Decluttering My Life

The sale of my parents’ house, the family home, has finally completed.

An offer was accepted the day after it was put up for sale (slightly above asking price) yet despite there being no chain on either side, solicitors and incompetent bank personnel contrived to drag the whole process out for another 5 months.

I’m sad but mostly relieved that it’s all done and dusted.

In a way however, I was glad it took that long as it gave me (and sis) the time to clear out the house and boy, did we need the time! There were DECADES’ worth of family things to sort through.

“Stuff”

Despite not having lived in the house permanently (or for more than 3 months at a time) for nearly 20 years, my parents still had full wardrobes and personal items in the house. We spent hours and hours painstakingly going through it all to keep, bin, or donate. There were numerous video calls, as my Mum didn’t want us randomly binning things…yes really, even things she didn’t even remember owning!

Other members of the family didn’t have full wardrobes or cupboards but had left so many sentimental items, including things going back to school and university days.

It wasn’t just the bedrooms which were full of stuff – both garage and shed were full of things accumulated over the years. I found 3 fully equipped toolboxes, two faulty lawnmowers, a brand new leaf blower, a Calor gas heater which I last saw when I was a teenager and so many garden tools.

Various household items and furniture from house-moves which family members had said they were going to ‘pick up at a later date’, but which ended up just being stored there permanently.  I even found two large boxes of things belonging to our cousins who had never even lived at the house so who knows how (and when) their stuff ended up in the garage! A WhatsApp message to them threatening to bin everything had them travelling up from London to collect!

Mum wanted me and sis to take some family ornaments – we said no, but in the end, took a couple each. She couldn’t bear to part with some others so these will be shipped to Hong Kong for the family to sort through themselves.

Anyway, among all the junk in the garage were several large boxes which belonged to me, from when I had moved back home after splitting up with the ex…

Our garage looked a bit like this…except more boxes stacked on top of each other

My Stuff

So what was in these boxes, which had just remained hidden from view, unopened and gathering dust for nearly 15 years?

A load of things I had forgotten about, including:

  • My old diaries, which I had meticulously kept from age 12 (my handwriting was so neat!) to my late 20s. This might be a reason why I enjoy blogging as keeping this journal is a bit like a diary. Anyway, I’ve packed these treasured memories away, except that I know where they are now!
  • A shoebox rammed full of love letters from the ex, written before mobile phones and the internet. I obviously couldn’t bear to throw them away when I left him but briefly peeking at one of them was enough for me to immediately shred the whole lot in one go!
  • Loads of photo albums, plus easily 1000s of loose photos still in their Truprint envelopes, along with all the negatives. Back then, when you didn’t have the luxury of getting perfect digital photos, you kept all photos which were developed, including blurry ones. Well I did, anyway!
  • My large comic collection and various sci-fi/fantasy memorabilia – in the 90s, I was really into my Marvel comics (before Marvel became mainstream). I wouldn’t mind reading them all again and some of the signed editions might be worth something.
  • Hundreds of CDs and boxed sets of DVDs galore, I could have opened a small shop!
  • ‘Old tech’, including a mini-disc player, Sega Gamegear, a couple of pre-iPod music players and a Playstation 1. Also the radio cassette recorder the family bought me as a going-to-uni gift, still in working condition!
  • A decade’s worth of paper payslips – I have no idea why I kept those.
  • Some old credit card and bank statements from 2006. I know why I kept these – they were to remind me of how bad I was at managing my finances and how I can’t ever let myself get like that again. The credit card statement showed 24% interest charged (I was only making the minimum payment) and the corresponding bank statement for that month showed a fee charged for going over my overdraft limit and another fee for a bounced direct debit – horrific! I felt stressed and a bit sick just looking at those numbers. I don’t know how I was able to live like that without spiralling into despair yet I did, for most of my 20s and 30s before finally getting my finances under control.

More Stuff

I’ve only mentioned the stuff that was hidden in the boxes in the garage.

I of course had a lot of belongings in the house and as I was effectively downsizing from a 4-bed detached house to a 2-bed semi (with no garage), I desperately needed to declutter.

Cue Marie Kondo and her tidying up book!

Whilst I didn’t follow the book religiously, it helped me enormously as I wouldn’t have known where to start.

The decluttering began slowly but then I got in my stride and started to get a bit ruthless.

In the end, I pretty much got rid of 50% of my belongings.

Discarding half of my wardrobe was pretty gut-wrenching but did I really need 20 dresses or 30 t-shirts? A couple of those dresses were still new with tags, yet I couldn’t remember when I’d bought them!

Sorting out my clothes took an entire weekend as I spent time trying many items on to decide whether I wanted to keep or donate – only a few didn’t fit me which made the choosing process harder! In the end, 6 full bin bags of clothes went to charity and I discovered ‘new’ (to me!) items to wear, which had been hiding at the back of the wardrobe!

The same culling was done with my shoes, books, CDs and DVDs.

There was a huge box full of folders of ‘admin’ – I shredded stacks of old bank statements, work pension docs and old insurance certs/policies. Again, no idea why I kept so many years’ worth; probably just because I had the space to keep them.

I tackled the kitchenware and crockery – so many sets, some brand new just hidden at the back of cupboards. Sis took some (I decided not to argue when she just took the Le Creuset pot which I had my eye on upon ‘rediscovery’!), I took some for myself, with the unwanted pots, pans, utensils and sets of crockery passed to friends who had kids starting university and also my ex-brother-in-law who had just bought a house and who was after anything for free!

If I had been organised and had the mental capacity for it, I could have probably made some money selling the unwanted furniture, CDs, DVDs and clothes.

But I just needed to get it out of the house asap, so what the buyer didn’t want as part of the purchase went to charity, with the charity collecting large items of furniture for free. Things which couldn’t be donated went to the local tip/recycling centre – I was doing full car-loads every weekend for a couple of months.

As I had registered for Gift Aid with the charity (British Heart Foundation), I’ve been getting emails from them as they’ve sold items I’ve donated – so far, £429 has been raised, so I’m happy my junk has gone to a good cause.

Cathartic

I have to say that I felt a huge sense of relief after the whole decluttering exercise. Not only was there space but I think I felt space in my mind too.

I experienced so many emotions as I came across things (and memories) from what I consider a ‘previous life’, namely my adult life before I discovered FIRE.

Looking at my collections, my belongings, all those things I owned, I think I was a very different person back then – I obviously was not in full control of my life (not financially anyway), yet I don’t recall there being a lot of unhappiness, although of course, there was some.

Decluttering Part II?

I’m sure some people will think that my new home is cluttered (I see my sister’s face when she comes round, ha!) but in my mind, it’s cosy and homely and nowhere near what I think ‘cluttered’ means!

The good news is that having gotten rid of so many of my clothes, I haven’t felt the urge to buy anything new. I’ve yet to complain that I have “nothing to wear”, although that day will come – I’m a woman after all, haha! :).

I did recently buy a pair of boots (using birthday money) to replace a beloved pair which had lasted 30 years. It was my first shoe/boot purchase in over 5 years!

Still, that doesn’t mean that I can’t still get rid of more things – perhaps I’ll do another decluttering exercise, in say a year’s time.

I mean I’m sure I don’t need all those knives (I have 10) in the kitchen but don’t feel like doing anything about that right now.

And some things I’ve just stuffed in some boxes in the shed, out of sight, out of mind…

I know Saving Ninja did the whole Konmari thing when he and his missus sold up to move to Sweden.

Anyone else try Kondo’s methods to help them declutter?

27 thoughts on “Decluttering My Life

  1. Great Post!
    I’m glad that you managed to finally complete the sale and this post on decluttering was a surprise.
    We tend to think of property as an asset class and not as somewhere you live. And we also tend to think of houses as somewhere we live and not as somewhere we’ve lived – with all the stories, memories and feelings that come along with that.

    In my mum’s house, I’ve removed much of my junk 15-20 years ago but there’s still a lot of unclaimed treasure/trash there – things that she won’t throw out and nobody wants to come collect. She won’t throw anything out.
    Last time we were at my mum’s home, I took some old CDs and bits and bobs – said I was taking them to our house – I actually dropped them at a charity shop. But it seemed like the only way to spare feelings and actually declutter!

    on a side note, when buying a house I didn’t want a garden or a garage for the express reason that I would end up with “3 fully equipped toolboxes, two faulty lawnmowers, a brand new leaf blower… and so many garden tools.”
    I reckon that it might save me a couple of hundred pounds a year by not having to buy or the space to keep all these essential luxuries.
    as you say yourself – if you have the space you’ll buy the junk.

    • Cheers GFF

      I wasn’t sure at first about writing this but it took up so much of my time and energy that I felt that I had to document it!

      The unclaimed treasure/trash does evoke so many memories so I’m not surprised you decided to drop things off to ‘spare feelings’. I’m sure my sis told my mum she was going to take some items, but they ended up in the ‘to donate’ boxes and if mum ever asks, I’ll probably be blamed for donating them ‘by accident’!

      When I moved into my house, I had the initial idea of putting up extra garden storage and at some point semi-converting the loft, as various workmen commented on its ‘potential’.

      I’ve now concluded that I don’t wish to make more space to fill with junk, that I will just manage with the space and storage I have, otherwise things will just spiral out of control again.

  2. Feel your pain! Recently had to clear a deceased relative’s belongings; the family hasd lived there for several generations, so there was over a century’s worth of stuff to clear! It has made me determined to clear out my own house.

    Totally agree with the comment that if you have the space you’ll just fill it up; nature abhors a vacuum! It’s a big mistake people make when decluttering; they buy storage for what they have now, instead of clearing first and then deciding what storage they actually need afterwards. Also, garages are bad, but lofts are lethal! They’re much easier to shove stuff into and never visit again, and also they often hold things you know will eventually be used (such as bedding & towels, which aren’t prey to the whims of fashion), so it’s much harder to get rid of those.

    • Hi Tina

      Generations! Wow, did you find any antiques?

      Yes, as mentioned in my reply to @GFF’s comment, I’m not planning on adding more storage or space because I know I will just be encouraged to fill it, even with the best intentions. I will just have to be smarter with what space I have.

      Fortunately, I’ve never been one to store things in the loft so it’s not like I will miss not having a converted one. But bedding! I found duvet sets which I used at uni…for my single bed! They were just at the botton of a huge pile in the airing cupboard, never looked at or touched since I graduated, haha!

  3. Nice post Weenie. We’re thinking of downsizing from our home as our son has just bought himself a flat, but the thought of moving, with the attendant decluttering is exhausting. One glance into my garage just puts me right off. I also have a collection of wage slips going back nearly thirty years! No idea why I keep them all, but I do still get a wee buzz from seeing my first real pay slip, meagre though it was. And, like so many of these things, it seems I received it not so long ago!

    • Cheers Jim

      Totally understand how you feel about your garage! It was actually worse a couple of years ago – I had done a ‘mini’ clear out because when my Sis came to live with me, she was having things shipped over so I had to make some space. So that’s all I did really, I just shifted things around, didn’t really sort or throw away, I was just ‘making space’!

      Hah, I bet we’re not the only ones who have/had collections of paper wage slips!

      Sorting through my parents’ admin, my dad had decades of dividend slips (from all the freebie building society shares he was allocated back in the 90s). Investors must have stacks of share certificates before everything was online.

  4. Thank you for an inspiring story, which came at the right time for me as just starting our decluttering journey and cant wait to have a clear house with more space, which I am determined not to fill up again. I am thinking of adopting a one on one out approach to items aquired for the house in future! Off to do some shredding!

    • Hi JBL
      I’m glad I was able to provide some inspiration for your own decluttering journey! It will seem to get worse (as you pull stuff out of their nicely hidden places!) before it gets better but don’t give up! Good luck!

  5. My father had a brisk attitude to decluttering. When I went home at the end of my first term at university I popped my head into the attic. “Mum, where’s my camping gear? Where’s the train set?”

    “Your Dad gave them to the Girl Guides.”

    ‘A decade’s worth of paper payslips – I have no idea why I kept those.’ They probably include a record of your pension and national Insurance contributions. Who knows if those will ever prove useful?

  6. It’s weird how we (most people) find it so hard to let go of things. I’ve got clothes that I’ve not worn in years that I can’t let go of, and same with books I’ve read or games I’ve played. This is even after we donate boxes full of stuff to charity every year or so. Stuff just seems to accumulate, but when I muster up the energy to throw stuff out or donate to charity, I always feel better.

    • Hi David
      I know I take after my Dad for not throwing things away, he always had cupboards full of ‘just in case’ items and I’m the same but as I’ve got less storage now, I have to really keep on top of it all!

  7. Well done – this sort of clearing out is tiring physically, mentally and emotionally. But great to get it done!

    I do not like clutter at all, and regularly weed out cupboards to nip it in the bud. Things that I don’t need, wear or like any more get the heave-ho and are given away or donated. I have some sentimental items that I’ve kept over the years of course, but I think hard about what I really want to keep.

    My husband and daughter, by contrast, are inclined to keep everything, which drives me nuts! 😉 I was thrilled when my daughter and her husband bought their house, because I could finally offload the last of her stuff which she’d asked me to keep for her as they had no room in their previous flat. I think it’s all now gone into their garage… I’d love to get a go at clearing out their garage, but have to remind myself that it’s none of my business 🙂

    • Cheers Jane.

      I would like to be more like you but unfortunately, it’s not in my nature! At least I have managed to keep my clothes and shoes under control so that’s a start! Good to hear that your garage was cleared of your daughter’s stored items but not surprised it’s all just moved into her garage! During my decluttering, my sister offered to help me but I declined, I would have ended up with hardly anything!

  8. I keep several pairs of trousers because “maybe I’ll fit into them again one day”.

    This Spring has seem my first such triumph: a pair of khaki shorts. Should I now go shopping for Australian-style knee-socks to wear with them? A safari shirt? A bush hat?

  9. Great post; and well done you!
    I dread ever selling up and/or moving on.
    Nosy question – would you say a few words as to why the sale process took so long?

    • Cheers Al Cam.

      Despite the mortgage on the house being paid off in 1992, my parents didn’t know to ensure that it had been discharged – they just thought that as they were no longer making mortgage payments, that was that. What was discovered by the solicitor was that there were still a charge remaining on the property where the mortgage lender had failed to update its records after the mortgage was fully paid off. The house couldn’t be sold until the charge was removed. My parents’ mortgage had been with the Alliance & Leicester Building Society, which was taken over by Santander and it was this latter bank which dragged its feet, claiming that it needed mortgage account details in order to remove the charge (which of course my parents no longer had records of, from 30 years back). Cue months of to-ing and fro-ing with the solicitor, until it was finally sorted. Perhaps a lesson to all those who have paid off their mortgages, make sure the mortgage has been properly discharged, to prevent any delays in the event of selling or transferring the property.

      • Thanks very much for the extra details – it was not what I thought you might say. I guess this is one of those things that until you check you have no way of knowing if everything is in order. This also may be a good reason for keeping written records long beyond the point where you may consider them to be important?
        I have heard of something similar years ago – when a solicitor told a friend of mine (who was trying to buy her first house) that the vendor was not legally entitled to sell the house. Which, as I am sure you can imagine, set the cat amongst the pigeons!
        Thanks again.

        • Now I’m curious as to what you thought I was going to say! There was a small delay in getting powers of attorney to enable my sister to sign on behalf of my parents, but we have a member of the family who’s CFO of a solicitor’s firm so managed to get that sorted pretty quickly!

          • Nothing exciting. Just something along the lines of “lost in the post” accompanied with usual first class customer service (ahem??).

            Re the actual problem – my understanding is whoever has the deeds ‘owns’ the property. Happy to be advised otherwise if anyone knows differently.

        • @Al Cam
          When I paid off my mortgage in 2019, within two weeks I received a letter from the Land Registry…
          “We are writing to you to inform you that we have received notice from XX Bank Plc that you have now repaid your mortgage with them. HM Land Registry has cancelled the entries relating to the mortgage dated dd.mm.yyyy in favour of XX Bank Plc. This means your property is no longer subject to the mortgage and you need take no further action on this matter.”
          Hope that reassures you…just keep an eye out for the letter!

          Re your later remark about “whoever has the deeds”…the deeds will still need to name the owner of the property. This is why the solicitor must get this right. NB title deeds are electronic these days but for a small fee the Land Registry will send you a printed copy (assuming you are the owner).

  10. We usually do a big yearly declutter. With two kids and a small house it’s mandatory 🙂

    Always feels good afterwards, as space is reclaimed in cupboards and also the mind as you say. I’ve still got loads of old crap in the attic though which I could still get rid of, plus about £2k worth of old vinyl I could probably sell if I could ever be bothered haha. Still have fantasies of getting the old DJ decks back out one day, but have no idea where they’d go! It’s the one (well, many) big silly sentimental thing I’m irrationally holding on to.

    • Hey TFS
      Great idea to make it a yearly event, something I should adopt! Know what you mean about the stuff which might be worth something but it’s just so much effort to have to sell it, haha! Dispite getting rid of 50% of my stuff, I’ve still kept a lot of sentimental stuff, hopefully will look at it with different eyes next time!

  11. Hey weenie. That was a great read and I can relate so much to what you said. I have recently gone through cleaning out room by room and there were so many moments when I had to stop and reminisce over things. I managed to throw many things out but had to put some in a maybe keep pile. I tried to only keep something if it gave me value in its usage even if that was just for keepsakes at times. I felt great too seeing my house with so much less clutter, I think the next challenge will be to stop things building back up again haha. TFJ

  12. I’ve still kept a lot of junk which will need revisiting at some point! I’ve been pretty good at not buying anything that I’ve not needed to add to the clutter, although plants seem to be the thing I’ve started to accumulate!

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