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The new-age vocabulary of decluttering your home

It may have started in the West but, now, even in our country some of us have the luxury of worrying about too many possessions

Staffers sorting out donated clothes at the Delhi-based NGO Goonj. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Staffers sorting out donated clothes at the Delhi-based NGO Goonj. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

What will M do in the holidays?" I asked Babyjaan’s bestie’s elder sister when we met at the school bus stop. Bestie now goes to an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, where holidays follow the US calendar, so the two friends can no longer spend lazy summers together. “She’s going to KonMari the house with mama," the sister replied.

By now you’ve surely heard of Marie Kondo’s 2014 best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. The author’s “KonMari" approach, derived from her name, is the Japanese way of decluttering and organizing; the book sold seven million copies in 40 languages. Her second book, Spark Joy, which released in 2016, emphasizes that you must be ruthless to declutter. It takes you through the steps with illustrations.

I know I would never be able to practise the dramatic method that requires me to collect every piece of clothing I own (always start with clothes, says Kondo) and pile it in the centre of the room, then hold each garment up and ask: Does this give me joy? If yes, keep. If no, junk.

What if all 12 pairs of my jeans give me equal and immense joy? And same for the thousands of books that are heaped in piles all over our home (had to pause this column because my favourite Lightroom Bookstore was having its annual sale). Besides I don’t know if this happens to you, but every time I give something away, I need it the next day.

Anshu Gupta’s approach seems more practical. The founder of Goonj, which sorts through 500 trucks of our donated stuff (clothes, utensils, school materials, computers) every year and repurposes it unlike any other organization, is an expert on giving. Every once in a while, his family of three (wife Meenakshi and teenage daughter Urvi) decide they will make their lives lighter by, say, 200 things. Despite the fact that they are not big shoppers, it’s a fairly easy task to execute, says Gupta. “It’s madness, the kind of stuff everyone stores," he says over the phone.

It may have started in the West but, now, even in our country where there’s a perennial shortage of everyday basics, some of us have the luxury of worrying about too many possessions.

Declutter, zero waste, pre-owned, gently-used, sustainable, KonMari…this is the vocabulary of a generation that acquired too many things in too short a time. Then they discovered minimalism. Also, one has to make space for all the new stuff you plan to buy, right?

Moving house is always an effective way to get rid of things. You’re overwhelmed by the amount of useless stuff you plan to lug to your next base, and are ready to hand over pretty much anything to whoever comes along.

During one such shift, the husband had been ignoring my repeated reminders to sort through knee-high stacks of old magazines that he had been hanging on to for years. On the last day he took a cursory look at the piles and declared: Oh I don’t need these.

Everyone collects different things. The husband collects papers and old magazines. His sister collects paper bags, strings (I recycle a lot of stuff, she clarifies, when I raise my eyebrow), her daughters’ baby clothes, a pile of Lounge (yes, you’re holding valuable stuff, dear reader). Her daughter collects pencils, museum brochures, train tickets, plane tickets, movie tickets, bills. “Mama’s a guilt hoarder, I’m a sentimental hoarder," she analyses.

As for us, we have an entire cupboard of amazing kitchen stuff that we still haven’t gotten round to using. Everyone, including me, gifts the husband kitchen accessories and utensils he never uses. He’s a two-pan, I-grind-my-own-spices kinda guy. The many-sized bamboo steamers, air fryer, microwave pressure cooker and tabletop barbecue, all gifts, lie untouched.

In recent years, our consumption patterns have inspired innovative business plans. Clutter, a California-based, tech-enabled storage start-up founded in 2013, catalogues your extra stuff before moving it to storage units that you can access easily. If you want that winter jacket you put away, you can just log on and ask them to deliver it to you.

Closer home, marketplace start-ups like Quikr and OLX are founded on the principle that everyone has extra stuff. OLX’s recent 6 Months Break-Up Challenge campaign encouraged users to let go of something they hadn’t used for six months. People sold their mobiles, electronics, kitchen appliances and furniture.

The company has all kinds of interesting data about our stuff: There is Rs78,300 crore of unused goods stocked in our homes (that’s eight times more than the 2016-17 Swachh Bharat Abhiyan budget). One in four homes received gifts they had no use for. Roughly half of us hoard these gifts, 24% gift them to others, 5% donate them, 7% sell them and 1% throw them away.

Boredom and the desire to upgrade are two big reasons people sell their stuff online, OLX found. Its campaign, No More Dekhte Hain, urged consumers to upgrade products and stop putting off the decision with that classic response: “Let’s see."

But Gupta says the idea of decluttering remains a trendy mantra that hasn’t really had an impact on the volume of stuff we donate. People continue to donate more during festivals such as Diwali, which is usually the time we deep-clean our homes.

He adds that his “kabadi ki nazar" (eye for junk) never ceases to be amazed at the number of bedsheets people require for a two-bedroom house or the number of glasses people own or the dinner sets that haven’t been used in years. I’m guilty of all the excesses he lists. Talking to Gupta for 10 minutes, I quickly realize, is the best way to write your own best-seller on tidying up.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani

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