Clutter Busting for Real People

Taking small steps to decluttering is the key to an organised home, according to a new book by Debora Robertson, and you don’t have to be a minimalist neat freak to make it work.

Debora Robertson
PRACTICAL ADVICE: Debora Robertson, author of ‘Declutter: The get-real guide to creating calm from chaos’ has written a relatable, down to earth book that doesn’t take a holier-than-thou approach to home organisation.

Somewhere in my home (or possibly in the loft of a flat I rent out!) is a box marked ‘miscellaneous’. It’s been unopened for several years and I suspect it contains insurance documents for a car I no longer own, operational manuals for long defunct technology, surveys for homes I’ve since sold, membership cards for nightclubs that closed down decades ago and several broken biros with no ink in them.

Now this stuff is mentally easy to dispose of – I know I don’t need it and never will – it’s just laziness that prevents me from tackling it. However for most of us, it’s the countless other ‘miscellaneous’ things we accrue over the years that have emotional currency which are harder to chuck.


So where do you begin when the decluttering task seems insurmountable?

There are several helpful books on the market; Marie Kondo’s 2012 best selling tome ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ being one of the most touted with a Netflix series currently on air. Having read an article summarising the book, it seemed a bit airy fairy to me. Do I really have to anthropomorphise all my clutter and thank it for serving a purpose in my life before binning it?

Instead I turned to a new book by Debora Robertson called ‘Declutter: The get-real guide to creating calm from chaos’. Worried that she was tipping from collector to hoarder, Debora wrote the book after reading countless other guides which didn’t quite resonate with her ‘messy, complicated, imperfect life’ that she admits ‘doesn’t revolve around a perfectly curated knife drawer’. She too found Marie Kondo’s exhortation to ‘only keep things that spark joy’ a little impractical. So if you’re after a relatable read with a good dollop of humour thrown in, this is the book for you.


Here are a few things I’ve gleaned from Debora’s book:

Planning - Decluttering - illustration by Kevin Waddell

Don’t let planning your decluttering regime turn into another form of procrastination.

This reminded me of Arnold Rimmer from TV’s Red Dwarf who spent so much time designing the most amazing colour coded exam revision timetable that he ran out of time to actually study. There’s always something else that will be more fun than decluttering (buying pretty boxes!). However if you can just make that first step – even if it’s just half an hour sorting out a small console unit or a letter rack – it’s something of an achievement.

Be the Tortoise not the Hare - Decluttering - illustration by Kevin WaddellBe the tortoise not the hare.

Breaking down the process into small chunks rather than one mammoth session is key and don’t beat yourself up if the pace is slow. Repeat the process with several micro projects and those new habits will take hold. As Debora says it’s all about ‘cumulative small victories’.

Every house has what Debora calls ‘coffee cup zones’ – hot spots where rubbish accumulates.

Mine is probably the console tale in the hall which doubles as a make-up station / hair drying zone / dumping ground for letters. The chair in our bedroom, which serves as an overspill wardrobe for my partner, is another irritating one. Debora suggests identifying a time and date to tackle each one, as setting a goal in writing makes it much more likely to get done, and using a kitchen timer to keep you focused.

Coffee cup zone - Decluttering - illustration by Kevin WaddellBuild a weekly trip to the charity shop into your routine.

Debora keeps a couple of baskets in the hall and bedroom to gather objects that can be re-sold rather than waiting for a large haul to accumulate. I often do this with clothes but need to get into the habit with other home items too. Freecycle.org is a great way to get rid of unwanted stuff too. I recently offloaded my old bed frame on the site as it was a bit scratched so I didn’t think I’d be able to sell it. It gave me a nice warm feeling when a delighted lady and her teenage sons came to collect it, as she told me she’d always wanted a sleigh bed. For safety’s sake though, make sure you’re not alone if someone comes to collect the item (anyone who watched BBC’s Luther recently will know where I’m coming from!).

Deadline - Decluttering - illustration by Kevin WaddellIf you’re setting aside stuff to sell on Ebay or at a car boot sale, give yourself a deadline.

This certainly resonates with me, especially when it comes to items I’ve bought for styling home shoots that are no longer on trend. The weekly Summer car boot sales have all been and gone, but my spare room is still heaving with boxes of props. Perhaps arranging a definite car boot date with a friend is the way forward, or using a service like auctionfairies.co.uk who will do all the legwork of selling online in return for a percentage of the sale price.

Try the 30-day declutter challenge.

The idea is to discard one thing on the first day, two on the second day and so on. By the end you’ll have disposed of 465 items. You can even play along on Instagram with the hashtag #30daydeclutter. Visit theminimalists.com for more info.

Buy less stuff.

This is essential for maintaining your newly clutter free home. I already have a ‘one in one out’ policy with clothes, so extending that to other household objects is a great idea. For things you do really need to buy, always work out exactly where it’s going to be displayed/ stored rather than having a vague notion of ‘finding a place for it’.


There are loads of other tips in Debora’s book, which is broken down into categories such as cooking and eating, living, working and feeling, sleeping, dressing and relaxing, bathing and laundry. There’s even a section on decluttering your virtual world too.

After reading it, I feel optimistic and am actually looking forward to getting the bin bags out. I fear the biggest challenge will be getting my partner to muck in. Debora suggests purging my own stuff first will encourage him to follow suit. I’m not convinced he would notice though, and after 22 years together much of our stuff is joint possessions, the original purchaser being lost in the midsts of time. So any tips – aside from threatening to chuck his boyhood collection of old coins if he doesn’t partake – would be much appreciated!

Click here to buy Debora’s book.

*For more practical tips, see our guest blog by professional decluttered Cath Hindle who’s based in the North East or find a professional in your area at www.apdo.co.uk.