Friday 19 January 2018

Clearing the clutter

How do the majority of households in the UK keep their houses looking clean? It’s easy, you just chuck stuff up in the loft where you can’t see it and then you forget about it. In the case of Chateau L that’s what we did for over a decade. The interior looked quite nice and I'd made a conscious effort to rid myself of some junk a while back, but that hatch on the upstairs landing told a different story. When you pulled the ladder down and poked your head through all you could see was piles. A spare bed, a high chair, a cot, a crib, a potty, stair gates, baby toys, wooden trains, Lego, three children’s worth of baby clothes, all my childhood books, the boxes for almost every piece of electrical equipment we have ever owned, an old computer, university notes, accountancy books, old sleeping bags, a futon, a rug. It went on and on, eave to eave, wall to hip. Many of the boxes had come with us from our previous house, moving simply from loft to lot. The only things that we actually used were the suitcases (frequently) and the Christmas decorations (infrequently). But what if you want to do a loft extension?

Ah. Decision time. On the one hand there is Big Yellow Storage. On the other hand there is the dump. I know of one person who decided that on the basis they had not opened any boxes in their loft for over ten years that there was nothing in there that they could possibly need and chucked out the lot without opening a single box. Brave, very brave. We could not manage that, but I am pleased to report that nonetheless we cleared nearly the whole lot. We actively sought out people having babies and forced things on them. We gave away the bed, we went to charity shops with the better books and toys, we actually found somebody who genuinely wanted some cut crystal glasses. But largely we went to the dump, load after load, and with increasing ruthlessness. Pleasingly almost none of it went into landfill – the local recycling centre has separate containers for wood (highchair), plastic (potty, toys), fabrics (clothes and towels), small electricals (the computer and loads of other tech antiquity), and paper (books, cardboard and paper). It took longer but was more satisfying. I’d estimate that we divested ourselves of easily 80% of a decade of clutter and laziness, and the resultant catharsis has been amazing. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

What used to take up the entire loft now fits comfortably in a tiny part of the eaves.

Here is a fact. If you undertake any major home improvements that require you to turn parts of your house upside-down, you will gain far more space than you may have thought possibl, far more in fact than the size of whatever extension you are having built. Our efforts did not just stop with the contents of the loft. We packed up our knackered old kitchen in a big hurry, but as we unpacked into our brand new shiny kitchen it became very hard to find places for the two years out of date jar of prunes and the raclette set we had used once in about 1999. Out went all the plastic toddler plates and mouse-themed cutlery. Goodbye to the three jars of crystalized honey and other ancient condiments. The drawer of USB cables, old phones and chargers, old memory chips, dead pens, stubby birthday cake candles and other assorted junk was not lovingly recreated. 

The loft is now Mrs L’s new bedroom, and I get to sleep there too. Similarly to the kitchen we simply could not bring ourselves to cart all of the years worth of stuff up the new stairs. With all of the upheaval our bedroom contained much more than just a bed and clothes – my desk, books, photo albums, my camera stuff, slides, bedding, and I even found a fishing rod that had escaped my previous cull. I’d estimate that only 50% of what had been there moved up. Most of what was left has now left the premises, and the rest will probably soon follow as we pick through it. In short we have had a complete clear out, and given almost every part of the house was exposed during the building work, almost no part of the house has been unscathed. Whilst we have not completely decluttered we feel highly rejuvenated, but without the impetus provided by the huge disruption I doubt we would have done it. It is very easy to find other things to do in the face of the unnecessary effort needed to throw things away, but when you have a team of people arriving on a certain date and the scaffolding going up around you, you find that hitherto missing willpower and just get on with it.

There is a disadvantage to doing work though, which is that any rooms that didn’t feature in the grand remodeling now look far worse than they did before even though nothing has changed. Unfortunately we are now approaching utter destitution and cannot even afford a pot of paint, so at the moment we are simply avoiding all those rooms and all standing in the shiny new kitchen. With satisfaction written all over our tired faces.


  1. With you there. De-cluttering is nearly up there with good wine, good birding and taking a decent photograph. Nearly!
    Repainting the whole house I did not enjoy.

    1. Mrs L in charge of all things DIY. I'm not even allowed to put pictures up in case I cock it up.