidying. Fake tidying is when somebody decides to clear an area by scooping things up and dumping them in a bag, box or laundry basket and putting them “out of the way” The problem with fake tidying is that none of the things are actually put where they belong. Old newspapers, the gas bill, an empty crisp packet, a letter from school, 3 CDs, an MOT certificate and a phone charger could easily end up in the same carrier bag.
Decluttering isn’t always a problem, for me it often is and most of that is due to the volume and the fact that, despite what my family think, I’m not the only person in the house generating the clutter. Interestingly I didn’t notice this until I started trying to get rid of things.
I like stuff. I like buying stuff, I like owning stuff, I have no desire to go minimalist but at present along with the things I want to own, is an additional 25 – 50% of things I don’t. It seems fairly straightforward just get rid of the stuff you don’t want but there are two big problems with getting rid of the unwanted percentage. Firstly the rest of my household and their refusal to part with things (yet somehow I’m the horder) and secondly that the things I want to get rid of are intermingled with things that I want and in some cases, need to keep. So that involves going through stuff and that’s the bit that can be a challenge. Over the years I’ve developed little systems to help keep track of special documents. I always know exactly where my passport and driving licence are but I will have a very serious problem if I need to show anybody my birth certificate in a hurry.
Manuals for household appliances I no longer own are easy to get rid of, but I’m the sort of person that keeps hold of wires because the chances are that the device it belongs to is probably still here somewhere. Unfortunately I’m also the sort of person that says things like “that’s a good box” and saves things for best, so I definitely have a bit of work to do.
Having fought the clutter many times (without ever truly winning) I made an executive decision not to do any more huge clear outs. I don’t have the time or the patience, so I just go through a box or a bag, as and when I’m in the right mood or the box is in my way.
Going through clutter that has accumulated over a number of years is essentially a way of reliving your past life which triggers memories both good and bad. Whilst I’ve been wading through boxes I’ve come across an assortment of paper clutter, some nice, some not so nice and some that you had absolutely no idea were still in the house. In the last few months I’ve found mobile phone bills from One 2 One and payslips from my days as a Postal Cadet.
My mum wasn’t really an art on the fridge type of person, so anything I drew at home was kept for while and presumably binned. When I was a kid I drew constantly and often made art in school which teachers stapled to those giant boards primary schools have. Each school year children skipped out of the school gates at the end of July, carrying their pump bags and not much else. This appears to have changed over time. On the last day of term my kids stagger out of the gates carrying their pump bag, a school coat I haven’t seen since September and ALL their books, pictures, paintings and topic work. Fast forward to ten years later and lots of us parents still have a model of a viking small holding and an A1 sized picture of Elizabeth the First, which is stored alongside a clay model of a hedgehog they made in Year One.
At what point does it feel ok to put all their work in the wheelie bin? Please do not give me any gibberish about taking a photo or scanning pieces of my children’s artwork. Throwing away a sculpture my first born made at nursery but knowing that somewhere on my laptop there is a picture of it (that I’ll never look at) is pure BS. It is not a straight swap. Either throw it away or keep it, don’t make digital clutter and tell yourself that you won’t feel bad when the bin truck crushes it.
In theory I’m happy to cull some photos, particularly landscapes with no people in them. It’s a hill in North Wales, it’s a beach in North Wales, it’s another hill within walking distance of Rhyl in North Wales. I can part with those, but sometimes even stupid pictures of nothing good are associated with good memories.
Before the days of digital photography people on holiday took poor quality pictures with regular old school compact cameras. For some reason I have an entire batch of badly taken photos of a carnival in Prestatyn. The pictures have a strange pink tint and feature random people I don’t know, but despite the rubbish photos, I remember watching that carnival with my mum and dad. Compared to the piles of decent photographs that I fully intend keeping, the handful of random hills and 1980s carnival aren’t important and don’t really matter but they make me smile whenever I see them and in reality the space taken up by a few packs of regular sized pictures is nothing compared to the dozens of full sized portrait packs I’ve bought over the years.
Persuading parents to buy pictures of their child starts early. If you give birth in hospital and stay there for more than 24 hours, you are almost guaranteed to get a bedside visit from a chirpy photographer. As babies constantly grow and change, parents are always open to the idea of paying for more photographs of them. Along with the many years worth of my badly taken home photographs, I also have professional portraits from PixiFoto, Venture and a large assortment of other photographers. The quality of the photography varies but they were always better than anything I could have done myself. The packs were always arranged so that unless you buy a dozen pictures in an assortment of sizes, it feels as though you’re wasting money. You’re not, but it’s hard agreeing that you don’t want pictures of your little one looking cute, so you aim for whichever package lets you have at least one of each pose, which usually ends up only slightly less expensive than having the super duper premium package so you upgrade and then you end up with more pictures than you need. Fast forward a few years and you still have half a dozen tiny copies of the same picture in the original packaging.
Schools produce an awful lot of paperwork and until recently most of it was physically on paper. My kids are generally quite bad at promptly handing over pieces of paper and I’m quite bad at remembering what happened to a specific piece of paper after it was eventually handed over, so as a result the consent forms / raffle tickets / sports day / parents evening / band practice / swimming letter usually disappeared into a mystery portal and extra copies had to be hastily signed in school reception at the last minute. Lots of these letters resurfaced recently – better several years late than never!
Letters, Threatening Letters & Business Paperwork
Since first leaving home as a teenager my finances have varied a lot and no matter where you are on the money scale it generates post. If you pay your bills on time, you get lots of nice friendly letters asking if you’d like a credit card. If you’re at the other end of the scale, you get a lot more post and it’s a lot less fun to open. Besides the vast amounts of financial correspondence I have always kept things in case I needed them, which in some cases is the right thing to do but when it’s old receipts and warranties for old washing machines then it definitely isn’t, but I’ve never really had a system for getting rid of paperwork at the end of its useful life.
I started my first business in 2007 with dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur complete with a huge library of books on every aspect of business. The very short version is that I had a small shop which I opened with a big bag of redundancy money. The shop was open for a while and by the time I decided not to renew the lease, I had no savings and a damaged credit record. Closing my shop wasn’t a nice experience so I dealt with the things that were absolutely necessary and left lots of the paperwork and other general stuff in boxes, primarily as a way of saving my mental health until I had the time and emotional resilience to tackle it. Later that year I enrolled at uni and switched from retail to digital. A few weeks ago a lot of those boxes were opened and although it’s never nice to be reunited with old invoices or out of date threatening letters, it was nice to finally be able to dispose of them.
Unlike lots of the people on tv shows tackling their clutter, I have absolutely no problem getting rid of old newspapers or product literature from a decade ago. My problem was that I needed to keep some of the paperwork, wanted to keep various other things and the outdated product literature happened to be stuffed into the same boxes.
Unfortunately I’m an all or nothing person so once I decide that I’m going to get rid of something, I’ll insist on doing it properly and that includes recycling and disposing of personal paperwork properly. Hopefully I’ll never be bored enough to calculate how much time I’ve spent shredding documents with my ‘no more than 3 sheets at a time’ cheap shredder because I can guarantee that it will never feel a good way to spend that many hours.
Books & CDs
I still have lots of VHS cassettes and DVDs, which is not a big deal. Nobody else wants them and and it’s wasteful to throw them away. If I find a suitable home I’d be willing to part with them. Film isn’t a big deal to me, music however is a very different matter. I still have all my old vinyl, all my old cassettes and a lot of CDs.
Years ago Mr WorthyOnTheWeb bought me my first iPod thinking that I’d upload all my music to it and get rid of my CDs. I obviously did no such thing, which considering I’m now on my third iPod is obviously a good thing. I will always love my first iPod and the 8000 songs I had on it but frankly the idea of leaving one piece of tech holding my music collection is nothing short of crazy. Streaming is good, but it’s no substitute for just owning a physical copy of the album. For a start once you own it you can listen to it whenever you like, you don’t need wifi and it doesn’t matter if that particular track gets dropped by whichever streaming service you’re using. For me it’s too easy to waste ages choosing the right playlist or deciding exactly what you’re in the mood to listen to and there is something about being able to just grab a handful of CDs and get in the car that just suits me. I did once decide to get rid of some of the CD collection, but the tiny handful I was willing to get rid of made it a complete waste of time.
When it comes to books I am definitely a hoarder and I have a real problem getting rid of books. I’m reducing the collection, but unless I have someone to give them to, I’m probably just going to keep them. Not all of them, but a large percentage. When I daydream about lottery houses, they always include a library. (I’ll leave you to imagine me swinging off one of those giant ladders like Belle in Beauty and Beast) To me books are special, even though obviously some of them probably aren’t, but this special status I’ve allocated them means that I can’t / won’t just get rid of them. I’m willing to rehome some of them but that isn’t always as straight forward as you would expect. There are four charity shops within walking distance of my house and none of them seem to be very enthusiastic about taking books as they obviously have difficulty selling them.
The problem with books is that you end up with some that you haven’t read yet, despite owning them for years (and years) and others that you’ve read and won’t part with. I’m not sure whether that’s because I may want to read them again one day or if it’s because they remind me of certain times in my life. I have lots of happy teenage memories of buying and reading secondhand paperbacks bought at an indoor market on holiday in Rhyl. I loved reading as a kid and even more as a teenager. I still have my collections of Harold Robbins, Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins and James Herbert. I also have the Omen books and of course lots of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.
For many people decluttering is a one off activity, for others it’s a loop we go through over and over. Some of the loops are caused by not changing the attitudes and behaviours that led to the problem in the first place and for others the loops are caused by only doing as much as you had to in order to live your life, before closing the door of the room you piled the leftover stuff into. It takes a long time to collect clutter and it can take a long time to get rid of it. The solution to my book hoard is that I need to build some bookcases but I’ve got a few more boxes to go through before that happens.