Wednesday 22 May 2019

Get spring clean - ‘Messy drawers happen when you try to store way too many different items in there’

After a particularly long winter, it's time for the annual declutter. Jessica Salter tries out five tidying techniques to find the expert solution

A clean break: Carrie clears out her closet in Sex and the City
A clean break: Carrie clears out her closet in Sex and the City

Jessica Salter

Finally, after a seemingly endless dark winter, it's time for a big spring clean. But before you can even start on the cleaning, you have to clear the decks.

Research by the University of California found that clutter in the home can raise stress levels, with women in particular experiencing a spike in hormones as a result of mess. "People become overwhelmed by the amount of clutter they have in their homes," says decluttering expert Lesley Naylor. "But when they tackle it, it can be a hugely therapeutic journey."

There has been a slew of books out recently tapping into our collective, and seasonal, need to organise our stuff. But where to start? With a house covered in a thin film of builders' dust and in need of a good tidy up, I decided to try a different method for each room.

Minimalism game in the kitchen

Warning. Click on to the website of The Minimalists and you could be there for days. Also known as Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, they document how, when approaching the age of 30 a few years ago, they realised that all the stuff they had craved and then accumulated didn't actually make them feel any better. And so they decided to pare back their lives.

They claim that the blog, and the four books it has spawned, have helped two million people, so perhaps I can glean some insights too. I try a version of their Minimalism Game in my kitchen, where you get rid of one item on day one, two on day two and so forth. It's a nice principle, but fired up with the decluttering zeal, I want to blitz it all. But I keep it up: out go surplus Tupperware that I can't find lids for; toys that I've stashed because my daughter no longer uses them; old magazines I kept for 'reference'; cookbooks that I have never really used. I can see the benefit of doing it slowly, and by the end of the second week, it's becoming a habit to question what I really still need to keep.

Marie Kondo in the nursery

Kondo is almost single-handedly responsible for turning tidying up into a trend; her two books on the KonMari method of the "life-changing magic of tidying up" have sold more than five million copies globally. My approach to storing the baby's clothes would send shivers down Kondo's spine: everything is washed but then squeezed into drawers, as many as will fit. So I decide to start over. First, according to Kondo, I must lay out the clothing and place my palms over it, sending out love and gratitude for the support that the clothes provide. This is quite easy in the baby's room: her little trousers and jumpers are so cute that I do feel the love emanating off them (less so when I later attempt my drawer of gym kit).

Margareta Magnusson and her recent book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
Margareta Magnusson and her recent book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Then I must fold the arms in, make a long rectangle with the body, fold it in half, and finally into thirds so that it stands up on its own in the drawer.

It does make it easier to see what's there, granted. But is the time spent worth it when my daughter can get through two vests a day and multiple outfit changes? I'm not convinced.

"Now, let's fold socks," Kondo says on the video, at which point she definitely loses me.

Swedish death cleaning in the attic

It sounds far less charming than hygge, but 'dostadning', an amalgamation of the Swedish words for death and cleaning, is on course to be one of this year's biggest trends. It has been popularised by Margareta Magnusson in her recent book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. As the title suggests, it advocates a big clearout before you die to save your relatives the hassle of it later on.

Minimalists: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Minimalists: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

Magnusson says that the process is actually "more like a relief" to get rid of the excess, and that it gives the person living in the home a better sense of order. Her method is, in fact, very simple: she instructs her readers to divide possessions into two piles, keep and ditch, giving away items to family members.

She also recommends having a designated throw-away box, which you fill with sentimental items you wouldn't want anyone else to see when you're gone.

I don't feel that I'm knocking on death's door at 33, but having recently acquired an attic after moving house, I've realised it's become a dumping ground for, well, everything.

I start weeding: outgrown babygrows bunged up in bags that I parcel up for an expecting friend; a box of summer clothes that, on closer inspection, I haven't worn in years is sent to the charity shop; miniature bottles of posh shampoo nicked from hotels are posted off to the charity Beauty Bank, which gives toiletries to low-income families. The house feels like it's breathing a sigh of relief.

Clothes encounters: Marie Kondo is the master of folding
Clothes encounters: Marie Kondo is the master of folding

'Four box' in the spare room

This is perhaps the simplest of all, and doesn't come with a celebrity tidier attached. All you have to do in each room is have four boxes labelled 'keep', 'relocate', 'maybe' and 'sell/donate', as well as a bin bag for everything else.

I decide to tackle the spare bedroom, perhaps thinking it's quite an easy room. But on closer inspection, the chest of drawers is stuffed to bursting. I pour it all out on to the bed and start sorting.

"Make sure each drawer or shelf has one purpose - messy drawers happen when you try to store too many different items in there," warns Helen Sanderson, a declutter coach. She advocates using clear Ziploc bags to group together collections of things such as hair ties or ribbons. I keep all our towels and bedding under the bed, too, in a storage bag that's full to bursting. I don't need them all, especially the tired ones, which go straight in a bag for the clothes bank (see for your nearest).

Coat hanger for the wardrobe

This method is for the undecided among us and it takes time. Devised by an Australian mother dubbed 'the Declutter Queen', Anita Birges recommends turning all your coat hangers the wrong way around in your wardrobe, then every time you wear something, hang it up the right way around. The aim being that at the end of the year, or season, you can see what you actually wear.

Just the act of hanging everything up and turning the coat hangers around makes me see what I can get rid of straight away - my wardrobe is full of unworn clothes.

A nice solution is to do an initial edit and give the surplus to a worthy cause. Oxfam will take second-hand bras and send them to women in Senegal and if you take a bag of unwanted clothes into M&S or H&M to get them recycled, you can get a €5 store voucher. But what about those items you know you won't wear, but can't part with? Naylor says there's no pressure to chuck everything. "I have an old size-10 suit, which I love, at the back of my wardrobe," she admits. "I keep it there because it makes me feel good whenever I see it." Phew, the wedding dress can stay.

The result of my overhaul? It's taken a whole month - in fits and starts - but wow, the house suddenly feels lighter. I've done my bit for charity, recycled what I can, and sold some bits too. But Naylor suggests that rather than getting too hung up on what method you use, instead just start somewhere.

"Clients are often very worried that each piece of clutter needs to be dealt with in a very particular way, and perfectionism becomes a problem."

And then? Keep up the good work all year so you don't have to go through it again.

Irish Independent

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