My Decluttering and Organising Philosophy

Empty Flat

Decluttering is one of the words on everybody’s lips, especially now we are in lockdown and so spending more time at home…which means not only we are more likely to have our mood affected by the environment around us, but also because, for some of us, the extra time on our hands has given us a chance to tackle the big jobs that are always left behind. I am a right mess, mostly due to chronic illnesses making it difficult to keep on top of housekeeping at all times, but I think that’s what makes me a worthy guide on the subject. Too many decluttering gurus are really neat people who enjoy cleaning (and to be fair, I enjoy it too because it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I love to let out anger on a dirty oven). I am someone who had to find ways to cope with doing the bare minimum but manage to live in tiny urban spaces (by choice, I am more of a minimalist than people think…).This topic, I think, ties well with the theme of my Soul Care series last week and this week, which is rest. It’s not just Feng Shui that theorises that we feel better when things have a proper place and we live in a good environment. It’s part of our Catholic tradition too (although without the stuff about energies that New Age folks love). Chapter 32 of the Rule of St Benedict deals with keeping an ordered monastery. There is also a tradition of doing Spring Cleaning in Holy Week: it’s a practice that means to help us renew us spiritually as well as physically, and you can read a lovely article about it here. You can also find a reflection that deals specifically with the dinner table, which is the sorest point in our house. There is also a lot of psychological research to back the wisdom of our faith. 

So, I think we all agree clutter is bad for us. Now what? You may be familiar with Marie Kondo and her method of throwing away anything that doesn’t spark joy, but I’m not a fan. If I did that, I’d not manage to keep a house at all because very little sparks joy. I guess she’d make an exception for the obvious stuff like having a bed etc, but I don’t see the point of making a rule just to break it, and I also don’t think joy is the ultimate function of the things in our homes. Let’s start with what the Church teaches about the function of a home. In CCC 1657 we are told that:

(…) the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.

So the home needs to be primarily about the flourishing of family life. Once we have this goal in mind, we can approach different areas and objects. My way to ensure that I only have the right things in my home is to follow William Morris’s idea that we should “have nothing in (our) house that (we) do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful“. Now, I could make the argument that even beauty is useful, although I tend to err on the side of beauty for beauty’s sake because God is the source of Beauty and therefore we can appreciate it even without knowing that it makes us feel better, makes us want to stick around in a space, and lifts our minds to God. So let’s go with the assumption that we are looking at utility in a more practical sense than just having a purpose and a function.

I also seem to differ from decluttering gurus in my understanding of minimalism, a topic on which I have given a lot of thoughts since I’ve been working on a book proposal on the subject. I don’t look at minimalism as a matter of the quantity of what you have, but in terms of making sure that you only keep things around that support your values. That, for me, includes not getting rid of things that I use sporadically because when I then need them I would have to buy new, which not only can be expensive depending on what the item was, but also adds to the pollution of new production. Some people may dismiss me as having a scarcity mentality I should get rid of, but it’s really a privileged lifestyle when you can easily replace things and just because I can it doesn’t mean I want to. I find a lot of issues with consumerism and feeling like everything is there at our fingertips all the time, especially because we hardly ever acknowledge the true cost of this convenience lifestyle, and slow living appeals to me as a Catholic woman on more than one level. 

I believe we should get to know our style both in clothes and interiors, and only buying things when there is a real need (such as replacing something beyond repair, or buying clothes that fit if you put on or lose weight or get pregnant, or buying things to make space for a baby, etc) or if you are sure that they will be appreciated for a long time because it’s not just to follow a trend we think we should follow but we’re not really into that thing and we’ll be bored by it in a matter of days. I look at our clothes and our homes as ways in which we express our personalities, so they should reflect the person we are or at least the person we want to be in terms of real aspiration. I don’t think there is anything wrong in changing ourselves, especially as we grow older, but there is a difference between a person you feel you ought to be and a person you aspire to be but aren’t there yet. Let’s say you want a more elegant life. If your style is boho you don’t have to turn your house into the set of a Jane Austen adaptation to be elegant. It’s not my style, but there are many elegant and graceful boho interiors that you can upgrade to, and the same can be said for clothes. Perhaps elegance across different styles is a topic for a whole post of its own…

I hope you get my meaning. The kind of minimalism and decluttering strategy that I have is really based on self-awareness, both in terms of what I like and in terms of how I can keep on top of the house with my personality and my external limitations. A lot of the stuff on the Internet when you google “decluttering” is too much effort to maintain for me. Both the way I buy things and the way I manage them once they are in the home is built around my lifestyle goals. I ask myself the question: what are my top 3-5 goals for how my home serves me and my lifestyle? If you want to do this little exercise for yourself, don’t feel like there is a right and wrong answer, although I’ll share mine. There are only answers that reflect who we and our families are, and what it means for us to flourish in our circumstances. 
I’m a married 30something with no children who mostly works from home. I love wellness but I hate gyms and rarely hit studios because the places where I feel comfortable are all in central London and I live in the suburbs. I’m also a foodie and part of my culture has always revolved around sharing food. Lastly, I am a practicing Catholic, and I’m married to a retail worker who has uniforms he needs washing more urgently than any of my clothes. So, what are my goals? 
1. Having a space where I can build my relationship through sharing food (I need a table as well as adequate space for cooking, but also storing as much food as possible so that I can space out my food deliveries -or trips out now in lockdown-) and activities (somewhere to watch films, or board games to play), as well as rest properly so neither of us snaps at each other (a clean bedroom with only things that aid relaxation, kept as much as possible a tech-free zone).
2. Having a space where I can focus on work and have things at hands at all times while not cluttering a table since I have no space for a desk (the goal would be different if I had that space).
3. Having a space to exercise, whether it’s dance or mat-based (in this flat, which is a studio flat, it means only furniture that can be moved easily is located in the living area so I can make space for the time it takes to be in my classes).
4. Having a designated space to pray (in this flat, it’s a tiny home altar on the top shelf of my bookcase which faces the bed and I can also see from almost every point in the space. I also have a stained window sticker that I can see from the areas where I can’t see the altar except for the bathroom which is cut out from both, and a banner with a religious quote I can only see from the bed and sofa).
5. Enough space to store clothes so that I don’t have to wash them too frequently to have enough to wear. (We don’t have a garden and are therefore limited in how much we can hang up at any one time. Also, the rack takes us space that limits our access to our sofa for hours or even days at a time so I try to do as few batches of laundry a week as possible). 
These are my 5 priorities which I use as guidelines for everything that enters (or exits) this house. I weigh all my decisions against these goals, and if I really want something either useful or beautiful I will have to be very intentional about how to make space for it without impeding my goals if it’s not something that serves them directly (I mean, I bought a 1mt long plush shark and I don’t regret it, it’s one of the few things here that do spark joy).

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