Decluttering with Astrid (42)


I always know where my stuff is. “Nothing unusual there” you may say, but I also know where all the belongings of the people who live in this house are. All three of them. So that’s pretty clever of me, I think. If the post-adolescent son yells: “Where’s my water bottle?” I cry, “On the red locker in the hallway.” When the other teenager shouts: “Where are my shorts, you know, the light denim ones, not the dark denim ones?” I shout back: “Hanging on the dryer over the stairs.” And when my other half is looking for his sunglasses, I simply say, “On the white cupboard in the attic. I have no idea why they are there, but that’s where they are.”

I not only know where things are when they’re in their rightful place, I also know where things are when they’re not in their rightful place. Like when my son loses his house key, I am able to conjure up exactly how the missing item found its way to its current hiding place. I can picture how, yesterday, a friend was standing in the hallway; the boys were messing around; a coat fell off the red locker onto the floor; during this fall, the key could possibly have been knocked off the locker and fallen into the paper recycle box, which was standing in the hallway for all of ten minutes because the cellar, where the box normally sits, had been cleared for the KPN mechanic. Bingo! There it is. Or how about when my other son lost his school agenda. He went to get a drink from the refrigerator; the phone rang; he went to answer it and forgot that his agenda was on the counter; my other half placed a bag of groceries on the counter and proceeded to unpack it; and hey presto, the agenda is found in the refrigerator because my other half can sometimes be a little distracted when it comes to putting groceries away.

I’m famous for this knack—have been for quite a while now. One son would say: “Mom, I’ve lost the sword of one of my Playmobil figures. Not the one with the big thing on it, but the one with the flag at the bottom.” Then I would picture the long long journey that sword had made (watching TV on the couch with the Playmobil figure, being taken off the Playmobil figure, possibly lying between the cushions on the couch, the cleaning lady was here yesterday and so maybe it’s been sucked up into the vacuum cleaner?). I used to know all the Playmobil figure accessories by heart, and would effortlessly find caps, swords and mini guinea pigs from the animal hospital in the depths of sofas, floorboard gaps, laundry baskets, weird ridges under cabinets, the basket full of stuffed animals or, worse still, the lego box.

So I actually live two lives. Or perhaps 10,900 lives, namely those of myself and of all our belongings that do things the whole day long which I experience through images. My bionic imagination ensures that, here at home, we can always find everything, because sometimes even in the middle of the night, a movie of a possible scenario about a lost item will rattle off in my mind. (It goes without saying that I’m the only one, and that my male housemates are way more pragmatic about dealing with lost items: gone is gone and lost is lost—shrug the shoulders—we’ll see again tomorrow.)

I’m not really sure what else I can do with this skill—maybe I make some money out of a TV-show, but I do know that there is one great advantage to decluttering: there is suddenly one or 1,000 pieces less under my care, and one or 1,000 fewer movies rattling around in my head. That’s why decluttering is so healthy: It brings with it a clearer mind. Well, at least for me it does.

It also leaves me with a new question to ask myself when decluttering: If I were to lose this, would I go in search of it? If the answer is “Yes”, then I keep it; if the answer is “No”, then it goes.

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 42 – Lost”