Step into Estelle’s home and everything appears to be in its place. The entrance hall is neat and tidy, the living room is tasteful and airy, and the spacious kitchen sparkles and gleams. But open just one drawer or cupboard – the forgotten places – and chaos reigns. Old CDs and DVDs tumble out, along with books, magazines and paperwork. In the garage there’s no room for her bike, let alone her car, and the loft is rammed with children’s toys, boxes from her previous home, even her university files from ten years ago.
‘I feel like a fraud,’ confides the mum-of-three. ‘I give people the impression that I’m really on top of everything at home, with the children and in my part-time job. But really, I’m just hiding a great big mess.
‘There are areas of our home, like our loft and the garage, that I’m terrified of people seeing. When we open cupboard doors, it’s not unusual for everything to fall out. Our fridge often smells due to old food, the area under the sink is full of junk, and I don’t have a clue what’s even in our bathroom cabinets. If I need something medicinal urgently, I have to go out and buy it.’
Estelle, 32, isn’t alone. When it comes to decluttering, most of us prioritise the areas that are visible, and the unseen areas get left until another day. The problem is that day never comes and they never get sorted, only for more clutter to accumulate there.
The Forgotten Places
Life coach and best-selling author Talane Miedaner says we all have forgotten places in our homes, whether we’re talking about the tops of cupboards, the garage or the under-sink area.
‘They’re the deep, dark recesses that we try to ignore,’ says Talane, author of Coach Yourself to Success (McGraw Hill). ‘They’re full of very dusty things that we hardly ever use, and it would take a deep purge to clear them. They’re not as much of a visual win as, say, clearing out our living room, which is great for motivation as we see our good work every day.
‘But the good news is these forgotten places are often easier to declutter because the stuff we have there are often things we don’t use and won’t miss, like the Christmas platter you dust off once a year or a coffeemaker you get out when guests come to stay every two years.’
But there’s no doubt among experts that blitzing these areas would not only make us more organised, it would also be great for our mental health.
Sana Brohi, who runs the coaching business Ashtha with Sana, in Dubai, says: ‘Clean and clear spaces have a great impact on our mental health and make us feel happy. We have a sense of wellbeing and achievement, we function better, and it’s healthier, as dust and allergens are reduced. But it can be an overwhelming process, especially if it isn’t thought through.’
So where are the forgotten places, and how can we set about decluttering them?
From mouldy cheese to the last dregs of condiments, our fridges are one of the surprising forgotten places that can contain some disgusting sights and smells if we neglect them. Talane suggests we take everything out and give the fridge itself a good clean, then sort through our food, deciding which to throw away, offer to friends or food banks, and which to use up before it goes out of date.
‘Food waste is a massive climate change issue, and we waste about a third of our food. So, arm yourself with some clear, plastic baskets and some labels, and group together certain foods, like condiments or cheeses.
‘You could also have a basket labelled Eat Me First, which will mean leftovers don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about before it goes off and can’t be eaten.’
Again, get everything out so you can see the bits of cereal, the tins you forgot you had and the ingredients you bought for a complicated recipe that you’ll never make again.
‘Once you have sorted your food, arrange it back in your cupboard so you can see it,’ says Talane. ‘A step shelf is one way of making sure everything is visible and you could invest in some baskets for pasta, rice, soups or children’s lunches. Be sure to measure your space before you buy baskets!
‘Another good storage tool is a carousel – you could store items like jams, honeys and maple syrups. You can swing it round so nothing goes unforgotten.’
Under The Kitchen Sink
Who hasn’t got a collection of glass, floor and oven cleaners, mould removers and insect repellents as well as dishwasher tablets, plant food and others cleaning paraphernalia here, arguably the number one forgotten place?
‘You’ll be surprised how many floor and window cleaners you have to use up,’ says Talane. ‘Once they’re used, and the plastics are recycled, use just one product for all your cleaning chores. Companies like Koh make just one chemical-free product to clean floors, windows and kitchens. This means you can cut back on up to eight products under your kitchen sink.
‘To be even more organised, fill a caddy with an apron with a pocket, your cleaning implements and your cleaning product to make life easier next time you clean.’
This can be a dumping ground for most things, from the children’s old bikes to dried up paint cans and unused tools. Talane suggests we start by going through this out-of-sight, out-of-mind forgotten place and collecting and disposing of the rubbish.
‘Things like your children’s old sports equipment, your camping gear, the kids’ scooters and the wet suits you’ve all grown out of can all be put on a Facebook community page and collected from your home,’ she says. ‘Some charities will collect old lawnmowers and tools.
‘Then, use pegboards for tools, or collect together a few essentials in a toolbox or bag. You might end up with space for your car.’
This is where we store all the sentimental things, like our children’s school paintings, reports and memorabilia.
Sana says: ‘Parents who have younger kids end up storing their old clothes, toys, the car seats, the prams, even their drawings and school projects. They just keep accumulating. If they’re planning more children, they think many of their things will come in handy at a later stage.
‘You could make a memory box for an item or two of their clothing, and their favourite few toys, and you could digitalise some of their more memorable achievements, like paintings. Every six months, as they keep growing, revisit their things and discard what’s no longer required – donate items that are in good condition.’
It’s surprising how many cleansers, moisturisers, shampoos and make-up items we can squirrel away in the bathroom cabinet, not to mention medicines, inhalers and painkillers.
According to Talane, we’ll find so many dregs in this forgotten place we can concoct our own shampoo! And we could use this opportunity to become more hygienic with our ancient make-up.
‘This is an easy one and probably the best one to start with,’ she says. ‘Take everything out. You’ll be surprised how many empty bottles there are. They can all be recycled as plastic or glass, of course. If there are some products you’ve tried and don’t like, a women’s or homeless shelter will take them. Medicines need to go to a pharmacist to be disposed of properly.’
Our nighttime sanctuary can often be a dumping ground because only our nearest and dearest go in there.
‘Start by collecting the rubbish,’ recommends Talane. ‘Then go for visual clarity so you can create a place for peace. Clear the bedside table and the dressing table. A good tip from Feng Shui is to clear electronic devices, such as televisions, from your bedroom. If you can’t do without a TV in your room, cover it up.
‘Return books to your bookcases and shelves. Keep a basket of one or two books by your bed. Make sure there is nothing on the floor – no clothes left strewn around.
‘In your wardrobe, turn all your hangers the same way, then when you wear the clothes, turn them the other way. After a month, it will be obvious which clothes you wear often. You can discard or store the rest.’
Life coach Adam Zargar, director of UAE Coaching in Dubai, has five top tips to stay uncluttered
- Have a one in, one out policy – for everything you buy, give away or throw something out.
- Set aside a designated time each week for decluttering – blitzing in bite-sized chunks will save you from feeling overwhelmed.
- Get the whole family on board so your best efforts aren’t ruined by others.
- Keep one or two sentimental items like love notes and throw the rest out.
- Devise a system for recyclables like old batteries – have a collection area for them so they don’t get muddled with the useable ones.