We all hold on to things we don’t need. But throwing stuff out can do more than just free up space in your home…
Whether it’s old Christmas and birthday cards, or the tiny clothes your kids used to fit into, it can be hard to let go of things.
But aside from taking up space in our homes, clutter can also take up space in our minds.
A study by neuroscientists at Princeton University in America has found that clutter can make it more difficult for us to focus.
Instead of concentrating on the job at hand, our brains become distracted by untidiness. To combat this, wellness experts are encouraging us to take control of our bulging closets and, in turn, create some calm.
Gill Hasson, a teacher, trainer and writer, is a firm believer that outer order leads to inner calm.
In her book, Declutter Your Life, she explains how to look at your belongings in a different light and let go of the clutter.
Like most people, Gill didn’t think there was anything wrong with holding on to old things.
Out of sight in the loft, a pile of her sons’ forgotten toys, her husband’s vinyl collection and old furniture lay gathering dust.
Then one day, they heard a loud bang and discovered that their ceiling was close to falling through.
It was the wake-up call Gill needed and she set about decluttering.
But why do we have such a problem getting rid of our unwanted stuff?
Gill says clutter can fall into two categories — ‘hope-based’ and ‘fear-based’. In the first case, we hold on to belongings in the hope we’ll use them in the future — for example, that little black dress you hope you’ll fit into one day.
In the second case, we can’t let go because we fear we’ll regret it.
Some belongings hold a sentimental or nostalgic value, and we worry that by throwing it away, we’ll also forget about the memory behind it.
Gill believes the key is learning to think differently.
She says: ‘Whether you’ve already kept it for a month, a year or even half a lifetime, realise that, at the time, you made the right choice — you sincerely thought you would wear it, read it or use it.
‘But holding on to it just ties you to the past. Live in the present!’
One thing that often stops us chucking out old things is guilt. It’s a powerful emotion, one many people struggle to overcome. But instead of feeling guilty about throwing away something we’ve paid money for, Gill advises that we remind ourselves that it has served a purpose and it’s OK to let go.
Decluttering can also serve another hugely positive purpose.
Websites such as Freecycle have created a large community of people giving away their goods for nothing to those who have a use for it. Alternatively, you can drop off belongings to charity shops, or donate unwanted food to a food bank.
Gill says instead of feeling bad for getting rid of something we hardly use, we should consider the effects of not letting it go.
‘It is a greater waste to keep it when someone else could use or enjoy it,’ she says.
Whether it’s giving it to a friend or a total stranger, getting rid of unwanted things can actually make you feel better in yourself.
In turn, you’ll have a clearer home, a clearer mind, and the knowledge that your unwanted stuff has gone to a good home.
Gill’s top tidying tips
Write it down
Writing things down is a big help in problem solving. If you’re worried about letting go of something you might need in the future, find out how much it would cost to replace the item and write it down. You might then find it easier to let go.
Be honest with yourself
This one is for you hope-based clutterers, refusing to throw out that gym gear you keep telling yourself you’ll use some day. Think realistically. Keeping unwanted things will just remind you of what you still haven’t got around to doing.
If you’re holding on to a box of mementos from your favourite holiday, why not come up with a better way of displaying them? Whether it’s on a shelf or arranged in a frame, a good display can save space and brighten up your home. Websites such as Pinterest are brilliant for finding step-by-step guides.
The maybe box
Finally, if you’re still not 100% sure you can get rid of that spangly dress you wore to your great Aunt's 60th birthday party, store it away! Put in a 'maybe box' (or for bigger items, store it out of the house in a self-storage facility) and come back to it after a few months - then ask yourself if you really needed it after all. If you didn’t miss it, you could probably do without it.
Declutter your life: how outer order leads to inner calm, by Gill Hasson, published by Capstone, £10.99.
Edited by Jess Bell