We all know that messy surrounds make for a messy mind. Psychologists have even put a name to the collection of symptoms – ranging from stress to a decrease in one’s life satisfaction – that results when there’s too much ‘stuff’ around us: the clutter effect.
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This is something that journalist Lisa Witepski can definitely testify to. We got professional organiser Julia Adam of Oh So Organised to help Lisa with the clutter in her home and find out if she’d actually feel lighter with a decluttered home…
Lisa, 39, is a freelance writer. She lives in Parkhurst with her husband James, 39, and their daughters Leya, six, and Jessica, three.
I have never been a tidy person. Even as a child, I was regularly ‘grounded’ from watching TV because I hadn’t tidied my room. At university, it would sometimes take me a full night to clear away ‘stuff’ so that I could study at my desk, and create some breathing space in my broom cupboard-sized res room.
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As I get older, I sometimes wonder at my ability to walk past a dirty plate I’ve left on the dining-room table. My bedroom cupboard is a nightmare, and I’m addicted to buying books, which tend to make their way from one pile to the next throughout the house.
Inevitably – since I seem to lack whatever drive it is that makes other people clean up at the end of the day – I haven’t been that good at teaching my kids to tidy up after themselves. The result? A mess that assaults the eye from the minute you walk into the entrance hall, and is then replicated in every room.
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The first steps to my organised home
According to Julia, my home isn’t actually that bad and she insists that she’s seen far worse.
She explains the reason we haven’t been able to make good on our intentions to declutter is because people usually have different organisational styles: what makes sense to me in terms of tidying might seem undoable to James. ‘Some people are like ladybugs: everything looks pretty on the surface but you might get a shock when you see inside their cupboards. Others can be like butterflies: they need to have their possessions in plain sight, and move from one section to the next, because they’re very visual,’ she says.
Most of my clutter is on the surface, and Julia predicts it should take only about two days to get things looking more habitable.
The big clean-up
Day One: Julia arrives on a Monday and heads straight to the girls’ shared bedroom, where my weakness for books means that the shelves are straining under their weight. But Julia is undaunted and three hours later, the room is already looking entirely different.
The Change: The books have been sorted into piles to be given to charity – there’s a whole stack that the girls have outgrown! Now with more floor space, the furniture has been moved around to create more space for playing. And the toys have been placed in clear plastic bins because, as Julia says, if kids can’t see it, they won’t want to play with it. At the end of day one, the girls’ tidied bookshelf is one of the most satisfying things I have ever seen: all the books are arranged in height order and by author. Everything is on display, so there’s no risk of forgetting what we have.
Day Two: I can’t wait for Julia’s help to sort out James’ and my bedroom (also overrun by books) and the dining room, which has become a repository for, well, pretty much everything. But once again, it takes just a few hours to chuck out the books we’ve finally accepted will never be read, and to rearrange what’s left in height order. The dining room is an area that has been a long-time bugbear. Because our home is open plan, practically everything that is brought into the house gets dumped here, resting a while on the table before finally being stacked against the wall. I’m not sure how this ‘system’ evolved, but needless to say it’s sloppy and, since the piles are at least 20cm tall, they are a towering unwanted presence in the room.
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I’m absolutely delighted. The process was entirely painless: Julia does in two days what would have taken me weeks on my own, given my work commitments, extramurals and other parenting responsibilities. Going through the house with her, there was less emotion about saying goodbye to stuff – and that, in my experience, is what makes decluttering so hard.
Am I happier, though? Well, yes and no. The sight of a room devoid of detritus that had been there so long it had become as much a feature as the couch is immeasurably soothing. I think that one of the reasons why decluttering feels good is because you’re physically throwing out things that no longer serve you.
Plus, making decisions, especially tough ones, can give you a wonderful feeling of control. But life will always have its stresses, from work commitments to parenting responsibilities, that perhaps not even a tidy bookshelf or clear dining-room table can help you get through completely unscathed…