Imagine a dig where some broken pots, maybe even a piece of jewellery, are unearthed by a team of archaeologists. From these finds, the archaeologists learn about the people who lived in this settlement long ago and are able to build a loose idea of what happened there. Apart from the finds there is mud, a field, a building site. The unknown. The tools they use could be a mechanical digger, a pickaxe, a brush. The nuance of approach varies considerably with what they know already about the scene.
For a declutterer, the work is similar, because we have a parallel wish not to lose sight of the emotional ‘treasure’ that lies behind the stuff. As much as decluttering, we use organising to help us ‘see’ the scene. There is the sense of a journey through time. For me, who doesn’t know what is in the collection, every item is new. For the client, it may feel similar as long-forgotten items come to the surface. Separating out what we want to keep from what we want to discard is a nuanced activity. No-one wants to see their precious life chucked into a skip and carted off, and that’s a fantasy that most clients harbour to some extent – that a stranger will apply an innappropriate level of sensitivity and damage the site permanently. Sound familiar?
Our possessions might be seen as evidence of how we have made our lives in the past. For me, ‘unearthing’ the fine detail of a life as told solely through the stuff we discover, whether as part of an archaeological process or a contemporary decluttering one, is a fascinating and thrilling process. My hope would be to try and help a client experience some of that excitement too. I think people find it hard to say ‘hey, I’m fascinating!’ but I think it’s alright to do so.
Either I or my client will sometimes clean up an item with a duster as we proceed. Might that compare to gently coaxing an item out of the earth with a paintbrush? The flexibility that I like about the archaological dig metaphor is how the same tools can be used. The positive side to the archaeological image is seeing yourself working slowly and tenderly in your excavation, photographing finds, discussing which areas to work on next, and gradually piecing together a story told by a previously unknown narrator – the inanimate ‘you’.