New year, new you, the saying goes. So as 2017 approaches, Esther N McCarthy embarks on a massive clear out of her home – and puts the Marie Kondo method to the test

At the start of 2016, I got the help of decluttering professionals to help me clear out my front room and an old bedroom.

Mary and Frances of MandF Decluttering whizzed in with their impartial eyes and took no nonsense from me at all as I tried to cling to baby clothes and notepaper and swathes of clothes that were quite superfluous to my needs - and my current body shape.

They taught me the Marie Kondo folding method, they showed me how to put like with like, they labelled boxes and shifted furniture and put calm where there was chaos.

I swore I was a changed woman.

My bedlinen would stay organised and flat and folded and well behaved in the airing cupboard.

The baby’s socks would forever more remain paired.

The bigger boys’ toys would be in baskets with like-minded toys and their Lego would be boxed and they’d put it back where they got it every time, congratulating each other heartily on a jolly good spaceship design before skipping off to wash their hands and fix their bow ties before dinner.

I would never buy an unnecessary piece of clothing again.

I would live a simpler, happier life, free from the clutter and fast fashion and the consumer craziness that my past self wallowed in.

Alas, the best-laid plans of mice and men and mothers oft do go astray.

Our eldest son asks for his own bedroom as his present for turning eight.

Kids these days, eh?

So in a fit of what can only be utter madness, we say we’ll get a permanent stairs sorted for going up to the attic, which is already converted. I used it as an office in my freelancing days, sure it just needs a bit of a clear out and it’ll be grand.

“You’ll be in for your birthday!” I declare grandly, pulling down the Stira to have a squint.... “Your 21st birthday,” I add under my breath as I survey the bags and bags and bags of clothes, boxes of toys, tonnes of paperwork, mountains of magazines, a full wardrobe I’d completely forgotten about, as well as the usual Christmas decorations and extra duvets and rubbish you’re supposed to have hanging around an attic.

So, the sleeves get rolled up and I start to attack the masses of stuff and I find I have learned from my last foray into tidiness.

I’m quite pleased with my first attempt at tackling the recycling stuff. All my old college notes and essays and school stuff - dumped. If there was anything particularly stirring I either took a photo of it before binning it- old school journals, or kept - a family tree I’d done for a Geography class in UCC where I’d interviewed my grandparents and it’s something I’d like to pass on to my boys.

Back copies of magazines and publications I’d worked on, in the bin, good luck, it’s a digital age now lads.

How to declutter your life in 2017

Anything I particularly liked, I took a photo of it, magicked it up to the cloud and freed up space in the real world.

It’s when it comes to objects of sentimental value that I get stuck.

My first toys - a wobbly worn pull-along ladybird and a lop-eared Foxy Loxy. How can I throw them out?

A picture just isn’t the same as holding them in your hand and being tiny again. I wring my hands and berate myself for being weak.

And then I think, wait a minute.

There are times when it’s ok to hold on to things, the hoarder in me is allowed a win every now and then, right?


My clothes

I have a whole wardrobe up in the loft of aspirational clothing, lots still with the tags on.

These are lovely pieces that I’ve kept through various clear outs because they were either quite expensive and I wanted to get the wear out of them, maybe I’ll be invited to a fancy party at the weekend or they were really beautiful but didn’t quite fit and as soon as I lose that extra bit of weight, they’ll be perfect on me.

My clothing requirements these days are not complex.

The only parties I go to are drop offs at indoor adventure centres where a floaty chiffon number isn’t appropriate.

Plus scrubbing grout of a Saturday night doesn’t require leather pants, unless it’s a euphemism, which it’s not, so four charity bags later, the hoarder loses this round.

My grandmother’s clothes

These are a different story.

A beautiful grey wool coat. Bright cardigans from the 60s that have survived wash and wash and are still colourfast. A short fur white coat that is just divine.

A pair of wooden high heel clogs that are 4 sizes too small for me but remind me that Ann McCarthy nee Murphy was young and liked to wear heels and look glamorous long before I was alive.

Hoarder wins, they are in the keep pile.

My babies’ clothes

I thought I’d purged this demon in the last clear out but I’ve clearly been squirrelling stuff away in my sleep.

Lots and lots of baby clothes, shoes from the older boy that might do the other two, first Halloween outfits and little Santa booties and handmade cardigans from a neighbour.

What to do? I put the vast majority in charity bags and keep 4-5 items that are really precious in a box. Hoarder loses this round.


So many toys. Long story short, find homes for the boys’ toys, keep Foxy Loxy and the ladybird. Hoarder loses.


My grandmother’s button box

It’s an old Cow&Gate baby food tin, rusted and dented.

My grandmother had eight children and my sister and I moved in for rearing when her youngest child was age seven.

How to declutter your life in 2017

Her whole life was minding and feeding and clothing and loving kids.

She sewed all the time out of necessity as well as pleasure - she was very good at it. She made my mother’s wedding dress into a communion dress for me, despite a broken shoulder at the time.

This button box is going nowhere. A win for the hoarder.

A hair crimper from the 1980s

I pick up this crimper and am transported to a simpler time.

My cousins, my sister and I would spend hours doing each other’s hair, applying lipstick very very badly and tying belts around long T-shirts to make them into T-shirt dresses, obviously.

We’d dance around for a bit before a good old game of Blind Man’s Bluff and Allies (marbles) in the hall.

Sure, I could buy a fancy modern crimper come straightener come Virtual Reality headset but for authentic split ends and the smell of burning hair, I’ll hang on to this one.

They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Possibly because of health and safety issues. Hoarder wins again.

Who cares? Some things are too precious to throw out.

The eight-year-old will have to share some space with my crap.

I’ll put it in the rental agreement.

There are times when it’s ok to hold on to things, the hoarder in me is allowed to win every now and again, right?


Frances Murphy of MandF Decluttering gives her thoughts on how to deal with items that are difficult to let go of.

“One of the most difficult parts of decluttering is dealing with very sentimental items that are not of any use to you anymore, but you really love them.

“We suggest setting up ‘SENTIMENTAL LAND’ for these items.

“This would consist of either a pretty colourful box - if you have space in a cupboard to store it or an airtight plastic box - if it needs to go to the attic.

“Most people will have just a few things that are very sentimental to them, however some people have tonnes.

“In order to give yourself freedom today from the past, you need to be really strict with yourself.

Mary Shannon and Frances Murphy of MnF Decluttering. Picture: David Keane
Mary Shannon and Frances Murphy of MnF Decluttering. Picture: David Keane

“You know in your heart of hearts that you will always have the memories attached to that item within you and that will never leave.

“However if keeping that item is impacting on your life today in some way ie.keeping you mentally blocked or taking up space in your home instead of allowing new things to flow in, then you need to be strong and only keep some of the sentimental items.

“Keep your focus on the end result whatever you wish that to be.

“Another great idea is to take photos of those items you love and then let them go. This is a great idea espeicially if you are really short on space.

“Marie Kondo has a very nice way of leaving items go.

“Her idea is to hold the item and really feel the emotion attached to it you then thank the item and let it go.

“Mary and I find that we have the ability to hold the space for our clients in order to make this process easier.

“It is a journey at the end of the day, but so worth in the end.”


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