How do you know what to keep and what to throw?

How do you know what to keep and what to throw?


There’s quite a trend for decluttering and paring down your belongings at the moment. But what if you think your life is better with all this stuff in it?

Marie Kondo, author of ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’, believes that the possessions you own should ‘spark joy’ and if they don’t you should let them go. I go along with this view, to an extent. A home full of clutter and stuff can increase your stress levels while clear surfaces and organised cupboards can give you a sense of calm.

However, not everyone is a Konmari method-fan. I’ve heard several people get quite upset at the thought they should throw out their book collection in the name of tidying. The way I see it, if your books spark joy – you may not plan to read them again any time soon but their presence makes you smile – then you keep them. I have a huge collection of books and I intend to only add to not subtract from them. Books are enormously important to me – what’s written on the pages, how they look and what they symbolise and mean to me.

Books might not be your thing but instead you might have a collection of china or records or shoes. If those items sit in a corner or cupboard, forgotten and unused, collecting dust, I would encourage you to think about what they add to your life and whether it’s time to let go of them.

If seeing the china on your kitchen shelf makes you smile, when you play a record it lifts your mood, or you wear each and every pair of your shoes, then absolutely you should keep them.

However, if you feel obliged to keep the china because it was a gift or it cost a lot of money, that’s not justification for it taking up space in your home and your life. If your wardrobe is overflowing with shoes, not because you wear them but because they were in the sale and you can’t resist a bargain, that’s a reason to lose them, and think twice before bargain shopping next time.

Sometimes we buy objects because we think that owning that item will make us happier in some way. When we have that high spec TV we’ll be happier watching our favourite shows and movies. Owning that co-ordinating collection of tableware will make us happy and want to spend more time in the kitchen.

Putting this kind of meaning into objects, expecting things to make us happy, is just setting ourselves up for failure. Even objects that do make a positive contribution to our lives are taken for granted after a while and the happiness we felt on its purchase wanes.

If we feel an item hasn’t lived up to the expectations we placed on it of improving our lives, it can serve as a reminder of our disappointment and make us feel more negative about it. For example, you could buy a juicer because you think it will help you be healthier. But when you find it difficult to use or you can’t make room for juicing in your morning routine or you simply lose interest, that piece of equipment gathering dust just reminds you of how much money you spent on something that hasn’t improved your life. You could feel added guilt that its lack of use implies you’re not prioritising your health. And that’s not going to make you feel good.

I agree with William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Our homes and are lives are precious. The objects we bring into them need to be worthy of our space and energy, and contribute to our happiness. The meaning we give to our belongings is what matters, not necessarily the objects themselves.

I have a world globe that I love. I can recall happy memories of poring over it as a child, reading the place names, imagining what the far away countries were like. But most of all I love the globe because it was my dad’s. And when my mum moved house a few years after my dad died I asked if I could have it. The globe itself isn’t particularly special, but its meaning to me is.

Whether your home is littered with objects or you take a minimalist approach, make sure you love what you own. If you love every one of your collection of vintage cameras and they bring back happy memories or bring a smile to your face when you look at them – brilliant! But if you’re keeping them out of obligation or they’re simply gathering dust – get rid.

When beloved collections become tiresome clutter that’s when you know it’s time to have a clear-out. But if you love those items, if they bring you joy and comfort, they belong with you. Use them, display them, celebrate them, love them.

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1 Comment

  1. Lucy on 3rd May 2016 at 11:21 am

    Great article!

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