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My favourite decluttering metaphors

A question that comes up when I am trying to sell my service to someone, is how to describe my work using concepts that people are familiar with from other parts of life. I’ve quite enjoyed this process for myself and have had a number of fascinating conversations with APDO colleagues about this too.

So … here are my top three:

  • I’m a sort of hairdresser.

Clutter will grow, like hair, because it’s a byproduct of being alive. For as long as we are moving through this world, we will be using things, doing things, being in various changing environments, messing the place up. A long-standing backlog of life admin can arise for any number of reasons that leaves your home making a pretty terrifying impression. A basic conversation of ‘how long do you want it, and roughly what would you like it to look like?’ means we work to the same agenda (what you feel about your hair). Some people are very anxious about hairdressers, and other can’t get enough of other people tending their hair. As it happens, I occasionally cut my friends’ hair, if what they want is something exceptionally simple.

  •  I’m a sort of gardener.

I tend to use the image of a rose garden, partly because actually I don’t know much about plants and roses don’t seem to generate too many awkward questions. You want to see your roses, smell them, enjoy their moody evocativeness, their uniqueness… to achieve this you need to be able to move around the space, see shapes…  You need to recognise that a flower needs a space to grow into. Roses need pruning, and loving, and you need to know they difference between a lifeless twig and a dormant branch. Experience, self knowledge and growing confidence are part of a client’s decluttering journey, and we may prune the same rose more than once as we get our  head around what these rose bushes are actually about. I’m about to start a new  bit of training in permaculture theory to beef out my ideas about this (very excited!!).

  • I’m a kind of oil painting conservationist

When I was much younger I did some work experience in the museum store in Oxfordshire near Standlake. I have a vivid memory of a very pregnant conservationist lying on her side on top of a canvas, very very gently scraping off tiny amounts of  discoloured and aged varnish off the surface of a huge canvas, with a scalpel. It was comic simply because of her enormous cumbersome shape (she was a fortnight away from maternity leave at the time) and the tiniest repeated movements lifting away the unkind consequence of time on aging arts materials.  Leaving a professional role is sometimes a pivotal moment in life; decluttering around that focus can feel like removing ‘varnish’ in order to see the person underneath it better.

I hope you will note from these three perspectives that there are two important ideas here. Clutter doesn’t happen because you are sick. And clutter doesn’t happen because you are bad. It happens because you are alive. Anyone can become cluttered, for any number of reasons. And anyone can experience how they came through it, and use these experiences in the future to develop and grow their own decluttering competence and confidence.




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