Getting my house in order

My dad was a hoarder. Now, I know you hear ‘hoarder’ and you think, Ah, we all hold on to stuff we don’t need, don’t we? Most of us have a bit of a hoarding problem. But no. No. My dad was a real hoarder. He kept everything.

Once, I was on my way to the rubbish bin to throw out a badly chipped glass – so badly chipped, it was unusable … or so most people would think. But I was intercepted.

‘How could you think about throwing that away?’ His voice reached a higher pitch. He was astonished and anxious. After all, what would have happened if we’d lost the opportunity to repurpose that glass, to use it to store something?

My mom once tackled his cupboard and found 13 (thirteeeeeen) pairs of jeans that no longer fitted him. This included three pairs of bellbottoms from the 1970s. Even if they did eventually come back into fashion, my dad hadn’t been that size since before I was born.

And that’s what this really comes down to for me. Those jeans, and genes.

I, too, battle to throw things away but – ever aware of my inherited idiosyncrasies – I try to keep this in check. Although my instinct is to hold on to things in case I need them later, I have a system: I ask myself if this item is something my dad would have kept in his cupboard for 20 years. If it is, it gets tossed.

A week before I went into labour, I was struck by the nesting instinct. Feeling like a pregnancy cliche, but driven by a hormonal force beyond my control, I cleared up cupboards and decluttered drawers in a tidying frenzy. My theory about the nesting instinct is that the pregnant mother naturally understands that there will be zero time to tidy up once there’s a burbling, babbling, bawling baby in the house, so she tackles the task beforehand … and then collapses in an achy, sweaty heap on the bed, because, y’know, pregnancy means being hot and sore.

This theory is certainly how things panned out in the N-Y household. Nine months: the age of our child, and also the time it has been since we tidied properly. Don’t misunderstand – our house has been kept clean and liveable, but it is astounding how much stuff a small family can stockpile in such a short time. The kipple has reproduced itself.

And so we are addressing the mess. I’m finding it both a conflicting and liberating process. Using the Dad’s Jeans Test, I have managed to ignore my instincts and cast away a whole range of potentially useful but ultimately useless items. It feels like a detox for my house.

What I’m really feeling at the moment, though, is like I’m going through a process of clearing out the mind; a casting-aside of thought patterns that don’t serve me. A centering. In new-parent survival mode, it was hard not to hoard up information, not to hold on to advice and expectations and anxiety. It’s felt frenetic and unsettling.

Now, as we slow down and saunter towards the end of an eventful year, I’m making space … for family, for friends, for good foundations – stuff that never goes out of fashion and doesn’t clutter up the cupboards.

Despite himself, I think my dad would have been proud.


Photo by Viktor Hanacek via