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The Life-Changing Magic of Chucking Out Other People’s Stuff

Last weekend H and I attempted a spot of decluttering. We hauled a bunch of stuff out of the cupboard in his study into which we had shoved it when we moved in almost three years ago. Usually we adhere to the Crap Out method, which is a very satisfying one-step system whereby you throw the offending item down the stairs while shouting ‘CRAP OUT!’. We can’t do this when the kids are home though because of a very inconvenient rule we made about not throwing things down the stairs. Oh, and the swearing.

This time the kids were home so we thought we’d mix things up a bit. We assessed each item with a cool and unforgiving eye, and applied some of the rules of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This is a book that has been at the top of the NYT bestseller list for months and months. The gist of it is that you should only keep items that spark joy in you. Everything else should be jettisoned.

So we looked at the things we had pulled out and stacked on the ironing board. Do these things bring us joy? we asked ourselves. Several folders of ancient bank statements? No joy. A large number of pamphlets about how to wrap and settle a newborn and how to start your baby on solid foods? No joy. A box inside a box, with the inner box containing about a hundred copies of a photo of baby May Blossom, and a lot of written but unsent thank-you notes for gifts we received when she was born? Shame and guilt, oh yes, but joy, no. Out they all went. That was pretty easy.

I’m not completely on board with the Kondo’s method, though. I think joy is an awful lot to ask of your possessions. The only thing I can think of that might truly pass that test was a bag of Ecstasy pills one of my friends once found while defrosting her freezer.

The most I ask of my belongings is that they do the job, and don’t bring me down too much. My shoes, for example, by and large are not bringers of joy. I find that shoes that are a joy to behold usually also bring back problems and plantar fasciitis, so instead my shoes now bring moderate comfort and approving looks from the over-seventy crowd.

The bloody great fan in the corner of our bedroom doesn’t bring me joy – in fact it makes the place look quite cluttered — but it relieves the merciless sticky heat just enough that the simmering, glistening rage that plagues me throughout February in Sydney can be kept at a safe level. And that in turn stops me from throwing out all the belongings of my family.

Because don’t even get me started on the level of joy that the belongings of the other people I live with fail to bring me. They have so much stuff. It’s almost like they think this is their house too. But you know what they say: hoarders gonna hoard. And hoarding is a dominant gene, so we can hardly act surprised that a man who won’t throw out his twenty-year-old worn out boots because they are a symbol of his adventuring youth and a woman who still has bobby pins from her Year 10 formal updo have spawned two children who each have a bedside cabinet bursting with allegedly treasured sticks, shells, cushion stuffing, dessicated bread crusts and archival apple cores.

I like to live on the edge, and in this case that means taking matters into my own hands and throwing out other people’s things without their permission. Mostly it’s the kids, but not always. (And before he gets all het up about this, I defy H to name one thing of his that I’ve chucked – he can’t because he hasn’t noticed any of them are missing which means he didn’t need all those guitars in the first place.)

Kondo says that once you have decided something needs to go, you must hold it in your hands and thank it for the service it has provided. (I’ve found its better to do this in your head because out loud you run the risk that your family will notice you culling and start objecting.)

Sadly, those few hours of stuff-chucking haven’t gone very far towards transforming our home into a Japanese-inspired temple of simplicity and clear surfaces, possibly because as a reward for all that good decluttering I took myself to the shops with my friend Kate the Bad Influence and indulged in some good old fashioned aimless shopping for knick knacks. In my weak defence, the shopping centre was beautifully air-conditioned.

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