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Declutter your home, and clear your mind

Keen to downsize, but can’t face the massive clear-out this would entail? Judy Hobson meets an expert who believes decluttering can give you fresh energy

Is your attic, spare room or garage bursting at the seams and you're running out of room to store things?

Whenever you go in, you promse yourself you'll sort out  the clutter one day soom, but somehow that day enver sawns.However, you may now be prompted into action if you know studies are showing decluttering is not only good for your mental health, it relieves stress and re-energises you as well.

Over decades many of is have amassed countless possessions- not just books, clothes and pictures, but also jewellery, old record players and computers as well as children's toys. It'ss not surprising therefore that sorting it out can feel overwhelming and that we could do with someone to hold out hand and help us decide whether we hang onto something or let it go.

Helen Sanderson, a professional organiser and declutter coach from North London, says clutter is a reflection of decisions we find it hard to make.

"honouring the past and saying goodbye to objects you no longer need will not only help you create a tidy home that's a pleasure to live in, it will also give you a massive sense of achievement and an energy boost." With a background in interior design and psychotherapy, Helen, 50, is an ideal person to advise people how to set about disposing of possessions that are encroaching on their living space, and over the past eight years she has helped hundreds to do so.

In the maain, her clients are older people keen to downsize but who keep putting it off because they have accumulated so much stuff they just don't know where to start.

Helen says: "They find the idea too challenging and, when they do begin, you have to keep constantly reminding htem of the reasons they're decluttering so they stay motivated."

Clutter, she points out, can be a burial mound beneath which we are hiding some difficulty in our lives. This can bbe related to something in childhood such as attachment difficulties to a parent.

If someone is estranged from their family or country, Helen finds, they often have a strong tendency to cling to objects, as do people whose parents lived through the war and believed in saving absolutely everything.

“Their children take on that psychology because the family’s hoarding normalised the compunction.”

And not dealing with clutter can be a way of avoiding doing other things.

Helen explains: “You often hear people say that when I’ve decluttered I’ll go to the gym, join an evening class, start dating again or invite friends round. What they’re really doing is finding an excuse to avoid doing these things.” Her strategy involves encouraging people to think of their home as a garden and that they are going around it looking for weeds.

“You can’t plant anything new in a room if it’s already full of brambles. Finding a home for things can help.”

Some people she encounters don’t have a special place for items such as scissors or light bulbs.

“As a result,” Helen says, “a pile of rubbish builds up on the side. I get them to draw a planting plan and allocate places for items like these. The next step is maintenance, because if you don’t mow the lawn, the grass will grow. Books and clothes expand so you need to keep weeding them out, deciding what to keep, what to put in the recycling bin or take to the charity shop.”

Paperwork is a good place to start.

“All of us have lots of it, often bills and receipts from 20 years back, that can be disposed of.”

And Helen says: “Ask yourself if you’re turning your home into a museum, a shrine to your memories? If so, you’re in danger of becoming overwhelmed because each object will be vying for your attention.

“By decluttering, honouring and storing memories you’ll be able to create a peaceful atmosphere and feel much calmer.”

When people tell her they have already been through their bookshelves, Helen suggests they go through them again and give the books a dust.

“Every time,” she says, “another load of books goes out. You need to ask, ‘Do I need this book any more or can I donate it to charity?’ For example, you may not be into astrology any longer so books on that subject can go and, if you no longer need to read Shakespeare plays, his works can go, too. If you are uncertain whether to part with something, ask yourself, ‘Do I still need it, do I love it?’

“You should know the answer instinctively, but if you don’t, sleep on it. You’ll often know what to do the next day, having reflected upon it.

“But if you still can’t decide, maybe because you’re going through a divorce, put the objects into a box, label it and deal with it in a year’s time.

“Some things can be too loaded emotionally to go through quickly. For example, you may want to read through any personal letters before letting them go. And if you’ve been bereaved, it could mean you’re not yet ready to let go of your husband’s shirts. He may have died five years ago but for some of us that’s not long enough to be able to let go of his things.”

Older people frequently tell Helen they don’t want their children to have to sort their stuff out.

She says: “It makes sense for you to pare down and simplify when you get older. Ask your children if they want a particular piece of furniture and give photographs away to family members.

“By decluttering you’re making sure that it is your treasures and objects important to you that will be left behind.

“I’ve just helped a divorced woman in her sixties with three grown-up children, who was still living in the huge family house they had shared, to move into a new home.

“She was afraid that by doing so she would be dishonouring the years she had spent as a wife and a mum. She just couldn’t make that move on her own, was stuck in the mindset that she was past it, and the house was becoming her tomb.

“Decluttering and letting go of that house has made a huge difference to her. She is now busy decorating her new home and has even got a new man in her life.”

Helen also recently enabled a retiring business couple who had travelled the world, owned a property abroad and had an office, to locate all their possessions into their London home.

“They desperately needed advice so that they wouldn’t constantly be falling over furniture and bumping into things.”

Sentimentality, however, can get in the way. “When you decide to part with something it can make you feel as though you’re dishonouring a memory.

“For example, if you have done a PhD you may feel you don’t want to throw away the books and papers you invested so much time in, but the truth is you don’t need them any longer.

“We put so much energy into bringing up our children that throwing their stuff out feels like we’re dishonouring them, but you can honour the memories by taking pictures of favourite toys and storing special items in a memory box.

“Remember, the time has come to set yourself free, spread your wings and enjoy retirement.”

Hoarding, she says, is an addiction. “Getting someone to stop is like getting an alcoholic to give up drink. They really must want to do so. They will give you hundreds of reasons why they can’t part with that box of rusty old bottle-openers. You can’t just rip that attachment away.

“It has to be handled very sensitively and the hoarder has to have reached rock bottom and be ready to accept help, and that has to come from a psychologist and therapist as well as someone like myself.” Helen admits she is a born organiser and quite a tidy person.

“I live in a small London flat so have to keep on top of things every day, but I’m certainly not anally retentive about it.”

She has now put her declutter strategy into a box of 37 prompt cards to enable more people to live clutter-free, and has set up a Facebook group where declutterers can support each other while going through the process.

The Home Declutter Kit, which also includes an instruction manual, costs £36.99. For more information, log on to: (

Are you having a late spring clean? What do you think to these tips? 

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