de-clutter: `My motto about things is if you don't use them or absolutely love them, then Get Rid Of Them!'

Tony Blair and John Major are about to promise all manner of things to improve your life this year. But can you believe them? Over the next three days we, your very own '97 feelgood factors, offer the manifesto you'd be foolish to live without. It begins, as you would, with better sex and less dusting
Click to follow
The Independent Online
`I am a clutterholic," admits Sue Thornton but then thinks again. "No actually I am a reformed clutterholic but, like lots of people, I really did feel that I wanted to hold on to things, that somehow I needed all this stuff."

Sue and her husband John started throwing things out 18 months ago. Knick- knacks, books, clothes - you name it, they've purged it from their Canterbury home, "We have halved our possessions," says Sue. "From the moment you start, you just feel so much better that you become addicted to it."

Karen Kingston is the woman who got the Thorntons hooked on "de-cluttering", and they are two of thousands she has inspired to gut that wardrobe bursting with one-size-too-small clothes, the bookcase so crammed that a pamphlet could not be edged in or that kitchen cupboard full of old margarine containers that may come in handy.

"My motto about such things is if you don't use them or absolutely love them, then Get Rid Of Them, and the acronym for that is Grot!" says Karen. Twice she has given everything away - "the first time I missed my belongings, the second it was a relief" - and now she lives half the year in Bali and half in England. "If I were moving home tomorrow and could generate more than a couple of bags of rubbish, then there is a clutter-clearing to be done right now."

A 42-year-old from Yorkshire, Karen has pioneered a form of feng shui called "space-clearing' in the West. This is the "art of clearing stuck energy", and clearing out clutter is part of the process. Her book, Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui, has been reprinted four times this year and it now is set to become a hit in America too.

Karen is a mixture of New Age beliefs and Yorkshire common sense, and she is used to scepticism. But whatever you think of energy fields and the like, there is no doubt that Karen knows her clutter: "I get more letters, faxes and e-mails about the positive results of clutter-clearing than anything else."

Some people come to her drowning in their own stuff. There was the spinster whose clutterholic parents had died, leaving enough things to fill her four-bedroom house and double garage. "She had four double wardrobes crammed full of her own and her mother's clothes which she couldn't bear to throw out because they still had some wear in them. She felt she could not move (even though she couldn't afford the mortgage) until she had sorted out the junk. Her life was on hold. It took her the better part of a year to clear the junk."

Even worse was another client's home in Sydney, Australia. Two of the four bedrooms were piled with so much junk that you could not enter them. "I had to be shown in through the back door because there was too much junk obstructing the corridor to the front door." The woman spent a whole week clearing the flat and, while doing so, decided to change her job and her boyfriend. She held a huge sale that paid for Karen's consultation and much more, and then set about changing her life.

"People find that the hardest part is overcoming their inertia," says Karen. Gemma Massey, who was trained by Karen in space-clearing, adds; "It's best to start with the area that feels the worst. You know which this one is because when you look at it you feel guilty and it makes you feel down."

Ruthlessness is the name of the game. "People tell me that in a few days they have filled dozens of black bin bags and are still going strong," says Karen. "Men usually prefer skips!" Clutter zones include wardrobes, hallways, the front entrance, behind doors, under beds, on top of cupboards, attics, basements, garages and the car itself. Clutter-prone items are books, tapes and CDs, photos, knick-knacks, things that need fixing and presents you don't like but feel you have to keep.

Then there are all those things that could "come in useful someday". There was the man who did not like fish but had kept five aquariums in the attic for 15 years anyway, or the man who had a roomful of airplane magazines waiting to be sorted so he could find out which were missing and complete the set. This room had been like this for 20 years.

Mementoes take a drubbing. "We become content to live with memories instead of living life to the full," says Karen. "Old photos, holiday souvenirs and toys are the commonest clutter in this category."

Collections that have become more habit than labour of love are no excuse, and neither is the fact you were given something by Auntie Mabel - or your partner. "People hold on to things for security," says Gemma Massey. "One of the stickiest areas is presents you think you ought to keep but don't actually like. They have to go if you want to move on your life."

Karen and Gemma believe that energy stagnates around clutter and see houses as mirror images of their occupants. In feng shui there is a "bagua" grid that relates different parts of your home to areas of your life such as relationships, prosperity, career, health etc. Clutter in one area of a home means clutter in that area of your life. "So," says Karen, "if you have a junk room in your relationships area, you can imagine the effect!"

So take a peek at relationships (the far right-hand area of your home as you enter the front door) and prosperity (the far left-hand area). But is all of this just a conspiracy to give minimalist architects a boost? "No. I'm not a minimalist by any means," says Karen, "but it's important to figure out who's in control. It's often a case of, I can't go out tonight, I'm too busy minding my clutter."

This has a familiar ring to one of Gemma's clients, who had a beautiful home overlooking Los Angeles but wanted a new man in her life. "I walked into this house and I could hardly breathe," says Gemma. "This house was stuffed to the gills with beautiful things. I said to her - you've no room in your life for a man, and you've no room in your house for anything to change!" The client realised that many of her possessions reflected the woman she used to be, not the woman she is. "She wrote back and said she's clearing it, room by room."

Most of us will begin not with a room but with something small like a drawer. "Just tip it all out and examine every object," says Karen. "Then ask yourself, what is this doing for me? Is it really useful? If so, when did I actually last use it? When am I realistically likely to use it again? Do I love it? Does it give me a lift when I look at it?"

After the initial throw-out, clutter can be controlled by setting up systems (i.e. filing paperwork) and by making sure you follow the dictum: a place for everything and everything in its place. At Christmas time, this can be particularly mind-boggling - "When children get a new toy, you decide with them where it its place is. If there is no room, then what are you going to remove from the room?" says Karen. "Children get in the habit of doing that and it's fabulous. They are not going to become the clutterholics of the future."

But then again they will never know the freedom of throwing things out after a lifetime of holding on. As Karen said: "One man who had been a clutterholic for decades has become such a convert that he confessed to me, `Sometimes I get home from work and I throw out another pair of socks just for the hell of it!'"

Karen Kingston's `Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui' is published by Piatkus at pounds 9.99. For further information ring 01708 744111