Let it go

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2013 at 11:53 am


One of the great joys of blogging for me is the instant feedback of the comments.

It’s so satisfying when lovely people ‘get’ what you’re talking about – and even more so when they add further texture to the subject by relating their own experiences and insights.

Hoarding and hurling has garnered a particularly satisfying crop of comments and while I know you could just go and read them, I wanted to share the best bits directly.

One of them immediately tapped into a section I had cut out of my original clutter clearing post, because I thought it was getting too long – which was that one of the best bits of the Life Laundry TV show was the way they took all the stuff out of the person’s house and stacked it all up on a playing field, or in their garden (if it was big enough…).

Seeing all that stuff out of the context of the house was really edifying. You’d need Melbourne Cricket Ground for mine.

So imagine my delight when I heard from a very nice lady called Lissanne Oliver, who had presented an Aussie TV show ten years ago, that was based on Life Laundry and cut right to the chase, being called: Your Life on the Lawn.

Here’s a link to excerpts and she’s going to be posting follow ups to see how the participants are getting on ten years after being sorted by her, which will be gripping viewing.

The first of these is a piece by second hand dealer, Simon Fenner about the state of the market for selling the stuff you want to unload. It was an edifying watch for me, as I had just wasted the best part of a morning putting some vintage pillow slips to sell on eBay.

Let’s just say, I’ll be sending the rest of my cleared clutter to op shops…

Another comment which really touched me came from the delightfully named Wattleflat Jane ( real name, Jane Neville). It brought big fat tears to me eyes, so I’m just going to quote it here:

“For months I have been sorting through Mum’s things. She passed away last year and had kept every card, painting, letter etc that I (and my brother) had ever given her. Plus all our school books and Uni notes. Plus everyone else’s letters and cards.

Mum also had an extensive collection of clothes, bags and shoes. Immaculately kept and organised. Lovely things from the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond (she was dainty and I am a heifer, so unfortunately I can’t wear much).
Carefully stored in the wardrobes were my darling Dad’s clothes. He passed away in 1999.( In one sense it was even more difficult for me to sort through his things).

But wait, there’s more: lots of my grandmother’s, great aunt’s and aunt’s clothes, jewellery and personal papers. My renegade aunt’s collection of letters and memorabilia (she was a character – ex Tivoli dancer; one time co-manager of Esmeralda’s Barn in the 50s/60s; married to an ex-MI6 ‘cultural attaché’…)

The worst was unpacking all my brother’s things. He went AWOL in 1989.”

You can see why I welled up. I felt overwhelmed just reading it and imagining having to do all that. It’s hard enough sorting out my own clutter, but to have to do it to someone else’s possessions, with the weight of grief as well, is just unimaginable.

I replied to Jane suggesting – as tactfully as I could muster – that perhaps she could sell her parents’ clothes and spend the cash on one lovely thing for herself (I’d make it a Chanel bag, if it were me…).

This was her response:

“I did make a decision early in the process that I hope Mum would have approved of: I took a stand at a vintage fashion fair in Melbourne and decided to ‘celebrate’ Mum’s things. Sharing her Italian bags and shoes with an appreciative audience was very cathartic. Yes, there were some tears, but that was fine.

Some highlights were:
* the president of the Button Collectors’ Club (!) who bought a gorgeous brilliant green silk cheongsam that Dad had brought back from Singapore in the 70s. Its re-purpose: displaying antique oriental buttons
* the jaunty group of lady line dancers up from Frankston for the day: they adored Mum’s 70s cinch belts and full circle skirts
* the charming male zookeeper (and he was all man…) who was on the hunt for cotton or silk scarves to protect his neck from the sun whilst out in the enclosures

I even had fun writing captions for some of the handbags, eg for a 70s Faigen favourite I wrote: ‘Sarah gently
clasped the butter soft cream leather clutch in her immaculately manicured fingers. Barry couldn’t possibly suspect the blunt instrument that was lurking inside for him…’

I have kept some special things (e.g. Mum’s ‘New Look’ wedding dress) and am delighted that my darling 15 year old has adopted the navy and white spotted dress (trim-waisted and bias-cut skirt) that Mum wore to my 21st. Yesterday she took it down to her work experience week with the Australian Ballet – again, something that Mum would have adored.”

Isn’t that heaven? I love the captions on the handbags more than I can say and how lucky I feel to have such wonderful blog pals.

And here’s another one – an excellent and very specific tip from passionate clutter clearer, Isabella Ebbitt, how I should attack that toxic basket of unattended mail in my home office:

“I recommend the Flylady ( approach – spend 15 minutes a day on it, and don’t take out more than you can put away in that time. If it is truely overwhelming (and it sounds like it is), I would do the following:

1. Set the kitchen timer for 15 mins
2. Pick up whatever item is sitting on the very top
3. Do whatever needs to be done with it
4. If the timer has yet to go off, go back to step 2. If the timer has already gone off, congratulate yourself and forget about the basket until tomorrow when you go back to step 1.”

With all this fascinating input, I’m staying committed to my de-cluttering process and will blog more on it soon. Meanwhile, keep those comments coming.

  1. Brilliant. I am going to try the ‘Flylady’ approach. I can’t go on with the chaos in my house, I am in the taxi off on holiday and had to dump enorourmous amounts of stuff from my desk and kitchen and bedroom in cardboard boxes and bags and hid them in the spare room. Just so I could face coming home!

    • |Oh that is so so familiar…. that’s how the HELL BASKET started. Had a friend coming to stay and had to get it all off the bed in the spare room… Let’s all do this together! x

  2. A couple of responses … 1. I too loved your de-clutter post … I regularly de-clutter but as I say to my (lovely ) husband ‘the stuff just keeps coming through the door’ … We both stand to inherit a LOT ( and I mean a LOT) of stuff … Think Country Style magazine beautiful homestead full of early Barossa Valley Germanic style furniture … And that’s only his side of the family! Mine – my brother died when he was 16 so I will inherit everything my parents own ( boy is that some stuff) and I have already had stuff inherited frm two grandmothers and three great aunts ( I took everything they offered ( after the scavenger family had been through) and kept what I loved – (tossed the rest) – so kept exquisite un-hemmed ( ahem, still) French double-damask linen tablecloths and napkins, a pie- crust edge 1930’s mirror, some interesting old glass ware – and pretty much tossed the rest.

    2 . I went to hear Lisanne speak last week. She is great … Recommend her to all!

    3. I married recently. Just over a year ago to a lovely man ‘bred just for me’ … Both over 40 years of age and our first marriage ever ,,,( romantic sighs here please) So we each came with a house full of stuff ! we HAD to sort and consolidate. We know we have furnished an entire ‘other house’ with stuff we have given away … Our charities of choice are an organization that refurnishes houses that have burnt down and an Aboriginal residential school at Warburton which ALWAYS needs sheets, towels and suitcases. when your house is only ‘so big’ ( size doesn’t really matter ) and you can only fit ‘so much stuff’ into it – the rest has to go – not as hard as it sounds once you decide to keep only what you truly love.

    4. Oh that bag at the top of your post !!! Where did you get that bag? Exquisite !

    • Hurrah for your love story, which sounds like a plot from one of my books! Fantastic that you have focussed on particular charities. I think that would really help me part with one level up of ‘good stuff’. I found that gorgeous bag randomly on line. It’s quite hard to illustrate these posts, as pictures of clutter really aren’t very inspiting. xxx

  3. P.s I have been doing the fly-lady 15 minute approach for about 10 years on many many aspects if my life … Works a treat … My mantra is ‘I can do anything for 15 minutes’

  4. The flylady approach is really excellent. its doing it in small chunks, i seem to know the tricks but…

    My problem is that half the possessionsin my house belong to my sister (left to us byour mother, who had her mohter’s thingsand so it goes), 1930s dollhouse furniture a box of that , a great set of winnie the pooh characters again from 1930s, Victoriana galore, you name it it’s there., nieither of us really wants to have to deal with each other let alone stuff..

  5. I have just finished going through my Mum’s ‘stuff’ after she passed away in February. Even though she only lived in a modestly small unit at a retirement village, she had managed to cram a lot of stuff in overhead cupboards, (how she got it up there is anyone’s guess as she was quite short,) and under the bed. Suitcases full of every memorabilia from overseas trips she took with my late Dad. All very sad and at times confronting.

  6. You know sometimes no clutter can be just as bad. When i lost my Ma my sister & i went to sort out her home & it was all done! It only took half a day, everything was sorted, she too had kept every card we had given her, there they were in individual marked bags… it makes me sad to think of her sorting her things out on the sly, she hated a fuss and wouldn’t have liked to leave a mess, all her life she had kept a very tidy home. Still my sister & i would have loved to have unearthed a treasure, a discarded memento

    • Of all the comments, I found this one the saddest. It’s made me understand that although it’s terribly hard (see Bron’s comment below – she lost her darling mum last month) to sort the stuff, it is a process that must be helpful in coming to terms with grief. What an amazingly thoughtful person you mum was to quietly do that for you. She didn’t want her girls to have to go through it. I would like to think it made her feel good to know she’d done that for you. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  7. Maggie, these other comments about having to de-clutter and clean out from deceased family members rang true with me. When my mother died 18 years ago, my father seemed to “freeze” the memories of her, by not throwing anything out. When he died only 15 months ago, one of the first things my three brothers and I did was begin the cleaning out process.

    Unlike others who have written here, we didn’t find this process sad or heartbreaking; it allowed us four boys to rediscover our parents, relive some memories, and brought us closer together. We feel lucky to have had the opportunity to find out more about our parents. For example, our mother wrote notes about their overseas trips in the 70s, and we found some hilarious photos of our parents before we were born, when they partied hard and dressed up!

    It can be sad, or it can be joyous – but it is a process almost everyone has to go through at some stage.

    • This is really beautiful. My sister and I sometimes talk about how much we dread the inevitable sorting of our mum’s house. She’s not a teribble hoarder, but has lived there 30 years and it’s just built up. We are hoping she might move to a smaller house soon so we can do an initial sort out while she’s still with us. So your comment is really cheering and makes me realise that spending an extended period of time with my beloved sister will be a joy of its own, even while we grieve our mother. Thank you so so much for sharing this xxxxxxxxxxxx

  8. Maggie, thanks for pulling together so much good advice, which has energised me even more to get on with the job. I have Lissane’s book in hand again, and the result is a study that is not too shabby (I didn’t realise how spacious it was…).

    “How To Break Your Own Heart” also gave me some tips. Just stuffing a few things out of sight was an energy boost!

    I loved reading John’s comments about rediscovering his parents: sadness apart, it has been wonderful for me to revisit happy times and to also meet the younger versions of my parents.

    I found Dad’s diary from 1949, aged 25, when he took off on his big adventure north to Queensland with his surf club mate Dougie Jones. He ended up cane cutting, crocodile hunting and gold mining in his dad’s mine (where’s all the gold??). It is a real treasure for me : I did the big UK working holiday at the same age and could feel such a strong connection with Dad whilst reading his notes.

    Thanks for making this a richer and more healing process.

    • I’ve found some really great websites on this theme and I’m going to post about them – it’s really helped me get stuck in and I think it will you, too x

  9. If you want a more down to earth version of fly lady, have a look at Un-f your habitat. Lots of before and after shots for your entertainment

  10. I think the Flylady has some excellent ideas. I’m a particular fan of the shiny sink. It’s very calming to arrive in the kitchen first thing in the morning and be met with pristine benches and a shiny sink.
    If you love reading, libraries take care of literary clutter for you. I borrow everything including books, magazines and DVDs and then I take them back and the librarian kindly puts them away for me. But I’d like to know Maggie, do authors get paid royalties on library borrowings?

    • Thanks for being so thoughtful – yes, we do get a small royalty for every loan. It’s not nearly as much as a book sale, but it all helps xxx

      • Thanks for letting me know. I do feel concerned about depriving those who keep me so well entertained of income. But I hope you’ll be pleased to know that Warringah library has a standing order for all your new books. It says so on your page in the catalog.

      • That is very very nice to know – thanks for the insider info! x

  11. And…forgot to ask – is that a 1920s Chanel bag under the header? And where can I buy it, please? As if…

  12. Jane’s beautiful story made me tear up too x

  13. This post and its predecessor are why I love reading blogs. Jane’s story is so touching as are the others.
    I too am on the decluttering treadmill. Going to try the 15 minute process on the baket on my kitchen bench!

  14. Maggie. It’s been fascinating reading about people’s experiences and problems with de-cluttering, but it’s interesting that no one has talked about the de-cluttering that they’ve regretted.
    Four years ago while holidaying (from Australia) in Europe I met up with an old boyfriend from my teens. He had divorced and retired to southern France and he invited me to come and live with him. After a 6-month trial we decided I should move in permanently and I returned to Australia and gave myself 6 weeks to clear out my flat. and send my books and most precious things across to his home in the Dordogne.
    I had previously down-sized from a 3-bedroomed house after my children left home but as you can imagine, I still had quite a lot of my own and my children’s stuff. Furniture was not a problem – a friend offered to mind the good stuff for me and the rest went to friends or Vinnies.
    I had collected old books for years and had hundred and these I went through ruthlessly, donating at least half to the local town library and many others back to Vinnies, where I probably bought them in the first place. I also gave away about a third of my clothes. Then there were small household items and memorabilia, and this is where I made mistakes. I thought that because I was moving to a house full of real antiques, the tiny Buddha that I’d bought in the 70s in Bali and the little plastic model of Mr Pig reading to the baby pigs that I’d bought on a holiday with the children would look ridiculous, and I decided to give them and many other sentimental bits and pieces away to the charity shops.
    Fortunately, before I gave all this stuff away (and there were boxes and boxes of it) I put everything out and invited my friends around to take whatever clothes, books, appliances or knick knacks they wanted. Now one of my great friends in Australia is a hoarder, a really bad hoarder, and she took many of these smaller things. She couldn’t take much of the big stuff as her home was already stuffed full! At the end of six weeks I had 25 packing cases of ‘personal effects’ to go to France and an empty flat.
    Six months later my boxes arrived in France and I unpacked. This is certainly the most efficient way to declutter! But what I noticed was, while my boyfriend had kept everything from his past life, even his mother’s Yardley dusting powder, I had hardly anything to remember mine by. The 1970s copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn printed on such thin paper you could barely read it, but which had been a present from my aunt when I was 12, I had given away. The wooden fabric printing block that I’d bought in Bali and the souvenirs I’d picked up in Afghanistan when I trekked the New Silk road with all the other hippies in the early 70s – all gone. They probably weren’t worth anything to anyone else, but to me, I now realised, they were my memories. Luckily, my friend the hoarder had picked up some of these memorabilia and was happy to return them to me.
    The Buddha seems to have gone for ever (if there is someone in the Kiama area of NSW who is reading this and has it, please take good care of him) and I have bought, at some expense, another copy of Tom Sawyer printed on very thin paper. It isn’t the same book but it makes me feel better. The little pigs are probably still sitting in a charity shop somewhere. I can’t imagine anyone would want them.
    Anyway, the moral of this rather rambling story is that if you do decide to do a really ruthless declutter, I suggest you put things with sentimental value away in a box for six months or even a year, and then decide, when you take them out again, whether they really are worthless to you.
    And if anyone in the Wollongong area of NSW has bought from a charity shop a small metal buddha, or a Balanese book written on the slivers of a stick of bamboo or a small pig reading the newspaper to a brood of piglets, I would be interested in buying them back.

    • Gosh – I’m really amazed by this. It’s extraordinary that you remember such specific things, but as you say, they really did have true sentimental value. There is a lesson to be learned here, but i don’t think it should stop any of unloading the mass of less precious stuff – get rid of that and the lovely meaningful things will shine out x

  15. Jane brought me to tears as well. I will never forget my father sobbing as I helped him sort through his Mother’s clothes.

    • That’s heartbreaking – but having read Deb’s comment a few down, I’m beginning to think that this painful ordeal is actually a helpful part of the grieving process. You can really acknowledge the person and reconnect with them while doing it. But what you wrote still brought big fat tears to my eyes…. x

    • xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  16. Maggie,

    I’m so honoured that you would mention my comment. Thank you.


  17. Maggie,

    I found Fly Lady about 10 years ago, and find her 15 minutes at a time a fantastic way to get through tasks that sometimes seem overwhelming.

    Your books and Sunday articles are one of the great pleasures in my life – thankyou Vivian

    • Dear Vivian, I can’t tell you how much your lovely comment means to me. It was a horrible shock to lose my Good Weekend column two years ago and it gave my confidence quite a knock, so it really really is special to hear from you. Mxxx

  18. Now there’s a topic for a post…meeting up with an old boyfriend from your teens and moving to France to be together (see Jeanne above)! Actually, that would make a great novel…

    One of my favourite things to do at the moment is read books (or blog posts) on de-cluttering – as opposed to actually decluttering (!). One of my go-to blogs is Tsh Oxenreider’s at Her e-book, “Organized Simplicity” is full of great tips. As is “POYEL Project Organize Your Entire Life” at I must revisit flylady – I think it was her tip to at least make your bed everyday to give oneself the illusion of control on those crazy get-nothing-done days. Works for me.

    What amazing stories are coming out. Very moving. By the way, have you heard from one of your early commenters, Toby? I always enjoyed her comments. Anne x

    • Good point – will have to tell Toby (we chat on Twitter a lot!) that we miss her! The best thing I read from all this was that piece – DON’T get organized… (or organised, as I would spell it). I’ve got an office full of natty magazine holders and they are all going to the charity shop this week. It jsut encourages me to keep things I don’t need. I will look at those websites, but I can see how easy it would be to become an expert in the theory. It’s calming just to read about doing it – rather like diet books!

      • Ha ha, so true. I read somewhere that there is “stuff” and then there is “meta-stuff” which is the stuff that holds all our stuff eg magazine holders. I have quite a bit of empty meta-stuff items lying around my house waiting for when I have a few spare weeks (i.e. never) to dedicate to re-organising. I think I will follow your lead and let the notion go.

      • I feel more freed by that DON’T Get Organized post than anything I’ve read for a long long time… x

  19. Maggie! Stop press – have you seen this?

    Maybe being a junk collector can sometimes pay off 😉

  20. I’ve only just found this blog and worked out how to join (I know, I’m a bit slow on the blogging uptake!) but it’s just wonderful to make contact with you again, Maggie. I missed your Saturday columns badly – it was like losing a friend – and the Sunday ones were a bit more style specific rather than about life in general. I look forward to lots more happy reading and that wonderful moment when I read something you’ve written and think :” that’s exactly what I think too!”.

    • Thanks so much for this Merona. Means a lot to me, as I miss doing a more general column too. That’s why I started this. Please tell anyone you think might be interested x

  21. Haha … love this approach … what a great idea. I will try this tomorrow. De cluttering is important!

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