Heather Workman

Scorched earth policy: Defeating the clutter that has become your life

We’ve all been in that moment, standing in front of a mountain of clutter, weeping at the expanse of our impulse shopping. Clearly, things have to go, but where to start?



Okay, your penchant for shopping has turned around and bit you on the derrière. We’re not talking about hoarding here, which is a totally different problem. We’re talking about a bit of an addiction to “stuff” because ultimately most of what we possess is just stuff.

Experts tell us that we should only have in our homes those things we absolutely love. The pull of obligation if something has been left to us, holds specific memories etc, is a big one. Guilt is the strongest and most effective emotion to stop us from doing things, even things we know we should be doing.

So to start…

Anything you have that is not used, ever, needs to be discarded in some way. You can gift it to family, friends or charity. I do understand it’s hard to get rid of something that has obligation attached to it, such as your great-aunt Eugenia’s Wedgwood dinner set, but if items are just sitting in a cupboard, trust me, when you shuffle off this mortal coil, the said stuff in all probability won’t be treasured by its new owners, but chucked in a skip, put on eBay or taken to the Salvos. So, if you like it, why not use that Wedgwood dinner set? It’s better to use old china even if it gets broken. That’s a far better outcome than just sitting in a cupboard right?

Start small. Realistically, what is treasure to us will most likely be seen as trash by our offspring. So here’s a rule of thumb – if you buy something, you have to get rid of something. Better still, get rid of two things. If you donate to charity, you won’t feel so bad.

And what about storage? Why have anything in storage? Is it ever going to be used? It’s also a fact that if you have spare storage, you will definitely fill it with even more stuff. If you are reluctant to throw something away, try this – place some items in a box, label it with the date and put it somewhere safe. Note the date on next year’s calendar. If you haven’t used anything in the box after that year, take it straight to a charity. Do not look inside the box! You haven’t thought about the contents for a year so you don’t need them now. If you’re feeling a moment of weakness, maybe enlist a ruthless friend to assist you or at least to take the box away.


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Clothing is a problem too. How many of us have items we wore when we were fatter/thinner, or had to have those stiletto-heeled boots that are ridiculously uncomfortable but look fabulous? If you can’t return them, put them on eBay. Maybe don’t mention the comfort factor! There are also recycled clothing shops in various suburbs, where you can sell your unwanted fashion items on consignment. You not only declutter the wardrobe but also maybe get a few dollars back in your pocket.

Linen is another thing that can get away from you. How many sets of towels do you really need? Donate excess to an animal shelter: it will make you feel really good. Two doona covers per bed is sufficient. Likewise sheet sets.

Check your pantry items every six months. Spices in particular seem to hit their use-by dates with relentless speed. In my line of work, which is packing, unpacking and decluttering, I have chucked out spices from 1997! It sounds terribly small-minded, but to attack and reorganise a pantry is extremely satisfying.

How many frypans do you have? A good rule of thumb is one large, one medium and one small. Baking dishes? Two is sufficient. How many wooden spoons do you have? Two again is enough. How many pairs of tongs? Four is plenty: two large and two small. Soup ladles? One is enough. I mean fair dinkum, how many soup tureens do you have? Go through your utensil drawer with savagery. It is quite liberating.

Okay, that’s just a few tips. A reminder to start small if you are feeling overwhelmed. And definitely don’t tackle more than one room/area at a time. Take photos of before and after and you will feel so proud of yourself. Trust me, it is freeing. Good luck.

Good luck.


Heather Workman

Heather Workman (née Barnard) wishes she could retire. She’s an ex-news sub-editor, nurse, secretary, currently doing home packing/unpacking/decluttering. She lives in Melbourne and is a frustrated rock chick.

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