My mom’s five ground rules for de­clut­ter­ing

Toronto Star - - LIFE - Uzma Jalalud­din

My mom is a neat freak. Ev­ery­one al­ways re­marks on her tidy and well-or­ga­nized home. When she was younger, she would some­times clean her friends’ houses just for kicks, re­ar­rang­ing their kitchen cup­boards for greater ef­fi­ciency. I know, right?

I’m not like that. Given a choice be­tween mop­ping floors and read­ing a good book, words al­ways win. But I haven’t fallen too far from the tree, and I feel guilty if I’m short of mom’s gold stan­dard. Which is why my kids vac­uum and dust the house ev­ery week. Some­one has to keep up the fam­ily tra­di­tion.

Yet de­spite good in­ten­tions, clut­ter has crept into my house this past year. I thought I would make time dur­ing my sab­bat­i­cal from teach­ing to deal with it, but here I am, star­ing down the bar­rel of a new school year sur­rounded by bags of old clothes, sports equip­ment, piles of books, dec­o­ra­tive items, small ap­pli­ances, ex­er­cise equip­ment and too-small shoes, all of which seem to mul­ti­ply in the night.

I’m not sure how I got here, so I call my mom for some ad­vice. She doesn’t lec­ture, but of­fers some ground rules for de­clut­ter­ing:

1. If you haven’t used it in a year or more, you never will. This is well-known de­clut­ter­ing ad­vice, along with: even if you keep it, you will never find it when you need it. Still, it’s hard to part with some items, like my ice cream maker. I love that thing, even if I haven’t used it in two years.

2. Get your­self in the mood to de­clut­ter. You need to psy­che your­self up for the job first. “When I start to re­sent my clut­ter, that’s when I know I’m ready to deal with it,” mom says. “It usu­ally takes a few months of think­ing about it, and then things get done.”

This ex­plains the state of my base- ment. I haven’t reached Peak Re­sent­ment yet, which is why I keep trip­ping over the two slow cook­ers and five bags of clothes and old shoes clog­ging the of­fice.

3. Don’t feel bad or guilty about de­clut­ter­ing — think of it as repurposing. This is a big one for many fam­i­lies. Many of my friends com­plain their par­ents never throw any­thing out. I ask my mom why she is so com­fort­able with reg­u­lar purg­ing.

“Ev­ery­one has dif­fer­ent back­grounds. Maybe some peo­ple didn’t grow up with much and they don’t want to lose what they have.”

Her old friend Rochelle used to com­plain that her mother was a junk col­lec­tor. “She will not let any­thing go, in­clud­ing food, she wants a good stock of ev­ery­thing. But she knew it was be­cause her mother lived through the Sec­ond World War. It comes from fear and in­se­cu­rity.”

As for my mom: “I grew up (in In­dia) with money but I re­sented it. Money doesn’t buy you peace. I wanted to live sim­ply, my house well kept and clean.”

4. If you live with some­one who is re­luc­tant to de­clut­ter, just wait un­til their back is turned. Just kid­ding. It’s bet­ter to lead by ex­am­ple. Mom has been nag­ging my dad to deal with boxes of old pa­per­work, to no avail. In­stead she shamed him into de­clut­ter­ing by throw­ing out her col­lec­tion of old mag­a­zines and cal­en­dars first. I prom­ise to try that with my hus­band, who has a large col­lec­tion of old com­puter parts I have been itch­ing to dump on the sly.

5. Re­sist fill­ing your newly emp­tied space with more stuff. Mom wins “Neat­est House” ev­ery year be­cause she is com­fort­able with empty space. She re­sists the urge to fill de­clut­tered ar­eas with over­size fur­ni­ture, kitchen gad­gets and big­ger elec­tron­ics. Ev­ery time I visit, my par­ents’ home feels airy and well tended, warm and invit­ing.

I’ll prob­a­bly never fully em­brace the life-changing magic of tidy­ing up, but af­ter con­sult­ing with my per­sonal house­clean­ing ex­pert, I re­al­ize that ev­ery­one has to find their bal­ance. I’m com­fort­able liv­ing in the shadow of my hero, in­side my rel­a­tively tidy, slightly clut­tery, mostly peace­ful space. Uzma Jalalud­din is a high school teacher in the York Re­gion. She writes about par­ent­ing and other life ad­ven­tures. Reach her at ujalalud­din@out­


De­spite good in­ten­tions, clut­ter has crept into Uzma Jalalud­din’s house this past year. “I feel guilty if I’m short of mom’s gold stan­dard,” she writes.

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