COVER STORY

As the weather (al­most) warms up, is it time to pare back? That’s the sim­ple mes­sage com­ing from those who have stepped up their spring clean­ing in an ef­fort to re­duce clut­ter and be hap­pier

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Upfront - WORDS TIM MARTAIN MAIN POR­TRAITS SAM ROSE­WARNE

Can tak­ing spring clean­ing to the ex­treme lead to a sim­pler, hap­pier life?

T here’s noth­ing like mov­ing house to make you re­alise how much stuff you have. Hav­ing re­cently moved my fam­ily across the state, I think I’m still re­cov­er­ing from the trauma. When you’re pay­ing a re­moval com­pany per box, you’re forced to make tough de­ci­sions about what is worth tak­ing and what to leave be­hind. It doesn’t help that I’m one of those peo­ple who hates to throw any­thing away. I still own al­most ev­ery book I’ve read. I keep them not as tro­phies but be­cause books are im­por­tant to me, and any­thing I’ve read has af­fected me in some way.

While I could jus­tify my hoard­ing of books, what of the boxes of ob­so­lete com­puter parts and ca­bles (I might need them one day), worn-out shoes (what if all my good ones get wet) and a sail­board I never fig­ured out how to use (maybe next sum­mer…)?

My wife hit Gumtree to sell any­thing of value, we did many tip runs for any­thing that wasn’t, in­clud­ing the items above, and I even got rid of a dozen books, Even so, I filled sev­eral boxes with sen­ti­men­tal items to keep.

The ex­pe­ri­ence forced me to take a long, hard look at my­self and my ten­dency to hang on to stuff I don’t need, al­low­ing it to clut­ter my life, both phys­i­cally and men­tally. Am I too sen­ti­men­tal? Do I need to make like Princess Elsa and let it go? Sur­pris­ingly, de­clut­ter­ing ex­pert Tanya Lewis says not nec­es­sar­ily.

A pro­fes­sional or­gan­iser and au­thor of the new book Stuff Off! (pub­lished by EcoOr­gan­iser, $24.99), Lewis says de­clut­ter­ing or or­gan­is­ing a home is not nec­es­sar­ily about throw­ing out heaps of stuff. In fact, she says many of her clients emerge at the other end with a house that is still full of pos­ses­sions, some­times even messy, but that can be OK.

When I phone Lewis in Vic­to­ria, there is clat­ter­ing and shuf­fling at the end of the line and she apol­o­gises, say­ing she is pre­par­ing for a con­fer­ence and her desk is a mess. The irony makes us both laugh, but Lewis in­sists there is no hypocrisy at work.

“De­clut­ter is such a buzz­word, and peo­ple get caught up on the idea of hav­ing to get rid of things,” she says. “But I pre­fer to see peo­ple have or­gan­i­sa­tion so they can find what they need and not have to waste time look­ing for stuff. That is far more im­por­tant.

“It’s not my job to come into some­one’s house and start throw­ing things out. I don’t have the right to do that. It’s not about be­ing a per­fec­tion­ist or liv­ing a min­i­mal­ist life­style. You can live hap­pily in mess if you want, as long as you are still able to find what you need when you need to.”

Lewis has a global per­spec­tive on de­clut­ter­ing that, by def­i­ni­tion, ex­tends far be­yond one per­son’s home. With a back­ground in the de­sign and man­u­fac­ture of com­mer­cial pack­ag­ing, she knows bet­ter than most how much waste we cre­ate with prod­ucts we buy. She sees clut­ter as a symp­tom of a larger prob­lem with roots in con­sumerism and waste­ful­ness and be­lieves we can re­duce our car­bon foot­print by be­ing more con­sid­ered in our choices.

“It is a clas­sic first-world prob­lem,” she says. “Clut­ter robs us of time, money, health and af­fects our re­la­tion­ships. The key thing is to break the cy­cle of not b eing able to find some­thing so buy­ing more of it. You might have worn that pair of jeans once, shoved

them to the back of the cup­board, and now you don’t know where they are so you buy a new pair. It’s a waste of your money, and it cre­ates un­nec­es­sary rub­bish and land­fill.

“For one of my clients, we re­or­gan­ised her wardrobe and it saved her $2500 be­cause we found clothes she’d for­got­ten she had, and she had been about to go out and buy more.

“We re­or­gan­ised an­other client’s pantry and found so much pack­aged food shoved to the back she’d for­got­ten about that it saved her $50 a week in gro­ceries for a year be­cause she could eat what was al­ready there in­stead of buy­ing more.

“My phi­los­o­phy is just to slow down and re­think be­fore buy­ing some­thing. Ask, ‘Do I al­ready have some­thing sim­i­lar to this at home? Do I re­ally need it or want it?’ If you re­think those pur­chases, you im­me­di­ately start to re­duce the clut­ter build­ing in your home and have more money in your pocket as well.”

Lewis, who calls her­self the EcoOr­gan­iser, says it is im­por­tant to iden­tify your “pain point” be­fore un­der­tak­ing ma­jor re­or­gan­i­sa­tion projects, to ask your­self what part of your clut­tered life is giv­ing you grief? Is it that you can’t find cer­tain things? Or that you’re run­ning out of space. Or that you need to clear out stuff af­ter the end of a re­la­tion­ship.

“You need to be clear about why you are de­clut­ter­ing and what you want to achieve,” she says. “Ask your­self, ‘Is this thing rel­e­vant? Does it war­rant space?’”

Kate Kelly has been ask­ing those ques­tions a lot lately. The sin­gle mum is in the process of down­siz­ing from a three-bed­room home at South Ho­bart to a two-bed­room villa-like unit in the bush fringe of the city. En­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious and wary of con­sumerism, Kelly says she has longed to over­haul her life and try to live more sim­ply and free of un­nec­es­sary pos­ses­sions.

Find­ing her­self in what she de­scribes as an ex­treme rental cri­sis – spend­ing more than 70 per cent of her in­come on her rent – the chil­dren’s au­thor and il­lus­tra­tor de­cided it was time to take the plunge and down­size to some­thing more af­ford­able. “My goal is to move into the new place with only the bare es­sen­tials, just like the first time I moved out of home,” she says.

“I reckon I’ve got maybe three truck­loads of stuff in this house and I’m only go­ing to take what I can fit into one van.”

The process of whit­tling her worldly goods down to this sin­gle car­load is bru­tal. Kelly is get­ting rid of most of her clothes, books, DVDs, jew­ellery, crock­ery and cut­lery.

“If it doesn’t get used at least three times a week, it’s gone,” she says. “Things that have some real value, such as the clothes dryer and other elec­tronic goods, I’m try­ing to sell. But ev­ery­thing else, any­thing I can’t sell, I’m per­fectly pre­pared to give away to the City Mis­sion and the All Saints Church, be­cause I’d rather it all went to peo­ple who need it.”

Kelly says she came to the re­al­i­sa­tion the only items in her house she ac­tu­ally chose for her­self were art­work, her mu­sic col­lec­tion and her pet rab­bit Donna.

“For a long time I’ve wanted to make my life sim­pler, to live with a smaller car­bon foot­print and have more en­ergy to put into real life,” she says.

“All this stuff comes with its at­tach­ments and mem­o­ries of things I’ve car­ried my whole life, things that dead peo­ple have left me, things I bought with my ex-part­ner, and I don’t want those things around any­more.

“I want to see what dif­fer­ence it makes to my men­tal well­be­ing to get rid of ev­ery­thing I’ve been drag­ging around with me for the past 20 years, the things I’ve only kept be­cause some­one gave it to me and I felt obliged to hold on to them, the things I’ll never use but have kept just in case.”

Kelly’s five-year-old son Al­bert has the only ex­emp­tion from the purge. He is not un­der any pres­sure to get rid of any of his toys or pos­ses­sions. He has been told he can take what­ever he wants. But Kelly says he has also started care­fully go­ing through his things and weigh­ing up what he wants to keep.

“Even now he is al­ready pack­ing things in boxes that are go­ing and putting other things aside to give away,” she says. “I think it’s just be­cause he sees me do­ing it, but he is also learn­ing to think about what he does and doesn’t need. We talked about it and he knows that by get­ting rid of three things he doesn’t want, it makes room for one re­ally cool big thing, and I think that’s a great per­spec­tive.

“I don’t want to keep con­sum­ing, I don’t want to waste space on use­less things and waste time on main­tain­ing them. Where we’re mov­ing to, I’ll fi­nally have room for a gar­den so I can grow food and I can start to live more sim­ply and more sus­tain­ably.”

So­phie and Matt Calic took de­clut­ter­ing to a new level when they moved out of their three-bed­room home on Ho­bart’s East­ern Shore and into a tiny con­verted shed on a 1.6ha block at Ridge­way with their three daugh­ters, aged 5, 8 and 9.

Their tiny house is a for­mer stu­dio with a 40 sq m live­able area – less than half the size of an av­er­age three-bed­room home. They con­verted it into a fam­ily home and have been in­no­va­tive in max­imis­ing the space they have.

The bath­room is the only com­pletely sep­a­rate space in the house, the rest mostly open-plan. There are three bunks on one wall for the girls, a small kitchen, some open floor space for the girls to play and an en­closed spot for the cou­ple’s bed­room. It is barely larger than the queen-size bed, which is raised and low­ered by a pul­ley sys­tem, al­low­ing it to be lifted out of the way dur­ing the day, the area be­low be­ing used as clothes stor­age and a small home of­fice.

“The place where we used to live was al­ready small com­pared with where some of our friends live,” So­phie says. “And we were in the outer sub­urbs, so we wanted to be closer to South Ho­bart, which was closer to where we worked. We knew we couldn’t af­ford any­thing in the area – houses at Ridge­way were sell­ing for about $600,000 – so we bought this land for $295,000,

with this place al­ready on it, and made the con­scious de­ci­sion to live more sim­ply so we could pri­ori­tise our kids rather than cars and travel and all those other things.

“I feel re­ally lucky. I see it as up­siz­ing in a way be­cause the kids have all this out­side space to play in now – but win­ters can be a bit chal­leng­ing.”

So­phie is a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment project man­ager for Ho­bart City Coun­cil and Matt is a builder, mean­ing he was able to do most of the re­fur­bish­ing work.

De­spite their best in­ten­tions, the fam­ily is fac­ing the prospect of adding an ex­ten­sion. With the girls get­ting older, they sim­ply need more space. But they are still do­ing it mod­estly.

“We did as much in the cur­rent foot­print as we could to keep from need­ing new coun­cil ap­proval, but we’ve just about hit break­ing point,” So­phie says.

“There will be ex­tra bed­room space for the girls, a proper bed­room for us, and we will be able to ex­tend our liv­ing and din­ing room space. It will be at least a year be­fore we start build­ing, but the re­sult will still only be a to­tal of about 160 sq m, which is still well be­low the size of an av­er­age home but will feel huge to us.”

So­phie says they are de­ter­mined to keep liv­ing small, but the cur­rent size is start­ing to have a neg­a­tive im­pact on their life­style.

“We can’t have friends over be­cause it’s too small to have groups for din­ner, and in the evenings Matt and I have to ba­si­cally be silent so we don’t wake the kids,” she says.

“We looked into the tiny house move­ment when we moved in here, and in nearly ev­ery story we read, the peo­ple were only do­ing it for a year while they built some­thing big­ger, or it was only one or two peo­ple liv­ing there.

“The only other al­ter­na­tive for us was mov­ing and we don’t want to do that – we love the life­style and the com­mu­nity here,.”

The Cal­ics had to get rid of lots of fur­ni­ture and other per­sonal items be­fore squeez­ing their lives into such a small home. Con­tin­u­ing to live there means be­ing vig­i­lant about clut­ter.

Each of the chil­dren has a box in which they store their spe­cial things such as art projects and col­lected items. When­ever a box starts to over­flow, it is time to cull. So­phie says they have reg­u­lar purges and it has be­come sec­ond na­ture to them all.

“We do tip-shop runs all the time for stuff we don’t need. It sounds a bit bru­tal, but we sim­ply have limited space. We end up regift­ing lots of things we get that we don’t want or need. For the girls’ birth­days we ask peo­ple to only buy Lego or books, be­cause we have room for those.”

Ul­ti­mately, Kelly and the Cal­ics say their ex­pe­ri­ences have been good for them and their fam­i­lies, in terms of learn­ing what is im­por­tant in life. As well as be­ing an ex­er­cise in let­ting go of at­tach­ments to ma­te­rial things, they have dis­cov­ered a cer­tain peace that comes from liv­ing sim­ply.

“I don’t think of my­self as be­ing a very or­gan­ised per­son,” So­phie says. “But liv­ing like this, you have to be re­ally tidy be­cause you can’t hide any­thing.

“And the other bonus is the kids hardly ever ar­gue. You just can’t af­ford to let things fes­ter when you live in such close quar­ters. If there’s a prob­lem you have to con­front it and re­solve it and get on with life.”

As much as th­ese fam­i­lies are mak­ing a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to their lives – and the en­vi­ron­ment, Lewis says the rest of us need not be quite so dras­tic. In fact, it is smaller, sim­pler changes that can make big dif­fer­ences to our lives.

“Peo­ple tend to pull all this stuff around them to pro­tect them­selves,” she says. “You need to tap into that, work out what the rea­son is and sys­tem­at­i­cally try to let go of your at­tach­ment to those things.

“It doesn’t just have to be phys­i­cal stuff, ei­ther. You might have 2500 emails in your in­box and you can’t find any­thing, you hate even check­ing your mail. So start hit­ting that delete but­ton.

“Ev­ery day set aside five min­utes – set a timer if you need to – and just start delet­ing the ones you don’t need, and you’ll start mak­ing a dif­fer­ence very quickly. Your phone as well. Re­move mes­sages that are no longer rel­e­vant, delete apps you don’t use … when you take all the un­nec­es­sary stuff off your phone, it will work bet­ter and last longer, which saves you hav­ing to up­grade and re­cy­cle it.

Lewis says de­clut­ter­ing isn’t about hav­ing a sparkling kitchen or a min­i­mal­ist house: “It is about fig­ur­ing out what is get­ting to you, what you are cling­ing to, and let­ting go of it.

“Some peo­ple want to live in a big house, and that’s fine, live in the space you want to live in. Big, small, neat or messy, but live the life you want. And if clut­ter of any kind is rob­bing you of that life, deal with it.” Pro­fes­sional or­gan­iser Tanya Lewis will be lead­ing three free de­clut­ter work­shops around Ho­bart next month. Kingston De­clut­ter Work­shop, King­bor­ough Civic Cen­tre, Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 10, 6.30-8.30pm, $10; Ho­bart De­clut­ter Spring Fling, Royal Yacht Club of Tas­ma­nia, Wed­nes­day, Oc­to­ber 11, 6-9pm, $45. Ho­bart De­clut­ter Work­shop, Ho­bart Town Hall, Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 12, 6.30-8.30pm. For de­tails, visit ecoor­gan­iser.com.au

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