A couple of days ago I met with two lovely ladies who had attended one of my talks and were interested in learning more. They were on a mission to pick my brain about something that troubled them in their quest to start out decluttering their home. And they did have a whopper of a clutter issue, indeed.
They started out explaining that their attic was full of things relating to the subject of ‘railways’, including pictures from the early days of the last century, train models, tracks, books, complete collections of specialised magazines, posters, etc. My mind went into ‘collection’ mode right away and imagined an avid model railway person – most likely a father or husband – and I was partly right.
But then it turned out that we had only touched the surface … the collection contained materials from the younger woman’s grandfather (who worked in cargo on the railways) as well as her father’s additional collection which had already filled up a guest room in the same house. Red alert!
After a while it became obvious that even this was only the tip of the iceberg and the whole house, while being liveable and not filled to the brim, was a bit of a clutter farm. But it all stemmed from that collection that nobody had time and courage to address, really. So much family history, emotional attachment, obligation and historic interest was attached to these objects. Quite understandably, the father didn’t feel up to the challenge of sorting through all of it, and it would be pretty difficult to find someone else with the specialist knowledge needed to determine which parts are important, personal, linked to the family directly, or even what some of the items actually were.
This is an extreme example of something I feel happens a lot. When we start decluttering, the first areas we see are the big issues: the spare room full of diverse things, the attic we want to clear out, the garage that contains items of all description. Usually, the initial spur of decluttering is brought on by some kind of emergency that forces us to jump into action. Unfortunately, the worst way to start decluttering is under pressure: time restraints, untold things that could hold emotional, practical or financial value all mixed up, hold a huge number of opportunities to get stuck for sheer lack of experience with these matters.
The trick here is to declutter when you CAN and not when you HAVE TO. It is much easier to start off small rather than full-on with a complete room: this will hone your decision-making skills and ultimately make the whole process less painful and time-consuming. It also helps if you manage to declutter by type of things rather than by area.
In the case of my two ladies, quite apart from the expertise question related to the items in question, there was a general feeling of ‘this is too much to even begin to sort out’. I advised them to work their way up from other areas and things that are less emotionally charged, and easier to decide upon, like clothes, papers, the majority of books, etc. Once there is a feeling of personal achievement and visible results in other areas, the collection might not feel quite as daunting any more. I also proposed for them to look into donating parts of the collection to a museum or another collector who could take care of the items properly and potentially make them accessible to visitors. However, while that would give them an opportunity to let go more easily, it still involves a lot of soul-searching and sifting through long-forgotten items, of course, all the while making sure to keep the essentially family-related things.
In the end, such collections are really the hard-core, top-level problems you can come across when decluttering, as they contain all kinds of pitfalls you can imagine. So, better start small …
If you have enjoyed reading this, you may find these other articles interesting:
Ask the ClutterMeister
Ideas to help clear away the mess in our homes and in our minds.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients declutter mind and space. This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.