Life

Gewn Montgomery: The art of decluttering your home

As Jenny Lee decides 2017 is the year to tackle the clutter in her home, she seeks advice from County Down declutterer Gwen Montgomery

Professional declutterer Gwen Montgomery practises what she preaches at her home on the shores of Strangford Lough Picture: Mal McCann

I AM a hoarder. I've always tried to deny it, but now that I've admitted it I am determined 2017 is the year I'm going to tackle it and declutter my home.

My home really doesn't look too cluttered – every now and again I do clear out – the problem is I take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude, and rather than bring stuff to a charity shop or skip, it all just goes into storage upstairs in the attic.

Our house has the potential to be expanded upwards but my dream of our attic being converted into a much-needed office space and playroom is being hampered by it being crammed with clutter – my clutter.

There is everything from my old GCSE art projects, huge collection of Liverpool Football Club magazines and programmes from when I was a soccer crazy teenager and old ZX Spectrum computer I hope one day will bag me a fortune on ebay, through to a hoard of clothes I've outgrown – and that I dream I will one day squeeze into again – and my children's old baby clothes and mementoes.

With a three and a six-year-old, our home also contains it's fair share of plastic toys. We did have a pre-Christmas toy sort and get rid of some. However, with my daughter insisting she needs to keep hold of her old baby toys, together with her old comfies, dummies, bottles and spare nappies, for her baby dolls to play with – we didn't get very far.

I'm certainly not alone when it comes to dealing with the daily stress of a messy or unorganised home. But where do you start?

Who better to ask than Gwen Montgomery, who is one of a handful of professional declutters working in Ireland. Now based in the Co Down hamlet of Whiterock, on the shores of Strangford Lough, Gwen lived and worked in Wexford and Dublin before moving north and says Northern Ireland is 20 years behind the latter when it comes to dealing with clutter.

"Your attic should only be for Christmas decorations, suitcases and perhaps vacuum-packed spare bedding," says Gwen, making me almost break out in a cold sweat.

Surprisingly the 54-year-old doesn't live in a minimalist home. However, her home is organised with, as the old saying goes, a place for everything and everything in its place.

Carefully labelled Tupperware boxes and containers adorn her cupboards.

"Quality Street tins and bags aren't practical as they don't fully utilise the space," she says.

Her coat room contains a hanger with visible compartments for essential items like blue tac and string, a useful clothes pegs hanger holds hats and scarves and a shoe rack is attached to the back of the door.

Unlike my kitchen, which is like a children's art gallery with my little darlings' latest works of art stuck on the walls and notes attached to our fridge with magnets, Gwen's kitchen is visually clutter free. However, her personal mementoes and photos are still treasured – only concealed on the inside of her cupboard doors. Holiday souvenirs and ticket stubs are encased under a glass-topped cupboard beside her bathroom sink.

She's the first to admit she isn't perfect.

"The towels need sorted in the hot press", says Gwen, who also has a huge cupboard of photo albums that needs organised.

However, she is strict about implementing the two-year rule of letting go if she hasn't worn anything and her robotic vacuum cleaner – "Imelda" – is programmed to come on three mornings a week; thus, she has to ensure her carpets are clutter-free.

Gwen previously worked in office adminstration and has her own "highly unorganised, creative-type mother" to thank for the direction her career took her 10 years ago.

She has also had to deal with the "modern day problem of inheriting your parents' clutter" and the sentimental decisions that involves.

"Her home was heaving with bags of bags, yet she had no bags when she went to go to the supermarket. Clearing out her home was a huge job. She had 190 telephone books of pressed flowers," recalls Gwen.

Subdivide, label and recycle are her key words when it comes to decluttering.

"People don't recognise how much they have. We have all these random and broken items that we think will come in useful someday. We just need to throw them out and if that one day happens, we can buy what we need."

There are many reasons people avail of Gwen's domestic decluttering services – selling their home, downsizing, illness, divorce and bereavement.

Many clutterers feel judged and ashamed by their accumulated possessions, but Gwen says she is "unshockable" when it comes to her job and assures clients she doesn't judge behaviours: "Rather, I help them to clear their space and to suggest ways to break hoarding habits and avoid the cycle of clutter in the future."

Within 15 minutes of arriving at a client's home she will have the bin bags, boxes, sharpie pens and labels out. "I've volunteered in the slums of Delhi and appreciate how much we have here, so I encourage clients to give to charity shops and recycle where possible," says Gwen, who advises people to start small.

"Start with somewhere like the kitchen drawer that is driving you crazy and where you can't find anything in. You don't need to buy lots of things to help – you can use takeaway boxes or used cardboard boxes [such as the one your mobile phone came in] to subdivide and organise the stuff. You need to put like with like, such as stationary, birthday cards and bags.

When it comes to toy clutter, her advice is to rotate and to teach children tidiness at a young age. And in the bedroom, non-slip coat hangers, clothes arranged by colour and T-shirts arranged sideways in drawers is her advice.

Through her job Gwen has seen how clutter can have a serious effect on mental wellbeing and relationships.

"The therapeutic effect of letting stuff go and clearing out bags to the skip or the charity shop is a wonderful feeling which almost all of my clients express. It's empowering to claim back your home again."

:: For further information visit Sortedbygwen.com or her facebook page.

SORTED BY GWEN DECLUTTERING TIPS

:: Tackle a small area at a time

:: Make a home for everything, putting like with like

:: Be ruthless about letting things go to the charity shops

:: Haven't used/worn it for two years? Let it go

:: When you replace anything – recycle or bin the old one

:: Reduce the volume – whether it is unused envelopes, china or clothing

:: Keep things in clear storage and label, label, label

:: Look forward to the unburdening and other benefits of clearing out

:: Question why you are keeping things and recognise the issues

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