Delving deeper than decor to explore the power of home as a path to wellbeing #happyinside

March 27, 2018

The year long clutter clear

Sound the klaxon, for I have decided to throw something away every single day for the whole of 2018! Having left my job as Editor in Chief of ELLE Decoration at the end of 2017, and then losing my beloved father a week later, I recognise this as a continuation of a desire, nay need, to make space, physically, emotionally, and literally, for a fresh start with a new healthier freedom of living and working. But it’s also increasingly clear to me that to maintain a sense of wellbeing and calm in today’s world we need to take decisive steps to cut out the overwhelm, whether from our phones, emails, news, noise or other people. And it needs to be happening inside our homes too. In short, I want to be able to sit in any room in my house, and to be able to look in every direction, and not see, or be distracted by, anything that has no significance for me.

In the MOhome bedroom, the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball's 'Light Blue'; the tiled headboard uses H&E Smith tiles; and the flowers are from The Real Flower Company.

Have nothing in your bedroom that you don’t love… literally!

You see while I’ve always been fervently anti-clutter, I am by no means a minimalist. I don’t want an empty home, and I personally feel that such a reductive stance is a reflection of an inner emotional state in its own right, and not one that’s appropriate to me. However, there are many aspects of the minimalist viewpoint that make a great deal of sense: for example, when you discard something, you gain more than you lose (just finished reading Fumio Sasaki’s ‘Goodbye, things’). However, I like to surround myself with things: art, family photographs and objects that give me pleasure, prompt happy memories or have personal emotional resonance. What Marie Kondo might call “things that spark joy” or remember William Morris’s famous edict to “have nothing in your home that you do not either believe to be beautiful, or know to be useful”. I heartily subscribe to both points of view.

In addition, I love my ‘things’ to be set against a backdrop that is rich with warmth, texture and detail. Yet this background, the envelope of my home, has also been very carefully designed to minimise distractions, colours that clash, or alignments that jar (I literally can not sit in a room if pictures are wonky! Even at school I’d been know to get up to surreptitiously clean the last corner of the blackboard if the teacher had missed a bit. Obsessive, moi?). You see I don’t want bland, I want coherence. Ultimately I guess the quest is for that heady space in between soothing and stimulating. A home that reflects my loves, and is also a place of solace. The point is, the two should be one and the same.

So this year long chucking initiative is to progressively rid myself of all and any extraneous ‘stuff’. Perhaps things I’ve been given that I don’t actually need, or love. Books I’ve read that I know I will not re-read. Clothes which no longer fit or suit my new life; and my biggest issue, multiples (I discovered I have seven pairs of scissors, six umbrellas, and about 50 white linen napkins! Does anyone ever really need so many?)

Clutter clearing Rule Number One…

My general rule has always been, if you were moving house today, would you pay someone to box and carry x, y or z? If not, out it goes. However, making it a daily action focuses the aim. As such, I wasn’t sure what sort of goal to set myself at first. One thing a week didn’t seem like enough, however one a day seemed significant enough to make a difference. And so far, I’ve easily exceeded this. However I suspect it may get a lot harder as the months progress — more considered clearing vs easily relinquished excess.

But there’s another level too, as I write this, having already started with great gusto, it occurred to me that I could also get rid of the microwave. I bought it when my son was born, primarily for sterilising bottles, and since then I’ve only ever used it to heat milk for hot chocolate. It’s compact, clean, white and it’s been inoffensively sat on my kitchen worktop for the last four years. But this very morning I realised I simply don’t need it. I never use it for cooking as frankly I’m suspicious of the idea of super-zapping as a means to heat food, and I already possess a small milk pan and a fast-acting indiction hob, so… out it goes. Snapped some pictures of it in-situ, and it’s already posted on eBay.

Clutter clearing Rule Number Two…

Rule number two is that if anything new comes in, then something else has to go, over and above the one thing a day (yep, heightening that challenge). And it has to be like for like, ie if I buy a new jumper, pot or book; then an old jumper, pot or book must go. I can’t buy a new coat and then give up a coaster. The only exception is toys for the small (alongside obvious things like food, household sundries and dog stuff); although he already understands mummy’s concept of making space for the new — so if you want that new toy, what are we going to give away? — that said, I’m not going to deprive him of his treasured Lego building sets and Thomas the Tank Engine minis. Besides, he’s already occasionally felt the need to declare, “Mummy, I really like this, so please don’t sell it!”

And I’m listing out my ‘relinquishments’ to document the process for myself, more than as a list for reading (could become a tad dull!). And I shall update month by month to share the lessons I’m learning, and how I’m getting on. So here’s my first quarterly report!

January (31 days/ 40+ items relinquished)

I always do a big New Year clean’n’clear in January, and had already started this before I formalised my intent to carry on all year, so I’m a bit vague about what I got rid of; definitely my old TV (I upgraded to a very ‘minimal’ new Samsung Frame just before Christmas), 3 x old electric heaters, 1 x printer, 1 x scanner, all previously languishing in my basement, just in case of what…?), and I definitely achieved the month’s goal of an item a day… if not more, but I’m not letting myself carry anything over. This month’s choice of charity was the YMCA, primarily because they collect, and they take old electricals.

Major clothes clear out too, bagged up at least 20 items to go to charity.

Sorted through a box of old cassette tapes and videos, ditched at least half of them. Suspect the rest of the box will go later in the year, after all I have neither tape recorder or video player? Baby steps, baby steps!

Conclusion: Good start. However easy to clear old clothes and clearly redundant stuff. Feeling like I can do this, albeit in ‘refining’. i also seem to have bought a fair few things.

Things bought: 1 x jute ottoman from Soho Home (£125), some grey knitted slippers, £38 (I threw away my old ones!) and a matching eye mask (£12). Framed one of my son’s pictures, which I’d been meaning to do for about a year. Also ordered some family photos via Apple, and bought nice silver frames from The White Company to do them justice. Oh, and 3 x pairs white washing up gloves from Lakeland (£3.69 a pair) so I felt better about all the cleaning (see my month of extreme cleaning post!). I do not appear to have given up corresponding matching items… but giving self a break as such a lot went to the YMCA.

Note on picture frames: If you’ve gone to the bother of actually getting a print done, or buying a picture, then herewith my eternal mantra ‘buy right, buy once, buy the best you can afford’ in terms of frames. I’d batch bought some cheapo frames from TK Maxx, but in the light of my reassessment of all things, they looked a bit rough, or the mounts were not crisp enough, so inevitably my now hyper precious photos of my father and son together, needed better to honour them. Buying cheap = money down the drain. I really should have known better. However, I remember being caught up in the enthusiasm of getting a family photo wall done, rather than perfect. Which is also sometimes ok. 

February (28 days/31 things relinquished)

The eBay marathon starts…

4 x Knoll white Bertoia chairs relocated from my former office, too uncomfortable to sit on at home.

1 x Camerich dining table bought as a stop gap until could afford new marble top for the beloved Saarinen. Purchased just before Christmas as a gift to myself, and no-one needs two dining tables.

1 x child’s size Gaetano Pesce UP chair, very generously gifted to small but in reality too large for his room, also bright red (onward gifted to a friend with a larger house!)

1 x old pair Gucci aviator sunglasses. I bought a new pair last year which I love. I don’t need two pairs.

3 x brand-new silk scarves which I have kept forever, but will never wear as just not my thing. They sell for way more than expected. Am quids in.

1 x cashmere travel blanket, un-used, also sells for over the odds.

1 x 3-metre long faux pearl necklace that’s been languishing so long in my closet, I’d forgotten I had it.

1 x YSL black patent ‘Tribute’ handbag, loved but not used for at least five years.

1 x crystal vase plus a matching pair of candlesticks, all of which had been in my guest room, newly recognised as unfortunate repository of things I don’t like that much. Time to let them go.

9 x items to charity shop… including pair trousers that are too small, 2 x jumpers not worn in God knows how long, and assorted other highstreet items including a long navy trench coat from Mango and some sparkly black court shoes from Miu Miu, both ‘trends’ I’m dismayed to read in the subsequent Sunday supplements that are hotly tipped for a ‘return’. However I have another trench which I prefer, and one of the ‘jewels’ had fallen off the courts so I was never going to wear them again. Then… 3 x mugs that are not quite white, so ditching, as they sit unused at the back of the shelf, because all the rest of my crockery is white, which is what I prefer. 1 x ‘pot’ that’s not a nice colour (the wrong sort of turquoise), kept only because it was a gift. And a cushion with feathers on it, which I’ve no idea where it came from, but I have a bit of a thing against feathers, so it had been ‘popped’ onto small’s bed instead.

3 x tins of paint that had gone off. Do these count?

5 x tubes/pots of rarely used make-up held onto for well over a year, and eye-shadows I never ever wear.

Conclusion: Lot of big things gone, but total items less than I thought, and I’d forgotten what an almighty faff eBay can be. Then again, it all sold for just under £2,000, so who knows, I might even turn a profit on the selling vs expenditure! Definitely on a roll, although I’m painfully aware that I’m choosing things to let go in a quite ad hoc way, rather than approaching this more systematically.

Things bought: 1 x small blue vase by a Maurice Young of Chichester, purchased for £40 from Worthing Museum. Added as a ‘friend’ to an existing blue ceramic bird (much-loved and bought years ago from a Parisian flea market) that sits in a collection above my wardrobes (see below). This is what I see when I wake up , and it makes me very happy, although see caption! 

The new pot in situ. Love it! Albeit of course now eyeing up all the other ‘pots’ in the background and wondering if I love some more than others. Also recognised that I only truly like cylindrical vases, not sloped ones, so that led to another vase being let go elsewhere.

March (31 days/138 things relinquished!)

58 x books sold via WeBuyBooks.co.uk for £101.56 It’s an app that converts your phone into a book barcode scanner and then you get an instant quote. Just scan, total, box and get paid! Best of all, they collect, so you don’t even have to lug the boxes to a drop-off point.

40 x more books, primarily paperbacks that the above app didn’t want, bagged for charity (this month everything’s going to The Dog’s Trust, again because they collect – making it easier for myself!)

2 x cafetieres (I don’t drink coffee so why do I still have these? And I always give guests tea)

4 x assorted cushion fillers that have been waiting for well over two years for me to make covers for them. Not going to happen.

10 x plates bought from IKEA (4 x side, 6 x dinner). Because, although they are a very seductive biscuit colour, I have always preferred white porcelain, and I think 10 x existing plates in each size is quite enough. My dining table won’t accommodate more than five, so…?

1 x microwave used only to heat milk. I have a pan.

1 x pair pink wellies, don’t ask.

1 x umbrella (only five others left… but I figured I could start by parting with the beige one)

1 x leather desk mat and tidy (I sorted the contents into my perfectly ample desk drawers instead)

Plus at least another 20 relatively random items from a bottle opener (I had three) to plain HB pencils (I had about 30 so dumped all the stubby ones!).

Conclusion: Have adopted more of a methodical approach, ie I went through all of my books in one go and decided which to keep vs which to lose based on whether I’d consider re-reading them. Also recognised I had about 20 novels I either haven’t read, or couldn’t remember reading. These are now grouped together and easily accessible, and I’m going to try to read all of these before buying any new. As I keep all my books in the basement, I briefly considered bringing these up to the living room so I wouldn’t forget, but I have another ‘thing’ against books being on show, which should probably be a whole other post! Interestingly, also noted I have quite a collection of brand-new, still-in-their-cellophane-wrap, Folio Edition hardback classics, bought with the vague intention of building a library for small. In my current mindset, this strikes me as rather misplaced. Not ready to part with them yet though, so in a ‘to-think-about’ pile. Next month I will go through my clothes with the same mentality ie what do I wear regularly vs keeping for some ‘occasion’ and especially thinking about multiples… how many plain black or white t-shirts do I really require?

Things bought: 1 x adjustable standing desk (£138) so I can now stand and write, rather than sit and ponder. Used to have one in my office in EDHQ, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, I found it absolutely heightened my productivity. I can be the queen of displacement activity, and I have a book to write, so no more excuses!

Additional thought: I’ve often wondered why it makes me so happy to clutter clear, hand in hand with why I’m semi-addicted to archiving, as in aspiring towards a single neat set of leather bound volumes as per David Hicks, that document all of my life, loves, invites and tear sheets in perfect chronological order (rather than boxes of photos, assorted albums, notebooks and Muji files of newspaper clippings). And in some ways, I confess, I’m subject to thinking that when this is all done and I’m up to date, then I’ll really be able to crack on with whatever the big thing I’m putting off is. In the same way, when the basement is finally clear, I’ll be able to concentrate. I know this is foolhardy. Life will never be perfectly ordered with my ducks neatly in a row; and the basement, literal or metaphorical, will never be clear. The point surely is to march onwards regardless and clear as you go. A new attitude towards acquisitions for today and forwards, in tandem with chipping away at the historical baggage. Much like say a desire to eat better, or exercise more. You can only really take action from where you are right now. And never let what you did before hold you back. I leave you therefore with two pertinent quotes attributed to Winston Churchill…

“It is not possible to hold the day; it is possible to lose it.

“It is wise to look ahead, but foolish to look further than you can see.”





4 replies »

  1. I’m struggling with this too. I have a burning urge for fewe more significant things in the house. No more Zara Home knick-knacks. I have never sold on eBay because I can’t face the hassle, so the local charity shops are doing well!!

    • Oh, I know what you mean. Anything I don’t have a readily available box for, goes straight to charity rather than eBay… you get what you giveth, as they say, it’s all good karma.

  2. This was so great to read as I too have been going through this process. My aim this year was to refuse (throw away), regift (charity) or reinvent (adapt/change) things in the house. This includes getting clothes changed, large charity shop hauls, which leave me with a good feel factor and numerous trips to the tip. It is so cathartic like a spring clean for the home and soul.

  3. Uncanny: also prompted by my big career change last year, I’ve also had something of a pledge (I am so loathe to call it a resolution) about my relationship with things and space this year. With the exception of groceries, household replacements, etc, I am only allowing myself to buy one new extra thing a month. And I’m trying to pass on at least one item a week (mostly though it is much more than this). It teaches so much, doesn’t it? Mostly I am much more mindful in my spending now. Those quick emotional hit purchases have stopped (though interestingly I get the same hit by giving stuff away). I’m finding I value space just as much, if not more than the things that previously occupied it. And I am purchasing much more responsibly, too, and taking better care of the things I want to keep. There are surprising logistical difficulties, though – I’m using Freecycle a lot and my goodness, I can’t get over how many no-shows etc there are, considering all the items are free! But I guess even that says something about how disposable material things really have become in our imaginations…

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Writer, Author, Brand Consultant & TV Presenter

Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.