Decluttering with Astrid (39)

Invaluable phrases (and invaluable girlfriends)

There are some phrases that you can take with you throughout your life. I truly believe that. Like, for instance, the phrase: “Who says so?” That was one I lived by for a long time. If there were dozens of voices in my head telling me this, that and the other had to be done, I would mutter to myself, “Who says so?” Often, no one said so; just me. It was quite a funny eye-opener, one which would immediately lead me to scrap my whole to-do list, and go sit outside a café with a lovely latte macchiato instead.

Irene imparted one such phrase to me recently. A friend of hers offered to give up her whole weekend (a shining example of an invaluable friend if you ask me; someone who deserves a medal) to help sort Irene’s house out after she had seen, with leaden eyes, the tired state it was starting to become. And not because Irene isn’t able to see this for herself (come work at the Flow office for a day or ask any of my colleagues: Irene’s bionic eyes see everything!), but because, after work, Irene does what we should all perhaps be doing a little more: living instead of combining our already hectic schedules with cleaning and household chores. Anyway, the friend in question nevertheless found time to offer a hand. It also helped that this friend happens to be very fond of tidying and her home is always spick and span, so she was undoubtedly pleased to have a new little project. Irene accepted the offer gratefully, which also made me happy, because there have been certain things that Irene does that irk me slightly—like letting her cutlery lie all higgledy-piggledy in the cutlery drawer, for example. The girlfriend, who can best be described as a Dutch Marie Kondo, went through Irene’s house like a whirlwind. At every full drawer, with each pot of broken pens, and to the collection of old tins, she would sternly ask: “Why do you keep this?” And Irene, while grateful of the help but a little emotional because of all the decisions she was being forced to make in a single weekend, would say: “Because I like it,” or “Because I think it’s a waste to throw it away.”

Which is when the clean-up friend threw her invaluable phrase into the ring: “That’s absolutely fine if you live in a villa with a utility room, basement and garage, but in this house you cannot afford to keep it.” And with this simple sentence, cutlery drawers were purged, the contents of cupboard shelves halved, 30 broken pens discarded, and an out-of-control collection of retro tins tamed to just a few gems.

The lesson of this little blog: Cherish your friends and make sure there is a Marie Kondo type among you. And lesson two: Take a good, honest look at your home and your belongings. Can you really, truly afford to have all that stuff lying around in your current abode? If so, great; keep hold of it. If not, get rid of it.

(By the way, Irene subsequently told me, “If I ever do end up living in a large villa I’m going to buy it all back again.”)

Astrid, together with Irene, is the founder of Flow Magazine. She lives with her partner and two children. Each Tuesday, she writes about the sense—and nonsense—of decluttering.

“Week 39 – Invaluable phrases (and invaluable girlfriends)”