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How to declutter your life: the delusion of the ‘spring clean’

How to declutter your life: the delusion of the ‘spring clean’


by Esther O'Moore Donohoe
25th Jan 2024

Sure, sex is fun. But have you ever thrown out the Leaving Cert notes you haven’t referred to once since you did your exams, 630 years ago?

If chemists could synthesise the deluded optimism and high that comes from a thorough declutter into a single pill, I believe the world would know lasting peace. 

It’s around this time of year that many of us decide to “go through” wardrobes, presses and bathroom shelves. At this very moment, women all over Ireland are spontaneously walking out of rooms and saying “Right!”, to no one in particular as they grab a roll of black bags. 

The origins of “doing a good spring clean” are unclear. Some believe that the brighter days, illuminating our wardrobes fully like the solstice at Newgrange, allow us to see what untidy articles we are, prompting mass overhauls of living quarters. After a winter of shoving things into presses and hoping for the best, the true state of our storage is revealed to us. We see that our best friend hadn’t in fact “stolen” our favourite Cos jumper, as we’d accused them of at Easter, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. It is shown to us now in all its oversized glory, wedged between a flip flop and the leather bum bag we’ll never wear.

Many women, whilst staring at hangers groaning under the weight of dresses, jeans and jackets, solemnly declare to their bedside table that they, in fact, have “no clothes”. It can be a sobering moment for the declutterer in question. It immediately forces them to perform complicated and illogical mental gymnastics. They silently reason to themselves that in order to “have clothes”, first they must get rid of the dozens of “no clothes” staring at them. It makes zero sense, of course, but good luck saying this out loud to them. 

And like most of the worthwhile things in life, a clear-out gets worse before it gets better. I usually get seven minutes in before I regret ever starting. “I could just move?” I say to myself. “Yes. I’ll move and start a new life where I don’t hoard the tiny sachets of conditioner I get in magazines. Then my life will be perfect.” But you must persevere. 

Initially, I tell myself that I’m just going to sort out my Ikea Skubb knicker drawer inserts because they’re all in a heap; but before I know it, everything I’ve ever bought is on my bedroom floor. This is the time to get the piles going – “Keep”, “Repair” and “Donate”. You are Cinderella in this scenario and these are your three messy sisters. Make friends with them. Once Repair and Donate are dressed for the ball (in black bags, sitting in the hall) grab Keep and put her back in the wardrobe in a way that would make your fairy godmother proud. In my experience, it is around this point where the decluttering high kicks in. As I stand back from my new and improved wardrobe situation, I feel like Rafiki when he holds Simba aloft in The Lion King, inhabiting two parts of myself all at once. Rafiki represents Old Me and Simba is the shiny and organised New Me. In these moments, I tell myself that I am now the type of woman who will make stock from scratch and add pasta water to my sauce instead of tipping it all down the sink.

Putting our most optimistic spin on it, a good declutter shows us that we are not in our final form and that we can reinvent ourselves at any time. It is both a pain in the neck and a shot in the arm. So give up the threadbare socks that no longer serve you and stand in the truth of your spice drawer. You’re never going to use that jar of fennel pollen, so let it go. Step into your new life with lightness in your heart and a spring (clear-out) in your step. It will probably feel exactly the same as before you did it but at least now, you’ll be wearing pants with elastic in them.

This article originally appeared in the Spring issue of IMAGE Magazine.