Faced with the choice of moving to somewhere with more space or making some space where she was, comedian Andi Osho embarked on an industrial-scale decluttering exercise which has left her feeling cleansed, satisfied and comfortable with seeing her neighbours wearing her shoes.
Illustrated by: Laura Swaddle
Last year, having decided I’d outgrown my little one bedroom East End abode, I started the soul-destroying process of flat hunting. I’m sure in other more reasonable societies, this is a perfectly pleasant pursuit, but in London, it’s simply an exercise in brinkmanship as to how much you’re willing to get ripped off.
Shoeboxes shamelessly masqueraded as human habitation and estate agents using the term ‘interesting’ in exchange for ‘unsanitary’ awaited me.
All I really wanted, dare I say it, was the talisman of true singledom: a cat.
And because I wanted an ordinary cat as opposed to a super cat that could fly out of first-floor windows, I had to get a property with outside space.
I could have compromised with a house cat, but did I really want a moggy who’d given up on life and a tray full of cat shit in the corner of my kitchen?
Their food smells bad enough.
There’s nothing worse than a dozing feline yawning their disgusting chicken-in-gravy breath in your face. The only thing that probably smells worse is Lady Gaga’s meat dress.
Plus spreading out into a bigger flat would be good for me. My bedroom was fast becoming a shoe room that happened to have a bed in it.
I started the search, brimming with enthusiasm, but within weeks, the cavalcade of two bedroom dungeons, or flats that were a police line short of a murder scene, had drained me of all optimism.
In a radical perspective shift, I wondered if I could learn to love the place I currently called home. Maybe a minimalist makeover was what was required rather than the buying of a new place, which would all too soon be stuffed with more clothes and clutter.
In that moment I decided to begin the biggest decluttering exercise since Robert Pattinson threw out Kristen Stewart.
The decision didn’t come without its disadvantages. Even though all I was taking on was a one bedroom flat, the thought of going through all the boxes, cupboards and wardrobes was an intimidating prospect.
Sorry, did I say intimidating? I meant boring.
To ease myself in, I made lists. I love a good list. Craig’s, Schindler’s, whoever’s. I like the sense of achievement that comes with a tick.
Sometimes I’ll create pathetically achievable to-do lists for that very reason:
This allows me to high-five my wide-awake, replete and undead self at any point after breakfast and punch the air with a ‘nailed it’ salute before bed. Try it. If you ever feel like you’re not getting anywhere, it can be just the boost you need.
So, making a list of decluttering targets was job one.
Having previously berated my mum for pathological hoarding offences (her attachment to my brother’s hip hop vinyl collection – and associated ignoring of my suggestion to list them on eBay as gangsta place mats – would be a prime example), I knew I had to be ruthless, to save face if nothing else.
I once calculated that, based on the amount of loft space and cupboards used, 35% of my mum’s mortgage was going on storage. She was the opposite of Big Yellow Self Storage, paying Santander huge premiums to keep garbage in her own home.
Still, I reckon most of us would come up with a similar figure if we were honest about the space taken up by the stuff we never use. Massage chairs, gym gear, kitchen utensils… oh, how that naughty juicer enticed us so.
Once you start looking around with a mind to declutter, you see things in a different light.
As someone who isn’t particularly sentimental, a lot of the under-the-bed stuff was easy to resolve. Yoga mat = go, old reviews and newspaper clippings = stay.
When I’m an old lady who smells of cats and pee, I’d rather show the great nieces and nephews a feathery copy of a Time Out review than me doing downward dog.
Things did start getting tricky around dresses and shoes though.
Even if I’d never worn an item, it was hard to send it to the great charity shop in the sky.
I elected for a tough policy. If I couldn’t visualise myself wearing the item, it was history. It worked. After a few hours there were three bags brimming with dresses, coats, shoes and accessories. For the first time in years I could see the back of the wardrobe (disappointingly, I couldn’t see any lions or witches, but let’s focus on the positive).
It was addictive. Once you get the ball rolling with a declutter it can be difficult to stop.
You seriously consider ditching items which you really shouldn’t. Fridge: a first world extravagance? Cooker: surely I could just set fire to my vegetable rack and pick over the charred remains?
All in all the whole process, working my way through each room, took a few sessions. But after a couple of months it was done. I completed the project by buying some nice new furniture and a portable shoe store that hangs on the back of the bedroom door (the greatest invention ever).
Finally, I could survey my bedroom and not be reminded of Primark during the summer sales. This was a bedroom becoming of a sophisticated lady, like what I am.
But what to do with all these unwanted garments? To simply throw them away would be recycling treason. Instead, I did what is commonly known as Stratford recycling.
I left the bags outside with a note. The following morning they were gone. It never fails.
And so my decluttering project was over, and I was left with loads of new wardrobe space, room under the bed and some lovely furniture into the bargain (I compromised on a cat with an Athena-style portrait of frolicking kittens).
I was also left with the knowledge that this relatively straightforward process can really invigorate your living space. Every now and then, it’s good to shake things up. Done skilfully, it can be an economical way of feeling like you’ve moved home.
Inevitably the clutter will accumulate once more – you’re never more than a welly wang away from a shoe shop – but if you undertake a declutter every year or so, incorporating the four Rs: Refurb, Redecorate, Rearrange and Recycle, you’ll have a home that you can fall in love with all over again.
Living in clutter is bad for the soul. A home with gubbins everywhere is chaotic and stressful, something you may become immune to over time. Losing these unwanted items ushers in clarity and simplicity, shows you have a loving respect for yourself and those you live with, and brings harmony and peace to your environment.
Also, the best thing about Stratford recycling is bumping into a neighbour you know is wearing your clobber. They know you know this, but you both say nothing and just smile.
Andi is an actress, writer and comedian currently living in Los Angeles.