How to Clean: or Why Chucking Stuff Out Is Related to your Bank Balance

I cleaned up.

No, I mean really cleaned up. I know a lot of you do this all the time and it’s no big deal, and I’ve had this discussion with people before, but it’s strange, because this time I REALLY cleaned up.

Are you lost yet?

Sorry. I got ruthless. I got rid of stuff. I got rid of overly sentimental things I’ve been holding onto for years. I got rid of clothes that didn’t fit my kids, or didn’t look great on them, or just didn’t look great. I got rid of old toys, broken toys that have waited a while to be fixed, cheap rubbishy toys that never get played with, and some great, expensive toys that never get played with either.

See? I knew it. You do this all the time, right? Well, true confessions here: I don’t. Sure, I clean up. Sure I get rid of clothes that are too small, and toys that are broken or they’ve outgrown. Just not as much as I should, apparently. Or so I’ve learned now that I’ve done it.

Have you been to my house? It’s a lovely place, but “small” is  good word for it. So is “cluttered”. “Old” is also appropriate (although “antique” is a better word for it). How about a phrase for it: “Lacking In Storage”. Yes. Yes, even with all that, it STILL took me this long to learn the value of the good old ruthless chuck-out.

So what changed? Well, me.

Actually, what changed was our financial situation. Here’s the paradox: the more money I have, the less things I feel I need to keep. Weird, huh? I thought so. It made me analyse why it was I was keeping things in the first place.

  1. I keep things because I might need them. So this is valid, right? I might. Although, generally speaking, if I haven’t needed it in the last twelve months then I may not need it at all. Poor me thinks “but it could be useful”. Me with enough money thinks “If by any chance I ever need another one then I’ll buy it”. 
  2. I keep things because of sentimental value. I think this is fine, to an extent. Although I kept stuff because it reminded me that when my kids were tiny they DID actually have some nice things. Poor me remembers all we didn’t have, and couldn’t afford to buy them. Poor me is somehow trying to doctor my memories of the past so it only includes the good bits. Me with enough is able to let go, to grieve for the times I couldn’t give my children the things I wanted them to have, and remember that THEY are no worse off because of it. THEY are fine. 
  3. I keep things because I’m blessed to have them. Well, yes. I am blessed to have some very beautiful things, and of course I’ll keep things that are precious to me or that make me happy. D’uh. But the flipside of “appreciating what you’ve got” is that you appreciate EVERYTHING. I appreciate the eleven pairs of shoes that my boys have been given, even if they never want to wear them. I appreciate the pile of colouring books my kids have accumulated over the years. I appreciate the huge amount of pyjamas they have, too. That’d cost a bunch, to have to go out and buy all them, and a lot of the time it was money we simply didn’t have. Poor me appreciates everything, and sees value in everything, and therefore keeps everything. Me with enough is free to say “Actually I don’t like it”, and to say “no thank you”. 
  4. I keep things because once upon a time I bought them. I bought them, often, because they were on sale, and I saw that as my one opportunity to own something that was almost exactly what I wanted–when what I wanted was truly out of my budget. Poor me says “I’ll work my way up to the thing I really want by getting something almost-good-enough”. Me with enough says “if it’s not what you want, don’t buy it!”

So my ability to keep a clean house is all in my head. And it started with my bank. Sure, all of these thought changes could have happened without an increase in finance. Some people (most people?) grow up knowing these things already. I didn’t. A lot I learned from my mother, who possibly learned it from her mother, and she, my grandma, was a young woman during the Great Depression. 

I don’t need to let 1930s-thinking affect the way I live my life today. The world has changed. And now I have changed. Heck, I might go chuck something out, just to celebrate. 

Care to join me?

My husband emailed me an awesome article he found on the subject too, after my Great Revelation and subsequent Great Purge. If you relate to what I’m saying here, this is well worth a read. 


The secret dreams of the arty-farties

I’d like to be a clean freak, you know. I’d like to have one of those houses where everything has a sparkly plastic box that probably gets wiped once a week and that contain all the essential things a household needs, and every essential thing a household needs would have a sparkly plastic box. I’d have one for my filing, and for my paperwork, which would always be away neatly and on time, and never double-handled, because I would know that double-handling is always a waste of time.

I’d have routines. I’d know exactly when I got up in the morning that I would put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher, because it had definitely and always been put on the night before. I’d open pristine cupboards and neatly place my bowls inside, leaving one out, of course, for my breakfast. I’d know what day I’d be ironing, and I’d do it like Sonnie’s mum who seems to hover the thing over the clothes for the splittest of seconds before she picks up shirts and hankies in their newly-perfected state (although I am suspecting she is, after all, a fairy of some description – possibly an ironing one). I’d sympathise with my friends whose houses lacked sparkle and their constant bemoaning of the difficulties; I’d sympathise but deep down I really wouldn’t understand, and after they left I’d wash their cup and saucer and wipe the bench down and put the biscuits back in the box and shake my head at them quietly and wonder how hard it could be.

I’d like to be a clean freak. I’d never have such an explosion of cobwebs that the ceiling looked like a small trapeze for a fly circus, and there’d be no flies to use it anyway, and I’d be the original No Flies On Me (as my mother always said) woman. I’d never look at skirting boards so dusty it looked like they’d been abandoned for a year in the fallout of an ash cloud, and, even if they had been, I’d never EVER resort to buying stupidly expensive surface wipes that look like something you’d prefer to use on a baby’s bottom, because not only would I know that a cloth and some elbow grease would do the job equally well, I would have done it already yesterday.

I’d like to be clean freak. I tried to do it, yesterday, and realized once again what I realize every time I attempt such an enormous paradigm shift: that between the scrubbing and the decision to write some kind of weekly flow chart that tells me in detail when exactly I should do these things, I realized that my body was on auto-pilot again, and the thinking-and-feeling part of my mind has crawled away on a soft cushion somewhere in the cobwebs and is lost, again, in story.