Give up yer aul tings: decluttering for Christmas

You don't need to live in a minimalist cell, but you can makes some space before Santa visits next week. Three experts advise on how to ‘winter clean’ your home


You may find yourself complaining about having a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear, but what about those of us harbouring a house full of “stuff” with little of it in use? With Christmas fast approaching, and the inevitable accumulation of even more material goods, there’s no better time to embark on a ‘winter clean’ and rid our homes of excess clutter. Japanese author Marie Kondo embarked on a movement earlier this year to rid your home of anything that fails to “spark joy”. But must we really strip our homes of all but the essentials in order to control the clutter?

Emma Gleeson, founder of professional home decluttering service “Give Up Yer Aul Tings”, says it’s more about organising your belongings than living a completely minimalist lifestyle. “I am by no means a minimalist. I love things. My house is full of books and trinkets and lots of clothes but everything I have I really love and it has either sentimental value, a story or practical use. It’s just weeding out the things you don’t need so that the things you do need are readily available for you to use instead of having to wade through all the crap.”

Gleeson’s interest in decluttering began while writing her Masters thesis on fashion sustainability. “I noticed that not only were people’s wardrobes bulging but their houses were. The main motivation for the business was sustainability and the environment but it has become a more holistic self-care thing.” While hiring outside assistance to organise your home may seem like a luxury afforded only to the very rich or a necessity for extreme hoarders, Gleeson insists her clients so far have been your average Joe. “They’re just normal people who have had full lives and have accumulated a lot of stuff. I charge €250 for a 9-6 day. I don’t want it to be prohibitively expensive.” So how does the process work? “They call me, we have a chat and I can try and assess what kind of person they are, ask them how they got to this stage. It’s very important to realise what kind of person you’re dealing with, if they’re anxious about it, if they’re really high energy, so you can be as harsh or as gentle as you need to be. Then we do the decluttering together . . . because one person’s trash is someone else’s treasure. Basically the client does the work, I’m just facilitating it and gently helping them make constructive decisions. Then as part of my service I bring unwanted bags to charity shops and dumps.”

In her book The Happy Closet, fashion stylist and self-professed former hoarder Annmarie O’Connor identifies nine core closet personalities, from “Impulse Buyer” to “Martyr Mom”, incorporating both shopping habits and emotional hang-ups, resulting in a build-up of excess clutter. In decluttering, O’Connor says there are two important steps: Analysing why you’re holding on to certain items, and then forgiving yourself enough to let them go. “Try and form the narrative. Get an understanding of keepsakes versus keeping something for the sake of it. For example, holding on to your wedding dress versus holding on to that beer-stained tee-shirt that reminds you of college. We can be punitive as to why we hold on to something, maybe because we spent so much money on it. It’s about making a mental note to stop repeating the same patterns.”

Listen to Róisín Meets

Professional wardrobe weeder Ruth Murphy of says it’s important to assess your lifestyle when analysing what you need and don’t need in your wardrobe and home. “Invest in the pieces you’re wearing every day – your jeans, boots, coat. If you’re working full time, spend the most money on your workwear as it’s what you’re wearing five to seven days of the week. Think of it as stocking your fridge, you’re not going to fill it with champagne without having the butter or the eggs. Then continue to treat it like that; when you bring home something new, throw something old out.”

But for those not looking to hire professional help, where do we begin our winter clean? Gleeson says “Start at 9am or earlier, because you get so much done in the mornings. Find a friend who knows you well to help you because you need someone who is not emotional about your possessions. Then start off with one drawer and commit to finishing every task. Don’t go on to the next thing until you’ve finished the last. Don’t buy any new storage containers before you start; the aim is to get rid of stuff. Take breaks; it’s more tiring than you think because it can be emotional, especially if you’re finding old photos, old baby clothes, dead mother’s possessions. Leave those emotional items aside until the end. If you’re doing your whole house, pace yourself but complete what you’re going to complete by the end of the day; don’t leave the house upside down. Anything that you’re throwing away needs to be gone from your house by the end of the day or later you’ll go through the bags again and find a way to keep them.”

O’Connor affirms it’s important to be honest with yourself. “Trust your gut. Carry out staff reviews; when is the last time you wore it? Does it need shoes to go with it? If necessary, put the item on probation for a few months and revisit it. Have the sense that you’re the boss. You decide what stays and what goes. Get used to the decluttering process and the idea of space, which we automatically try to fill. Space gives you the opportunity to see what you have and spot a default.”

So following a successful pre-Christmas cull,how do we avoid re-cluttering our homes? Murphy advises approaching the winter sales with caution “Don’t get too excited by sales or offers. It’s not a bargain if you’re not wearing it. Spend money on the things you really need on a day-to-day basis. It’s not money well spent if it only gets an outing every few years. “

Gleeson says it’s about being ruthless at Christmas time. “Between Christmas and New Year, sit down with your Christmas presents and see which ones you really want then get rid of the rest. Those unwanted bath salts are just going to be sitting in your bathroom. Make a pact with yourself that by New Years anything you don’t want will be gone to charity. Don’t have an emotional attachment to it because of the person who gave it to you. Write them a note and bid the gift goodbye. I would really encourage people to ask for what they want. I know it takes the romance out of Christmas but it means you end up with something that you love and your family member won’t have wasted money on something you give away. I would hate anybody to buy me anything just for the sake of it. I do like my house spick and span but I’m not obsessive. But everything I have works, it fits me, I like. My motto is from the Victorian artist William Morris, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

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