When my niece was in Grade 2, she needed an empty shoebox for a project.
This should have been simple – but it wasn’t.
Neither my sister, my mother nor I had such a thing as an empty shoebox. I had to ask a colleague (who has beautiful taste in shoes) to bring one to the office so that the school could get its project.
She has the dubious pleasure of being related to three people who do not hoard things: we had all thrown away any shoeboxes we might have had.
Of the three of us, my house is undoubtedly the messiest, and the most filled with stuff, despite regular decluttering sessions. I blame the guys with whom I live: my regular weekend tidy up always turns up much bigger piles for them to put away than my own couple of earrings and the odd jersey.
I thought of the Great Shoebox Failure this week when a Washington Post story came our way (see it on IOL here). The article says hoarding is different from just living with clutter: “It’s possible to have a messy house and be a pack rat without qualifying for a diagnosis of hoarding behaviour. The difference is one of degree. Hoarding disorder is present when the behaviour causes distress to the individual or interferes with emotional, physical, social, financial or legal well-being.”
Real hoarding is a mental illness, and needs the intervention of experts, which I would not even presume to try to be. But perhaps I can share some tips for decluttering and tidying and organising that don’t involve buying expensive storage boxes or reading the theories of Japanese experts (Google Marie Kondo if you have been too busy not tidying up to keep abreast of the latest trends in the decluttering world):
1. Pick up – and throw away – as you go along. If you are going from the lounge to the kitchen, take the dirty plate with you. If you see a broken item as you pass through a room, pick it up and take it to the bin and put it in the bin (yes, just chuck it). Throw away the flyers from the postbox in a bin you have at the front door. And so on.
2. Don’t do too much. Set a timer for 15 minutes and work on just one drawer. There – done. Go have a glass of wine. And then just do 15 minutes again tomorrow.
3. The boogie. You set out to find seven (or 21, or 15 – any number you like really) bits of junk in a room as quickly as you can and throw them away. There: you have done a 7-fling boogie. If doing it with small children, you can ask them to see how fast they can do a boogie and set your phone stopwatch. Kids love being timed and then beating their own time when they do it again.
4. Don’t know if you should throw it away or not? Put it in a box with all the other things you are uncertain about and put the box in a cupboard. If you haven’t looked for those things six months later you can probably chuck them.
5. Oddly, having more than one thing is sometimes good. Can’t ever find the scissors? Then keep a pair in every room in the house where you might need one.
6. You don’t have to do things the way your mother always used to. My mom had a linen cupboard. I keep the linen and towels in the rooms where they are needed, spread all over the house. Just feels like less work to me to put them away where they are needed.
7. Finally, the world won’t end if things get out of hand once in a while. You can pull it all back 15 minutes at a time.
There’s other things I do to keep things moving in our house, but lists too can get cluttered.
One thing I will say, though: hang on to at least one shoebox. You never know when it might come in handy.
Renee Moodie, IOL Lifestyle Editor: Twitter @reneemoodie