Life Day By Day,  Life Matters

Taking decluttering too far

Decluttering is so popular but are we taking decluttering too far? What about that old pair of track suit pants that went in the bin and would have been ideal for working in the garden? Then there is that favourite book that no longer sits on the bookshelf. And the question I ask is ‘can creative people declutter?’

To find out about someone who was not into decluttering we need look no further than Margaret Olley. Make a visit to the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, Northern New South Wales. There you will find a re-creation of Olley’s home studio. There are over 21,000 items gifted from the Margaret Olley Estate. One look at Margaret’s place and immediately I can tell she was not into decluttering.

Margaret was a collector. She collected lovely things. Any item that had light, colour or shape caught her attention and found its way into her home. Was it because Olley was eccentric or was it because she was creative? Everything she collected had a purpose. If not a purpose right now, it would have a purpose sometime in the future.

Can we take decluttering too far? After reading Marie Kondo’s book I have decluttered my wardrobe. I have missed a couple of items of clothing but no real deep sense of grief. Yet, there was that shiny red jacket that I used to wear to work. It had been years since I wore that jacket, but it was so lovely with that satin lining. I thought of wearing it to a University of Queensland Alumni event a few weeks ago to hear Peter Greste speak. But this was no longer an option. It had been gifted to someone else.

I have not completely followed the KonMari method of decluttering. Her approach is that you do it all at once. Like taking a broom to the house and sweeping every room in the same day. Do it once and do it well! But I can’t get over the concept that inanimate objects have feelings! If I stack towels will the one at the bottom feel squashed and sad? No!

Then there is my linen cupboard. The towels we use each week are in neat stacks (two towels, one bathmat, two hand towels) – you get the picture. Each week I wash the towels and take out the next stack of towels. Then there are other stacks such as tea-towel and kitchen towels. With this type of order in my linen cupboard I am fine.

I must confess though that after folding my socks the KonMari way it has become a habit. I can’t throw them in the draw and look away anymore. I don’t live in an untidy home and most items do have a place of their own! My last effort a few weeks ago was to go through my books. It was time to let go of books I had held on to for decades! After this I organised my jewellery. First, I discarded all the boxes. Then I put the jewellery in plastic storage boxes. All in their categories earrings, necklaces etcetera.

A declutter of books from my home library. I did the same four years ago!

The one area I can’t seem to keep tidy is my desk. It has my monitor, keyboard and mouse, files, pens, stapler, CD’s, folders a few paper weights and other paraphernalia. I can tidy my desk but before long there are pieces of paper, folders, music books or the book I am currently reading.

There is research that tells us an untidy desk is not the end of the world! While a tidy desk may improve productivity, an untidy desk can nurture creativity. Mark Twain had an untidy desk. If I am surrounded by a small amount of clutter on my desk it does not stop my flow of thinking or writing. Somehow, I find it comforting. But every now and then I will reorganise and tidy my desk. Following the 4 D’s I regain a semblance of order – ‘Do it; Delay it; Delegate it or Dump it.’

If you like historical research, you will have to keep records. You will surround yourself with newspaper clippings, letters, photos and folders. If we take decluttering too far, we can throw out historical records and memorabilia. Records that have significance in the years and decades ahead. We should keep these, not dispose of them.

I have a 1919 diary, found in a bookshop. It is likely the diary of a doctor working in the 14th A.G Hospital in Cairo. One record says, ‘Nothing special doing this morning. A couple of cases of smallpox here in the last day or so, vaccination commenced this afternoon for the staff. Done myself.’ I discovered that the 14th General Hospital was formed in Melbourne on 19 August 1916. It was then set up in Abbassia, Cairo (Egypt). I must spend more time documenting the records in the diary. I also have my great-aunts 1912 schoolbook. Such beautiful handwriting, ink and pen. We have to preserve such items.

I have come to the conclusion that yes; we can take decluttering too far. There are many items we have and historical records that must we must not throw away. We can go ahead and declutter. We can give away items that we don’t use anymore. But whatever we do we should not take decluttering too far!


  • Nicole Lutze

    I recently saw the Margaret Olley exhibition in Brisbane, but didn’t realise there was a recreation of her house in Murwillumbah. I will have to go visit!
    I also engaged in a bit of Marie Kondo decluttering and have missed a few pieces, but remain mainly unscathed. The folding methods are brilliant though. I’m a convert.

  • kjblogstraws

    Great to hear of your Marie Kondo experience Nicole. When you get a chance to go to Murwillumbah it is certainly worthwhile to spend time at the Margaret Olley exhibition (recreation of rooms of her house). Thinking back to how she lived makes me feel okay when my desk goes through its messy phase! Nice to hear from you.

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