Winter is over and as that soft spring sunlight starts to creep in, it has a nasty habit of illuminating the dust that’s settled during the colder months. It’s time to take stock and start fresh.
So, where to begin? We asked Melbourne-based professional organiser Sally Flower, whose business – Home Sanctuary – is built on the idea that small changes to our environment mean big benefits for our wellbeing. She agrees spring is a good time to “hit the reset button” at home.
Flower is one of a handful of consultants around the world trained in the art of KonMari, the method coined by Japanese tidying virtuoso Marie Kondo, whose international bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up asks one simple question of clutter-bugs everywhere: does all that stuff “spark joy”?
“The first thing you need to do is get rid of things that are not aligned with how you want to feel and what makes you happy,” she says.
“I really want the space and homes that people live in to be … a wellness space you come home to that's energising, lifts you up and rejuvenates you to go on to do something the next day.”
Flower says decluttering can reduce stress, increase creativity and productivity, save time and money, and make for better relationships. These are her tips for finding “spacial wellness”.
Step one: imagine your oasis
First up, it’s important to envisage how you want to live, then set up your home to support that.
“There's no point picking up … Vogue mags and flicking through and going, ‘This is how I want to live’,” Flower says. “You need to work out what works for you in your day-to-day life. No family is the same.”
Do you want to read in every room? Have space for your kids to spread our their art supplies? Entertain every night of the week?
“Whatever it is you want to do in your home or office, make that your little mantra, then as you’re decluttering come back and go, ‘Well, is this really in line with what I want my home to do?’” If you get stuck setting your intention, Flower suggests considering when you’re at your most relaxed and going from there.
Step two: declutter
This is the big one, so Flower recommends breaking it down into manageable blocks. Rather than doing it room by room, she says to go category by category to “make it easier for your brain to process”.
“I always start with clothes first, and then linen and towels is another good category, and then you would move into, say, books,” she says.
Kitchens can be broken into categories such as things you eat with, clean with, cook with and serve with, for example. Offices could be split into papers and stationary, and sheds might be done by materials and tools.
As you move through the categories consider each object, keep things that make you happy and chuck the things that don’t – with a few exceptions.
“Take something boring like a dustpan and broom; it doesn't spark joy, but I like that it works well – it picks up dust – and I like having a clean home. And I think that's where the mindfulness element comes into it. Try to bring gratitude for everything you have in the house and then take real confidence that what I have in there I love and I'm going to keep it.”
Flower reiterates it’s about “keeping with confidence” – if you’re unsure about something, keep it, then if you don’t use it for six months, “it probably needs to be discarded”.
When in doubt, return to your mantra. And never declutter for more than five hours at a time, lest you enter the “decluttering danger zone” and mistakenly ditch something you enjoy. Instead, pack it up overnight and start again in the morning.
“Don’t just be surrounded by piles of stuff in your house, it’s the worst thing you can do,” says Flower.
Step three: everything has a place
Give everything in your home a home of its own. That way, when you go to tidy up it’ll only take a jiffy because everything has somewhere to go back to.
Flower says drawers and cupboards should be no more than 90 per cent full, so if you’re done decluttering and they’re still overflowing you might need more storage solutions.
Step four: recycle and resell
Sustainability is key to Home Sanctuary’s ethos, and Flower says many unwanted things can be resold or recycled.
Most electronics can be taken to recycling depots such as Officeworks, she says, and clothes can be donated – as long as they’re in good nick. If not, they should go straight into landfill.
“If you are going to be reselling something, whether it's on Ebay or Facebook Market or at a garage sale, just make sure you have an if-it-doesn't-sell backup plan and [that] is generally put it in the bin, because you don't want to have a garage sale, not sell anything and keep it all.”
Flower also notes it’s important to not put your clutter onto friends or family. If you do give something away, let the receiver know they’re welcome to get rid of it too.
Step five: move forward mindfully
Once the clear-out is complete, Flower says future purchases should be made mindfully, with purpose and be loved.
“You will find that you can't love something forever,” she says. “If it's a cotton singlet ... there will come a time when you stop loving it and that’s when you say thank you … and you let it go.
“If you bring a new one into your life make sure you've thought that process through and you haven't bought it because it was only $12 at Kmart.”
After her own decluttering process, Flower found her anxiety was significantly reduced because she had fewer chores and more space to do the things that make her happy, such as creative pursuits, cooking and connecting with her family.
“I have more time now because I'm not spending time looking for things, losing things, putting stuff away, cleaning stuff. Because everything has a home and I know what I've got, I've got more time.”
And while she’s not a minimalist, Flower says it’s also cheaper because she tends to naturally buy less and more environmentally friendly for the same reason.
“Having a home sanctuary allows you to live your life like you were on holiday,” she says. “You don't have to jump on a plane to escape to feel good, you can feel good in your day-to-day life.”