Spring clean and declutter

We remain a nation wedded to our stuff even though we don't look at it let alone use it. And that means we're making our homes more uncomfortable than they need be.

By Hari Alexander

Few of us bother with it any more, but a good old spring clean was the time when we gathered up stuff we didn't use and took it to the jumble sale. Now lots of live with ingrained dirt ...and a ton of stuff we really really should offload. And getting rid of it doesn't mean allowing it to go to landfill because Britain has many excellent recycling centres and a network of charity shops. And don't forget Freecycle. Illustration: by Kate Hadfield.

'Tis the season for spring cleaning..or so cleaning product manufacturers would like us to believe.

Not many of us don the rubber gloves and arm ourselves with a mop for a mega clean... but were we to, we may be more motivated to throw out things we no longer use - and which might prove useful to someone else. And of course, having clearer spaces means its easier to keep our homes clean, which is very important during the covid pandemic

Research suggests around 80 per cent of us live with what we know is clutter, one in 10 of us have never had a big clear out, while one in five of us has a whole room devoted to stuff we never use.

British homes are among the smallest in Europe, so one benefit of doing a regular clear-out would be to make more space for ourselves. Yet the reasons why we don't clear out things we no longer use are emotional and psychological, ie we have a sentimental attachment to them, or it's the survival instinct - they might just come in handy one day.

South London-based psychologist Dr Elizabeth Forrester, who takes a special interest in OCD, says hoarding offers a false sense of comfort, and in fact (and I definitely vouch for this) it's liberating to take things to the recycling centre or charity shop and return home to more space -  even if it's just a clear shelf in the wardrobe or an emptier kitchen drawer.

'It seems a subconscious decision simply to hold onto things even though it’s known there’s no need or use for them anymore,' says Dr Forrester. 'Items are kept out of sight and never used, but we take comfort in the knowledge they are there. For many people this “comfort” extends from a drawer to occupying an entire room...' 

And interestingly..or is it depressingly... even when we move house, we don't chuck out the bags of things we haven't looked inside for years; no, we take them with us to the new house where they fill up the loft or garden shed or any cupboard we can get our hands on.

The moral of the tale is: get a grip - a large one - gather up anything you haven't used for over a year; work out whether it could be of use to someone else - in which case take it to a charity shop (once they reopen). Otherwise put in in the correct bin at the recycling centre and feel virtuous and free.