At home: Clearing the clutter and getting your life back

IN THE children's book A Squash and a Squeeze by Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, when a little old lady complains that her house is too small, a wise old man tells her to take her cow indoors, followed by her pig and her chicken. Then when her home feels too full, she is to let them all out again, whereupon she finally appreciates the space she had all the time.

Clutter-buster Claudia Duncan is telling me the story to illustrate what she does for her clients, albeit without the farmyard animals. I know the book she means, because I have it too. I just can't find it.

"People think their houses are too small and they want to move but they have rooms packed full of stuff they don't need or use," she says. "Once it's reorganised and recycled, they rediscover their homes and how much they like them.

Hide Ad

"I've just done a couple who had a four-bedroom house they thought wasn't big enough. It was, but it was stuffed full of their grown-up kids' stuff. Once we'd reorganised it, they enjoyed the house so much more, whereas before they didn't even like going upstairs."

Claudia, the founder of Scotland's first clutter-clearing workshops, specialises in going into the homes of the messy and disorganised and clearing out the things that have been making our lives a mess – paperwork, books, watches, CDs, mobiles, jewellery and toys. And freeing up space in our homes frees up space in our lives too.

Claudia is based in Balfron, near Stirling, and started 4DOrganising after seeing how much clutter clogged up the lives of the clients she saw as an accountant in Glasgow and her native Germany.

After initially asking her to help organise their paperwork, clients began asking her to sort out the rest of the house too and three years ago a business was born.

According to Claudia, clutter doesn't just jam our homes but it eats into bank accounts too, as we often keep buying the same items simply because we aren't able to find them.

The National Association of Professional Organisers (Napo), the professional organisation that advises business and consumers on conquering clutter and chaos, estimates that being disorganised can cost families up to 15 per cent of their income. It also says 80 per cent of what we file away never gets looked at again.

Hide Ad

"We often don't realise we have already got an item, or we know we have it but don't know where, so we end up buying it again," says Claudia.

How often have you bought a CD you know you already have, or yet another pair of jeans, despite having a wardrobe full of denim? According to Napo we wear 20 per cent of our clothes 80 per cent of the time.

Hide Ad

And as for holding on to clothes that you will be wearing just as soon as you lose two stone, who are you kidding? "There's a theory that if you hold on to smaller clothes it stops you losing weight because you are focusing on the past. What you need to do is forget about that and focus on where you are now and the future, and then you will lose the weight," says Claudia.

Not only do we repeat-buy, but living in a consumer society we're addicted to buying things we don't need in order to make ourselves feel good.

"Next time you go shopping ask yourself, do I really need another scarf/skirt/piece of make-up, or am I buying it to make myself feel good? Because in the long run, it won't. It will weigh on you and drain your energy."

Claudia knows what she's talking about. She has two children and has learnt the hard way about tidying up.

"I know the process of clutter because I have a young family. I know how much stuff there can be lying around and have worked out how to stay on top of it.

"For example, we used to leave things out if the kids were playing with something as we thought they would go back to it next day. But now we find if we put it away they are more interested in it, so we rotate the toys."

Hide Ad

She has also worked her magic on her husband, who she describes as her "first client". He's a set designer, and when they met 12 years ago his paperwork was in a bit of a state. So Claudia worked her organising magic on it. "He's very creative and his mind is all over the place, so I sorted out the paperwork. It's just what I'm good at. People should play to their strengths.

"I wouldn't repair my own car and people don't do their own accounts, so if clutter is something you're not good at, you just need to ask for help."

Hide Ad

But why can't we do it ourselves, or is it just that we can't be bothered?

"Lots of people can do it themselves, but they get overwhelmed. They start and then they get distracted or procrastinate. If they get me in there's none of the 'let's have a cup of tea' after 20 minutes business. I manage to keep them focused on the task in hand. I'm not against cups of tea, but not if it's used as a distraction. I'm strict but we have laughs too."

A lot of the items we hoard have emotional ties. "A lot of people hold on to things out of guilt, because they were given them for their 18th birthday, even though they've never liked it and it's sat in a cupboard for 30 years. If we hold on to everything that our families have passed down we'd need to live in castles.

Also, I don't give them a hard time, saying, 'You should have done all this months or years ago,' so there are no arguments about laziness."

Claudia persuades people to part with hoarded objects, focusing on the recycling, reusing and selling aspects, even removing items to her own garage while clients get accustomed to living without them.

Has she ever been defeated by a particularly messy house? "I've walked into a place and thought, 'Wow! This is a challenge!' But so far, I've always managed it."

Hide Ad

For those too ashamed to allow Claudia into their homes, 4DOrganising is running courses to help untidy people to de-clutter. Offering practical advice on how to re-energise your home and work life, they cover four areas: what is clutter and how does it affect our emotional wellbeing; where is it; how do we clear it; and how do we allocate the time to do it?

So, now we know exactly what we have to do, does anyone fancy a cup of tea? k

Hide Ad

Claudia is running four weekly, two-hour classes offering practical advice on how to re-energise your home and work life by cutting your clutter. They are at Glasgow University's Sports and Recreation Centre, Wednesdays from 13 January to 3 February, 7-9pm, and at Tir na nOg holistic centre near Drymen, Thursdays, from 14 January to 4 February, 7-9pm. The courses cost 55. To book a place e-mail [email protected] or call 01360 449 101. See for more information.