The past is rubbish

If you’re looking for a new start in life, there’s nothing like some serious decluttering to rediscover what’s important and focus your mind, finds Jim Davies

Davies Towers is not the oasis of tranquillity and good taste you might imagine at this very moment. It’s more like a cross between a war zone and a landfill site. The thing is, we’re in the throes of a total spatial reorganisation, with small boys moving upstairs, copywriting studios moving downstairs, and plumbers tripping over decorators at every corner. Imagine a Laurel and Hardy film without the laughs, and you’ll get the general picture. All in all, it’s not the most conducive environment for crafting and polishing les mots justes, but we endeavour to keep calm and carry on.

In the midst of this trauma, however, there’s a surprising degree of clarity and liberation to be found. Because there’s no putting it off any longer… those dusty old boxes, piles of neglected papers, ‘useful’ drawers populated by batteries, fluff and elastic bands, those long-locked cupboards and far-away attic corners, are all for it. Yes, the fine-toothed combs are out and nothing can escape – the mother of all clear-outs is upon us. I’ve spent so much time at the tip (sorry, refuse and recycling centre) lately, my wife has a decidedly suspicious look in her eye, despite the aroma of rotting veg on me.

At work or at home, a thorough decluttering session can be a real tonic. You have to be totally brutal, of course, swiping all sentimentality aside like a pesky refuse-centre fly. I operate a strict five-year rule – if you haven’t used something for five years, you can live or work without it. Sometimes it’s impossible to fathom why you’ve decided to keep something for so long anyway: the toe-curling poetry, ‘promising’ college design sketches, tacky souvenirs from teenage holidays, business cards from long-gone people at long-gone companies.

Yet each of them has some tiny, but inexplicable hold on you. You hesitate for a moment as you reach for the shredder or the ominous black refuse bag. There’ll be no going back. You give your ancient work an appraising eye, moving on with an appreciative ‘that’s not half bad’, or a cringing ‘oh dear, oh dear’, as you finally let it slip away forever. Because, like it or not, these are the moments and memories that brought you to the here and now – the mistakes you learned from, small personal triumphs that spurred you on.

But, let’s face it, most have served their purpose. They’re as relevant today as an exgirlfriend or that sorry film you thought so indescribably deep way back when. So now’s probably the time to set yourself free of them, to untie each of the Lilliputian ropes and take a brave step forward. Almost immediately, the few items you do choose to keep become more significant, their worth and meaning amplified. You suddenly have space to breathe and think, you can find things more easily – even when you’ve put them in that mysterious ‘safe place’ that was formerly like a local Bermuda Triangle.

In so many ways, clutter bogs you down, muddies the waters. Life, just like good design, needs a strong, central, purposeful idea; it needs to look ahead and break new ground, not cling to the past for its references and reassurances. A serious, no-holds barred clear-out is an opportunity to reassess your priorities, and turn to a clean page where the ideas are fresh and the possibilities are endless.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I have a date at the refuse and recycling centre.

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